lion city skaters
1/30/2012

Interview with Jack Smith

Posted by Nathania Rules

The Man who skateboarded across America 3 times

By Valerie Ong for www.lioncityskaters.com

Rarely do we meet people who have made a difference to Skateboarding, but we got lucky recently and had the chance to catch up with Jack Smith.

For those of you who don’t know him, Jack travelled on a skateboard across America three times and worked as a consultant to the producers of the movie “Lords of Dogtown”. He is the Founder/ Publisher at “The Skateboard’s Journal”, the President of the United States Distance Skateboarding Association and helped organize the FRESHPARK California Skatercross.

Despite his busy schedule, Jack was kind enough to grant us an interview and share his insights about skateboarding in America through the years. It is truly our honor to introduce the legendary Jack Smith. He is amazing and inspiring; plus incredibly humble and passionate about life and skateboarding.

How old were you when you travelled across America on a skateboard and how long did you take each time?

When I turned 19 in 1976, 2 friends and I took thirty-two days to cross America. In 1984, when I was 27 years old, I did a trek in twenty-six days with veteran skaters Paul Dunn, Gary Fluitt and Bob Denike to raise funds for the Multiple Sclerosis Society My third trip took place in 2003 when I was 46 years old, after my son “Jack Marshall Smith” passed away.

Newspaper article from the 1976 skate across America


"Trans-America 1984 -The Skateboard Crossing for Multiple Sclerosis"
(Front row- Paul Dunn, Bob Denike. Back Row- Jack Smith, Gary Fluitt)


Skating in the rain during the 1984 skateboard crossing of America

Can you tell us more about Skateboarding Across America - On Board for Lowe Syndrome?

My son suffered from Lowe Syndrome and couldn't skate by himself, but loved sitting on my shoulders and riding with me. When he passed away, I wanted to do something to honor him so I teamed up with Nick Krest, Josh Maready and Scott Kam and skateboarded across America to research funds and awareness for Lowe Syndrome.

Our trip spurred numerous long distance skateboard treks by skaters around the world, and I’m truly grateful to all who helped raise awareness and research funds for Lowe Syndrome in Jack’s honor.

(Lowe Syndrome is a rare genetic disorder that affects only boys. Originally known as oculo-cerebro-renal or OCRL syndrome, Lowe Syndrome causes a range of medical complications including physical and mental handicaps. For more information about Lowe Syndrome, go to lowesyndrome.org).


(Left) Jack's third skate across America in August 2003
(Right) A picture of Jack Marshall Smith

How was it like working on the set of “Lords of Dogtown”?

The whole experience was incredible! I played the part of the Del Mar announcer in the film and served as a consultant to the producers. I helped track down old skateboards and arranged the manufacturing of stuff we couldn't find. The original Del Mar event was my first contest and walking on the set was like going back 30 years in time.


(Left) Back in 1975 at Bahne-Cadillac Del Mar Nationals
(Right) Jack on the set of "Lords of Dogtown"


(Left) Photo of the Men's division 18 and older, taken during the 1975 Bahne Cadillac
(Right) 1975 Del Mar's contest results

Why is a documentary being made about Signal Hill and can you tell us more about the Vetter Streamliner skatecar?

Signal Hill was crazy! It was an amazing time in skateboard evolution where things were changing very quickly and racing skatecars was a fun offshoot of traditional skateboard racing. Many of us didn’t have the means or knowledge to build a safe vehicle, so when I decided to race at Signal Hill, I contacted Henry Hester. Henry had raced a skatecar there in 1977 and his car was very stable and fast. When I asked him what he used for his suspension, he directed me towards Fausto and Eric at Independent Trucks who later built me the same setup Henry had.

I was very lucky and got sponsored by Vetter Fairings, a motorcycle fairing company. The owner, Craig Vetter was very supportive of the project and even brought in other sponsors. Steve Blair, an engineering student did an amazing job designing the Vetter Streamliner skatecar and the car had brakes and a parachute. I never had a problem with wobbles and when I took part in the Signal Hill Speed Run in 1978, the skatecar helped me hit the top speed of 59.27mp. In 1991, I sold the car to a collector, but recently bought it back and fully restored it to the way it looked when I raced it at Signal Hill.


(Left) Signal Hill- At speed!
(Right) 1978 Signal Hill Race- 3rd place Jack


Vetter Streamliner fully restored to the way it looked when I raced it at Signal Hill

Can you tell us about the FRESHPARK Skatercross?

The FRESHPARK Skatercross which combined vert, street and racing was held in Morro Bay. It was an idea that Roger Hickey, who owns Freskpark and I had for years . Roger supplied the ramps and prize money and I helped organised the event which came off really well.


FreshPark Skatercross


Jack at the FreshPark Skatercross

What can you tell us about the the Morro Bay Ditch?

The Morro Bay Ditch was located in the middle of town and it was once the focal point of skateboarding on the Central Coast. It was so highly visible and accessible by both spectators and skaters that even the cops in town used to tell kids to get off the street and go ride the ditch. The transitions were fairly decent, and it was so long that more than one skater could ride it at the same time.


Riding the Morro Bay Ditch

We came across pictures of you jumping cars, what gave you the idea to do that and was it difficult?

I had seen pictures of skaters jumping cars in SkateBoarder magazine and decided to give it a try. Once I figured out the landing, it wasn’t that difficult because I had been a high jumper in high school.


Jack jumping cars

In the mid 1970s, you had a ramp in your backyard, what gave you the idea to build it?

On the way back from visiting Skatopia, my friend and I brainstormed on recreating a smaller version of the Skatopia half pipe in my backyard. We ended up not drawing plans and just started building. It featured a roll-in ramp on the side and only four feet of flat bottom. Later, after using it at a demo at a local contest, we sold it off for USD $10 to avoid the hassle of loading it back on a trailer and bringing it home.


The ramp In Jack's backyard

How big was your collection of skateboards and how did you end up owning John Lennon’s skateboard?

Back in the late 80s, I started collecting skateboards and have owned around 1,500 collectable skateboards. Most of my early collections were bought by Stacy Peralta and most of the rest was bought by Chicken Deck and Kelly Belmar. In 2001, I bought John Lennon’s skateboard in partnership with my friend Cliff Marshall, who was a huge Beatle fan. We later received a very attractive offer for John Lennon’s kick and sold it off.


A shot of my first collection. Two days later Stacy Peralta bought all of it.


John Lennon's old skateboard.
He bought it while touring back in 1964 or 1965.

Who owns the biggest collection of skateboards today?

There are a number of very large collections of skateboards today, but I would think that Todd Huber of Skate Lab has the biggest.

You used to skateboard, sandboard and long board, do you still skateboard?

I do most of my skating today on a longboard, but still hit the local skatepark once in awhile.

You remain very active in driving the skateboarding scene, what have you been up to recently?

I am actively involved in the organization of long distance racing and in the past year, helped to create the International Distance Skateboarding Association. I was also the head official for the Adrenalina Marathon Series and spent my summer traveling to New York City, Puerto Rico, Texas and Florida. During this time, I began publishing The Skateboarder's Journal and in my free-time, I play basketball and coach high school pole vaulting.


Jack holding a copy of "The Skateboarders Journal"

What gave you the idea to publish The Skateboarder’s Journal (SBJ) and what can readers expect?

I truly believe that skateboarding is entering a “new golden age" and "contemporary" skateboarding magazines are not capturing that. These magazines completely ignore longboarding, freestyle, slalom and downhill and are so narrowly focused on street skating and a bit of vert that they seldom print anything about all the other types of skating, and very little historical in nature.

I have always been a big fan of The Surfer's Journal and for the last 15 years, have wanted to do a magazine similar to the Surfer's Journal for skateboarding. With the inspiration I drew from The Surfer's Journal, I took the plunge and became a magazine publisher.

The SBJ will strive to cover the full spectrum of skateboarding with greater depth, balance, intelligence and perspective. Our vision is “to respect and honor skateboard history, both the neglected aspects and the over-exposed elements, while supporting the evolution of all skateboarding disciplines as entities unto themselves - with individual subcultures that need not be chained to Old School nostalgia, despite the romantic allure of bygone Golden days.”


Big names like Stacy Peralta and Steve Caballero form part of the editorial Line-up for the Premiere issue of the SBJ? Could you tell us more about the team who brought us SBJ?

I've known Stacy since the 70s and he is someone I really admire and respect. He wrote the forward to my book “Lives on a Board” and we used the same piece in SBJ to set the tone for the rest of the magazine. Adrian Pina, a great designer helped to bring my vision to life and a great team of writers and photographers played a key role in making SBJ special. We have received a really great response to the magazine and it is all thanks to having a great team.


How can someone subscribe or contribute to your magazine?

They can visit our website, skateboardersjournal.com or email me at jack@theskateboardersjournal.com

Can you tell us more about your book “Lives on a Board” and how do we purchase a copy of the book?

“Lives on a Board” started out as a collection of my own stories but ended up becoming a collection of amazing stories contributed by skaters of all ages from all around the world. It captures skateboarding history and the essence of everyone who contributed. The book can be purchased at Lulu.com or Amazon.com.


Taken from Jack's book- "Lives on Board"

Having seen skateboarding evolved so much through the years, what would you like to see happen in the future?

I would love to see skateboarding be included in the Olympics, mainly vert and some form of racing, perhaps skatercross. I feel the skateboarding industry and media have really dropped the ball in regards to including skateboarding in the Olympics. Now that sales have flattened, I find it most interesting to see them suddenly so open to the idea of getting skateboarding into the Olympics.

You have been sponsored, featured in movies, documentaries and advertisements and even crossed America on a skateboard thrice. You have ran for city council, spearheaded great events and done so much more. How does a person manage to do so much and how can someone aspire to become like you?

I think it's all about time management and having a very supportive wife. The most important thing is to never lose the ability to wonder about things. Don't listen to people who tell you something can't be done because you will never know until you give it a try. There are still so many more things I want to try and I just hope I don't run out of years first.


Poster of Jack campaigning for public office...skateboarder style!

Can you tell us more about your family and does your other son, Dylan skateboard?

I am married to a lovely woman named Cathy, who started skateboarding again at age 50, after a 40 year hiatus. Dylan who is 20 years old, attends college in Colorado. I am very proud of Dylan who is a very good longboarder/speed boarder and recently took part in his first marathon at the Adrenalina Skateboard Marathon in Plano, Texas. He finished in 22th place with a time of two hours and seven minutes.


(Left) Dylan Smith (in white t-shirt) at the Adrenalina Skateboard Marathon in Plano, Texas.
(Right) Dylan Smith leading a heat at the Winter Outlaw Series in Colorado.

Who are your favorite athletes and why?

Denis Shufeldt, who was my first skateboarding hero, is still my hero. Back in the 70s, Denis was breaking 50mph on 24" stock Bahne skateboards and I always admired the skill and nerve it took for him to do this. I first met Denis in 2002 when I asked him to be the announcer at the 2002 Catalona Classic. He is one of the most honest and straightforward people I have ever known and is a true gentleman.


Denis Shufeldt

Image taken from Warren Bolster's "Master of Skateboard Photography"
by Concrete Wave & CalSteets

My other favorite athlete is Jan Johnson, an Olympic pole vaulter who won the bronze medal in 1972 at the Munich Olympics. I really admire Jan’s great enthusiasm for life and when I was a vaulter in high school, he was one of my childhood heroes. Jan lives in my area and also surfs and skates. Back in the early 90s, we worked for the same company and became good friends.

Anything else you would like share with us? How about any interesting or funny stories?

Well, on my last skateboard ride across America in 2003, I was pulled over by the cops several times. When the cops got close enough to see that I was old enough to be their dad, it was funny to watch the expression on their faces.

Another time, during a slalom race in Pismo, a big ass Doberman came out of nowhere and chased me down the course. I like to say that's why I won the race!


This was at the race in Pismo that the dog scared the crap out of me.
I think it's name was Incentive!

Lastly, thanks so much for giving me the opportunity to be interviewed for the Lion City Skaters website.

3 comments:

vivian said...

it's amazing to see how he has kept skateboarding so alive through the different stages in his life. kudos to his spirit and passion! thanks to val for interviewing him so that we are all inspired by him. jack smith, if you can hear me, i'm jumping up and down, wolf whistling!

Anonymous said...

any videos of this guy? i think if you guys made a video interview with this guy documentary it would be nice

Valerie Ong said...

U can check out some of Jack's video clips's here. :)

My Skateboarding Life 1974 - 2008:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fkHKZ_tausc

Skateboarding Across America 2003 - On Board for Lowe Syndrome:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-7IJS6EuI7c

Freshpark 2010 World Championships of Skater-X:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TltkhXQvmXU

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