Growing up, in my circle of skater friends, if you were good maybe one day you’d make the Bones Brigade. If you sucked, like me, MAYBE you could make the Nash team. Such was the life of kids in the 80s pretending to have a shot at a career in skateboarding — the real goal of which was to get sponsored so you could get a free Powell-Peralta Ripper deck or something.
Our goals were small compared to that of the larger-than-life members of the Bones Brigade who we regularly read about in the pages of Thrasher. Like Don Mattingly or Joe Montana, Tony Hawk, Lance Mountain, Tommy Guerrero and the rest of the Bones Brigade were our heroes. They were kids, not much older than us, traveling the world, doing what they loved. They had cool haircuts, defied logic and gravity with their constant barrage of inventive new tricks and were no doubt the most envied kids in their high schools. I wanted in SO badly.
Sadly, like millions of other kids, I never made the Bones Brigade.
Years later, the intrigue of the Bones Brigade is still enormous and their cultural impact can’t be understated. Not only were they revolutionaries in the sport of skateboarding, but they were pioneers in film-making (Stacy Peralta and his team were doing Youtube-esque films decades ago) and the link from the Bones Brigade to the alternative and counter-culture explosion of the early 1990s is pretty direct.
The terrific new documentary “Bones Brigade, An Autobiography,” sheds light not only on these subjects, but dives deep into what the Bones Brigade meant to the big six — Rodney Mullen, Tony Hawk, Lance Mountain, Tommy Guerrero, Steve Caballero and Mike McGill. It’s a fascinating look back on the transformation of the sport of skateboarding and the transformation of these kids into adults and how becoming massively popular, anti-heroes informed their lives as grown-ups.
Mastermind, coach and mentor of the Bones Brigade and skate legend himself, Stacy Peralta, took some time to talk with Atomic Comet about the film, the team and what it means all these years later.
In going back through the vaults and conducting the interviews, what was the biggest surprise, memory or lost treasure (so to speak) you dug up?
SP – The biggest surprise was how much the experience of growing up together on the Bones Brigade meant to these six skaters – that after all of this time, almost three decades, that experience is still deeply felt in their lives. This was a huge surprise that I wasn’t expecting and I also wasn’t expecting the emotion from them that they brought to the film.
What did you rediscover about the Bones Brigade?
SP – How great these six skaters are and how much they accomplished in skateboarding and what trail blazers they were and still are. They made me want to try harder in my own life.
Having mentored the guys from early adolescents to adulthood, what were some of the biggest changes you saw in the team as they became men?
SP – Less what they became, but more what they avoided — none of them ended up in rehab, none of them ended up broke or without a career after their “skate career.” All six of them took the fire they had in their bellies for skateboarding and applied it to the rest of their lives. They are still moving forward as businessmen, artists, musicians and current-day skaters. It says so much about them as people that they have not rested on the past, but are continuing to move forward towards newer experiences. That is the thing I’m most proud of.
Frankly, I was a little surprised by the “Boy Scout” section in the documentary, which describes the Bones Brigade as clean cut, at least compared to Tony Alva’s team…was that included to dismantle any preconceived notions about skaters or the culture?
SP – It was put there because some people felt that way and I thought it was important to point out aspects about the team that might not be flattering towards us. Also I knew it would get a good laugh which is always important in these types of films.
What do you think it was about the guys that keep their attitudes and actions in check?
SP – It was both the type of skaters I chose and it was the expectations I put upon them. I didn’t want them to believe in their “fame” or in all of the adulation they were getting through the magazines, through touring and through making money skateboarding. Believing in that nonsense can be so detrimental to a young person – it’s all fake, it isn’t real and it doesn’t last. Having traveled that road myself and seeing what it did to some of my peers, I didn’t want to see them ever get caught up in it.
As kids, how did these guys get out of school and “normal” youth responsibilities?
SP – They didn’t get out of school. They would miss a Friday or Monday once in a while so they could attend an event, but that didn’t happen that often — two or three times a year. We talked about their grades…at least I did with McGill and Caballero. I always wanted to know that skateboarding contests weren’t having a negative effect on their education.
Was there a lot of struggle to convince the parents to allow these guys to be on the team and travel?
SP – Surprisingly, I never met most of their parents…never even so much as spoke to most of them. I never met Caballero’s mom and dad, never met Rodney’s father, or even spoke with him. I met McGill’s parents later during his pro career. I found it strange then and I still find it strange. If my son, at age 14, was flying across the country to stay at someone’s home and compete in contests and be driven around by them, I would want to speak with the person. They never called.
How is the sport of skateboarding changing?
SP – It has completely left its surfing roots and is becoming more of an ethnic sport as inner-city kids are gravitating towards it as a way out.
In your opinion, could something like the Bones Brigade ever happen again?
SP – It could. It would just take someone with vision and the ability to hold a group of diverse talents together. It would certainly be harder because of the way so many companies rip each other off today. They ripped each other off in my day as well, but not quite as much.
At the end of the film, it mentions that you and George (Powell) are collaborating again…what can people expect from a new Powell-Peralta?
SP – We’ve responded by providing Powell-Peralta re-issues and such, and it seems a lot of people are really interested in many of these items. George would like it to become much more than a re-issue company. I’m not sure how I feel. I need to see how the film plays out before I can even make an opinion.
I never expected to make this film and the response to it has been so much more than I expected. The film was good enough to get accepted into this year’s Sundance Film Festival, meaning we had to compete with 12,000 other films to get accepted. At Sundance we got five standing ovations from the audiences. This has all be such a surprise.