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During the rise of professional skateboarding in the late ’70s and ’80s, one man involved in the industry became known not for riding a skateboard, but for the photos he took of skateboarding’s rising stars.

Meet Jim Goodrich. He’ll be one of the legends appearing at the El Gato Classic in Palm Springs Friday through Sunday, Dec. 4-6.

During a recent phone interview, Goodrich explained how he became a photographer.

“It really was an accident,” Goodrich said. “I had a photography class when I was in high school, but I was sort of a kid without direction back in those early days. My brother started skateboarding, and that’s what got me interested in it. I got a homemade board and didn’t really know anything about the skateboarding scene. I played around with photography while I was in high school and never really thought about it. I just wanted to skate like all kids do.

“I don’t know if I would say I wasn’t very good at skating. … Living in San Diego, skate parks hadn’t really come along quite yet, and I was skating in competitions doing slalom with some of the best skaters in the world. I was always pushing myself beyond what my skills were back then, and I kept falling and breaking body parts. When my arm was in a cast, I decided to buy a cheap little camera and take pictures of my friends.”

At the time, there was a demand for photos of skateboarding for magazines. Warren Bolster, of Skateboarder Magazine, is responsible for giving Goodrich entry into the photography world.

“Warren Bolster was a local in La Costa, so I saw him and got to know him,” Goodrich said. “I started bringing my slides up to La Costa to the skate park and showing them to the skaters. Warren walked over one day and said, ‘Hey, can I see those?’ He asked me if it would be OK to take some of them and put in the magazine. Of course, as a young kid, I’m going, ‘Ohhhh yeah!’ Six months later, he hired me on staff at the magazine. Given I was working at the magazine, it became tough to skate, because every minute I was skating, I was missing out on getting that one shot that would be in the magazine. Over the next year, I was skating less and less, and shooting more and more”

Goodrich said skateboarding photography is unlike any other sports photography.

“It really is unique,” Goodrich said. “I was really just learning photography, and I didn’t really have anyone to teach me. Warren Bolster was not a kind, warm and fuzzy guy who would come over and say, ‘Well, why don’t you try this?’ He was unapproachable for advice. Once in a while, he’d tell me he’d like to see more of a certain kind of shot or a specific skater … .”

“It was a quarter for every shot I took, for the film and the processing. It was fairly expensive when I was shooting on my own dime, so I didn’t shoot as much. I really shot in-camera, and made every shot count, because I was a kid on a limited budget. I was really trying to learn photography as well as learn skate photography. … I started developing my own technique using slower shutter speeds, flash, remote flash, colored strobe and colored flood lights for different techniques.”

During the ’80s, Thrasher magazine was showing skateboarders doing higher aerials and crazier tricks as the sport continued to evolve.

“Craig Stecyk is famous for a quote: ‘Go for what you know you can’t make,’” Goodrich said.  “If I ever get my book finished, that’s definitely something I’m going to include, because I think it’s pretty priceless and pretty telling. But my philosophy was: It really mattered to me if the skater could pull off the trick. … I was really reluctant to shoot a skater I knew was just going for something for the photo, but couldn’t pull it off. We had this dialogue on Facebook when fans talk about my photos. They’ll ask, ‘Did they make that?’ My response 40 years later is, ‘Of course there’s no way for me to remember in certainty on any given shot.’ But one thing I can always say is, ‘That skater was able to pull off that trick, but he may not have pulled off the one that was in that actual photo.’”

Goodrich said he’s not sure whether digital technology has made a substantial impact on skateboarding photography.

“When digital first came along, I just didn’t have the money to buy the best camera with the best sensor in it. In the early years of the digital cameras, they didn’t have a good dynamic range, so you’d end up with a lot of whites blown out, and the darks didn’t have detail,” Goodrich said. “The quality of the photos didn’t come close to film. But as the technology has advanced, it became better. Because I have a better camera, I totally embrace digital and don’t miss film. I feel like it has the dynamic range now.

“From the standpoint of working in any industry as a digital photographer, it’s cheaper, and it’s almost necessary, because clients expect to see the photos on a laptop in the scene. I would say there are too many positives with digital. Whether it’s made skate photography better or worse … it’s immediate; it doesn’t cost anything to speak of; and in some ways, it’s made a lot of photographers really sloppy. You can afford to motor-drive or to shoot hundreds of photos and not be concerned about getting the shot you wanted to shoot, because you’re shooting so many photos that an idiot could get the peak action. … I still shoot in-camera even though every shot is essentially free, but I still want to get that shot. I don’t want to Photoshop it. But I totally embrace digital now.”

These days, many print skateboarding publications are gone or on their last legs.

“I dealt with it on a very personal level with Skateboarder Magazine. In 1979, skateboarding was slowing down, and I don’t think anyone saw it was going to crash,” Goodrich said. “I went through the change with that on a very personal level at Skateboarder Magazine. In order to attract new advertisers, because some skate companies were going out of business, they went to BMX to rock bands to anything else they could cover to generate additional advertising revenue. … It was definitely a difficult transition, as it was dying and (relaunched as) Action Now, and I quit, just because I wasn’t interested in shooting the other things they were covering, but also because I couldn’t make enough money to support myself … . ”

“I’m fully aware that digital makes print in most ways we’re familiar with completely irrelevant. There’s very little money to be made in print now, and it’s a very difficult market. While TransWorld is still out there, it has struggled for a few years. … It’s difficult to say what will remain in print and what will completely disappear.”

Goodrich said he agrees with El Gato Classic founder Eddie Elguera’s philosophy of the event honoring the past and championing the future. He said he’s looking forward to this year’s event after missing the inaugural event last year due to illness.

“I don’t go to too many skateboarding events; a lot of it is just too commercial for me,” Goodrich said. “I generally usually go to see my old skateboard friends, but I was really bummed I missed (the El Gato Classic) last year. I was really excited when Eddie said he was doing another one this year. Guys like Steve Caballero, Lance Mountain, Tony Hawk and Mark ‘Gator’ Rogowski all came in during the early ’80s, and that really was the true renaissance of skateboarding, where it really found its roots, and we found out who we were. I do love events like Eddie’s that bring the old school and the new school together. Maybe half the kids look up to people like Eddie, or Tony Hawk, who is an enigma himself, but I came from an era where the public looked at us like we were Hells Angels. We were outcasts; cops would pull us over and hassle us just because we were skaters, and not for any broken laws. For me to see society as a whole and embracing it so much … it’s just a different scene.”

The El Gato Classic will take place Friday through Sunday, Dec. 4-6, at various places in downtown Palm Springs; ticket prices vary. For tickets or more information, call 760-832-3388, or visit www.elgatoclassic.com. Below: Darrell Miller at Lakewood in 1979.

Published in Features

When the Independent interviewed local professional skateboarder Eddie “El Gato” Elguera about his inaugural El Gato Classic, he said one goal of the event was to “honor the past and champion the future.”

That’s exactly the vibe that the event at the Palm Springs Skatepark had last weekend, on Jan. 24 and 25.

At 10 a.m. on Saturday, a large crowd gathered around the Nude Bowl replica for the Legends Jam, which lasted into the afternoon and led into the Vert Demo in the Palm Springs High School parking lot. Many legendary names were present, including Steve Caballero, Mike McGill, Micke Alba, Jim Gray, Scott Foss and Tony Magnusson.

Most of the Legends Jam was announced by Christian Hosoi, who had an injured knee and therefore only skated briefly. Highlights included a shirtless David Hackett landing his trademark “Hackett Slash” in the bowl; Steve Caballero’s numerous attempts (with plenty of spills) to do the “Elguerial,” Eddie Elguera’s signature move; Jim Gray’s comedic spectacles after each run (while wearing a T-shirt that said “I want to be a skater”); and Mike McGill’s many spills. McGill was apparently injured during a recent skateboarding event, yet still took part in the jam. Hats off to him.

Speaking of injuries: After the 50-year-old Caballero took a hard spill, I asked him if it hurt more or less than it did when he was a teenager. “It hurts just as bad, only longer,” he replied.

Later in the afternoon, a large crowd gathered to see the Vert Demo—the one event to feature Tony Hawk. He brought the ramp for the demo, which also featured Eddie Elguera, Kevin Staab, Steve Caballero, Neal Hendrix and younger-generation skaters Lincoln Ueda, 15-year-old Tom Schaar, and 11-year-old Evan “Big E” Doherty.

Before the demo started, Elguera thanked the audience for showing up and gave the microphone to his wife, Dawna, who said they plan to make the El Gato Classic an annual event—the “Coachella of Skateboarding.”

Elguera started by landing his namesake trick, the “Elguerial,” which earned him a loud ovation. Christian Hosoi showed up with his pads and helmet, announcing from the top of the ramp and taking one gentle, non-technical run. Tony Hawk’s childhood friend Kevin Staab was dressed in all purple gear, matching his purple hair and well-known punk-rock attitude; he put on an impressive display of classic vert tricks, such as his trademarked “blunt to fakie.”

Tony Hawk’s runs were just as mesmerizing and impressive as the vert runs he did during his younger days, which won him millions in prize money—and frustrated contemporaries who would complain that he always had new tricks at every contest. It’s been said that Hawk is not a stylish skater, but his execution of tricks like the 900, the trick that Hawk was the first to complete after many failed attempts, was flawless.

Even though Caballero fell several times in the bowl, he came to the vert ramp as if he wasn’t as tired. While his first couple of runs were brief and ended in spills, he managed to shake them off and put on an incredible performance in his third run, landing his trademarked “Caballerial.” He made several other impressive runs after that.

Hendrix and Ueda brought power and air in both of their runs, with Ueda going the highest of all. Hendrix’s executions were powerful enough that Hosoi announced, “Hendrix is shaking the ramp right now.”

Elguera at one point mentioned that he brought in Tom Schaar and Big-E to “give the legends a break.” Schaar was impressive to watch, as he brought newly formed tricks and amazing skill to the demo. Big-E was the youngest and the smallest of the skaters, but his skill level was amazing: He was able to pull off multiple 900s. In fact, he landed 10 900s before he stopped and took a place at the top of the vert ramp.

On Sunday morning, Elguera, Hosoi and Caballero led church services at Elguera’s church, The Rock, in Palm Desert. Later, as they arrived at the Palm Springs Skatepark, a crowd slowly started to build to witness the Legends Contest. Scott Foss was one of the early arrivals and watched a couple other legends join locals in the bowl as organizers set up. During a practice run, Foss took a nasty spill. Fortunately, he recovered enough that he was able to participate.

Shortly after Elguera, Hosoi, Caballero and others arrived, Elguera announced they were going to scratch the idea of the contest, because they only raised about $2,000 for the prize purse; instead, they were going to make it into another jam.

Elguera made several stunning runs, as did Caballero and Tony Magnusson. Hosoi also participated, albeit cautiously, due to his knee injury. David Hackett landed a perfect “Hackett Slash” that was even better than the one he made Saturday. Hosoi and Elguera did a triples run with Brad Bowman that went faster and faster inside the deep end of the bowl before Hosoi jumped out—with his board going up and hitting one of the photographers in the face.

On hand to watch the jam was the inventor of the “invert,” Bobby Valdez. Magnusson did an amazing invert as a tribute to Valdez during one of his runs.

One great thing about skateboarding is the laid-back nature of the sport. The legends were approachable and more than willing to sign autographs, pose for pictures and shake the hands of fans—even Tony Hawk, who stuck around after the vert demo.

It was a great first event. Here’s hoping the El Gato Classic continues to grow in the years ahead, and becomes another exciting annual event in Palm Springs.

Scroll down to see a gallery of photos by Kevin Fitzgerald.

Published in Snapshot

The fame that El Gato Classic founder Eddie Elguera’s skateboarding career gave him led, in part, to a drug and alcohol addiction in the early 1980s. (For more on the El Gato Classic, see the main story.)

He retired from the sport, and then became a born-again Christian before eventually returning during the boom of vert-skating in the 1980s. He opened the Rock Church, where the slogan is, “Loving people to life.”

Elguera was not shy about discussing his fall into drug use.

“Basically, when you’re at the top, and you have people throwing money at you, the opportunities are there for people who want to give you drugs and give you alcohol,” he said. “It’s so important to have a good structure around you that helps you to bounce wisdom off of. I was focused for the first two years, and I wouldn’t allow things to come in like that, because I knew what my goal and purpose was. But I didn’t have the big picture, so I dropped off the map.”

After retiring from skateboarding and taking a job at a fast-food restaurant, he had an encounter with a woman who turned him on to teachings from the Bible.

“This lady came in and just began to share the gospel about God and Jesus Christ,” he said. “That day, I gave my life to God, because she said, ‘You will never find fulfillment in skateboarding or drugs, and you’ll only find it in Jesus Christ. God will use you and find you’ll have purpose in life.’ I accepted the Lord; I started going to church. That was back in 1983, and in 1986, God began to speak to me about starting to skateboard again.”

“It was great to get back into it after a six-year hiatus. I was afraid because of not being at the top any more, but at the same time, I knew it was for a greater purpose. I got back into the competition scene, and pretty soon, a friend asked me to come and share my story at a youth group, and then a couple more, then I had a skateboard ministry where I went around to different churches and shared my story.”

Christian Hosoi, who will also be appearing at the El Gato Classic, recalled Elguera’s Bible-study meetings at skateboarding events. Hosoi also had drug problems and served a prison term after being arrested in 2000 at the Honolulu International Airport in Hawaii after attempting to transport more than a pound of crystal meth. He became a born-again Christian while in prison. Hosoi is currently the outreach pastor of the Sanctuary Church in Orange County.

“(Eddie) is a great example of what a man of God can be,” said Hosoi. “He’s a businessman and a professional skateboarder. We’re both still professional skateboarders. I’m a pastor at the Sanctuary Church, and he’s a pastor at The Rock. We still get gnarly; we still get rad; and we still hang out with all of our friends who do crazy things, but we just love people. I love his saying, ‘Loving people to life.’”

Published in Features

Palm Springs will become the center of the skateboarding world Friday, Jan. 23, through Sunday, Jan. 25, when the area will be taken over by skateboarding’s most legendary riders for the El Gato Classic.

At the center of the event is Eddie “El Gato” Elguera, a valley resident who is a pastor at the Rock Church in Palm Desert. Elguera became a professional skateboarder in the late ’70s and went on to be a two-time world champion. He’s a major influence on many current pros, given he created several tricks that skateboarders continue to use today, such as the “Elguerial.”

“When I started back in the ’70s, when pool skating and vertical skating was coming out, there wasn’t the recognition that there is today. Now, it’s a lot more mainstream, and there are corporate sponsors like Red Bull,” said Elguera during a recent interview the Rock Church. (For more on Elguera’s religious awakening, see the sidebar.)

While Elguera is 52 now, the grandfather and father of three still has a skater look; when we spoke, he was wearing black skinny jeans, Nike skateboarding shoes, a black cardigan sweater and a red-and-black striped shirt.

Big-name skateboarders participating in the El Gato Classic include Tony Hawk, Christian Hosoi, Steve Caballero, Lance Mountain, Mike McGill and others. During a recent phone interview, Tony Hawk explained why Elguera is such an important figure in skateboarding.

“He absolutely inspired me, especially when I was coming into my own in skating,” Hawk said. “I felt like he was the most progressive skater and really a pioneer of trick-style skating. I didn’t really have the build or the natural style that a lot of skaters had, so I just loved doing tricks—and he was at the forefront of new tricks.”

Hosoi talked during a recent phone interview about the days of skateboarding when it was thought of as an outlaw sport.

“The whole ritual of skateboarding wasn’t just skateboarding; it was the discovery of finding an empty pool, planning it out, and inviting everybody to come,” he said. “… It was a pioneering thing, because no one had done it yet, and now we have grandmas taking their grandchildren to skate parks, where they’re learning to be the next Tony Hawk.”

Elguera remembered when prize money wouldn’t even cover airfare or hotel expenses for the professionals who would show up to events.

“Sometimes, first prize would be $500, or maybe $1,000,” Elguera said. “Then skateboard parks started to close because insurance companies didn’t want to insure skateparks. Skateboarding kind of took a dip after that, and that’s when the contests popped up where the prize was $100. When I was at the top, I never thought I’d still be skateboarding at 52, which I am today. Back then, you figured your career would go to 25.”

There was a goal in mind for any kid who skateboarded.

“You wanted to get sponsored,” Elguera said. “Not so much for the money and everything else, but just to get free product, because then you could get boards, get wheels, get clothes, and you didn’t have to buy all that stuff. You were like, ‘Wow, I hit the top!’ when you get your first package. You end up waiting for the UPS guy. The UPS guy for skateboarders is like Santa Claus.”

Elguera said many early innovators in his support have not received the recognition they deserve. On the El Gato Classic website, there is a graphic asking, “Have You Seen Them?” with a list of skateboarding innovators who have fallen off the radar; organizers hope these missing legends will see their names and attend.

“The El Gato Classic is where we’re taking the guys who were really pioneers and revolutionary in terms of what skateboarding could be,” he said. “A lot of the guys we’re gathering together didn’t really get the recognition, and that’s why I want to come out and just say, ‘Thank you.’ I have a saying: ‘If we honor the past and champion the future, skateboarding will never die.’ My goal with the El Gato Classic, with this first one, is to honor the past.”

There’s a reason the El Gato Classic is being held in Palm Springs, beyond Elguera’s connection to the Coachella Valley: From the late ’70s through the early ’90s, there was a spot called Nude Bowl outside of Desert Hot Springs. The former Desert Garden Ranch, which was once a nudist resort, had a kidney-shaped pool and some leftover structures that skateboarders loved. Videos from the Nude Bowl era now on YouTube show a pool with tons of graffiti; one video shows a fire engulfing the entire outer edge of the pool as people skateboard inside of it.

Today at the Palm Springs Skate Park, there is a replica of the kidney-shaped pool—sans graffiti, of course.

Hawk said he knows the Nude Bowl’s history.

“I never got to go there. It was a famous spot, and just about all the legends coming to this event have probably been there,” he said.

Hosoi said he went to the Nude Bowl all the time.

“We’d have punk-rock bands up there, and it was outlaw craziness up there on that mountain,” he said. “There were dirt roads forever to the top of this hill and just hundreds of people. It was out of control, and I’m surprised no one ever died up there, because that’s how crazy it got. It was all day, all night and ’til the next morning, to where we’d finally just say, ‘Gotta go!’ because there was no more in us.”

Proceeds from the El Gato Classic will go to the Tony Hawk Foundation, which works to build skate parks in low-income communities.

“The perception of skating in those areas when a park first gets built—there’s usually some pushback about having a skate park, and what it means, and what kind of crowd it will attract,” Hawk said. “When a city finally approves a project, and they see that there’s a community that rallies around it, they end up building more. We’re empowering communities that are already trying to help themselves.”

It’s well-known that in the late ’80s and early ’90s, Hawk and Hosoi were rivals in vertical-skating events. At the El Gato Classic, they just might have another epic skate battle.

“I feel like he and I have come a long way,” Hawk said about his former competitor. “We’re no longer rivals and are more like comrades. We’re happy we’re still doing this for a living and that people come out to see us. I think we’re just more appreciative of the fact we’re still here than trying to compete with each other. When we get together, even in a competition setting, it’s more of a celebration.”

Hosoi said he agrees, but joked that he still feels the rivalry at times.

“We like to have fun, but we’re competitive,” Hosoi said with a laugh. “It doesn’t matter what it is, whether it’s playing pool or throwing rocks at a can 100 feet away—we are going to compete!”

The El Gato Classic will take place Friday, Jan. 23, through Sunday, Jan. 25; the times, prices and venues vary. For more information, visit www.elgatoclassic.com.

Published in Features