chops sits down with the king of safeway for conversation.
Alright Danny, lets start this off with a trick tip from the master: in your own words, what’s the secret to a good slappie?
You gotta crash into it, man. Make sure your trucks are kinda loose, get some speed and just crash into it. Smash it down. And remember, you gotta hit your front truck first or it’s not really a slappy. A slappy is front truck then back truck. It’s not really a slappy if you ride up the curb with your back wheels.
Are you kind of stoked that slappies and curb skating have had a bit of a comeback in recent years? Such a fun trick but for a while there, they were almost frowned upon as not “tech” enough…
Yeah, and that’s so sad because it really is one of the raddest street skating tricks there is. It’s right up there with ollies. I think if you can’t slappy and you consider yourself a “street skater”, that would really suck. (laughs)
While you could definitely get down on all terrain, you have become largely synonymous with pushing the limits of curb skating. Did you feel at the time that what you were doing on curbs, particularly at Safeway, was going to have this legacy? Did it seem like you were laying down an important framework in street skating at the time?
Not really, man. I wasn’t really thinking about that at all. Looking back on it now, I wish I would’ve done more in that regard. Honestly, I think I probably did too many feeble grinds. (laughs)
It was all so different back then. Everything was in those early stages and videos were such a minor thing. So much of what I was doing back in the day was never filmed and I definitely regret that. I wish I would’ve focused more on video parts at the time.
A lot of the skaters who were in those first few skate videos say that but everything was so contest-driven at the time.
Yeah, we just didn’t know. I mean… I had kickflip front board transfers on double-sided curbs and I never even thought to film them back then. Sure, I’d try it a few times during filming but if I didn’t get it, I’d just move on. I was never one for trying something over and over again.
I almost made a kickflip frontboard down a handrail for Sick Boys but I fell off as I was rolling away. That’s one where I should’ve taken the time to really try and make on film instead just letting it go so quickly after a couple tries.
|photo: bryce kanights|
Jesus! I mean I know you did a hurricane down that rail in Sick Boys which was already impressive but I never heard about that kickflip frontboard!
Yeah, there was the hurricane, which I got, but I was also trying those kickflip frontboards. I don’t know what I was thinking… I don’t think I knew how much time we actually had to film that day so I was trying to get in all I could. I remember Jason Lee asking me about that years later. Evidently he’d heard about it down in LA.
Videos were such a different thing. People hadn’t really set out to film proper parts yet.
That’s so crazy, man. But how did you arrive at this crazy tech focus on curbs and rails back then? Were you just trying to throw in as many combinations as you could back then just for the hell of it? For fun?
I mean, we were trying to do that stuff on ramps and stuff, too. The smith grind-lipslide-revert stuff. But honestly, all that stuff came trying to grind down our trucks to the axle as fast as possible. That’s what our crew was all about. We’d heard a rumor that Tom Knox had been able to grind his trucks down to the axle in 24-hours and we were always tried to match that. The closest we ever got to that was a week.
Tom must’ve been up all-night slappying.
How did Safeway, in particular, get into the mix? Do you find it weird that you’re so synonymous with that place?
Well, it was only 3 blocks down from my house so it’s not really weird at all. It was just the place that we always went to. Noah Peacock’s house was close by, too, and Safeway quickly became the meeting place for all our friends. Meet there and warm-up for a bit before heading off to Miley or some other spot.
I know Phelps drew this comparison before… Do you personally see any parallels in your combo-throwing curb skating with the tech-ledge dancing currently seen by dudes like Mike Mo and Tory Pudwill?
Right on, thanks Jake.
Yeah, those guys do the sickest combos now. It’s so awesome. I mean, we would try to be doing some crazy stuff on curbs back in the day but those guys are just so gnarly with it these days. Guys like Cory Kennedy and that double-sided ledge they were all skating in Pretty Sweet... I can’t even begin with that stuff.
Going back a bit, I know you lived in Portland for years but you’re so heavily identified with the San Francisco-scene… what was that legendary scene like back in the day with all the homies?
All that came from meeting Tommy Guerrero at a demo back in Portland while I was still in school. Once I finally graduated, I was able to move down to San Francisco and rent a room. It was funny because my room was basically in the kitchen of this apartment and dudes like Orb and Micke used to always be saying things like “Danny skates bitchin’ and lives in the kitchen.” (laughs)
I was so excited to be living in San Francisco that I didn’t even care. It’s funny to say but I had such sick house guests! I grew up always tearing pages out of the magazines to stick on my wall and now I’m seeing these guys out while I’m skating! They’re coming over to my house! I was tripping. I’d be totally fanning out on the inside but trying to play it cool on the outside. Too nervous to really say anything.
But yeah, all the CBS dudes would have parties on the weekends. Skating all day then going out at night. Tommy would set up at this Chinese restaurant and throw these crazy parties. It seemed like something was always going down.
In your mind, who was the king of the SF hills back then?
Well, you have to look at it like Gonz, Natas and Tommy were really the first street skaters. They were really the dudes we could look up to… that we related to. Not to talk shit because the vert guys were cool but we were stoked on the guys who skated street, ya know? And I always thought it was so sick how Tommy was really the first to incorporate the hills into what those guys were trying to do with street skating back then. That was tight.
But you also can’t forget about guys like Julien and Arco back then. All the City Boys bombed the hills.
For the uninitiated, talk a little about Fogtown/Concrete Jungle. It was more than “just a shop” and for you, in particular, those early ads really did a lot for your career.
Yeah, Fogtown and Concrete Jungle were all the same team, just different owners but it was a really big thing in San Francisco. It was the sickest shop in the City… the only one, really. And the team was just amazing. Jake Phelps, Micke Reyes, Jeff Whitehead, Mike Archimedes, Phil Chen, Shawn Martin… I think Mike Carroll was on there for a minute when he was super young.
But we’d all just skate together and hang out. Go on road trips down South for contests. I remember Phelper winning a slalom contest down in Pasadena back in the day. (laughs)
Have to bring up that Ain’t Dead Yet handrail 50-50, was that the first one ever published? I’ve always heard it was either that one or Ed’s 50-50 for Circle-A?
That’s a good question. I think Ed’s actually came out the same month as mine but his was in Transworld on a square rail and mine was in Thrasher on a round one. I thought about that today when I saw Ed’s Epicly Later’d and someone said he had the first pic grinding a rail in a mag. I’ve always been told that I had the first pic but he can have it if he wants. Or not. I know Gonz and Natas did ’em first.
(Editor’s note: Sarge was in the March ’88 issue of Thrasher, Ed’s was in the June ’88 issue of the still bi-monthly Transworld)
How serious did you take street skating back then? Did you consider yourself a “street skater” or just a skater?
I mean, I think I was a little different in that I’d go to these vert contests and be hanging out with Hosoi and those dudes, skating ramps. Then I found myself on a Cow Skates tour with guys like Hensley, Justin Girard and some of the more “street” dudes… they’d all be getting down on a little 3-foot mini ramp and I’d be the only one skating the 8-foot ramp.
But I just skated and tried to get down. Maybe I should’ve taken it all a bit more seriously. I mean, there were maybe 10 people in the world that could do kickflips or handrails back then, you know?
We were making up these tricks as we went along. I was beanplanting to handrails back in the mid-80s before I could ollie to them. Just making shit up. That’s what we had to do because it was all new. Everything was wide open. No-complying to hurricane down a contest rail in Munster because why not? I remember Brennand Schoeffel tripping out after seeing me do one of those in practice.
I remember you had a sequence of one in Poweredge.
I did have one a curb! I still do that trick actually. I need to do it down a real handrail though. Find a real low one, maybe… or I can just have Brian Anderson do one for me. He can do it.
So Shawn Martin has already come up a few times in this… whatever happened to that dude? Straight ripper and another member of the Oregon Trail who seemed well on his way after turning pro for Black Label but just disappeared.
Shawn Martin was so awesome, man. He was the best ever. We used to skate together all the time back then. But yeah, he’s good, man. Ended up moving out of San Francisco and got a steady job, got married and has a kid who’s like 16 now.
But he always got ripped off, man. I remember he got fourth at one of the Back to the City contests. He had a board for Black Label and when he got 4th, Lucero said that he was going to match his winnings after the contest: $500 for $500 but I guess he never did it. Things just kinda faded after that. I don’t know if Shawn didn’t take himself seriously or skateboarding seriously… but that dude was the best. He’s doing fine, though… he’s not like Coco or something and totally off the deep end.
Good to hear. So how did Schmitt Stix enter the picture for you? A Vision-backed company at the height of their powers had to be huge, right?
Yeah, it was cool how it all worked out. At the time, I was really into riding those Chris Miller Schmitt Boards with the weird dog on it… the one with the Christmas tree nose. It had a smaller shape with a bit of a longer nose and I just liked it so I started riding those all the time. Bryce Kanights, who was riding for Schmitt back then, ended up telling them about me and how I was always riding that shape. I guess they knew me from contests already. I got on Schmitt shortly there after.
Were Schmitt Stix riders treated differently compared to full Vision guys?
Yeah, we were definitely lower class, for sure. I remember getting a check for $25 after I was on the cover for Thrasher Magazine, even with a pair of Vision Street Wears on! A check for 25 bucks! That for sure ain’t much.
You should’ve been wearing one of those berets, you might’ve doubled your profits!
(laughs) Maybe! I think I was wearing this Jimi Hendrix tee that I liked instead. I mostly stuck to the shoes. I never really got down with the berets.
I actually think that I may have been riding for Vans and Vision Street at the same time for a little bit. I wasn’t on a Jovontae Turner-level with it but that kind of stuff definitely happened.
Wheel sponsors especially were so crazy back then… like I was supposed to be getting on Spitfire at one point but Paul wanted us to be riding Schmitt Stix Wheels so I was getting both… then Speed Wheels was also sending me stuff. So I just had all these crazy sets of different wheels lying around all the time. At one point, I think I had like 28 sets of wheels on my piano! They all ended up getting sun-faded and yellow because they’d sat there for so long. 28 sets of wheels is a lot of wheels!
It seemed like you were super am-status for quite sometime back then. That had to be frustrating for you, right? Because turning pro was such a big deal back in the day, I imagine you had to feel more than ready when it was time to finally take the dip.
I guess I was. I had been placing really well in those NSA AM Contests over the years and it just got to the point where I started to wonder how long I could keep on doing them. It seemed like I was getting enough photos in the magazines to where people started to know who I was. I was in a few ads for Indy and Schmitt already… it just seemed like it was time.
Where did the whole Monkey theme come from in your graphics?
Honestly, it was just hard for me to think up what I wanted for a graphic. Schmitt Stix started giving me ideas for things I might want and somehow we started talking about possibly using some type of childhood game or toy for kids. Barrel of Monkeys came up and I liked it.
Looking back on it now, I honestly don’t know why I went with that. I probably should’ve thought about it more instead of just going along with it but graphics were kinda whatever. I probably should’ve got Gonz to draw something for me instead.
So how did the idea to start the New Deal come about? That had to be scary leaving such big company but Vision was already so out of touch.
It was kinda scary but you gotta remember how it was back then… vert was out and street was in. Things were already so different than how there were just a few years before. There were all these little companies popping up that were really starting to do well… World Industries was getting really big. It was during all of this that Paul Schmitt started talking about it to some of the guys. They called me up about it and I ended up flying down there… We did it. We started a new company.
I remember a few of the dudes who remained on Schmitt were a little bummed that they weren’t invited to come along but the entire concept behind our company was that it was a “New Deal”. It couldn’t be the exact same thing. Whatever.
How were those early days of New Deal compared to Vision? I know you said Schmitt riders weren’t treated very well but I imagine those early days at the Deal had to be pretty tight financially, right?
Actually, we started out doing really good. We started New Deal up that summer and we were all still doing basically the same shit we always did, pretty much. Checking out skate camps and going over to Europe. I was still making the same amount of money, if not more. It’s not like we were now dogs without that solid foundation of Vision. We were doing just fine, which I think says a lot about how Vision was treating us.
Were you down with Andy Howell’s art direction with the yellow ads and everything? And we talked earlier about your graphic process, did you have much input into that side of things with the New Deal?
I thought it was tight, man. He’s a great artist. He drew my first graphic on New Deal back then that I always liked.
One of New Deal’s big things was trying to get people to do their own graphics… which I do draw and stuff but I never really tried. Andy’s stuff was always sick.
I think its crazy what all Ed has been able to accomplish with his art, too. I think that’s awesome. He must’ve had some visions or something. Almost like Rob Dyrdek… just a kid that plays everything right and does well for himself. I remember when Ed drew his first graphic, I never thought that he’d be in art shows one day. The only thing I remember thinking when I first saw his graphic that day was, “That guy can’t draw very well.” (laughs)
I know we talked about Sick Boys earlier… getting into the New Deal Promo and Useless Wooden Toys, did you take those projects any more seriously considering it was your main sponsor and videos were a little further along?
Those videos were definitely still with that same process of filming for a couple of days and throwing it together. 2 or 3 days of filming... that was just how we did it back then.
Videos were so much looser then… companies could’ve brought in people to point the camera at you while you’re skating but it was still mostly filming with friends who happened to have cameras. It was cool to get a sense of personal satisfaction from seeing stuff you did that day on video but it didn’t seem like the most important thing for your career at the time. Sure, we could’ve put more work into the parts like people do today but it’s not like those parts we made back then were bad. They were definitely cool for what they were… even if they could’ve been more professional.
Definitely. But did you even get to pick your song on those parts?
Nah, I didn’t. I guess I probably should’ve been more involved. I mean I tried to throw out songs… like skating to Motorhead or Too Short or something like that but we couldn’t afford that. We didn’t have money for the rights.
Could’ve probably just taken it. So you definitely came up with the older SF guard out in the hills but quickly adapted to that young fresh-to-def EMB crew… when did you start to realize what was going on down at Embarcadero was really going to be leading the way in skating for some time to come?
Shit, when I went down there and saw those guys doing tricks I didn’t know how to do. (laughs)
I remember seeing Lavar doing a big spin down the 7 and it was obvious that these dudes were getting raw. Henry and Mike were already so sick! You just knew right away. It was tight to see these people around me not only keeping up but being the first people to actually do shit. For me, it wasn’t about trying to be better than anybody else, it was more about the progression. Paving the way and seeing where stuff can go.
Didn’t some of the older guard try to hate on that crew down there?
There were definitely some haters. I’m not going to name any names or anything but yeah, some of the original dudes were getting frustrated because those kids were so good. They were all trying to hang on to their pro careers.
So much of your approach was about speed and long grinds… all of sudden, everyone is going super slow and basically doing freestyle on little wheels. Did you feel pressure to start changing up how you skated to better fit in with those trends?
(laughs) Yeah, I got a little left out of that, didn’t I?
Honestly, I did slow it down a little bit to try some of that stuff but I never went all out and tried to film pressure flips all day. I did feel a little bummed back then… not really on myself, but because skateboarding was in such a strange place at the time. I was bummed that I really wasn’t on the newest shit or whatever. That definitely discouraged me a little bit from filming, for sure.
I was still skating fast and doing my thing just the same or better. Just because I didn’t have every trick that all the kids were doing, it was still all good. I didn’t want to dumb it down, you know?
As a skateboarder, I was totally fine with that but it did make ads and video parts a little more difficult. I love skateboarding but there was a time where I felt kind of at a loss as to what I could go out and film.
As a skateboarder, I was totally fine with that but it did make ads and video parts a little more difficult. I love skateboarding but there was a time where I felt kind of at a loss as to what I could go out and film.
And its funny, too, because at the height of all that stuff back then, Julien had the best video part and he didn’t do one flip trick in the whole thing. That was the trip.
Skypager! That’s an amazing point.
Yeah, not one flip trick in there and it was fast and raw. It was nothing like anybody else’s part during that time.
Talk a little about that classic 1281 part. That one seemed to have a bit more polish as by that point, it was now obvious the power of skate videos… did you approach this one a little differently?
Yeah, I actually like that video way more than Useless Wooden Toys. We definitely put more time into the video but not much more. I got footage at Woodward, went to Embarcadero one day… but you can still pretty much tell how many days we went by the number of outfits.
The slappy on the Big Block at EMB… so sick but you did it so casually. Was that the first time you’d done that? You made it look so easy!
Yeah, that was the first time I did that. I was already doing little wallrides on it when somebody brought up trying to grind it and I felt like I could do it. It’s funny because I still have the raw footage of that day and it was definitely less than 10 tries. I did that switch backside 180 down the 7 that day, too.
Yeah, that was a good day. All that stuff was pretty quick. I never liked to try too many times at a spot. That just wasn’t enjoyable to me. It is what it is.
Did you ever go back and try that triple ollie down those stairs you almost made in the beginning? Classic stuff.
No, I never made those last steps. (laughs)
I was there for a contest and actually ended up breaking my board. But I could probably still jump down it… maybe. It’s been a minute for some stairs.
I know it wasn’t long after this that drug addiction came into play… something that you’ve been very honest about over the years. I know SF has had its bouts with hard drugs at Hubba Hideout and the like but I’ve never heard too much like your troubles with heroin in skateboarding circles. Did that come about through skating or other influences?
That’s hard to say but it definitely come about with people I knew through skating. I’m not going to name people or anything but it came through skating, for sure. Going out skating every Friday night and then drinking with the crew afterwards at the house or wherever… it can just evolve into other things over time. You’re drinking this or that and some dude starts getting into dope, somebody starts getting into heroin. Next thing you know, someone is fucking yelling out “This fucking sucks! Friday night always ends up with fucking dope!”
Things start changing. Some people just stay getting fucked up. Some people start moving on to other shit, like speed. Smart people start distancing themselves from you because they know you’re fucking up. It wasn’t good.
When in your career did drugs ultimately become more important than skating? Do you feel like you might have been taking skateboarding for granted?
It’s hard to describe... I got into dope after I’d be done skating for the day and it ended up getting to the point where I needed dope to be well enough to skate. It was crazy. If I wasn’t on dope, people would be asking me what was wrong and if I was okay. But when I was on dope, I’d be well, and because of that, skating better than ever. People would assume I was fine but I’d just done 60 bucks worth of heroin. I’m doing late shove-its on vert with no pads, everything seemed okay to them. I wasn’t over in the corner nodding out, scratching.
Heroin was what I needed to eat, sleep and breathe. It was what I needed to feel normal.
Did New Deal have any idea what was going on with you?
Yeah, Steve Douglas called my parents and talked to my Dad about what was going on. It was rough but I know he did it out of love.
Did they decide to pull your board or was it a retirement-type of thing?
I think they made the decision but when Steve Douglas came out and saw me skating, I remember him being almost surprised by what he saw.
“Sarge, you still rip, man. You’re just not filming or anything.”
They put one more of my boards out and then they stopped.
I remember you writing about how substance abuse made you lose focus on your skate career and that is such a big disappointment personally for you. Did you feel like you weren’t quite done yet with being pro? Did you still have things left to prove in your career?
I don’t know if I still had things to prove but I definitely felt like my time as pro was cut short because of all that. I was always still skating. No matter how bad things got, I never quit skating. I never lost focus on the skating itself, it was just how I did it for a company or whatever.
How often are you skating these days?
Everyday. A lot of it might be with a cruiser board but I’m always skating. I’m always kickflipping around, slappying around. I’ll hit up the DIY-spot or the parks a few times a week. But I’m always skating. I’m not driving to the spot.
|photo: theo hand|
What’s going on with you currently?
Right now, my girlfriend is 10 weeks pregnant and I’m really stoked on that. I’ve been pretty much surviving by doing construction here and there but I’d like something a little steadier.
I’m actually trying to work in skateboarding somehow… maybe in a warehouse or something. Maybe a team manager perhaps. I’d just love to work in skateboarding again. I’d appreciate that so much.
Views and thoughts on skateboarding in 2014?
It’s fucking sick, man! Grant Taylor, man. I went out to Atlanta with the homies not too long ago and we ended up seeing Grant and Thomas Taylor. I got to kick it with them and it was really good. I was teammates with Thomas back in the day and now his kid is Skater of the Year. The kid is fucking insane!
Does it trip you out the notoriety you still have with the skate public after being “retired” for 20 years now? JFA even has that song entitled “Danny Sargent’s Trucks”.
It’s so funny just because how long it’s been. It’s almost like I can’t even believe it really happened. So silly. But I’d like to think that people still know me because I’ve always tried to be nice and cool to people.
But yeah, that song is pretty cool. I guess one of my old ground-down trucks sat on a desk at Indy for a while and they ended up taking a photo of it for the Indy book. Brian Bannon said that photo what made him write that song.
So sick, man. Top 5 favorite curb skaters.
Oh man, that’s tough. There’s so many. Even Gonz and how he got down on that double-sided metal curb in Video Days was so sick… But in no particular order, I gotta go with Shawn Martin, Julien Stranger, Mike Archimedes, Joey Tershy and Rick Windsor.
All-time favorite curbs? Is Safeway #1?
Safeway is obviously number one. I always like the Whale Curbs that the San Francisco DMV, too… I did that bluntslide to manual in Useless Wooden Toys there. The curb in front of Mission Skateshop is really good. And basically any downhill red curb is always hella fun. Lipslides and shit… you always go really far.
Perfect. Alright Danny, thanks for doing this, man. Anything else you’d like to add?
Just keep skating with your homies and enjoy the ride.
special thanks to theo hand, jon constantino and sarge for taking the time.