chrome ball interview #31: ron allen

Chrome Ball sits down with Ron for conversation... and I am stoked.

Alright Ron, let’s go back to the beginning of all this… how were you first introduced to skating?

Oh man, this was around 1976. I was around 10 or 11 when I saw this guy down the street from me in Visalia riding around on a board. He let me cruise on it for a bit and I loved it so much that my parents ended up getting me one that Christmas.

Were you guys just primarily bombing hills and hitting up parks back then?

At the time, the most famous ramp in skateboarding was called the Sims Ramp. I’m gonna embarrass my crew right here but one day we decided to make our own Sims Ramp. Problem was we didn’t have much money. So we ended up laying a piece of plywood against a white fence. We’d ride up the plywood and do a wheeler and come back in all stylin’. We even painted a big Sims logo on there, too. With the wings. We thought we had the coolest little ramp.

Now wasn’t Vision your first sponsor?

The first company who ever gave me stuff was Gullwing. I got on Vision after I got third at an amateur contest in Santa Barbara. That’s when Natas and Jesse came out and they were so crazy-talented. I remember Jesse doing all those crazy wallride things he used to do and then Natas ran up and did a backside grab wallride. All I did was ollie people. That’s all I did. I think I ollied 6 people in my run.

Vision was a good time though. Everett put me on and it was a lot of fun. I got to travel so I was stoked.

How old were you when you got on?

Probably around 22.

Had you been skating the whole time or did you quit for a while and come back? That’s a pretty advanced age for back then.

I’m the oldest dude to do all this stuff. But yeah, I’d been skating steadily for a good 10 years before I got sponsored. Honestly, the whole sponsorship thing wasn’t really part of our nature back then. No disrespect to the way people are today, but back then it was all based on waking up and meeting somewhere with your friends. Skating or building ramps. As we got older, skating was still the most fun thing but it wasn’t really a career option. We were supposed to go to college.

There was such a gap. It seemed that the people who were in the magazines were so far away. So instead of trying to get to that level, you were just happy to have a scene at all. It was never about if a person was sponsored or not, it came down to if they were fun to skate with.

I think that it all changed for me after I went to college and having the realization that it wasn’t for me.

Now I know you talked about growing up in Visalia, but you’re really seen by most as an Oakland head. What made you make the move to the Bay and what was the vibe like skating back then? You seemed to be in the mix with a lot of the CBS heavies back in the day.

I was doing a skate camp in San Luis Obispo when my girlfriend got an apartment in North Oakland near Berkeley. At the time, I had no idea where that was but I moved with her anyway. I found that I really liked the area. There were so many things to skate and the weather was great. After being in Visalia my whole life where you can fry eggs on the sidewalk, I was happy to go someplace that wasn’t quite as hot.

But Oakland was a wasteland back then. There were only a few us still skating out here. Everyone else was pretty much over it, especially after the Blood Bowl was gone. But I knew Jim Thiebaud from skate camps before and he’d always come by my house to swoop me up. We’d go skate around at this school, Willard, and then end up at Oakland Tech.

CBS was like Arco, Sargent, Julien and those guys. They were always fun to hook up with at spots because they’d take you to new spots that would blow you away. Those guys brought me to Miley for the first time and showed the run from there down to the beach. Embarcadero was another one of the many places those guys introduced me to.

Sick Boys was actually the beginning of me really linking up with CBS. They were always down to crush around. Skating hard all over the city then drinking some beers and maybe staying over. Crash on someone’s floor and doing it all over again. Going at it hard for 2 or 3 days and then finally being like, “Hey man, I gotta go home and check on my cat.”

How’d you get involved with Sick Boys? I’ve always loved that video. What was it like making that thing?

Mack Dawg is one of the funniest people to hang out with. So many funny stories. But I just remember one day kicking it when he came up and asked me if I wanted to get in his van and film some stuff. That was it.

I always remember him having a camera on a stick, this sick sixteen-millimeter camera on a broomstick. He’d always tell us to go as fast as we wanted because he was confident that he could keep up with us. You’d be skating and look down and here’s this little camera floating around.

Mack initially came over to film 2 or 3 times and maybe 3 or 4 more times a little while after that but then I didn’t hear from him again. It wasn’t until Bryce said something about the video being done that I found out filming was even over. I didn’t know. So to me, my part and being involved with it was really quick. The rest of the time, I was kinda waiting around.

But I think the fact that the video is still so big today is because it really shows how fun those guys were to skate with. It made you want to go skate with them. All those guys are characters.

You can tell it’s a tight crew.

Definitely. And you wouldn’t want to be against that crew either. Those dudes had your back. We’d roll into a club thirty-deep to see MC and the Monster play.

I’ve seen it so many times. Guys like Micke Reyes… if some guy is leaning on you at a club and you don’t know what to do because the guy is huge, here comes Micke. And not only is he keeping that guy away from you, he’s doing it in a way that’s so funny and classic. You end up being so thankful to the dude cause there are definitely times when I would’ve gotten crushed if it weren’t for Micke. He knew it too and would just laugh about it. “No problem, man.”

I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for Micke Reyes.

So why did you decide to leave Vision for the then-microscopic H-Street? Were they still through Sure Grip at the time?

H-Street was all Mike Ternasky. Mike was always the one trying to get Tony do things, like breaking away from Sure Grip and doing his own thing. That was right before Mike came at me to be their first street skater.

I guess I was kind of a “cool guy” back then because the only thing I remember thinking at the time was, “These guys are not cool.” I just felt that he was coming at me weird. He was talking about a whole new company when I only knew the game from being on established companies. I didn’t know what to think.

But then a couple of things were said to me over at Vision that basically let me know I wasn’t going anywhere over there. That I wasn’t going to go pro for them. Compare that to how Mike was talking about making me their main street guy; it made me think. And I’m not gonna lie to you: that $500 a month he promised had me stoked! I thought that was so much money, especially just to ride my skateboard.

I was in Las Vegas with Brian Lotti when I signed my contract. I remember thinking to myself, “Wow, I’m a professional skateboarder! I make $500 a month!”

Two weeks later, my check bounced.

And what’s even funnier is when I called up Mike and Tony, they cut me another check… and that one bounced too! I told them that the next time this happened, I was outta there. That was two strikes! But they ended up getting their stuff together and worked it all out. I remember there was something telling me that the way these guys were, just real straight-forward and cool, that I should stay with H-Street. And overtime, I saw this small fish get bigger and bigger. The rest is history.

Didn’t you used to get mistaken a lot for Steve Steadham? I remember seeing a picture of you looking pretty frustrated and giving the finger.

Yeah, Steve and I were the only two people in skateboarding with dreads and because he was on Powell and known throughout the world, I used to get that a lot. There was this contest in Toronto that I got called Steadham so much that I literally had to write “I am not Steve Steadham” on my griptape. It just got to the point where I’d kinda lost it and ended up flipping off that camera. Looking back on it, I think the frustration came more from not doing so well in the contest and then to hear people are calling me Steadham, I’m sure he probably did well in it.

I’ve had so many things like that happen in my career… where I’d just kinda lose it and do something crazy which then becomes immortal. The same thing happened this one time when a kid I met at a demo kept asking me for my board. All day he’s asking, “Can I get your board? Can I get your board?” And I’m saying no repeatedly but still trying to be professional about it. But this kid just kept at it. “Can I get your board?” Until finally he’s asked me so many times, I was just like, “Here, just take it.”

So this kid just grabs it and runs off around the corner when he spots a camera and says, “Ron Allen just gave this to me and I am stoked.”

That's what happened with that kid!?!

Yeah, he just hit me up on Facebook and I had to tell him how grateful I was for saying that. Just by him doing that, he made the world think that Ron Allen was this super nice guy when at the time, I just gave him the board because I wanted to be left alone.

So who came up with those padded room graphics? That character really became your trademark over the years.

Jeff Klindt, who did that Thrasher “Prevent this Tragedy” shirt as well as a lot of the art for Deluxe, he did my first graphic. The guy doing a no-comply in a padded outlook, I think Jeff called him Ben Outlook. He said the reasoning behind the character was that no matter how crazy things got, as long as he had his skateboard, everything seemed better. Jeff said he felt the same thing was true about me.

I also remember Jeff doing a t-shirt graphic for a contest they were having in Visalia called “Shackle Me Not.” See where I’m going there?

Talk a little bit about Shackle Me Not.

Everytime I think about that video, I remember when Mike and Tony sent this old guy over to my house to film. I lived in Oakland at the time and here was this older white man and he had brought a wheelchair with him to film us with. I remember looking at this man and his wheelchair, I was just like, “No.”

Oakland is a strong black area and there's gonna be a white man in a wheelchair filming me riding a skateboard? It wasn’t looking good. I could just see people driving by and screaming stuff at us… it wasn’t gonna work. You couldn’t do that.

After a few more failed attempts, we realized that we could just film ourselves and get more done anyway. So that’s kinda how the look of the video came about was because I fired this guy.

Did you have any idea that project was going to explode the way it did?

No idea. The video came out right before we all went to Europe.I remember calling my girl from the road and she being like, “I don’t know what you guys did but there is a steady flow of about 5 to 7 kids stopping by wanting stickers and autographs. They’re all wondering when you’re coming home and they keep screaming ‘H-Street!’ in front of the house.”

That tour was funny because at the first demo, we had maybe 7 people in attendance. But by the third stop, the place was packed. At the end of the tour, there’d be almost 5,000 people at those things, all going crazy. None of us could believe it.

After that part, your ollie power came into the forefront. Be honest, did you ever get tired to people dragging things out for you to ollie? And did you ever smack any of those kids that you used to ollie over?

You know what’s funny is that here we are in 2011 and there’s all these articles written about the ollie and how important it is. They’ll always list some early guys that had the prowess back in the day, like Gonz or Natas, and they always seem to leave me out.

But no, I never got bummed when they would take things out for me to ollie because I was always wondering if I could ollie some of that stuff, too. I remember at times rolling away from stuff surprised that I actually did it. That was always fun.

I remember a freestyler named Henry Cerano. He was the last guy I ran into while olleing people. He was on the end and I landed right on his nuts. I felt hella bad.

Gotta ask, what about those classic Ron Allen one-foots?

The thing with those is that I used to try ollie one-foots but I’d mess them up and ended up doing them like how Rodney Mullen used to do them. Everybody just thought that was why I did them like that so they gave it to me.

Hilarious. So how was filming Hokus Pokus compared to Shackle Me Not? I have to imagine much more pressure due to the expectations this time around.

Yeah, it got tense. We were basically put in a position where the tension could’ve really taken over things if we weren’t absolutely sure about what we were doing.

If you’re a skateboarder, and I don’t think it matters if you’re pro or whatever, there’s bound to be a little bit of insecurity there. You’re never 100% sure if people like what you’re doing. So if a guy comes up to you and says that you need to do this or that for your career, at that point, you feel he’s already ripped you because you think you’re already doing everything you can. I saw that with Mike and some people.

Mike and I just looked at things differently. I figured that because I’d knocked it out of the park on the first video part, there was nothing to worry about with this new one. Give me the opportunity, give me the filmer, and I’ll do it. But it seemed the industry had completely changed by the time we did Hokus Pokus.

Thinking that I could always knock out the box was my bad. It’s like that band that goes back in to make their second hit song, it’s not that easy. And to be honest, I wasn’t even feeling making another video at that point. It wasn’t an issue of do or could, it was more about timing. We want you to do this NOW.

With Shackle Me Not, we were all out having fun and going out there as team. It was so innocent that you had to keep reminding yourself that it was actually for a company. But with the second video, there was expectation. Just a year later, it was all so serious suddenly. There was more of a business side of things where things had to be planned out and justified for being.

You can see in Hokus Pokus that maybe Mike wasn’t as stoked on H-Street at this point. You can see it in how people were being used. There was already a formula with the videos that H-Street was doing and even people like Hensley were starting to worry about their position. He was an amazing skater that should’ve never had to worry about anything. But I think both Hensley and Sal started feeling like maybe H-Street was using them after a while.

It seemed like there was around 500 dudes riding for the company around this time.

Yeah, that was the toughest part about being on H-Street. We all wanted to keep it a family thing but the group just got larger and larger. It wasn’t your team anymore. You felt like another cog in the wheel.

Do you think that’s what led Hensley to retire?

Hell yes! All that pressure!?! I saw the Matt Hensley-era first hand. People would try to dress up like him, cut their hair like him, wear their pants like him. Man, you can do whatever you want but you’re still not going to be able to skate like him. You’d have to get the heart of him.

I used to always make the joke to Matt that I was so glad that people couldn’t grow dreads overnight. Nevermind the fact that I’m black.

I remember always having to look for him, running up to people at demos saying, “Matt! Matt! You’re not Matt. Where’s Matt!”

These people would look exactly like him! That’s gotta grind on someone. Matt handled it the best he could because he’s such a great guy but that’s a lot of pressure.

Always wondered, what was up with that dude in Rubbish Heap claiming to be your father? Did you know they were throwing that in there?

No, I didn’t. It’s funny you bring this up because I recently got hooked up with Ron Chatman and he actually apologized for that. He told me that he and Jeremy Klein were basically Rocco’s pitbulls and they did whatever he wanted them to, regardless of whoever’s feelings got hurt.

My dad is a respectable man and I didn’t take that as much of a diss, I just thought the whole thing was below the belt. It’s one thing to make jokes and have fun to promote your brand. If you want to throw in crazy stuff for your World Industries ads, that’s your deal, but leave families out of it.

But Ron apologized and I understood. Cogs in the wheel again, doing what you felt you had to do for the video.

So how did Life come about?

I felt that it was time to move on. Like you said, the H-Street team was getting bigger and bigger and I also wasn’t getting along with a couple of the guys. H-Street didn’t want me to leave but I wanted to do something different. It wasn’t that I felt bigger than H-Street, I just had all of these ideas and they could only do so much.

I actually had meetings with Chris Miller about doing something with him and Planet Earth. I like Chris and he’s an awesome guy but he had his vision and I felt that he had to see that through.

I thought with the people that I could bring into it, Life would be something cool. People like Sheffey, Reeves and Jesse Neuhaus… I felt that I could have a more street/hip-hop feel with Life that would better suit these guys.

I’ve always felt that you seemed to be a positive cat who’s not afraid to speak your mind. Like in your Risk It part, you tried to reason with that kid while most would’ve probably just smacked him.

Positivity works. Especially when it comes to cases like that kid. I’ve seen him a few times since and he’s actually doing really good in his life. He’ll always make jokes to me like “Yeah, I didn’t do good just because you were yelling at me but you definitely weren’t the only person yelling at me!”

Now I know Sheff was already making some waves back East with Shut and SMA when you picked him up. What was the impact like when he joined Life?

I actually think when Sean came over was when Mike’s whole thing changed. Mike just looked at Sheffey differently. We used to make the joke that we could see the dollar signs in Mike’s eyes everytime he looked at him.

One time when we were on tour, Mike called us all out after a demo to skate this parking lot. I saw this big trash can right in the middle of it and I remember being pretty stoked after ollieing it. This thing was no joke.

That's when I remember Mike just yelling out, “Go ahead, Sheffey.” Sheff comes up super fast and ollies it, turns around and does a backside 180 over it and then comes up and fakie ollies it. Just like that.

I couldn’t believe it. I’d never seen anybody do a backside 180 ollie that high, let alone fakie ollie it. It was at this point that I remember Matt looking at me and saying, “Man, we’re expendable.”

But we all loved Sheffey. Sheffey was one of those guys that believed he could do anything and did.

Didn’t he film his part for Soldier’s Story in like two weeks?

Yeah, he threw down.

I’d never seen anybody do a crazy kinky rail like that before. I remember seeing him fall and cutting his chest on it real bad but he just got back up and did it.

Everyday was like, “Wow! Sheffey did this! Sheffey did that! Sheffey ollied the street!”

I remember looking at that bike path he ollied at UCSB years before with Frankie Hill and Brandon Chapman. We thought you’d have to be one hell of a powerful person to ollie that thing.

A few years later, that was Sheffey. Such an incredible talent.

We can’t really go into all these videos without talking about your musical output. Eclectic and all over the map but totally fitting the time period.I’ve read where a lot of that stuff was just you and this one other guy.  Were you always into music?

I’ve always made music from back in the early days, being in different punk rock bands. But Rudy Ramos is the true genius behind all that music. He played all the instruments. He’d do all this stuff and then have me come in and sing.

We had all different types of songs and it all worked really well. Rudy was such an accomplished musician and it was really fun to do all that. People loved that music. We never thought anybody else would like it, we basically did it for ourselves. Somehow Mike heard it and ended up putting it in the videos.

Now did you have any idea Ternasky was about to split and start Plan B? What did that mean for Life?

For me, the H-Street/Life thing had already ended in a way where they had owed me a lot of money. Neither of us were all that stoked with the situation so what they ended up making a consignment and sent me $8,000 worth of t-shirts.

Oh man.

I’ll never forget when the UPS man showed up and was like, “You gotta help me with this.” $8,000 worth of t-shirts in my studio apartment. We could barely walk around. Luckily, Tommy and Jim over at Deluxe worked out a deal with that stuff which is basically how Fun started.

But yeah, Mike was talking to me the whole time before that Plan B stuff went down. I was actually thinking during it all that I was gonna be part of the mix. But as things started to progress, I remember it just hitting me one day as I was talking to him.

“Hey Mike, I’m not going with you, huh?”

And he was like, “No.”

Damn. I’d been talking to him this whole time and now that this change was finally going down, I was getting cut out. He said that the plans had already been set for certain people and that was who they were taking. I remember him saying at the end of all that, “…but good luck!”

“Thanks… bro.”

At the end of it, Mike was a good guy. He was a businessman trying to make his money while doing what he had to do. No one is gonna diss him for that. He felt he had to do Plan B because he wanted to show that he could do his own thing. Sometimes people feel like they gotta show and prove. You can’t fault anybody for that.

Now Fun’s legacy is that of discovering so many legendary East Coast pros. What was your thought process behind having all these New York guys ride for a company in the Bay? Was all this through Huf?

Yeah, any of that stuff you saw come out of Fun was all directly through Huf. He did everything. I’ve never in my life seen a more motivated skater. He really was the catalyst.

Huf knew what he wanted to do and was gonna do it. I just felt like I was running behind that young man trying to keep him happy. But it wasn’t like he was a cocky guy. He was always real quiet and worked hard. He’s like those athletes they talk about that show up early and stay late. That’s the epitome of Keith Hufnagel. All his friends knew this and they knew if they were gonna ride with him, they were gonna have to put in work, too. I just couldn’t believe how rad every guy was that they would bring out. It was crazy.

Footage-wise, everyone ripped so hard. I remember Eric Pupecki going out and filming a new trick everyday for a month. And not little tricks but hammers. He used to blow through a board a day. He was always coming back to get new boards before going right back out to bust something else. Incredible.

Was there ever a skater back then that you now regret not sponsoring? What about Gino?

Gino was definitely one but he was already on Black Label at the time and they seemed to be treating him good. That’s the way it was: if somebody came to my house and their sponsors were treating them good, cool. But if they weren’t being treated so good, we’ll try and make them figure things out real quick.

Billy Pepper was another. He was so rad that he scared me. He had such a good spirit. I slept on that guy. I never looked hard enough to realize that he should’ve been on my team until he was already pro on Element.

So what were you trying to do with American Dream, Inc? How did it differ from your previous projects? I know Alyasha was involved. Do you think it was just too ahead of it’s time?

You know, you say that about yourself sometimes but people only think you’re tooting your own horn. I think we had a vision of it being the opposite of what everybody was doing with skateboarding at the time as far as promotion. We saw that skateboarding was using marketing and promotion that was based off what people had already been doing since the 70’s. They just kept doing it cause it worked.

We were seeing the demographic change. There was a large minority contingent of skateboarders coming up that at the time weren’t being as recognized as they are now. The mentality for us was that we wanted to speak to all of our people. The whole demographic. We wanted to relate what was really going on as opposed to repeating what’s already been done again.

We made some mistakes though. Obviously calling the people who were helping fund our project “the Deluxe Death Star” wasn’t a good idea. But we were trying to look at things differently.

Deluxe looked at us like we were crazy. Doing entire ads in Korean and putting up pictures of the Black Panthers... we even got a kid from a trailer park. But that was skateboarding to us. I’m not sure if they understood it but we knew what we wanted. Alyasha and I were just proud enough and strong enough at the time to say, “Fuck it.” Stuff wasn’t right and we’re gonna let you know about it.

So at 48 years of age, what does skateboarding mean to you? What keeps you going?

It’s the whole bit of it. Learning new tricks and the feeling it gives. I can honestly see myself still out there in my seventies… hanging out at the skatepark and getting that energy. There’s nothing like being part of a session. Being there with people enjoying themselves and trying tricks, it’s so much fun.

How’s it feel to be back in the mix with H-Street and Tony Mag again? Things seem to be going well. I know you mentioned something about a shoe release.

Yeah, I just got an H-Street collabo with Osiris. I’m super-juiced.

But it’s such an interesting thing to ride for a company back in the day and then be able to ride for them again 20 years later. It’s almost like getting the Blues Brothers back together. H-Street is love and to be back in it is such a good energy. Tony Mag is a fun guy to work with and really keeps you on your toes.

Last question: When was the last time you ollied that green driveway on the corner in Berkeley? Is the Ron Allen gap still there?

That’s so funny. My girlfriend recently told me that it’s now the Ron Allen Gardens because they just broke it up and made it into this dirt thing. I guess they were tired of people skating it.

I could never call it my gap, though. I remember finding it two days after moving here. I was skating down the street when I stopped at a stoplight and looked over. It was like it was put there by the Gods.

Classic stuff. Alright Ron, anything you’d like to add?

Just keep skating and don’t stop. Whatever they tear down, build more. And don’t let anybody tell you you’re done.

Remember, Fred Astaire broke his wrist when he was 75 skateboarding around his Hollywood home. So that gives us all an opportunity to go as long as we can. That doesn’t mean that you have to go kill yourself but that also doesn’t mean that a frontside grind don’t feel good.

special thanks to tony mag and ron for taking the time.


chops said...

thanks again to Ron for really delving deep into these questions. what's presented is really only the tip of the iceberg and it killed me to have to edit it down.

the chrome ball incident will return on October 3rd.

Leiv said...

It probably gets redundant me commenting on how awesome this site is every other post, so I try my best to keep it to a minimum, but when you put up a Ron Allen interview I've just got to chime in again. Best shit yet.
48 years old?! God damn! I hope I look that good when I'm 38.

ODB said...

Telephone Betty was the best tune in the whole of Hokus.

I remember some H-Street ad with Ron airwalking to boardsliding a handrail back in, god knows, 1990? 48 years old? Holy crap. Serious business.

Respect to Ron, thanks for the hard work Chops.

Giles said...

you rule.

Anonymous said...

inspirational, he's still doing flip tricks and street stuff and not just skating bowls like you'd expect from a 48 year old. Soul

The 33King Network said...

be careful out there... brush your teeth and comb your hair!

Anonymous said...

Another great interview from a legend that doesn't get the credit he deserves.

I love what he said about Hensley.

Terry said...

Man, me and my boy were just talking about Ron Allen and how sick it is that he's still ripping so hard and then you go put this up. Thanks a ton Chops!

Coach said...


Keith said...

That is one old skater! Hope to be shredding when I'm his age. Another 12 years to go.

The Plan B being left behind story was good... kinda sad though. I feel for Ron. Stoked to hear about the H-Street and Life glory days.

Didn't he have something to do with Creation skateboards?

Dill said...

Hilarious interview. Hokus Pokus 4 Life.

Shrewgy said...

I love Ron Allen!

darsh said...

Dude rips way too hard for 48. Pretty inspiring. And that Thrasher cover with him front boarding the rail is awesome.

mikebythesun said...

Always thought Ron didn't get the recognition he deserved. I loved the way he skated and his attitude today is just amazing. So inspiring. I had two of his no-scratch graphic boards, I did some of best skating on those decks. Good times.

Much respect, Ron. Keep at it brother. And thanks Chops. Another golden interview.

Seabreeze said...

The best dude.

Anonymous said...

Ron the Don!

Mason said...

Man I remember buying blanks off of Ron in Berkeley... It was like $25 a deck and $10 for wheels. That dude ripped then and still does today! Thanks for the interview Chops! Thanks Ron for all the inspiration!!!

Croupier said...

I actually just moved up to Berkeley from from Santa Cruz and the scene here is fucking intense. Peace Wall Park is going off, and the 510 crews are full of amazing skaters. It would be awesome to see Ron around, great interview.