chrome ball interview #34: frankie hill

chrome ball sits down with a true street legend for conversation.

Alright Frankie, let’s start this thing at the beginning: how were you first introduced to skateboarding and what was your first board?

I was introduced to skating when I was riding my cheap little BMX bicycle around the neighborhood and I saw this guy do an ollie out of a curb cut. He pretty much got more air out of this thing on his board than I could on my bike so I was like, “Man, I gotta try this.”

The next day I ended up building a ramp in my backyard and somehow talked him into coming over and skating it for a little bit. It was a piece of junk but he ended up doing a boneless off of this perch I had in my backyard. I was blown away. I remember being like, “What the hell was that!?”

“That’s street skating, dude! Let’s go check it out!”

It was on after that.

I actually had a couple of shop class boards that I had made early on but my first real board was a Sims Kamikazee mini.

You made your own boards in school?

I made a few in woodshop. They weren’t really anything. I’d just paint heavy metal band logos on them.

That's sick. Now growing up in the Santa Barbara scene, Powell-Peralta must’ve cast a heavy shadow on just about everything. Was that always your favorite company growing up?

I grew up skating with Kit Erickson, Brandon Chapman, Jake Bradley and his brother, Mike. Jake and Brandon were always big into Powell but Jake’s brother was super into Dogtown so we were into kinda like a combination of those two companies.

Wasn’t Dogtown your first sponsor?

Yeah, I had entered a couple of CASL contests and Jesse Martinez got me on. This is when I first started skating and all I could do was run around with my skateboard in my hand and jump off of stuff. It was pretty crazy, dude. Like people would go off the jump ramp and I would take my board, run at it and then jump off the top. I could do wallrides and handplants and stuff, too, but that was about the extent of my abilities. I was definitely rough around the edges.

So how’d you end up getting hooked up on Powell? That must’ve been huge.

Totally. At that time I’d been skating for Dogtown for a year or two and there was this contest in Las Vegas that I wanted to go to but didn’t have a ride. I somehow talked the Powell team manager, Todd Hastings, into giving me a ride since they were also going. I entered the contest and got 7th place but that was basically it. They didn’t have any intention on sponsoring me at all, or so I thought.

So what I did was once we got back to Santa Barbara, I started begging all the riders to talk to Todd for me. Eventually word got back to Todd that I wanted on when he came over and asked me why I didn’t just ask him myself... but I just couldn’t. At the time, this was the biggest company on the planet. I didn’t want to mess it up.

At first, the problem was he couldn’t sponsor me because I was still on Dogtown. It was a little more complicated because of the relationship Stacy Peralta had with all those guys. So I ended up quitting Dogtown and about a year later, Powell picked me up. I was 17.

How were you able to adapt to being on, like you said, the largest company in the world at that time? You had to be pretty nervous.

It was so crazy, dude! I just tried to focus on my skating and block everything else out.

I remember going up to Powell right when I got on and Lance Mountain, Caballero, Mike Vallely and Steve Saiz were all out there skating a mini-ramp. Just watching those dudes messing around and laughing didn’t even seem real.

I know you said that you grew up skating with Jake Bradley and Brandon Chapman. That must’ve made things a lot easier on you when they got hooked up with Powell, too. How was it filming with two of your best friends and Stacy Peralta for Public Domain? That had to have been fun. Were you guys forced to wear the same clothes everyday?

If I remember correctly, we ended up filming for 2 days. And yeah, we had to wear the same clothes for those days.

But it definitely made my life a lot easier skating behind those guys because anything I was coming up short on, they would just take the reigns. They were always way better than me. It really served to take the pressure off.

Many of the older heads see you as being the first skater to really big. 11 stairs in 1988 is still pretty mind-blowing. Was going big like that just a natural extension of your skating or was it more for the camera?

Basically, it was for the camera.

When we started filming for Public Domain, I had no intention of ollieing down anything like that. Definitely not 11 stairs. We were just cruising around this campus with Stacy and just happened to go by there. I was looking down them and it just kinda dawned on me, “Shit dude, this would be crazy for the video!”

Stacy went down there and started filming it and I remember Brandon just had this look on his face. It was the same look that he had given me a hundred times when he knew he’d have to tell me to stop trying something because my skill level was too low and the impacts were too high. I know he was thinking, “Great, here we go again.”

But I tried it a couple of times and got lucky.

Were you allowed to try things for very long while filming with Stacy before he’d want to move on? Were you ever able to comeback to get something if need be?

No, not really. It was a one-shot deal with Stacy. He’d come out and film a little bit and that was it. You got what you got.

I do know that some stuff was held out of the video. I remember doing a fingerflip down 4 stairs and making it clean but they only put the footage in of me bailing. I guess it just didn’t work out for the video.

But there was stuff they held out of everybody’s parts.

Ban This was truly your coming-out party. An amazing section. I always wondered… when did that kicker ramp come into play? Is that something you used to cart around all the time?

I used to skate with this rich kid from Montecito and that little ollie ramp was originally his. It was these two pieces that fit together and I don’t know who make this thing but it was the best ollie ramp in the history of the world. We would skate this thing all over the place. It was just fucking awesome.

He gave it to me after a while so it just became part of the deal.

One thing that I always get a kick out of when watching that part is that shot in the beginning where they put the camera on your board between your feet and cut it in mid-boardslide. So much fun.

What happened was I tried that boardslide so many times and came really close to making it but I just couldn’t. I was so irritated. Powell, even that early on, must’ve already seen the possibility that my career wasn’t going to last very long because I was trying all this stuff. They were just like, “Dude, stop.”

They ended up sticking my shoe on the board and filmed it with the camera. I then placed my ramp about halfway down the rail, made that part of it with Stacy putting it all together later on.

Powell magic. Was Stacy also responsible for putting in that weird sound effect in for everytime you pop your tail in that part? Kinda weird to watch. Did you know he was going to do that?

I had no clue. He just went and did all that stuff.

This came to light in the Guy Mariano Epicly Later'ds... did you ever think that Stacy, in a sense, throttled your parts? That he maybe didn’t showcasing your best stuff or perhaps filming you early in the video schedule in order to let his older "big name" pros keep their shine?

It's kind of a tough call because I think it went a couple of different ways. I don’t think Stacy had any intention on throttling down people’s parts. It was more about critiquing everybody’s skating and placing them in individual pockets of style that suited them.

Like I mentioned that fingerflip earlier, I think that was probably just another winky-wonky trick that they felt was no big deal. We had done our tricks all together down the stairs in the part, let’s hold that together. Frankie did the big ollie so let’s keep him that.

But they must’ve been happy when Mike V and I first came out because our sales were huge.

What made you decide on the bulldog for a graphic? Any special meaning behind it? You were one of the first Powell dudes to not use a skull…

The bulldog came from when Todd Hastings and I decided to take a vacation to Amsterdam. Not a tour or anything, we just hung out there for a couple of weeks.

We had gone to this coffee shop called “the Bulldog” and basically, we found that they had the best reefer in Amsterdam. While we were there, I remember looking at this bulldog they had on the front of the place and saying, “Damn, Todd… what about putting a bulldog on my board?”

And it's become your trademark. So the next one was Propaganda and, of course, we’re going to talk about the gap. 20 years later, it remains one of the biggest ever done. Was that something you’d looked at for a while?

That gap was actually at my high school. I used to look at that thing everyday and tell myself that I was gonna do it before I graduated. But it wasn’t until 6 months after I graduated that I tried it.

I was skating around with Frank Hirata and filming for the new video. I remember I had drank tequila the night before, which is a bad idea, and woke up late that morning. Frank Hirata was just skating way better than I was all day long and as we were winding down, I could tell Todd Hastings was pretty disappointed in me. He actually asked if I was gonna do anything at all that day. So I told him about that gap and felt that I might as well show it to him.

Todd basically talked me into trying it. I remember him just being like, “Dude, if you do this, your life will never be the same.”

I remember going so fast on my first try that I just launched right over that thing and landed perfect with no impact. Nothing. It was like I ollied off a curb. But I was so blown away when I landed that I had made it that fucking easy, I jumped off my board.

I started screaming, “I’m gonna make this! I’m gonna make this!”

I ran back up there and on my second try, I took a little bit of the speed off and made it. My foot was pretty much coming off the front of the board so I leaned back all weird and put a hand down. But that’s the one used for the video.

I remember after that attempt, they looked at the video and they were like, “We got it! We’re done! We’re outta here.” But I told them that I wanted to do it one more time, just for me. I went back up there and on the third try, locked it in and made it perfect. Squatting down as I rolled away, I ended up putting my hands up as if I just scored a touchdown or something. They didn’t end up using that one cause it didn’t look quite as good. Even though it was the same angle, they filmed it a little further back which made the difference.

But that was it. I only tried it three times.

Insane. Now the climate was already changing when Stacy compounded problems for the company by leaving. How did you see this affecting the company at the time and your role in it?

It shocked the hell out of me when Stacey left. It was definitely a crazy time but I just tried to keep skating and stay focused on that.

Honestly, I missed the whole ball on that. I was never able to take a step back and take a look at things… to try and get the big picture. Stacy’s leaving was absolutely to the detriment of the company. You look back now and there’s no question about that.

Celebraty Tropical Fish was such a different animal than the previous videos, although your part was gigantic in that one.

I filmed for Celebraty Tropical Fish for at least 6 to 10 months. Tony Hawk actually edited my part. The whole thing was done by him and I’ve always been stoked on it because he really pumped every single one of my tricks into it. It was awesome.

Overall, I like the video being just all tricks. That’s kinda what I wanted to see at that time.

Gotta ask, what the hell are you talking about in that thing? Is that your own language?

Correct. That part in the beginning, we were in France right there. You know how I keep using the word “schmitty?” That was my code word for pussy. All I was doing was talking about all the chicks that I was hitting up in Europe. Tony loved it so he decided to keep that in.

The stuff at the end: Ray Simmonds was the rider on H-Street who did that stalefish over the ladder… well, he had recently moved close to me and we’d been skating a lot together. He was ridiculous at skating and was also just a really cool person. But at the time we were filming for the video, he had just suffered some fluke knee injury while skating a two-foot mini ramp which pretty much ended him right there. I remember at the time being very afraid that Ray wouldn’t be remembered for being such a great skater.

I basically figured that if I said a bunch of weird shit on camera, it was more likely to be used in the video which is why I just started talking all this crazy shit about a chicken farm. I was doing that in order to slip Ray’s name in at the end. That way, if it worked, his name would be in there forever.

That guy was a ripper, for sure. Now you were listed as one of the original 10 options in that first Plan B ad. Did you have any idea what they were talking about at the time? That must’ve freaked out Powell.

Yeah, Todd Hastings brought that to my attention and I honestly had no idea what the situation was.

But it was a couple weeks later that Mark Gonzales called and asked me to go skating with him and Jason Lee. They brought me up to San Francisco and we skated around. Basically how that went was Mark asked me if I wanted to ride for Blind, which was quite an honor, but I declined. I wanted to stick it out with Powell.

It was a little bit after all of this that George offered me my own team through Powell. I’m not sure many people know that but he told me that I could have my own division, like how other companies were doing at the time. I said I’d do it under one condition: all my riders were to come from Santa Barbara. This was because I already had 5 or 6 guys that I was skating around here with and felt we would’ve been rock solid team.

Unfortunately, Powell wanted some European riders on there… and some guys from here, there and everywhere. So I didn’t do it. I wanted more control.

Looking back on all of this now, after the Blind option and all the knee stuff that went down, are you glad you stayed with Powell?

I don’t know, dude. It’s a tough situation.

I was shooting for a Transworld poster book at the time. I already had done a backside lipslide down a handrail and was trying to ollie down some stairs and this little wall when my knee blew up. My timing was off and I landed funny and that was basically it. I honestly couldn’t walk for 6 weeks afterwards.

I went to a surgeon who took one look at it and told me I needed an MRI. The thing was blown and it was gonna cost about a grand to get it fixed. When I was finally able to walk, I went and told Powell the deal, but instead of taking me back to the doctor they ended up taking me down to Mexico for a little company get-together.

I knew my knee was completely toasted and that I wasn’t going to get my surgery so I went ahead and told everybody that I quit. I knew I was done.

How did Consolidated enter the picture?

My pay was down to $500 a month at Powell, which wasn’t even enough to cover my rent. And I knew that I couldn’t stay on the team because I didn’t want to be the #10 guy, ya know? That just wasn’t gonna happen. So I walked away.

Consolidated said they could match what I was making at Powell so I got on there. I only skated for them about 3 months though because my knee was so totaled. I couldn’t promote their company correctly.

I honestly felt like I couldn’t do anything at that point.

I know you fell on some hard times there… I heard at one point that you were in a wheelchair for a little bit. How long was it until you were able to get back on your board comfortably?

It was a situation where my knee got progressively worse from ’93 on and I basically called it. I got a regular job delivering brake parts to gas stations, which was a definite change for me. I would drive my truck around town and see all the skaters out there… it was ridiculous how fucked it was. But my knee had gotten so bad that I could barely walk.

My Mom decided that she’d had enough and called an old worker’s compensation lawyer. He was like 60 years-old and I figured he’d tell me to beat it but we went to court and it was a slam dunk. Six or seven years later, I finally got it worked on but it wasn’t until around 2002 that I felt that my knee was strong enough.

Yeah, it was super sick seeing you pop up again... but I have to ask: what was the story behind you and those sparking skid plates? I know I saw you in one of their ads which was, admittedly, a little weird. Did you really use those things?

That was around 2003. I did a little video for a small local company named Revolver… I’d actually asked to get back on Powell at that point but they said no. So I did the Revolver video and ended up twisting my knee a little afterwards so I had to stop again.

It was around this time when an old photographer friend of mine called me up and told me about this little gimmicky sparking thing he had going. He asked me if I’d go take some photos with him to help promote it. Now I wasn’t into the skidplate at all but I thought to myself that I could probably get some of my old photos back if I did him this favor. So I ended up doing the sparkler deal.

It was only one day and that was it. But I didn’t expect so much gnarly backlash! Especially since I really wasn’t skating anymore at that point.

It was what it was. I didn’t skate it. I just went out one time to help an old friend.

Regardless, it's great to see you back on your board again after all that's happened. I know you’re over there at Legion these days and ripping like the knee thing never happened. So rad. And I gotta say that I was stoked on your Krooked Guest Board that came out a little bit ago. That had to feel good.

That was amazing. I got an email from Tommy Guerrero last April and he said that he wanted to put out for me. I felt really honored and was treated very fairly by those guys. I have board #1 of 300. I’m real happy with that whole thing. It actually helped motivate me a lot.

I’m sure. So what do you think of kids these days? Granted “jumping off a building” is a cliché but you basically started that. Looking at crews like Zero and Baker, can you believe the stuff that’s going down now? And just about all of it can be traced back to the groundwork you laid down.

I’m really happy to be seeing the guys taking stuff to stairs and gaps the way they are. I always dreamed about where all this stuff could go.

Back when I did that hill gap, I thought that I was really taking it to the outer limits… at least for the moment. But these days, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see some nutjob kickflip that thing if it was still there. These guys are taking everything so much further than I could’ve ever imagined. It’s really good to see and I’m just happy to be a part of the deal.

What do you think of this style obsession that modern day skateboarding has? I don’t remember it always being the case back in the early days of street skating… it seemed more important to just be able to land something at any cost since it had never been done before. Is that a fair statement to make?

Correct. Yeah, it’s kind of a tricky deal. I remember back in the early 90’s, it was situation where you’d try a trick a hundred times and if you just happened to get it on video, you moved on to another trick. I definitely wasn’t trying to do it another hundred times to be able to do it consistently.

Now, with landing everything the proper way and catching it with the proper foot, it’s fine. Personally, I think everybody doing it differently would be better because it’s individuality but that’s just my opinion.

What do you think of all the ABD lists at spots now? Where doing a trick down a gap that somebody already has done is a serious faux pas.

If I was still in that realm of competitive-minded street skating, it wouldn’t bother me at all. It was all about if somebody did something, you should try to add to it. You can call it “one-up” if you want, I call it the development of skateboarding.

And you definitely did just that. Alright Frankie, that’s all I have. Thanks so much for doing this. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Just thanks to everybody out there. I’m glad to be back and just hoping to ride this thing into the sunset.

special thanks to Frankie and Bart at Legion Skateboards.


Anonymous said...

Fuck yeah! I was hoping Frankie would finally get a proper interview.

Anonymous said...


ODG said...

Great interview..saw Frankie and Frank filming for Propaganda around the time he's referring to. Mad respect..

Leiv said...

So stoked on this. Thanks Chops.

brettspiel said...

big ups from germany! great!

skateRGQ said...

Thank you sooo much for this piece of journalistic gold. A great interview with the legendary Frankie Hill. The bulldog board was my friend's 1st legit board (i chose the Cory O'Brien Reaper). Surprised you didn't ask him about MTV sports and Dan Cortese though.

Paul said...

Such a good read and obvisously such a good guy! Thanks for all that work you put into this site Chops!

Anonymous said...

A true inspiration, thanks Chops and Frankie.

Unknown-what happened with Cortese/MTV?

Anonymous said...

my idol.

Anonymous said...

always down for Brigade stuff...

700+ pages in and we can't get a Bucky post?

Anonymous said...

i dont know as awesome as he Was.he sounds like hes full of himself.
cant be #10 on the team?only getting 500 bucks a month? dude just appreciate what you have you ego maniac.

tictac said...

Did he sue Powell?

Anonymous said...

should of stayed retired.have you seen footage of this guy lately?omg. i feel sorry for him.

stephen said...

I feel sorry for your grammar skills.

Keith said...

Good interview. Added more to what I saw in that Sherwood documentary. I definitely noticed his gnariness in the first 3 Powell videos he was in when they first came out. Looking back though... I prefer not to.

Maybe it's just me but I find that Blind story really implausible.

Anonymous said...

Great interview! Frankie Hill is one of my all time favorites. Still influenced by the mark he left all those years ago.

Anonymous said...

Who did he sue? What it the state of California or Powell? Also is the amount for his surgery a typo? It says one grand

chops said...

Thanks guys.

Unknown, what happened with Dan Cortez/MTV Sports?

...and yes, a Bucky post is in the works.

also, I didn't take "being #10 on the team" as being arrogant, more humble than anything. it seemed to me that he didn't want to milk it. his knee got progressively worse as it wasn't getting fixed but he kept trying to skate anways.

and that's not a typo, straight from Frankie, he said the initial cost was to be around one grand back then, initially. It was years later, after the condition had gotten much worse, that he got a worker's comp lawyer for his settlement (30k).

He did not sue Powell as he tried to get back on the Powell team a few years ago, once healthy. To my (limited) understanding, companies pay into a fund set-up by the state of California in regards to worker's comp.

Thanks guys.

jack the ripper said...

i never heard that rumor that blind wanted him to ride for them until maybe 3 months ago.so me being a personal filmer for rodney since 90 asked him about any truth to this rumour? rondneys response- a what the f!#k look followed by a long burst of laughter while shaking his head.

chops said...

haha, thanks Jack.

... an interview with Rodney would be pretty sick (nudge, nudge)

Anonymous said...

to Anonymous guy above stephen: can i hit you in the knee with a sledgehammer a few times and then film you skating at 39 years old?

Leiv said...

Frankie Hill on MTV Sports....
I forgot how much Dan Cortes sucks.


Anonymous said...

Frankie definitely did his thing and made his mark, twenty plus years ago, but he's kook. He was always a kook. And it's not that he was just uncool, which would be unfair; he's shitty. Frankie's career had already played itself out, the knee thing was just the nail in the cffin.

Old Indy Skaters said...

Love it when people have negative things to say but sign in Anonymous. lol Nothing but cowards. RESPECT THE LEGENDS

crack kills said...

i see this guy all the time around ucsb.(kinda looking like a crack head).i always wanted to ask him. what happen to youre money from the the 80's? untill i read this interview. i guess one two many vaction trips to amsterdam.

gw said...

Frankie's a legend. F$&@ the haters.

AmSkater said...

Its funny how people claim to know others...like jack talkin to rodney and such. And the people who try to say his knee injury isn't anything. I mean, apparently you dont skate and you don't know how a knee injury works. Frankie Hill has paved a lot in this skate industry (or lack there-of) and all you can do is bash on the guy? What have you done? NOTHING. And what about the money...what about being top 10...he enjoyed everything that was given to him and didn't flash it like it was nothing. I remember how he was because I skated with him back in those days. So you DON'T know what you are talking about and need to respect the LEGENDS. Because unlike yourself, he has done something in this skateboarding industry and you can suck on that

Anonymous said...

I know this post is old, but how can you not see him being asked to ride for Blind? Watch his last Powell parts, he's a better technical skater (for the time) then Lee or the Gonz. As for Mullen, I wouldn't believe anything he says, ten years of being Rocco's lacky makes me say that.