1.01.2019

guest post: dave swift's stories of heath


Heath Stories
Chrome Ball Incident
Words/Photos: Dave Swift


Switch Kickflip, Sorrento Valley 1993

The first time I met Heath came about because I was introducing Frank Hirata to Josh Beagle. At the time, I was shooting with Frank a lot and he was looking to do a team switch to Foundation but first, he had to pass the personality test. Pretty sure we met Josh and Heath in Sorrento Valley to skate the popular asphalt bump that everyone was skating at the time. Heath was just a little skate rat (maybe fifteen) and while Josh and Frank skated flatground and talked, he decided to try switch flipping the gap. I don’t think Heath and I even spoke words to each other, I just got my camera out and snapped a few photos until he made it—which didn’t take long. One of my jobs at TWS in 1993 was deciding who got Check Outs each month and with that move, Heath got a slot in the very next issue.

...Oh, and Frank got on the team.


Frontside Feeble Grind, El Dorado

In 1994, I was having the time of my life shooting skateboard photos for TWS. Every weekend was spent driving around Orange County, LA or wherever else to shoot and it was an amazing time. Hitting spots with Heath, Josh Beagle, Steve Berra, Ronnie Creager, Frank Hirata, Geoff Rowley, Tom Penny and Ed Templeton was never disappointing.

I’m pretty sure this school, in the city of Orange, is called El Dorado (I could be wrong) and it is close to where Heath grew up. There is nothing particularly special about this spot these days, but in 1994, it was the perfect place for some new tech handrail moves from this new generation of rippers.

I have no idea how this ended up on the cover of TWS; I might have picked it for the photo section and Ted Newsome (art director) liked it enough to design it for the cover. Weird how things work out as this was the first of four (five if you count the Sight Unseen video box) Heath covers I shot.



Backside Tailslide, American Flag, Oceanside High

I remember Heath coming down to the TWS offices one day and he had this idea to shoot a photo with a huge American flag as the backdrop. I was down. All we needed from there was a flag large enough and a spot to shoot at. He called me up later to say he’d found a spot in Downtown LA and he was ready to shoot something that night, we just needed a crew of people to hold the flag tight. I picked a few TWS staff members to help with the job and we drove up to meet Heath at the spot. That night, it was super windy and we just couldn’t keep the flag up, as it would get caught in the wind gusts and knock everyone over. There was a couple back Smith attempts that looked decent, but in the end, we wanted something better.

Heath figured Oceanside High School’s 13 stair rail would be a great spot for a back tail so we planned the shoot for another night. I got the same crew together and we all met across the street from the high school around midnight. We needed a generator to light up the spot, which meant that we’d need to drive inside the school to drop it off. Easier said than done as the front gate of the school was locked up. Heath figured he could just cut the lock with his “Sawzall” while we waited out of sight across the street. This gate is on the main road and the noise he made trying to cut the lock was so loud, it seemed like the cops were definitely getting a call. After a few minutes or so of that, it suddenly stopped and Heath appeared where we were waiting, looking frustrated. He told us that he just couldn’t cut the lock... But then, all of a sudden, he just hops in his car and drives over to the school, straight through the gate like a terrorist on a mission. SMASH! So loud. A minute later, he comes back to where we were waiting.

“Let’s go!”

A group of us rolled into the dark school, turned on the generator and got everything ready for the shoot. Heath warmed up with some flatground and boardslides until we were all ready. Flag holders hoisted the flag and Heath started locking into backside tailslides. I shot about three rolls of medium format film and a half roll of 35mm before we packed up and left around 3:00 AM. It’s crazy that the cops didn’t show up as this definitely was not a stealth mission by any means.



Kickflip Backside Lipslide, Bricktown Rail, Santa Ana

Heath was not the first person to flip into tricks on handrails but he definitely raised the bar for that kind of skating at an early age. I remember seeing a sequence of him doing a kickflip frontside boardslide on a handrail (I think the same rail I shot his first cover on) that was a Foundation ad. I didn’t shoot that but I did shoot him attempting kickflip 50-50s on the seven stair at UCI that he never landed it. Fast forward a couple years, Heath needed something big for his first Hook Ups shoes ad and there was a new rail in Santa Ana known as Bricktown that only a few people had skated. The trick Heath came up with was a kickflip back lip, which, at the time, seemed completely insane on a rail that big. But he was determined to make it happen.

I met up with Heath and J Strickland at the rail in the middle of the day (Heath would have rather skated it at night but I didn’t have the capability to shoot night sequences on film back then). After some warm up backside lipslides, it was straight to business. I kind of feel like this was a turning point for Heath in that he started to have this mindset going forward of trying a trick until he made it or was physically unable to try anymore. He would flip his board and get into the back lip pretty much every time, but on several occasions hammered his body into the ground trying to land it. But after a bit… bam! Perfect flip, perfect slide, landing bolts on the slippery brick ground as he’s riding away in that Heath style we all know so well. This is probably one of my favorite sequences I’ve ever shot.



Noseblunt Slide, Coke Machine, Mission Valley

When Heath was hanging tight with Jeremy Klein, I would often receive last minute calls to go out on these wild skate missions with them to random spots. On this one occasion, they called to tell me that they’d “borrowed” the Coca Cola Machine from Birdhouse, loaded it in the van and wanted to set it up on an asphalt hip, down in Mission Valley. Heath, at the time, hated skating spots when people were around so the only time he’d go out to get tricks would be late at night or early in the morning.

They picked me up at my house before the sun came up and they must have been up all night, playing video games and drinking all the soda out of that machine because they were bouncing off the walls. We got to the bank spot at first light and the three of us unloaded the soda machine, putting it atop the bank so they could skate it. The bank was mellower than originally thought so after Jeremy got a back lip and Heath got this noseblunt slide, they were over it. We loaded the machine back up into the van and called it a day. All of this before 9:00 AM. Oh, and I don’t think Birdhouse owner Per Welinder ever had any idea that his coke machine had been kidnapped.




50/50 Santa Barbara

Heath really wanted the cover of the first issue of The Skateboard Mag and we were down, as long as he came up with something worthy of a new magazine’s first cover. He told me about this spot in Santa Barbara that only The Muska had skated and I was down to check it out. Well, the spot was at a mall and Heath wanted to skate it when no one was around but not at night, so we needed to hit it first thing in the morning.

I live in Oceanside and Heath was living in the San Fernando Valley at the time, so I was going to have to drive up, spend the night at his house so we could leave early as shit and get to Santa Barbara at first light. I have no idea how anyone could skate that early, let alone something super gnarly on a chilly January morning. But that’s what Heath wanted to do.

Jon Minor, Justin Regan, Heath and myself were the crew and, for whatever reason, that first attempt was a failed one. I think we must have gotten there a little too late and security was on us right away before any skating even happened. So we just got back in the car and headed back to LA, vowing to try again in a week but knowing that we’d have to get on the road a little earlier.

On that next occasion, we arrived before it was light, set up the gear and went about our business hassle-free. Heath landed the trick in a few goes and we were back in the car headed south to LA before most people were even awake. Crazy how easy things can be—yeah, right.

So, I got the shot and it was all set to be the first cover of The Skateboard Mag… but there was one hitch. Another image was brought to our attention and we needed to make a quick decision as to what would be the cover. In the end, we went with Danny Way’s gap to rail frontside noseblunt while Heath ended up on the cover of the second issue. It was a bummer having to tell Heath about our decision to go with Danny but once he saw the photo, he understood.

UCI Moves:


Backtail Shove


Five-0


Curve Tailslide


Smith To Lip


50-50 


Kickflip Backside 50-50


Frontside Nosegrind


Gap Out Noseblunt


-and-

Gap Out Back Lip

As everyone knows, the UCI (University of California at Irvine) is known around the world because Heath Kirchart finding and destroying spots all over that campus. It’s true, lots of other skaters have done stuff there but it is known as Heath’s School” because of all the stuff he’s done there and I was fortunate enough to shoot several of the good ones. The back tail shove-it at 7:00 AM on New Year’s Day, the first try 50/50 down the huge hubba on Thanksgiving morning, gap out noseblunt at night and curved rail tailslide for Sight Unseen, kickflip frontside and backside 50/50s on the ten stair, and the many moves on the white hubbas that he battled to get. All I can say is the many nights and holidays I spent at UCI were well worth it.



Backside Noseblunt, Wilshire

In the last days of filming his part for Birdhouse’s The End, Heath had some moves in mind for the infamous Wilshire Rail in downtown Los Angeles. This was a rail that was next-to-perfect but security was tight and quick to kick you out. That being said, we got lucky one Saturday afternoon and Heath got two tricks on film before we got the boot. He did the kickflip front board super quick but the trick he really wanted was a backside noseblunt, which took a few tries but also gave me the opportunity to shoot some stills before getting in there with the fisheye for the sequence. First time I ever shot a successful backside noseblunt on a handrail… I think.



Lipslide, El Toro


I wish there was a good story that went with this image but it was really kind of one of those rare times where everything went great. I mean, the only thing I can really think of was that Heath had already tried to do this lipslide a couple weeks before with Atiba Jefferson but came up short. For whatever reason, Atiba wasn’t available so I got the opportunity to shoot it (along with a young Seu Trinh who was shooting fisheye from the side). As I mentioned before, this was one of those shoots where everything went perfect. Sunny morning, no security and second try rideaway—still not sure why anyone makes a big deal about it. Ha.
Tailslide, UCLA

I think most of the Heath missions I went on for Sight Unseen were filmed at night. And when I say “night”, I don’t mean just after it got dark but super late, after midnight so there were no people around to distract Heath from getting his move. My ears are still ringing from the generator noise all these years later. I think this UCLA tailslide was the last thing we shot for the video but I can’t say for sure. I met Heath, Greg Hunt and Jon Holland in Irvine and we all drove north to LA in Heath’s police cruiser Crown Vic. We’re setting up to skate the rail and minutes after the generator got turned on, security shows up and gives us the boot. I want to say it was 1:00 AM or something. Determined to get it that night because of deadlines, we figured that we’d wait it out and try again in a few hours, hoping security was gone (or asleep). We hit an all-night deli in Santa Monica to use up some time before heading back, only to find security still lurking. Heath was pissed but there was nothing we could do about it. So we start headed back down to OC, thinking the spot and trick weren’t happening. But about halfway down the freeway, we all convinced each other that security would be gone at first light and turned the car around. Sure enough, come dawn there were no humans about and we got the trick with no hassles.



Backside 360, Bob’s, Vista, Ca

Heath was set to retire from professional skateboarding but still had a few things he wanted to do before he exited the limelight. While on skate trips during those last few years, Heath had been tossing up huge backside 360s at park demos to hype up the crowd. I think from that, he decided he wanted to try one over Bob’s mega ramp gap as the ender to his retirement part. I thought he was nuts and it was never gonna happen because that just isn’t the kind of skating Heath was accustomed to.

As the deadline for that part got closer, Heath hit me up to see if I could call Bob about setting up a session for him to give it a try. I think Bob thought I was just making shit up but he gave it a go and we all rolled out there one afternoon to check it out. Heath walked up the roll in, riding down several times and jumping off his board just to see what it felt like to approach such hairy stunt. I honestly didn’t even think he’d try it.

Once again, Heath proved us all wrong by not only going for it but actually riding away from one of the sickest backside 360s ever. I mean, he broke a truck and fucked up his shoulder pretty good in the process, but in the end, he rolled away into retirement on his terms. So sick.

big thanks to Swift for taking the time. 

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

So... that was incredible!

AB said...

the best
thanks HK
thanks Swift
thanks Chops

Anonymous said...

Wow, great article. One thing I noticed though with the backside noseblunt picture. I always heard that set of rails called the Arco Rails. And down the street was the Wilshire 10 and 15. Incredible pics and stories either way. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

the arco rail is off wilshire blvd, as is the 10/15, but they are in koreatown, and the arco rail is in dtla

SG said...

Kirch is such a superior human being, its sickening

Anonymous said...

Thank you.

DLTDA said...

I was going to say the exact same thing. Glad I’m not the only one who had this thought, and thanks to anon below for the detail.

Kipp G said...

Please post some of those back smith American flag attempts!! Please please please!!

Anonymous said...

Amazing, thank you!

Anonymous said...

You mean back tail

Anonymous said...

Not to take away from this cus its amazing, but could we please do this for Penny one day? You know thatd be mindblowing.

bradtheraddad said...

Thank you, Heath.
Thank you, Dave.
Thank you, Chops.
Thank you, skateboarding.

Anonymous said...

El Dorado High School is in Placentia, CA. Shout out to P-Town!!! That was the first "real" handrail I ever did. It was also the first rail I ever sacked! That school was great and had some nice planter ledges and gaps and of course that perfect seven stair rail, which was the main attraction. That puppy has seen alot of coverage. Probably Placentia's most famous spot!

Thank you, this was an awesome read!

Drewummel07 said...

I love the stories to accompany such epic photos!
Heath had the motivation and dedication to skateboarding that is truly inspirational; his night missions, skating on holidays, sacrificing his emotional and physical health for his personal skate objectives. So faquin inspirational.
Heath is an enigma. A true legend.

Anonymous said...

D Way looks so bad squatting mid air. Heath should've gotten that cover.

Anonymous said...

Great article.

Anonymous said...

bookmarked!!, I love your blog!