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The Mutt: How To Skateboard and Not Kill Yourself
Rodney Mullen with Sean Mortimer
Published by Regan Books
276 pages
Trade paperback

This is a first of it's kind for Mumble. Sure, we've brought you book excerpts, but this is a book book excerpt: an actual chapter from an actual book book that we hope you'll actually take the time to read.

You've seen Tony Hawk's Occupation: Skateboarder that was co-written by Sean Mortimer, right? Well, The Mutt is Sean's second book published by Regan, and it's a similar teaming up of pro skateboarder (in this case, Rodney Mullen) and writer (that'd be Sean) to pen a biography that people like you should be interested in reading. It was released four years ago and somehow we missed it back in 2004 and just found out about it a couple of months ago. Perhaps because, like the story that Rodney tells of his father wishing his love for skateboarding would go away, for some reason Regan didn't show this title much love.

But the release date is irrelevant. If you like skateboarding and it's history, if you want to know about the dude who invented most of the tricks that have gone down on skateboards over the past 20 years, and how he almost didn't get to, you're going to want to read The Mutt.

Here's chapter 12 to whet your whistle...




    “With all the talent you have you could be a major league baseball player or a pro golfer,” my father reiterated one morning, in one of his bad moods. Sometimes he made remarks like this, which seemed complimentary but were really double-edged. True, he was saying I was athletically gifted, but he was also emphasizing a very different message—that skateboarding was a waste of my time. He’d often tell me that Sara’s surfer friends, who used to skate on my old driveway ramp, would grow up to be bums.
    With my high school graduation only a year and a half away, my father began to have serious doubts about my ability to cope with the world as an adult. He wanted me to get on the “right path” toward being a doctor, dentist, scientist, or professional athlete. The parental leash tightened on me.
    The scrutiny of my shortcomings suddenly returned, and once again skateboarding took the blame for any of my deficiencies. On the one hand, he was proud of my discipline, but on the other he was annoyed by my success, which was pressuring me to focus on what he believed to be the wrong pursuit.



    In 1982, I went to California for the first of three summer contests, The Rusty Harris contest in Whittier. I opened my run with a new trick I had learned, the flatground ollie.
    Alan Gelfend, another Floridian who skated ramps and bowls, had invented the first no-handed aerial in skateboarding’s history back in 1977. It’s impossible to overstate the importance of this trick, which was named after Alan's nickname, “Ollie.” To be able to make your board do an air using only your feet was mind-blowing at the time, and skating might easily have petered out due to lack of progress if nobody had invented this trick. (This is the same trick that allowed Tony Hawk to get higher airs by grabbing later.)
    I always liked the way the trick looked, and was impressed by the unique thinking behind it. On ramps you could scoop your tail and keep your momentum. You still had to guide the board 180 degrees with just your feet, but I began dissecting the trick, taking it from a vertical plane to a horizontal plane. The trick didn’t translate well, because the scooping mechanics of it totally fell apart when you had to go straight up from a flat surface. But I noticed that Alan drilled his rear trucks back so that he could hit the tail of his board quicker. Freestyle boards were so much smaller and lighter and the tail and wheelbase shorter, so that my tail already hit the ground fast.
    Years earlier, I had invented a set-up trick that could get me into position on the nose of my board. I popped my board into the air and drove the front down so that I landed with the nose resting on the ground and my body leaning forward. That solved my scooping problem, because I realized that I could already pop my board up, but it was such a severe see-saw motion that I wasn’t sure how to level it out at the top of the pop and land on all four wheels.
    One Sunday afternoon, after trying different techniques, I just backed my front foot towards the tail, hit the tail harder, and dragged my front foot up the board to lift it higher and slowed down the seesaw motion of the trick, so that by the time I was descending, it was level. The seesaw motion was the essence of the trick.
    It was easy. Once I had the foot placement figured out, I practiced doing the trick higher and higher. In less than an hour I could pop a foot off the ground.
    I was happy that I had solved a problem, but I wasn’t that impressed with the trick. It was neat, but it was also sort of boring. To me, it served as a key that opened the door to an unlimited number of new tricks. Now, if I could pop high enough and give myself enough time, I could complete tricks airborne—and that offered a world of opportunity. It was as if I’d been given a whole new perspective on skating because the plane on which I could skate had just doubled.
    Years later, people credited the flat ground ollie with sparking street skating, since it allowed you to pop up curbs and keep cruising down the streets uninterrupted. More importantly, the flatland ollie was a bridge between freestyle and vert, and when you mixed the two, modern street skating became possible. I was blown away when Tony wrote in his autobiography that “Rodney Mullen figured out how to ollie on the flat ground and street skating wouldn’t exist without the ollie. Every time you ollie you should get on your knees and thank Rodney or take him out to eat if you see him skating around Los Angeles.”
    In 1982, nobody had even coined the term street skating. At first it was actually called “street style.”
    I never named it the flat ground ollie, and when it appeared in Thrasher magazine as a Trick Tip, it was called an “Ollie prop-pop.”
    I remember showing it to Stacy before the Whittier contest. He made me do it over and over again so that he could figure it out for himself. As usual, he laughed.    
    After winning the contest, Stacy congratulated me and asked me if I wanted to ride for Independent trucks. He had ridden for Tracker, as I was at the time, but he wanted to spread his team out between the two largest truck companies to avoid the impression that he was affiliated with one of them. I didn’t care. Whatever Stacy wanted was fine with me, plus Indy made really good trucks.
    He took me on a trip to San Francisco, where Indy was based. I had a chance to meet Fausto, the owner of Indy. (He was also the owner of Thrasher magazine.) Fausto always wore a fedora—his trademark—and was surrounded by shady rumors of Mafia connections. Mofo, Thrasher’s head photographer, shot a picture of me popping an ollie, and in a few months it was on the cover of the most popular skateboard periodical in the world.
    Transworld Skateboarding would become the other main skating magazine. It was started by Larry Balma, who also owned Tracker trucks. Transworld was preparing its first issue that summer, and a rivalry began to grow between the two magazines and truck companies. Adding fuel to the fire, Tracker was out of San Diego, in Southern California, while Indy was located in San Francisco. So there was a bit of Nor Cal vs. So Cal attitude floating around.
    I was paid a staggering fifty bucks a month by Indy, but to me it was pure gravy. I deposited my Powell checks and spent my Indy checks. After saving up for a few months, I carefully studied the models at Radio Shack and finally bought a medium-sized ghetto blaster.



    I went home after winning a contest in Pomona, California, but a week after my fifteenth birthday I flew back to California to skate in the last pro freestyle contest of the year. It was held toward the end of the summer at Del Mar skatepark, Tony Hawk’s home park since Oasis had been shut down. Tony was the youngest kid on the Bones Brigade, a year younger than me, and his parents offered to let me stay at their house during the Del Mar contest. I flew into L.A. and hooked up with Stacy, who put me on a train heading south, where the Hawks picked me up. In the two years since the Oasis contest where me and Steve had watched him learning ollie to grab airs, Tony had turned pro, along the way developing the longest list of tricks in vert skateboarding. I watched him goof around at the park, and immediately I was blown away by the progress he had made in such a short time. He was peerless now.
    I recognized that he was the future. You could spot his genius in seconds; he looked so fluid and relaxed, while other skaters seemed forced and unnatural on their boards. I couldn’t believe that anyone could achieve such mastery as a skater, never mind in such a short period of time. He was an extremely smart guy, and you could see that skating was an extension of his intelligence just by watching the way he learned a trick.
    Apart from winning contests, Tony and I had a lot in common. We were both called robots, and we both felt like outsiders in skateboarding. Being outcasts, we related to each other immediately, and I quickly discovered how smart he was. His whole family was sharp: his mom was on her way to earning her doctorate and his dad was a jack of all trades. Tony also had a self-deprecating sense of humor that always made me laugh—especially from a guy who seemed so gifted.
    Academics and intelligence were such focal points in my house that I automatically zeroed in on those aspects in other people. Here was a kid who recited the lyrics of songs he’d heard on the radio after hearing them only once, and who did math problems for fun. Even before I knew he had a 144 IQ (I read this in his book, he never told me) I could tell he was different from the average talented skater.
    I noticed how most pro skaters didn’t always embrace Tony as one of the guys. Here was this kid—literally a kid—who was destroying older skaters with his peerless vert skating. And that had to hurt the seasoned pros. Nobody could keep up with the tricks he created and he cranked out one after another. He’d think of tricks while he was going to sleep and make a list of ones that he had to figure out how to land.
    I also met one of Tony’s friends, Greg Smith, who was an amateur freestyler. In my mind, Greg personified the California kid—he had dyed blue hair and wore quicksilver Jam shorts that went past the knee, which were quite avant-garde in comparison to the Daisy Dukes most skaters wore at the time. His mom was an awesome half-Cherokee woman, one of the most giving and supportive persons I’ve ever met.
    Greg eventually turned pro and became a successful chemical engineer later on, but what really blew me away back then was his porn collection. Penthouses stacked next to Thrashers; XXX videos stacked neatly beside his TV—right out in the open. Greg reasoned that everybody liked it, so why should he have to hide it away? Steve, Tony, and Greg all had a sort of freedom that I had never dreamed of. Granted, the porn collection seemed to be taking it a bit far—I cringed when his mom would walk right by it—but the way they lived seemed unbelievable to me. Whenever I noticed that free-spiritedness of theirs, I felt like a fish inside a tank, looking out with curiosity at them.
    Tony’s home life was the opposite of mine. The condo his parents owned seemed like Disneyland to me, with people always laughing, cracking jokes, and poking fun at each other. (They all possessed an acute sense of black humor.) But more than anything else, the house was permeated with support. If Tony had been obsessed with lawn bowling instead of skating, his parents would have been behind him 100 percent. His mom even seemed happy that I was skating well.
    To me it was the perfect family. The Hawk condo didn’t have the Wild West feel that Steve’s house did, but it was a free, open, wholesome place. I loved how the Hawk family members talked to each other. They seemed like friends talking, all of them on the same level, giving each other equal consideration.
    His parents loved the fact that I was obsessed with skating, but they noticed what was going on underneath my surface. Mrs. Hawk once said, “Rodney was the most stressed-looking boy I ever saw.” She did everything she could to make my time at her house relaxing. She also went to every skateboard contest she could and watched her son win that Del Mar vert contest and me win the freestyle contest.
    Transworld Skateboarding covered the contest in their first issue. “Then came THE MUTT to give another clinic,” they wrote. “One judge gave him a perfect 100. The rest gave him 98s and 99s. A voice in the crowd asked what he did wrong. As a trend setter making all the new moves—which he created—he should have been given the ‘Comaneci’ score.”
    Don’t ask me what “Comaneci” means. I had to look it up in the dictionary but still couldn’t find it. Steve placed second and Kevin Harris third.
    Going home after the contest sucked, but I was getting used to regularly visiting California, which was like a massive decompression chamber for me. So long as I had the California carrot dangling in front of my nose every few months, the stress at home was easier to deal with.
    Before I left for Florida, I recorded a few audio tapes at Tony’s house of the local radio stations, commercials and all, so I could play them at home as I went to sleep or when I skated.
    My father wasn’t exactly enthusiastic about my summer of victories. It reminded him that I was aiming my talents in the wrong direction.
    “You’re a big fish in a really small pond, Rodney,” he said. “I know it means a lot to you, but before it gets too late, I think you should set your sights on something else.”
    That summer was the first time the life of a priest became attractive to me. I knew I could handle the discipline required of the priesthood, and I figured it would be possible to transfer my passion for skateboarding over to the church. I had already read the Bible three times, and the idea of studying all the time, obeying a strict code, and having all the extraneous stuff taken care of while I dedicated myself to God fit me well. What attracted me most though was the idea of not having to deal with anybody, being able to totally focus on my faith. I imagined I could just study, constantly intensifying my biblical interest, analyzing each page down to a microscopic level. That’s what I’ve always loved—studying. Whether it’s skateboarding, the bible, or math problems, I love focusing in until the rest of my world fades away. I figured I’d take my Casio watch with me, the only remainder from my past life.