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Ali Catterall
Interview by: Ali Catterall Saturday 7 September 2019
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Steve Olson - The Original Skater Punk

In July 2011, the ever-with it Daily Mail ran a typically classy story alongside a pap shot of 26-year-old Boardwalk Empire actress Paz de la Huerta sharing “a very public embrace” in New York’s West Village with a grey-haired “timewarp” man “old enough to be her father”. 

Sneered the Mail’s anonymous reporter, “He looks so badly turned out he could be accused of not owning a mirror, and carries a skateboard to perhaps retain a sense of his youth.” The always diligent tabloid never identified her “mystery” paramour, whom it later transpired she’d met at a party in Malibu. But if it had, it might have quickly gleaned the reason he was carrying a skateboard, however geriatric he appeared to the always non-judgemental publication. In short, because its owner was and is among the most revered skateboarders in the known galaxy. 

Steve Olson is 57. Definitely not to be confused with the American mathematician, he’s a pioneer of the sport, the first vertical skateboard champion, credited with introducing the scene to punk rock and creating the game-changing Santa Cruz Checkerboard model. 

Olson grew up in California, where surfing rules – and Olson was no stranger to a longboard. But skating, originally introduced in the 1940s, was always a standby for thrill-seeking kids when the waves were flat – particularly after groundbreaking polyurethane wheels were introduced. As Olson told Hypebeast, “You went from riding these wheels that were hard and noisy and not so smooth, to then hopping on and riding on marble or glass. It was a really wild transformation.” In the 1970s, however, before skateparks existed, you had to improvise your own from empty swimming pools or building sites. And by the time Olson was 16, he was well established as a competitive skater, with a raft of tricks under his belt. 

In 1979 Skateboarder Magazine awarded him Skateboarder of the Year – Olson rocked up to the ceremony in bondage trousers, a white blazer, and a “ridiculous” polka dot tie; “gakked out on blow”, he picked his nose, spat at the photographers, and gave them the finger. “It wasn’t [aimed at] the kids into skateboarding” he’d tell Yak Online, “it was against the industry and the squares”. 

The LA skater kid dropped out of high school and sponsored by skateboard manufacturer Santa Cruz, proceed to travel the US, “just hanging. Skateboarding. And fucking people up.”  As the director of skater documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys Stacy Peralta recalled, “He would show up to contests with the least amount of practice. But then he’d get this intense focus and would go out there and be flawless. And he never did the same thing twice.”

And then, with terrible timing, the US economy tanked – along with skateboarding and skateparks (too many lawsuits). As he told Yak, “One year you’re on top of everything and the next year they’re sayin’… now what are you gonna do with your life?”

As it turned out, he’d do everything from selling commodities, launch his own board and clothing range (the chequered board came about “because the graphic for my board looked fucking hippy, it didn’t represent who I was”), and appear in a 1986 movie about the LA skate scene called Thrashin’, in which he played a member of a rival gang. As Olson told Observer.com, “The producer said ‘I wanna make your life story!’ And I grab him, pull my switchblade out, put it to his throat and say, ‘You’re annoying.’ And he’s in shock, trembling. And I go, ‘I’m acting…’” 

That led to some lucrative commercials gigs and more Hollywood auditions; he was turned down for the part of Teen Wolf in a TV spin-off after he freaked out the casting agent by rolling around on the floor, growling at her. Since then, he’s made a living as a painter (he says his art is inspired by “punk rock, rock ‘n’ roll, fashion, and skateboarding and everything… you throw it all in there”), made records with Sex Pistol Steve Jones, and raised his son Alex (himself a skater, representing Nike SB and who launched clothing brand Bianca Chandon). Oh, and dated catwalk models and Hollywood actresses.

And his reaction to that Daily Mail story? “I’m like, ‘Bitch, I’ve skateboarded since I was a little kid. And I’ll skateboard until I die.” We don’t doubt it for a second.

Meet Steve this September 27-28-29th at The London Tattoo Convention Ramp Jam - tickets are now on sale, get yours today!