Kim Cespedes Interview
By Larry Balma
As a strong-willed tomboy, San Diego, California native Kim Cespedes was the gnarliest girl skateboarder of the 1970s. After living in Hawaii for years, she’s now based back in San Diego, still surfing and cruising on her longboard.
Where did you grow up?
I was born and raised in San Diego. I lived in places like Imperial Beach, where I first got into surfing in sixth grade. I also lived in Point Loma on a boat for a while. At the end of junior high school, I relocated to Northern California. A lot of people thought I was from there, but I was born and raised in San Diego. I did high school up there for two years, then two years in Hawaii. When Hobie Skateboards signed me, I came back to North Country to Encinitas, where I’ve been ever since.
Are you in Leucadia now?
Yes, and when I first came to Leucadia, I rented a little shack behind Mr. Balma’s house by the chickens. I loved that place and miss it to this day, because I had fresh eggs and chickens to wake me up every morning.
How old were you when you started skateboarding?
I want to say 14. The first time I got on a skateboard, I fell straight back on my rear end. I said, “I’ll never do that again! That was stupid.” I had been living in Hawaii and missed surfing a lot. My younger brother, who was my idol and taught be how to skateboard, was a great skater, and a great stylist. I watched him bombing the hills surf skating every day, and I just thought, “God, I’ve got to do that!” So, I slowly got into it with my brothers.
Was that with urethane wheels or clay?
No, my younger brother Travis came home with a Hobie wooden skateboard with stringers, a white Hobie sticker, white clay wheels and loose ball bearings. Then we got a white Hobie scooped board with a blue stripe down the middle and clay wheels, as well. So, when you bombed down the hill, your axle nuts flew off and the loose ball bearings went flying. We spent hours running around on the street, looking for the bearings, putting our wheels back together. But, it was such a rush. That was a big deal, because you could go fast down the hill on steel wheels, but you didn’t have a lot of control, because they slid when you turned. So, when the clay wheels came out, some were a little wider, which offered better tracking. They were the bomb, because you could do longer and faster turns.
My brother started making skateboards in wood shop. They made 48” woody boards with a lot of flex that were really good for downhill. We mostly just bombed the hills, because they weren’t designed for tight turns, but you could do big, sweeping turns. By the time of the 48” boards, the original Cadillac wheels came out. When we saw the first ads and photos of Gregg Weaver on Cadillac wheels, we were like, “That’s what we’ve got to have,” because that guy could skate. He was the guy; he was the stylist we all wanted to be. We all wanted to be like Gregg. It was ironic that I ended up riding for Hobie skateboards. I remember when I was asked, I was floored, I didn’t know what to say, and all I could think of saying was, “You mean the team that Gregg Weaver is on?” I was like, “Wow!” With Skitch Hitchcock, Mike Weed and all of those guys, it was a really great team. Hobie Skateboards recruited their team mainly for their riders’ styles.
Who was the head of the team then?
At the time, it bounced back and forth between Dale Smith and Bob Skoldberg, and Bob did a lot of it. With the boys, the Hobie team traveled in a circuit all over. It was easy for them, because they were all guys, and then they threw me in the picture. I was just this one girl who didn’t travel all the time with the guys.
Tell us about some skate trips you did go on with the Hobie team.
I was really fortunate to ride for Hobie, and skateboarding was really good to me. The most memorable trip was to Japan with Greg Weaver and Rodney Jesse. We were sponsored by Nike and Coca-Cola. We ran the very first freestyle skateboard contest in Tokyo. The Japanese people treated us like kings and queens. It was phenomenal. We had a great time. I remember going to the freestyle contest, where they had all of their world-class champions, like the freestyle world figure skating champion, on the judging panel. I happened to be paired up with a man who skied down Mt. Everest, wiped out, slid down and stopped inches away from a massive crevice. If he had fallen off, he would have died. He was also the tallest Japanese man I ever saw. I said to him, “I’ve seen that epic footage of you skiing down Mt. Everest a million times. What was that like?” He said, “I don’t remember, it was all blur.” That’s all he said to me. The man was fluent in five different languages. He was brilliant. I sat next to him and we judged the skateboarding contest. The event was so big, it was televised over there. I traveled to Chicago with Hobie. I didn’t travel as much as the boys. I didn’t get to go to Europe, and that’s one place I really wanted to go. I did do a skateboarding show called Skateboard Mania that was like a live concert with skaters and music. We went from San Diego all the way up the coast to San Francisco and back. We stopped in towns along the way, and that was really fun. There weren’t a lot of girl skaters at the time, maybe 10, tops.
But you were an all-around girl skater.
Yeah, that’s true. Most of the women skaters were just freestylers, and they were phenomenal. That’s one of the reasons why I didn’t do freestyle. I saw Ellen Berryman do her gymnastics routine, and I went, “Nope, I don’t think I’m doing that on a skateboard. They can have that.” They were very good at it, it just wasn’t my cup of tea. Being sponsored by Hobie, they wanted their name out there, and wanted me out there. So, I either did freestyle or slalom. I never really raced slalom before contests, but that’s where it was. If you were going to get a sponsor, then you had to participate in contests. The first slalom contest I ever did was up in Ventura. The cones had these big square bases on the bottom, so it wasn’t easy to do. But I really liked the speed more than I liked doing tricks to music. I’m more of a free spirit, so it was just hard to contain that. I just wanted to surf skate anyway. The only time all of us girls would really get together was when we would get a hotel room. The guys would do their own thing and we’d do ours. During a Catalina race, I remember getting a hotel room with all of the girls, and Bobby Piercy knocked on the door, trying to get in to flirt. We were like, “No, don’t let Bobby Piercy in here!” Robin Logan and I lived in the same town and we were great friends, but the rest of the girls were spread out. So, the only time I really saw the girls was at skate contests or maybe out at La Costa.
As far as riding parks, pools and ditches, you had to be the gnarliest girl skater in that era.
Thank you for that. A lot of people have told me that I was advanced before my time, and I take a lot of pride in that. I put a lot of time into it. If I wasn’t surfing, I skated every night. I was always at the skatepark trying to get better in increments, like, “Oh, I’m going to learn this trick by that time.” I was always trying to lean new tricks. It would take a while, but once I got it, I moved on to another trick. But mostly, I was in love with surf skating and just feeling like I was riding a surfboard. That was my main motivation. I just wanted to cut loose, carve big turns and do all of the surf maneuvers. I remember skating in the skatepark with Jerry Lopez and Larry Bertlemann. I was so thrilled. Jerry Lopez was my favorite surfer in Surfer magazine, and here I was skateboarding with him. He was a great man, and a really nice guy. It was super fun to surf skate with him. That’s what they were doing: transferring their surfing onto the concrete. Larry was doing his Bertlemann slides and all of that stuff. That’s what really motivated me, surf skating and developing myself, getting better every day. Equipment was slowly getting better and better, and so were we as skaters. Although we hit plateaus, there was a new horizon all the time. In the ’70s, we were doing things nobody did before. It was really fun to be at the forefront of that and to watch it play out.
In that process, you guys also had to learn how to fall and how to use pads.
In the old days, if you fell in giant slalom, the pads didn’t really work. You had to learn how to fall even though you didn’t have equipment. Nobody really taught you those things. We did have a man named Curtis Hesselgrave running around who knew aikido. I remember one day we were in a pool, and he said, “Okay, you guys, here’s how you fall.” He taught us the aikido way to fall: tuck your right shoulder and just flip into a summersault or just slide on your pads. Finally, at that time, we had pads with plastic covers, so you could literally slide on them when you fell. That was a huge breakthrough, because you didn’t just hit the concrete and bounce.
Did you ride ditches before skateparks?
I loved reservoirs for skating, because you could go around them and it seemed infinite. We used to go to the VC reservoir and get chased out by the cops. There was also a neighbor out there with a shotgun who would show up, and we’d all scatter. We were always looking for something to skate. I basically lived at Carlsbad skatepark, until Del Mar Skate Ranch eventually opened. I was actually a resident pro there. I taught skateboard classes on Saturday mornings. I loved the keyhole and the reservoir in front. It was such a fun park, I could ride it for hours. We had great skateparks in the beginning, like Marina del Rey. They had rad snake runs, which you don’t see much nowadays.
When did you get your first set of Tracker Trucks?
That was around 1976. I had some Haftracks that I bought from a skateboard shop before I rode for Hobie. When Hobie signed me, I got a bunch of boards and all of them had Tracker Trucks on them. I had ridden them a few times before and was really thrilled because I liked them, and those were the trucks I wanted. We had to have Bennetts at first, because Tracker wasn’t quite there yet. But when Tracker came out, Bennetts were such an obsolete truck in comparison, so it was a no-brainer to rider Tracker. Once I started riding Trackers, I always rode them, because they fit my style of skating.
The thing that was really neat about Tracker was that they had a really great team, so they got a lot of insight on design, and what people wanted and needed. The beauty of it was that the people who made Tracker Trucks could deliver that: they could sit down, draw it up on paper, develop it, create it and make it. The sport was advancing so quickly in the ’70s, it really just escalated, and Tracker was right there innovating with the skaters. That era of skating was really quite fun to go through. Coming away from ball bearing wheels, and then getting into Cadillacs and going from there. Every year, there was better and better equipment. Tracker Trucks was at the forefront of it and I always say they were a leader. There are other truck companies, and yes, some people like them, but Tracker was the original and made the best trucks. It was a no-brainer to ride them.
Do you remember any tricks that were invented on Trackers?
In contests, I did slalom. I wasn’t good at freestyle, because it was too structured. I remember Greg Weaver doing the first lipslides and airs in pools and parks. There were so many tricks in freestyle, it’s hard to say what stands out.
Do you still skateboard today?
I don’t really skateboard that much today. The last time I really skated was in 2001 at the Catalina contest. I injured my knee, so I only surf now. But, I am going to get a 48-inch longboard just to putt around on, and go down to the store and the post office. I never had a double-kicktail skateboard. I never liked them. I don’t like extreme concave decks at all. I like flat, wooden decks. There’s something about a flat, wooden skateboard. When I’m on it, especially when I’m barefoot, I love the energy that comes out of it. It’s hard to explain, you just have to meet someone who skates. Greg Weaver knows all about it—he’s the king of that. There’s a really magical feeling that’s missing in concave double-kicktail decks. I don’t like them.