Laura Thornhill Interview
By Larry Balma + GSD
Back in 1976-’77, a whole nation full of 14-year-old boys had a crush on Laura Thornhill. I know, because I was one of them. With her long locks flowing, she watercolored the world under her wheels with such style and grace. Not only was Laura the first girl to be honored with a pro model deck in the ’70s, she was also the first girl to score a Who’s Hot and an interview in Skateboarder magazine. She was a big deal then, and despite several injuries that took her out of the limelight, she still rolls around today. So, let’s play catch-up with Laura and reminisce upon those halcyon days of the mid 1970s, when skateboarding was beautiful.–GSD
LMB: Where were you born?
I was born in Dallas, Texas in 1961, where I grew up. I moved out to California on Super Bowl Sunday 1974. I had just started to skateboard a little bit before that, and realized that Palos Verdes was a great place to do it. All I wanted was a skateboard. I got a Black Knight with black wheels on it for my 13th birthday, which I rode every day after school. All I wanted to do was ride. I just wanted to start getting good. The first Skateboarder magazine came out with Gregg Weaver on the cover, and there were two or three pictures of girls in there riding. I saw that and said, “I want to be in this magazine.” Like everybody else, when the magazine came out, I just devoured it cover to cover. What I wanted more than anything was to be really good at skateboarding and be in that magazine. A contest happened at my school, I entered it, I was the only girl and I won. A month or so later, there was the Steve’s South Bay contest and I won it, too. At that contest, Danny Bearer came up to me and said, “Congratulations! You did great in the contest,” and asked me to be on Logan. He introduced me to Brian Logan, and the rest is history. I started with Logan and stayed with them for a long time.
LMB: What was your favorite skate terrain?
It was a little bit of everything. I loved La Costa and being out on the Black Hill. I loved doing freestyle and slalom, but the Escondido reservoir was my favorite intense terrain. Those weekends out at the Black Hill were really special–learning tricks and skating with everyone.
GSD: Did you ever ride vert?
I rode a little bit of vert at a couple of empty pools by my house. My best friends in my neighborhood were guys because they were into skating. We would sneak in the backyard of that house and a couple of other places. I went on one of the first trips with Warren Bolster out to the Arizona pipes. That was my first experience in a serious back-to-back vert place. I had gone out to Mt. Baldy prior to that, but there was always water running down it. The Escondido reservoir really didn’t qualify as vert. Back then, everyone was kind of an all-around skater: freestyle, downhill, slalom, vert, and cruising–a little bit of everything.
LMB: Did you get your Trackers up at La Costa?
I did. I was given my first set of Trackers from my good friend Dave Dominy at La Costa out of the back of his Volvo station wagon.
LMB: Which model were they?
My first set was Fultracks. I wish I could say that I still have them.
LMB: Which model did you end up riding most of the time?
Mostly Fultracks, but I remember having some Haftracks, too. Looking at all of the photos I have, it seemed that I did everything on Fultracks. I had the Haftracks on my freestyle board.
LMB: Tell us about the Carlsbad sessions.
Just about every weekend, I was down here staying with the Logans. John O’Malley had just built the Carlsbad skatepark and we would go out there and skate until it got dark. We were also shooting some things for Skateboarder magazine at night, including my interview. I was the first girl to get an interview in Skateboarder. But that night was probably just one of the many times there.
GSD: Did Carlsbad skatepark have lights?
No, we used car headlights. There were one or two lights on the shed, but there was no proper lighting.
LMB: Why was Tracker so important in the history of skateboarding?
Just like when the Cadillac wheels came out, Tracker changed everything. It was a new sensation, a better application for riding, and it made everything smoother. Tracker was the new invention that everyone wanted. It was the latest, greatest new thing that came and stayed for a very, very, very long time–even to this day.
LMB: Which skaters inspired you?
I would say definitely the Logans and Torger Johnson. Torger had an amazing style and grace. He was a huge inspiration with his fluidity. I didn’t invent the spacewalk–Torger and Bruce did that–but I definitely tried to emulate it. Bruce Logan invented the kickturn in the air, which Torger called the spacewalk. Torger was someone to admire, to watch him skate. Ty Page was also a huge inspiration, because he was an excellent all-around skater. At one point, we had the best skaters in the world on the Logan Team. After the Zephyr team fell apart, all of those guys came and rode for us: we had Tony Alva, Jay Adams, Bob Biniak, and at one point Steve Picollo, Baby Paul Cullen and all of those guys, too. It was pretty inspiring to have skaters like that around. Down here in North County, La Costa was filled with amazing skaters, as was the area where I lived. Back then, it was an amazing group of people, everyone knew each other, and it was a small community. We were all just trying to be the best we could be and break new ground all of the time.
LMB: Do you recall any memorable times with the Tracker team?
When we–the Sims, Logan and G&S teams–all piled into an RV to go to the Cow Palace. It was like a traveling circus of people, different factions that made up a community of people. All of those trips and contests were always filled with antics, escapades and a wild cast of characters. They were all fun times, but I have no specific stories.
LMB: Did your mom ever worry about you hanging out with a bunch of wild and crazy guys?
I’m sure she did, but Robin Logan, Kim Cespedes, Ellen Oneal and Desiree Von Essen were in the mix, so there were always women around. Although mom met the Logans and felt that I was safe enough and in the hands of a great group of people, I think she worried about me all the time.
LMB: Do you still skate?
I do still skate. I do a little freestyle and I cruise and carve. I’m not into getting hurt, which is what ultimately ended my skating career, when I dislocated my elbow. That was kind of the beginning of the end. I dislocated it two more times after that on a skateboard and a third time after that on skis. I’m just not into that kind of severe pain, so I backed off and segued into other things in life. But, I always continued skating, just not actively in parks and doing things that could seriously hurt me. I love riding my board and being part of the skating community.
GSD: When did that injury happen?
It happened at Skatepark Montebello in 1978-’79. It was pre-opening day when they let all of the pros ride, so everyone was there. I borrowed Stacy Peralta’s board, did the snake run, came back and did a kickturn to stop and give him his board. There was super slick polished concrete at the top of the run, so I slid out, fell back and caught myself with my arm and it dislocated.
LMB: When you got out of skating, what did you do?
I segued into the entertainment industry and worked for a record distribution company. They imported records from all over the world. I started working as a production coordinator in a place called Studio Instrument Rentals in Hollywood in 1984, which was full of bands rehearsing, video shoots, etc. After getting married in 1987, I had my first child, a son named Sage, who was born in 1990, and my second child in 1993, a daughter named Kylie.
Shortly thereafter, my husband, his partner, and I started our own company that provided state of the art rehearsal studios, and musical equipment and gear for the top musical acts in the world of rock and roll. We also built a beautiful soundstage where many music videos and TV shows would take place. We provided musical production support for just about every award show and music special on the planet and everything in between. I am still involved in the entertainment industry and am currently working on the development of a couple of TV shows and other exciting projects. Sports, entertainment, and creative endeavors are indeed my passion and still at the core of all that I do.
LMB: Do you have any hobbies?
I’m totally into cycling and mountain biking. I was racing mountain bikes in 1993-’94 after my son and daughter were born, for about six years. I still mountain bike. I live in Valencia, so there’s amazing riding up there. I love snowboarding, it’s my favorite. I also love hiking, trail running, yoga and being healthy, trying to stay fit and still skating carefully and casually.
LMB: Do you have any closing comments?
It’s an honor to be sitting here with you, Larry, being interviewed to be part of an amazing book. I’m honored to have some historical roots in skateboarding and to call the community of people that I’ve known for a really long time family. It’s a beautiful group of people, and some of them are sitting in this room right now. I’ve known them an awfully long time. We’ve grown up together.