Mike McGill Interview
In 1984, Mike McGill tore skateboarding a new keyhole when he unveiled the McTwist (540) to a stunned world, opening up vertical aerial maneuvers to multiple rotations for the first time. Born on September 2, 1964 in Brooklyn, New York, Mike moved to New Port Richey, Florida nine years later. Not long after, he started skateboarding, eventually getting sponsored by Powell-Peralta, for whom he co-starred in a series of groundbreaking videos like Future Primitive and The Search For Animal Chin. In the late ’80s, Mike went on to open his own wooden ramp skatepark (built on top of the old Carlsbad skatepark), and McGill’s Skate Shop, the latter of which is still open for business. Even though Mike’s a dedicated family man, make no mistake about it, he still shreds as hard as ever to this day.—GSD
(Previous Photo Mike McGill at Del Mar, photo Grant Brittain)
When and how did you start skateboarding?
I think I was 9 ½. I borrowed a skateboard from this girl on the next block just about every day. It had steel wheels, but I still thought it was cool. My dad wouldn’t buy me one, because he thought it was dangerous. I eventually showed him I could ride hers pretty good, so he bought me a board and a helmet.
Describe your first good skateboard.
It was a fiberglass deck with Trickeray wheels and BBs as ball bearings. I think I got it at Zayre’s department store, which was kind of like Sears. I remember replacing the BBs with other BBs when they wore out.
When and how did you get your first set of Trackers?
During my first California trip with Alan Gelfand, Stacy Peralta told me to grab a Ray Bones board out of his garage at Venice Beach. It had Trackers on it, so my first set was hand-me-down down ones, but they worked fine. I believe they were Extracks.
How did you get on the Tracker team?
Stacy told the people at Tracker about me and had them ship packages to me with notes on them from Chris Strople and Wally Inouye. That inspired me back in Florida.
Which Tracker truck models did you ride?
I started on Extracks, and then moved on to Sixtrack magnesiums and Aggro Quicktracks later on. I pretty much rode anything they ever made.
Tell us about your favorite Tracker ads?
I liked the ones back in the Skateboarder mag days like Tony Alva, Jay Adams and some of mine that showed skating, as well as some of the guys I skated with, like Alan Gelfand. I liked one that was taken at Big O, for sure. Back then, it was as big a deal to get an ad as it was to get a picture in the mag. There weren’t as many companies, so if you were on a major one, it meant you were really respected. I liked some that were used inside product cards like Lappers and Copers, too. One was of myself doing a corner air at Upland. I was just as stoked on that as one in the magazine.
Did you invent any tricks on Trackers?
The McTwist and McEgg, primarily. I just like skating and adding my own style to tricks that already exist.
During your time on Trackers, what stood out about their performance?
They were very stable on vert. I knew I could depend on them no matter what I was trying. I never worried about anything breaking, and that’s important when trying tricks higher and higher.
Tell us about some memorable times with the Tracker team.
In all honesty, I was going to ride for Indy after Cab did, but Tracker hired a guy named Bryan Ridgeway as their new team manager, and his dedication and support kept me on Tracker for nearly two decades, along with others who eventually worked for the company. There wouldn’t have been many memorable times had they not got that guy as their team manager. It makes a huge difference when a company is supportive. Besides that, traveling the world, exploring new spots and meeting all of the people associated with that are the key memories. I’m still friends with people I met 30 years ago while traveling on those skate trips.
Tell us a couple of crazy stories from those trips.
When I was a teen, I was fortunate to have a radio station send me as an amateur to Venezuela to do a demo on the Pepsi ramp with Tony Alva, Tim Scroggs, Ellen Oneal, Alan Gelfand and Steve Rocco. What amateur got to do something like that in high school? All of the other contest and skate camp trips in Europe also stand out. But, for the most part, it was about skating as many hours as possible and having fun doing it. That natural high and stoke was more than enough!
Why was Tracker so important in the history of skateboarding?
Because they were innovators of products and were ahead of the curve, progressing to where skating would be headed. They made sure the riders had what they needed to keep progressing, too. The long list of great riders seemed to validate the legitimacy of Tracker products because the best were riding them. They supported events to keep the fire going in the industry, and even had the first full-time team trainer, Barry Zaritsky, who had a training house for rehabbing the riders. I know for sure he made it possible for me to participate in half of the contests I was planning on flying home from due to injury. I went from ready to disappoint all of my sponsors by not being able to compete, to placing in the top five by the end of it all. This happened time and time again, and I wasn’t the only one he helped this way. He had us rehabbing correctly, had us eating right…the whole nine yards. Tracker was cool, because they let riders from other truck companies use the rehab facility and Barry. There’s something to be said for that!
Which skateboarders inspired you the most?
I had photos on my wall in Florida of Stacy Peralta, Steve Olson, Tony Alva and Jay Adams. The most amazing thing to me back then was I would end up meeting all of them within two years after I got sponsored. As a little kid, I didn’t think that would ever happen. They all had their own unique identities and styles, and I liked something different about each.
What have been the highlights of your time in skateboarding?
I was sponsored by some of the best in the business, traveled the world doing what I loved and was part of so many fresh things, like when the video age hit skateboarding, etc. I loved working on the Tracker video parts with Ridge and Keith Lenhar. Starting my shop back in 1988 was a dream I had for years and it still exists here in Encinitas, California today. I also owned and operated my skatepark in Carlsbad for years. I had several brands like Chapter 7 and Shaft that taught me plenty about the skateboard business inside out. I’m still skating today and having a blast when I do. I love seeing the other efforts being made to bring skateboarding to people around the world like those people of Skateistan. That’s just all-around cool.
What are you up to today?
McGill’s Skate Shop is where I spend my time. I also do demos for various charities, when possible. I still like those road trips, but I try to keep them within three to four hours away these days.
What do you enjoy doing besides skateboarding?
I’m a family man, so they are my priority. I like fishing and taking care of tropical fish, as well as hanging with the folks. Without their support over the years, I’m sure I would have never gotten this far in life with as much happiness as I’ve been afforded. They all know I need to get out and skate, though. J