Allen Losi Interview
Back in April 1986, I designed a Tracker ad featuring Allen Losi barreling through one of his famously long stand-up grinds at Del Mar. The headline appropriately read, “Just One Page of Surl.” The word surly, which means bad tempered and unfriendly, pretty much summed up Big Al’s rocky relationship with the coping. Off board and face to face with humans, however, it was another story; he was always super friendly and mellow. Despite the notoriety of his burly grinds and lip slides, Allen’s approach to skateboarding was not all brute force. As the inventor of the Ollie to fakie, fakie Ollie footplant, lien to tail and the luggage terminal (Elguerial to tail), he debuted some of the most progressive moves of the early ’80s. To delve into more detail of his life and times, check out Grosso’s Love Letter to Allen Losi on YouTube and read the following interview.—GSD
LMB: Where and when were you born?
I was born in Sylmar, California in 1965.
LMB: When and how did you start skateboarding?
My neighbor across the street got a Black Knight with clay wheels and I fell in love with it that day. He got leukemia and died and his mom gave me his skateboard. My mom gave it back to her to remember her son by. I went to the store and bought my first skateboard and from then on, I’ve been skateboarding.
BR: Which skaters inspired you when you were young?
When I was a kid, I didn’t really read magazines. I didn’t give a shit. I just wanted to go skateboarding. I would say the Hester Series contest at Lakewood. That halfpipe really inspired me and opened my eyes. Then I went to the Gyro Dog Bowl Pro contest at Marina and it was “Game on!” from there.
BR: If you didn’t read the magazines, how did you know about the other parks?
People told me and I’d catch rides to go there. All I wanted to do was skate, so something would come up and I would go.
LMB: Was that with the Upland crew?
No, I grew up in Rialto and Colton. To be honest with you, I wasn’t really welcomed into the Upland crew. I was a Varibot, and they didn’t think we were too cool.
BR: Who came up with the Varibot name?
Duane Peters. It was funny; I liked it. My dad, Gil Losi, called the shots on us progressing, and all of us obeyed. If we didn’t, we would get pushed aside, so we became full-on Varibots. Instead of worrying about style, we just did tricks. Back then, people were really into hitting every wall of the pool. Your lines and how you looked doing them were just as important as what you did. But, by the time the Tony Hawk era and the NSA came around, that wasn’t really a factor anymore, because we were going back and forth on vert ramps with flat walls and just doing maneuvers.
BR: Being from back East, when we heard about Varibots, all we would say was, “What the Hell are they talking about?” We saw photos of you guys doing rad stuff and we heard someone talking shit. Were just like, “Well, that guy’s doing rad stuff!” Anyway, that was our perception of Varibots. You remember Keith Lenharr? He was Variflex all the way back in Pennsylvania. He could not care less about what someone was saying and that’s kind of how it was around the country.
It also became a media ploy that I enjoyed, to be honest with you. Duane would embrace us. He rode our wheels. It wasn’t a negative “Let’s fight each other!” thing. It was more publicity, so I rolled with it. Any publicity is good publicity.
LMB: How did Variflex get started?
A couple of years after I started skating, my uncle Ray, my dad, my brother and my cousin started Variflex. Ray just wanted to manufacture mass-market skateboards to make money, but my father Gil wanted to make good skateboards and travel around with the team. So, at some point, they had a disagreement, then my father left the Variflex program in 1982. After that, it was never doable. In my opinion, on the pro skating side, Variflex was all a farce. A while later, I was gong to leave Variflex to do Team Losi with Santa Cruz, but my family threatened to disown me, so I did Team Losi with the family. They hired some other guy to run it, so I don’t even know where they got the boards made. They were the worst ones ever. I was arguing with my family about it when I broke my leg and they finally let me go. Then I started LSD, which stood for Losi Skate Designs. That was what I thought a skateboard company should be like, with a team that was cool to travel with.
LMB: When did you first ride Tracker Trucks?
1979 was probably the first time I rode a pair of Trackers. I rode everything: Lasers, Rebounds, Bennetts, ACS. I rode everything I could get my hands on to check them out.
LMB: So, when you stopped riding Variflex Connection trucks, that’s when you came over to Tracker?
We were at a contest at Kona and I wanted to skate, but I couldn’t turn on those Connection trucks. Fausto Vitello gave me a set of Indys, and that’s when I first got off of the Connections. Then when I talked to you (Larry), I got on Tracker. I never really rode for Indy. Fausto just gave me trucks.
BR: We purposely didn’t talk to you before you got the TransWorld cover on Indys, because we didn’t want to bring you on, have you get a TransWorld cover, then have people think if you rode for Tracker, you would get a TransWorld cover. Instead, you got it on your own merits.
But as a skater, I thought that I was young and dumb.
BR: You weren’t the only who thought that way. That was kind of the truth. They (Thrasher) were almost forced to cover Tony Hawk, because he would win. Mike McGill and, of course, Neil Blender were people they couldn’t deny. But then it was known there were people who would never get a shot in Thrasher. TransWorld was neutral. If you were a great skater, you got coverage.
I agree, TransWorld was way more neutral.
BR: Obviously, we had relationships over there at TransWorld, but we didn’t have anything to do with what the magazine covered. They went out of their way not to cover Tracker. But Tracker just happened to have great skateboarders on the team, so they covered them just as much as guys who rode for Indy and Gull Wing.
Yeah, it was very prejudiced on the other side of the world, that’s for sure. You can even see now which old guys were popular and the ones Fausto embraced with lots of media and opportunity. Anybody who had a lot of media then–especially videos—it’s still gravy for them. But, I was excited to be part of Tracker. Tracker was the best team and brand I ever rode for. My favorite part of that whole era was riding for Tracker, because it was comfortable, it was casual and it was good fun. It really was. Traveling in a group, the whole package was good times.
LMB: So, you were riding Sixtracks then?
Yeah. I remember you gave me a set of the magnesiums, then I went to the concourse in San Diego, where the police took my board and I never got another pair because the magnesium fire happened at your factory and it was over. Those were the only magnesium trucks I ever had. They were cool and lightweight, and I liked them a lot. I wish I had more. I always groveled over that.
LMB: Which Tracker ads were your favorites?
It was a Lester ad. Lester always had the best ads. To me, Lester was Tracker at that time. I hung out with Lester the most when I rode for Tracker.
BR: Which trips with him stand out?
As far as with me hanging out with Lester, the Vancouver contest is definitely one that stands out. That was a fun time. It was the contest by the beach at a public park where they put a vert ramp, not the World’s Fair. Lester, Christian Hosoi, Eddie Reatugui and Steve Steadham had a hotel room together. After the contest was over, we got our checks and we were trying to buy a bag of weed. We talked to some kid, gave him some money and he took off. Poof! He was gone. We figured out we got robbed. Okay, whatever. So, we went back to the hotel. It was Sunday, and I guess they didn’t serve alcohol on Sundays, so we gave another guy some money. Poof! Gone. All of a sudden, there was a knock at the door. It was the guy with the buds. Then there was another knock. It was the guy with the booze. Then there was another knock, and it was Christian and Eddie with four beautiful girls, so we started partying in the hotel room. Eddie shit in the bathroom, and didn’t want the girls to know he was stinky, so he lit a fire with toilet paper in the sink and got a three-foot flame going. All of a sudden, the door opened and the manager came marching in, yelling, “You guys are too loud!” First, he saw all of the drinking and smoking, then he saw the three-foot tall flame in the sink. He freaked out. Eddie put his arm around the manager and said, “It’s okay, man!” reached over, turned on the cold water in the sink and the fire went out. Then Eddie walked the manager to the door, pushed him out and closed it. That was it. We raged all night long. On the way back home to California, Lester got caught trying to cross the border with his NSA check.
LMB: During your time on Tracker Trucks, what stood out about their performance?
I came from riding Variflex Connection trucks, so I can ride anything that does or doesn’t perform. I rode the worst-turning trucks ever made. And somehow I had to skate contests on them. Remember the compulsory run where you had to do a frontside carve into a frontside air? I had to do that at Oasis and everywhere on Connection trucks. It was not easy to make a turn. By the time that happened, I could ride anything. My favorite part of riding Tracker Trucks was the magnesium ones. Man, those things were cool. I wish I had more of them. They were a very good product. It was either Tracker or Indys–they were by far the top two products to ride. There was no other choice if you wanted to be on point. To be brutally honest, it was nice to ride for Tracker, because Tracker owned TransWorld and Indy owned Thrasher. It seemed like if your rode for one truck or the other, you had more opportunity to have photos in those magazines. The reason I ended up leaving Tracker was because I thought if I got on Thunder, I would finally get photos in Thrasher, but Fausto never liked my family, so it didn’t work. I just left a good company to be stuck someplace where I had nothing.
BR: Why is Tracker important to the history of skateboarding?
Anyone who stood the test of time, stands out–especially Tracker, Indy, Santa Cruz and Powell-Peralta. The brands that hung in there are the ones that have my respect. Tracker was always an honest, straight shooter with people, whereas other people manipulated us and jumped on opportunities. Tracker was always solid and legit, and always treated us well.
BR: Which Tracker riders who rode before you did you admire?
That list is way too big. A lot of quality people, and cool people who were easy to get along with. There was not a lot of negative energy.
BR: How has skateboarding mentally trained the way you think?
Skating gives you self-confidence. Not only that, it opened my eyes to live my life instead of fussing about anybody else’s. That’s the best thing skating gave me. It gives you health, it gives you inner and physical strength, it gives you a peace of mind that nothing else fulfills. Music, snowboarding, I’ve tried everything I could, but nothing replaces skateboarding. Nothing. Only skaters who really feed on it know what it is. When you get older, it doesn’t matter. You still feed on it. I love all of the old guy reunions. It’s great to get together. No one is going to blow a whistle and change your life.
BR: What do you enjoy besides skateboarding?
I’m a hardcore bass fisherman. I go ocean fishing all the time. I got a boat.
BR: Is there anything else you want to talk about?
There is nothing better than the Tracker / Del Mar days. That was by far the best part of my life. I actually lived in the Del Mar pro shop. My bed was the slot car track. I woke up every morning and skated, then went to the beach. It was absolutely paradise.
LMB: Which years was that?
1984 to ’86, right in that window. Man, it was good times. If the weather was good, I would sleep outside in the High-Balls (enclosed trampolines). But, I would usually sleep in the building. Then they took away the High-Balls, so I lost my bed.
LMB: Tell me that story about Jeff Tatum’s backside Ollies.
I went to Del Mar for a contest. It was the first time I saw a backside Ollie. JT was charging up to the coping at Del Mar. He carried a lot of speed; it was crazy how much speed he generated preparing for this trick. All of a sudden, he would smack the tail and the board would fly through the air. Sometimes, it would not only flop off of his feet, but it would land on the wall, then he would land back on his board on the wall. It was wild. It was crazy! Every time he would throw up a backside Ollie, my heart went up into my throat. I just didn’t know what was going to happen. I was afraid, but he would make them. As a spectator, though, it was incredibly scary. It was very frightening.
LMB: So, when did you try doing it?
Probably two or three months after that I saw Joe Gonzales at Sierra Wave skatepark in Riverside use the flex of the ramp to do it. Tatum smacked the tail to death to do it. I kind of put those two techniques together and started doing it on concrete about two or three months after I saw it, maybe sooner. I was pretty motivated.
BR: You were good to see and hear skating at Del Mar. Those long-ass frontside grinds were a staple. I’d be walking down the sidewalk toward the keyhole and I could hear the clickity-clacking. Your grinds were well-known. I knew who was skating just from how long the grinding sound lasted. I could hear that fucking aluminum grind on the coping and knew it was Losi.
I like to hear that. That coping was chunky, too, man. There were some holes in that shit. I remember when they changed the coping, it was nice for about a week. Then it was clicky-clacky all over again. They didn’t have the kind of coping they have today. It was a totally different world. Back then, if you saw someone with a skate shirt on, you probably knew them.
LMB: Any closing comments?
Tracker embraced me. Everybody there treated me very well, better than anybody else I ever rode for. Even after my family treated you guys like shit, and my cousin manipulated you guys, as they did me, you guys didn’t tie me into it. Where other companies in the industry blamed me for my family’s activities, which I had no part of, you guys didn’t even associate me with it, and that was great. Tracker products were great, and the people were great. In my opinion, Tracker was the cleanest, sharpest thing, and I was very grateful to be part of it.