By Larry Balma
The Cincinnati Kid, Garry Scott Davis (also known as GSD), moved from his native Buckeye State to California in 1982 to pursue his skateboarding dreams. The inventor of the Boneless One and the publisher of the first homemade skate zine, Skate Fate, GSD also boasted the first pro model street deck, which was issued by Tracker. During a stint toiling in the Tracker shop from 1983-’87, GSD was the Editor for TransWorld Skateboarding, and also the Art Director from 1988-’93. Since then, he’s worked for companies like Sole Technology, played music in his bands Custom Floor and Carpet Floor, and enjoyed a lot of overseas travel.
When did you first jump on a skateboard?
The first time was around 1973-’74. Some kid in the neighborhood had the classic 2” x 4” with metal roller skate wheels nailed to it—you know, the full cliché—so I just rode that down a slight incline on the sidewalk one day. The weird thing is, I only rode it that one time, because it was just laying around in some kid’s yard. At the time, I really didn’t think too much about it. How could I know then that skateboarding would become this all-consuming passion for my whole life? Three years later, during the big skateboarding boom of 1976, another friend got a little plastic Grentec skateboard for his birthday, and he brought it down to my house. The next day, I got one, and we were cruising down the sidewalk, doing 360s. Then I saw that movie Freewheelin’ with Stacy Peralta—it was actually in the theater—and that got me way psyched on skating. The first issue of Skateboarder magazine I bought was the one with Tony Alva on the front doing a kickturn in the Soul Bowl. I got super stoked on Stacy Peralta’s interview and Craig Stecyk’s articles on Dogtown. That pretty much set the tone for the next several decades of my life.
So, you grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio?
How many people were skating there when you started?
Well, skateboarding was blowing up in 1976, so there were at least hundreds of kids who skated in Cincinnati then. But, when it took a nosedive in 1979-’80, it was only myself and maybe five friends. By 1981-’82, it was down to a couple of guys in all of Cincinnati, as far as I knew.
So, you were skating the streets. Was there ever a skatepark in Cincinnati?
Not back then. Eventually, they made some wooden skateparks, maybe in the late ’80s or ’90s, but I moved to California in 1982.
When did you first discover ditches?
From 1979 to ’81, there was a skatepark up in Columbus called Apple with pools with tile and coping, a halfpipe with a two-thirds pipe and banked bowls. It was really good. Wally Hollyday, the same guy who built Cherry Hill, built it. He built a few parks out here in California, too. But, Apple closed in 1981, when skateboarding died off. I only got to go up there two or three times, because I was too young to drive, and it was just too far for my mom to drive me often. So, my friends and I skated this drainage ditch called the Hitch Bitch Ditch, because it was far away and we had to hitchhike there, thus it was a bitch to get to. That was in the late ’70s and early ’80s.
In 1982, you came out to Del Mar just to watch the contest. How long did you stay out here?
Well, I moved to San Jose, because I was in touch with Steve Caballero, Gavin O’Brien, Cory O’Brien and Craig Ramsay through zines that we sent back and forth through the mail. I made Skate Fate, Caballero made Skate Punk, and the O’Briens made Skate Scene, and we traded and wrote letters, so I was a pen pal with those guys. I moved out to San Jose in July 1982, just because there was a huge skate scene there. In August, I took the Greyhound down to San Diego to Del Mar for that Rusty Harris contest and I met Stacy Peralta, who was one of my skateboarding idols. It was amazing to meet him, and he introduced me to you, and got you to flow me a set of Extracks with red Copers. That’s how our whole relationship started. At some point in early 1983, we started corresponding; you told me you were going to make a Tracker newsletter and that you wanted to use an editorial out of Skate Fate. Then, a couple of months later, the first issue of TransWorld Skateboarding showed up in the mail and I was blown away, because it was a magazine, and it had a color cover. Thrasher was all black and white then.
You were living in San Jose, and after we published the first issue of TransWorld with your Skate Fate editorial, you wanted to come down to Oceanside to see about working at Tracker and TransWorld, so I sent you a bus ticket.
And I liked it, so I went back to San Jose, gathered all of my stuff, brought it down and started working at Tracker and TransWorld. The bus pulled into the Greyhound terminal in Oceanside at 7:00 am, and the shop foreman picked me up, drove me to the Tracker building, led me through the front door and straight to the Lapper press (laughs). So, straight away, I put Lappers in the toaster oven with these big gloves, pulled them out and put them in the presses. Each one would stay in the press for 10 minutes, and then I’d pull them out and put them in a big garbage can full of water. That was funny.
When we interviewed Buddy Carr, he said for his first job, he got led to the Lapper press and Pierre André showed him the ropes. That’s where Buddy started, too.
I used to assemble the trucks, put all of the grommets and washers on and pound them with a hammer. What was that thing?
A custom punch.
Yeah, a little cylinder. All day long, it was like, “Boom-boom-boom!” I’d assemble 50 at a time.
With the drill spinning down the nuts.
And I used to put the sticker on the Copers and package them and Lappers. The only thing I never did was grind parts.
So, you knew Bryan Ridgeway from meeting up at the MESS series contests?
No, I was never at the MESS Series, because I had already moved out to California in 1982. They started MESS in 1983.
You knew all of the guys in the MESS Series.
Yeah, but I met Bryan in 1982 through Skate Fate. We traded zines. He actually came to visit me in Cincinnati once. He lived in West Virginia, so he took the train over and we skated around and went to all of my spots. Then we both ended up working for Tracker and TransWorld. Bryan, Jinx and I all slept on the floor at Tracker for over a year.
I remember when we started the magazine, the Tracker factory downstairs was going all day long, and you were pressing Lappers. At 5:00 pm, we’d go down to the beach to have a surf, then come back and start working on the magazine. By midnight, I’d go to sleep in my office, but somebody else would already have the couch, so I’d sleep on the floor.
You mean all night?
Yeah, many times, in the first couple of years. It’d be Neil Blender or maybe even Lance Mountain, whoever was down working on stuff.
Then there were all of the paper stack skyscrapers in your office.You had a vertical filing system.
Yeah, I’m still that way, much to Louise’s dismay.
Why don’t you like filing cabinets?
I don’t know. She rebuilt my office at Tremont with all of these files, and did the same at this office here in my barn. I live inside my filing cabinet, and I can find anything, too. If she puts away anything in files, I can never find it. So, tell us about the infamous incident when you fell through the ceiling at Tracker.
That was in 1983-’84, when Bryan Ridgeway, Jinx and I had been sleeping on the floor at Tracker/TransWorld. You and Tracker Peggy Cozens would walk up the stairs every morning and see three bodies on the floor wrapped up in sleeping bags, and finally, after six months or a year, you got tired of it. You said, “Okay you guys have got to get out and rent a place.” I only made minimum wage, which was $3.25 per hour then, so I couldn’t afford to rent a room, buy food, bus fare and all of that stuff, so I had to keep staying there at Tracker. Sometimes, I would hide behind boxes and sleep upstairs until someone caught me. There was an upstairs bathroom with a ladder that went up to the roof; and in between the ceiling and the roof, there was a three-foot high crawl space up in the rafters. So, I climbed up the ladder, threw a piece of plywood onto the rafters and just started sleeping up there. I would shut the lid to the bathroom ceiling. One morning, as I was sleeping up there, I heard the plywood hatch open up, and Larry Balma’s head appeared. The first words out of his mouth were, “You’re busted, GSD.” After that, I slept in the pools or Hi-Balls (enclosed trampolines) at Del Mar.
But, you must have rolled off of the plywood, because the ceiling got cracked and some dust fell down into the sink. That’s when Peggy freaked out.
Then Craig Stecyk wrote in the Trash column in Thrasher that I had actually fallen through the ceiling and crashed down into the sink, which didn’t really happen, of course.
That was Stecyk embellishing the story.
I just kept couch touring and sleeping at Del Mar. By 1986, I started living with Tod Swank for about a year, and then I bought a new Toyota truck and slept in the camper shell for a year. After that, I lived in houses.
So, you and Neil lived together for a while, and if I remember right, Neil lived in a closet and you lived in a big box in the front room.
No, at one point in the early ’80s, Neil lived in Huntington Beach, and this guy John Conkey built a plywood privacy box in the living room. It was four feet high, four feet wide, eight feet long, and he would crawl in there and sleep. Then, when I started working at Tracker, I lived with these people a couple of blocks away and built the same kind of box in their living room. It didn’t last long, though, just a few months. I never actually lived with Neil.
What about the Tracker crash pad in those early days?
That was funny. You owned a big house in Encinitas, and skaters from all over the world would crash out there.
Del Mar was such a Mecca.
Yeah, I remember Neil Blender would always sleep there. I used to stay there sometimes. We used to watch Twilight Zone marathons. One time, your girlfriend, Louise, put everyone to work cleaning up the yard, doing a bunch of landscaping. How did that happen?
Well, she woke up early on a Sunday morning and there were 26 skaters sleeping all over the couches and the floors. So, she went and bought shovels, rakes and a bunch of food, then came back and woke up everybody. She cracked the whip on them. Guys like Lester Kasai, Adrian Demain, John Lucero and Jeff Grosso were all into helping. Primo and Diane Desiderio were out there, too. O was there. Yeah, everyone got pressed into service, for sure. When you did Skate Fate, was that really the first skate zine that got published and sent around?
Yeah, it was the first homemade one that was Xeroxed and published out of a skater’s house. There had been a few before that made by skateparks and companies. Kona Skatepark down in Florida had one, but it was offset printed with a glossy cover. There was also Skat’n News in Southern California in the late ’70s, but it was more like a newspaper. So, Skate Fate was the first one I knew of that was Xeroxed.
And it was the longest running zine. You did it continuously for how many years?
Well, I did it monthly for five years, and then it was annual for the second five years, because I got burned out at some point, so I turned it into an annual.
Well, you were working full-time with TransWorld, so, all of a sudden, you had your editorial creativity coming out on an international scale. You designed Tracker ads on the back of every Skate Fate zine.
You know, what’s funny about that is I never got a single one of those ads approved. I just did them. I was surprised you never got mad at that. I just winged them, and no one ever complained.
No, we enjoyed them all. I brought each person who ended up working for me onto the team because of the abilities that they had. I could maybe give some guidance to what we were looking for in the long run, but everybody needed to do what they did best. And the fact is, I was almost 20 years older than you were, and what I liked or didn’t like was not pertinent to the age group that you were communicating with. So, Craig Stecyk was designing our ads in Thrasher and TransWorld. Did you design any of those ads, too?
No, the only official Tracker ads I designed were the ones for my pro model and Dan Wilkes’ pro model and the Skate Fate ones. Craig Stecyk handled all of the other Tracker ads in the ’80s.
I remember at that Del Mar Rusty Harris contest in 1982, Stecyk took a picture of you and Bryan Ridgeway, who also had a zine at the time, the Monthly Shredder.
Yeah, Stecyk had me, the white guy, sit in front of a black car, and Bryan, the black guy, sit in front of a white car, for a subtle touch. I don’t know if anyone picked up on that.
That’s Stecyk’s way to be as subliminal as he can and goof around with people. So, you rode those Extracks I gave you. Did you ever ride the other truck widths? It seemed like you were always on Extracks.
Well, when I started out in 1976, after I rode the Grentec, my first good board was a Logan Earth Ski Bruce Logan model with Bennett Hijackers and Sims Comps. The next year, my mom, dad and I drove out to So Cal on a summer vacation and I got them to take me to the Concrete Wave in Anaheim, and we also stopped by Kanoa Surf, where I bought a set of Haftracks and Sims Comp IIs. So, the first Trackers I ever rode were the Haftracks, and then at some point, I got Fultracks in the late ’70s. Those first white Copers were really brittle. I remember smashing a layback grind into a bank to curb at the Doctor’s Office and I just shattered that Coper into a million pieces. Later, you made them with a softer plastic. So, I rode Haftracks and Fultracks first before Extracks.
So, you could ride vert, but you concentrated on street.
Yeah, that’s because in all of the swimming pools in the Midwest, the transition goes up and then levels out into a ledge that the vert wall sits on. The walls don’t transition smoothly up to vert. I don’t know why they build pools like that back there.
As a seat?
No, I think it’s so you can stand around the edge of the deep end and not drown. That’s the only reason I can think of. I didn’t have bowls or a vert ramp to skate, so I just concentrated more on street, banks and ditches.
In 1985, we came out with the GSD street deck. You were the first pro street skater who came from the streets, not vertical. When they held street contests back then, it seemed like pro vert guys showed up just to enter another event.
Yeah, except Tommy Guerrero. He was the only one.
But, what was the timing on that? Didn’t Tommy Guerrero come after that?
No, he was in the first two street contests.
When did he get a board model?
Well, after me, but I meant the San Francisco Streetstyle contests in 1983 and ’84 in Golden Gate park. He won one of them.
Okay, let’s talk about your first pro model deck by Tracker, the GSD eyeball model.
That came out in 1985, but the year before, I made one that was the same shape, just an inch wider. It was a fake pro model for this cartoon character I drew named Kent Watson. I drew the eyeball graphic on his deck and included his name in the same kind of lettering as the GSD design. You, Larry, saw it and eventually asked me if I wanted a pro model.
It just seemed like something we needed to do. In the ’70s, when skateparks started opening, Skateboarder magazine concentrated so hard on them that we alienated kids who didn’t have skateparks in their area. Many of them thought, “Oh, we don’t have a skatepark, so we can’t skate.” So, we started backyard ramp and street scenes. At TransWorld, we wanted to show every type of skating, so Stacy Peralta got Fausto Vitello from Thrasher and I to show ramps and street skating in the magazine. Then we did, and it blew up street skating to where it now overshadows almost everything, except the X Games. There are still a few vert guys, but the magazines concentrate quite heavily on street. But, in the early ’80s, I thought, “We’re going to start pushing street. Let’s push GSD, he’s a real honest-to-God street skater,” and Stacy promoted Tommy Guerrero, and the rest is history. How many models did you have all together?
The first one was the bomb shape in 1985 with the eyeball graphics. Then, sometime in 1986, we came out with the pterodactyl graphics on the same shape. In 1987, I switched to the fish shape with the really pointy tail and pointy nose and the airplane safety graphics. I kept the same shape through 1989, when I switched it to the fish graphic. So, there were a total of four different GSD decks from 1985 to 1989.
Remember when we had that street contest in Oceanside down by the pier, when Stacy and I bought that 1964 Ford Falcon and put it out on the course? Stacy painted graffiti on it, and you guys skated all over it.
He ended up selling it to me for 200 bucks. I used to drive it around San Diego, and the whole time, the thing was about ready to throw a rod, like, “Clunk-clunk-clunk.” It lasted for three or four months. When it died, I pushed it down next to the railroad tracks near Tracker right by the beach and just left it there. Within a day or two, it was obliterated. It got stripped. I was just clueless back then. I didn’t know I could have sold it to a scrap yard and made back some of my money. I wasn’t very business minded.
Well, to be truthful, most artists aren’t very business minded their whole lives. It kind of goes against their creative flow. Every artist needs a business manager and a lawyer. Why are Tracker Trucks significant in the history of skateboarding?
Well, it was the first truck to really be designed for skateboarding. It was the first wide truck, the first stable truck, and the first strong and durable truck. The trucks before it were derived more from roller skates.
Who were some of your favorite Tracker team guys back in the day?
Neil Blender, because he combines skating, art and life all into one big ball. He lives his whole life as a work of art. He was one of the first skaters to draw his own graphics, which were more like sloppy little cartoon illustrations, and that influenced a lot of other pros to do the same. Mark Gonzales showed up around 1984 with the street Ollie and completely changed skateboarding. That’s when I realized I was a has-been—at least professionally—because, at that point, berts and laybacks couldn’t cut it anymore. Looking back on it now, I should have had a pro model from 1982 to ’85 instead of 1985 to ’89, because by the mid ’80s, Gonz and Natas Kaupas were Ollieing onto everything, and then handrails came in around 1987. I could Ollie onto curbs and bus benches, but I was never able to do handrails, because I just didn’t grow up skating that way. I grew up doing slides, carves, sweepers and laybacks.
Me, too. I’m actually glad no one did handrails when I was growing up.
I’m glad I’m not a young kid now, because I wouldn’t want to skate handrails. Dudes take really nasty slams on those things. They can get tangled up in them, smack their heads on the ground really hard. Some of them blow out their knees really bad.
Well, I blew out my knee really bad just in a ditch.
Also, as far as favorite Tracker skaters, I’d say Steve Caballero. When he skated, he was one with his skateboard. He was a total glue foot. I remember one time when I first moved to San Jose, I went over to his house and he had a vert ramp in his backyard that was only 12 feet wide. I asked him to do a Caballaerial, and he dropped in, did a fakie rock and—boom!—just pulled a perfect 360 Ollie with no effort at all. Think about how hard that trick is, and he did it like someone else would do a kickturn. He’s amazing.
Did you invent any tricks while you were riding on Tracker Trucks?
Yeah, in December 1979, I thought up the Boneless One. It was inspired by the backside footplant, which already existed. One time, my friends and I were sitting on the floor messing around with our skateboards, and I just thought, “What if you took off your front foot going frontside, like a front footed footplant?” But, I was thinking about it being done on vertical. We thought it would be impossible to get your front foot back on. Then we just forgot about it. A few months later, in March 1980, after the snow melted, some friends and I started doing it on a bank spot we used to ride called the Doctor’s Office. It was super easy, especially on banks. It was actually way easier than doing a backside footplant, and you could boost way higher. It was amazing. Jeff Phillips used to claim he invented it, but I never saw any documentation or proof that he did it before March 1980.
Tell us about the skeleton pants.
This band called the Misfits inspired that. One time, I was at Gavin O’Brien’s house up in San Jose, and he had all of these huge silk-screened Misfits posters up on his bedroom wall. One of them had a picture of a bunch of guys on horses wearing skeleton outfits. It was black and white and really contrasty. I was super stoked when I saw that, and it gave me the idea to paint my own skeleton pants. So, I took a pair of Dickies and painted only the front half of them black and left the back half the original color. Then I painted on the white bones. I just used house paint. Before I painted them, I put them on and marked where my hip joints were, then put a piece of tape on each of my knees to get the knee caps in just the right spot so it wouldn’t look lame.
Absolutely custom made.
Yeah, I made several pairs of those in 1985-’86. A lot of people thought I wore the whole skeleton outfit, but I almost always just wore the pants with a Tracker t-shirt or some other skate brand. I did make a skeleton shirt and gloves, but I only wore those a couple of times for a photo shoot. After 1987, I didn’t even wear the skeleton pants anymore.
Well, it was unique.
For a couple of years, I also had my hair straight down in front of my face like the Misfits. It’s called a devil’s lock. I used to get a lot of shit for walking around looking that way. Strangers out in public would give me grief every day.
Why did people react that way? They had already seen Mohawks that were dyed every which color.
Mohawks stick straight up. I think what was so different about the devil’s lock that freaked people out was the hair in front of my face. They just weren’t ready for that. Some people get angry when they see something they don’t understand or that they’re not used to.
When did you get interested in playing music?
Well, in high school, I played guitar a little bit. A friend and I had a fake band, and we wrote songs, released them on eight-track tapes, and put on shows—including props and theatrics inspired by Alice Cooper—in an upstairs room in my house for our friends. Then, around 1990-’91, I started playing guitar again and formed a band called Custom Floor, with Miki Vuckovich on drums and Phil Esbenshade on bass. We released a few records with a different line-up and went on a tour in 1994 with this guy Adam Willard from Rocket from the Crypt on drums and another friend on bass. We released a few more CDs after that. I still do it once in a while every few years. I’ll record a new album in a garage studio. It’s a lot of fun.