Larry, Tracker, Transworld, and Skateboard History
TRACKER – Forty Years of Skateboard History
TRACKER – Forty Years of Skateboard History
Back in 1975, the Tracker Fultrack was the first truck in history made specifically for skateboarding by skateboarders to incorporate high quality, performance and strength. Trackers truly were (and still are) the Trucks You Can Trust. On Tracker’s 40th anniversary, those four words continue to be the driving force of the brand. TRACKER – Forty Years of Skateboard History is a hefty 388-page hardcover book full of photos and stories about Tracker and its rich history straight from the people who worked there, as well as the professional riders and photographers who made Tracker a major icon in the skateboard world.
The origin of Tracker Trucks dates back to 1974, when Tracker founders Larry Balma, Dave Dominy and Gary Dodds made the first prototypes. As Larry tells the story of Tracker’s formation at San Diego spots like La Costa, the Escondido Reservoir and the Kona Bowl, and about how the brand’s many innovative trucks and related products came to be, forty-four of Tracker’s top riders chime in with colorful recollections and revealing, behind-the-scenes insights. Rounding out this massive book are plenty of unpublished photos; a detailed skateboard history timeline; chapters on the Dogtown influence, Rockit Skateboards and Tracker’s other decks; a big scrapbook containing photos and quotes from the Tracker team; and way more.
“The Tracker book is so important because future generations will be able to learn about skateboarding history—who was involved with it, and how it all happened. It will blow their minds.”—Christian Hosoi
When I was a kid, my dad Maurice and I built wonderful things together out of scraps. One that immediately springs to mind is an orange crate scooter with split steel wheel roller skates that I covered with bottle caps and raced with the neighborhood kids on the sidewalks. Maurice, also known as Mice, was a finish carpenter with the Southern Pacific Railroad, as well as a mechanic and fabricator. My grandpa Balma, who grew up in France right by the border of Italy, was a writer and a musician. My grandpa Claus, who was from Germany, was a very successful entrepreneur, tinkerer and inventor. All three of them inspired me to be creative, too.
The Balma name is Italian. I was born in 1944, and grew up in Alhambra, California, which is in the San Gabriel Valley in the Los Angeles basin. My cousin Ron was the same age as me and lived right on the beach at Hermosa. It was a short drive from my house, and we bodysurfed and belly boarded all the time. The first time I saw stand-up surfers, I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I started stand-up surfing in 1958 with a friend, Paul Jessup, whose family had a home in San Clemente that included a surfboard, an 8’ 6” Velzy pig.
I came home and built a skateboard that week, so I could practice surfing when I couldn’t get to the beach. I took a 2” x 8” piece of old growth redwood, split apart a clamp-on steel wheel roller skate, and nailed it to the redwood deck. The 2” x 8” width added more stability; unlike most people, I never had an actual 2” x 4” skateboard. My second skateboard was made out of a 1” x 6” plank, which offered a lower center of gravity.
I moved to Pacific Beach, San Diego in 1966, where, although I skated a little bit, I went surfing most of the time. I was a telephone lineman for a couple of years, studied engineering, and became a machinist and fabricator and then a commercial fisherman for white sea bass and albacore, and I also trapped lobster.
By early 1973, I had moved to Leucadia. I was still a commercial fisherman patching lobster traps at my house, when my friends came by and shouted, “Come on, we’re going skateboarding!” I said, “Skateboarding? What are you talking about? I haven’t skateboarded in years.” And they said, “No, we’ve got these new wheels!” They were talking about the new polyurethane Cadillac wheels that had just been introduced by Frank Nasworthy. We went up to La Costa, and the Cadillacs were awesome. Compared to the advancement from steel wheels to clay, the progression from clay to urethane was momentous. Insanely smooth and fast, urethane could even roll over a rock without screeching to a halt. I was so stoked, I immediately wanted a skateboard, so I bought some Sure Grip roller skate trucks, built one, and started riding again. The urethane wheel was nothing less than the Big Bang that set Tracker and all other modern skateboard companies in motion. I teamed up with Dave Dominy and Gary Dodds forming Tracker, we developed and launched the Tracker Fultrack truck in 1975 and the rest is history.
About Louise Balma
Early 80’s Louise designed and produced the trade show booths for Tracker Trucks, this photo was shot by Peggy Cozens at the Action Sports Retailer Show in Long Beach , California.
I am a full blooded Italian, third generation California farmer, oldest of three siblings, type “A” personality, with boundless energy. Graduating from San Diego State College in 1976 I became a successful architect and project manager in Laguna Beach from 1977-’86 until Larry wooed me away to come and try to help organize his dynamic entrepreneurial life. As hard as I try with all my organizational skills organizing Larry is an elusive task, however I make progress every day. We have been married and together for over half of my life, we have gone places and experienced life like I had never dreamed.
I worked at TransWorld Media from 1986-2006 and consulted at Tracker as well. I designed and produced thousands of square feet of creative workspace, trade show booths, skateboard, surf and snowboard contests, special events including rock concerts and industry conferences for the action sports industry all over the western hemisphere.
In 2010 I began a three year project organizing the Tracker collection. We had been toying with the idea of publishing a book on Tracker for the last 20 years so I began scanning over four thousand images. When GSD came on board I had to scan many of them over again to insure that we had the highest resolution possible for publication.
Today I serve on the board of directors for the California Surf museum. I designed and carried the CSM building through construction phase and make sure we always have a skateboard presence in the rotating displays. I’m also the Chairman of the Planning Commission for the City of Oceanside in my spare time.
About Lance Smith
Lance Smith gets his slalom on at La Costa California, circa 1975. Photo: Chuck Edwall
Lance Smith – Photo Editor
Surfer, Skateboarder, First Tracker Team Captain, Photographer, Darkroom and Computer Tech, Carpenter
Lance Smith was born in Santa Monica, California in 1950 and moved down to north County, San Diego in 1972. A surfer, skater, entrepreneur, he opened up a shop called Surf Lines Skate and Surfboards in Cardiff by the Sea, CA. By 1974, Lance began skating Slalom at La Costa and got a job in the shop at Tracker, eventually becoming our first team manager and photographer. When the skateboard market crashed in 1980, Lance turned to construction work. Ultimately he was able to pursue his passion as a freelance photographer. Lance has taken thousands of photos for Tracker over the years. Lance spent over two years sorting through all his vintage images and collecting photos from 146 other skate photographers for our book. We printed over 1400 images in the Tracker book; many had never before been published.
About Garry “GSD” Davis
GSD pulls his trick, the Boneless One at the Shell Bowl, Oceanside, California circa 1884. Photo Grant Britain
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. Garry organized while photoshopping thousands of scanned photos, edited skater interviews and Larry’s stories, spending almost two full years design and layout for the Tracker book.