The Dogtown Package Part 6 – An Interview With Wes Humpston
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Never met Wes Humpston. I wasn’t there when Lucia took his portrait, and our only communication was by email. Reading up on Humpston online and in the Concrete Wave book Bulldog’s Art by Wes Humpston, I began to understand that Humpston was a part of the Dogtown skateboard crew beginning in the early 1970s. He wasn’t an official Z-Boy, but he was skating banks and pools with all of them and was friends with Alva, Adams, Muir and that crew.
When the Zephyr team began to break up in 1976, Humpston teamed up with Jim Muir to start making Dogtown Skates. Humpston had done hand-drawn art for the Z-Boys and other members of the Santa Monica/Venice skateboard crew through the 1970s. But when Humpston began recreating his art on the Dogtown decks, he became one of the pioneers – if not the pioneer – and a foundation influence for all the thousands of deck graphics to come in the 1980s, 1990s and 21st Century.
And it’s also possible Wes’ big feet were inspirational in skateboards evolving from 7” and 8” to as wide as 12” toward the end of the 1970s. Humpston lives in north San Diego County. He is very creative in his use of punctuation and capital letters in his emails. Some of that creativity is left below.
Dogtown is credited with being the first to get really creative with graphics on decks. Do you believe that is true?
Well I don’t remember anyone drawing on skateboards or companies doing art on them for each model – different art for each rider. I know Craig painted some for the shots in his Skate Mag articles. I’m not sure when but I never saw anyone drawing on them like I did.
What came before you as far as deck graphics?
From what I remember they were flat, one-color logos – simple graphics with type. There were some fiberglass boards with the photo/patterns type of thing laminated onto them.
If you had to list the most important heads on the “Mount Rushmore” of skateboarding – the riders, designers, marketers who changed the sport the most – who would those heads belong to?
For me first would be Craig Stecyk who was a big inspiration to me and so many others for his art, writing and photography that made so many want to make at & go surf and skate. Second, Tony Alva for being the first world champ and inspiration for so many to skate. Third, Natas Kaupas for giving skateboarding a new direction when it had all pretty much died. Fourth is Tony Hawk for taking skateboarding to such high levels as a professional skateboarder, being good in business & being a role model for kids.
You and Jim Muir started Dogtown Skates but if I have this correct, he was on the Zephyr team and you weren’t? Or is that wrong?
I wasn’t on the Zephyr Skate team but mid-70s I skated with most of them on the banks, then the pool. I knew some from school, and other from the beach before DT Skates. I worked at Jeff Ho’s shop in the early 70′s fixing surfboards, doing “leash loops” and even a little art for the shop ad in Surfer. Working at Jeff Ho’s was my first job & first year of high school, then skating started up a few years later…
When and where and how did you start skateboarding?
I did some late 60′s with Kevin Keiser, Craig & Dean Hollingsworth after school on their driveway making marks by doing cutbacks with the old chalk wheels. Then I started full-on in the mid-70s when the wheels got better. We would hit a little bank that wrapped around a corner like a wave with local guys after school…
Do you remember what your first skateboards were? Were you drawn to graphics then, so to speak?
One of my first boards was a 26” or 27” I cut out of plywood then put on a shaping stand and tied a cinder block to the middle and fiberglassed it so it would have rocker, like the old Makaha rocker. I had a Z-Flex or two & I made some from cutting down Muir’s Sims longboards. For the art, in fifth grade I remember cool art in books and Indian head-dresses from way back then. We would draw them instead of school work. Hahahaha.
Surfing. It was always about surfing on the street, then banks. Tony Alva took me to my first pool and Jay Adams lived two houses over so pretty much all the DT guys. We would spend the weekends riding banks at the schools then pools started & it went underground ‘cuz you wanted to keep the pool. I hung with and skated with most the DT guys at one time or another.
What schools did you got to and were any of the Z-Boys or DT guys in your grade?
I’m two years & two grades ahead of all them. TA, Muir & Bob Biniak were next then Jay & Wenzel & Shogo are the same age. Baby Paul was the youngest… I went to John Adams for Junior High in the late 60s but I hung with two guys my age then: Kevin Keiser & Craig Hollingsworth. Not sure about the others ‘cuz there were three Junior Highs I think in SM & only one High School – Santa Monica High aka SAMO.
I started High School in 1970. I saw TA and Muir in High school ‘cuz of Surfing Class but they were Scrubs 1st year & I was a senior in High School & they were two years behind me in 1974.
I would see them at the beach the next year & then when skating started we would hit the some of the same places….
What was your progression in boards and skills?
At first it was making a board just to have one to ride cuz it was cheaper. Then as I made more boards I met Jim and we were getting into these ultralights for pool riding that were like gliders cuz they were about a pound. But they would split as soon as they were hit on the nose, they were a ½” solid piece of hard wood at that time. Then as we made a new board from our favorite last broken boards, we would use the broken board as the template for the new so the new boards got slightly wider each time. They were working better & better so after 8”, 8.5” I made jumps to 10, 11 & 12″ wide boards. As far as skate skills it always seem the better the board, the better I would skate…. Hahahaaa
At what point did you become a competitor and/or a professional?
I was never a competitor and really never thought I was good e-nuff but I did get money for my board designs & art & had a really good time with it all in the mid and later 70s!
Where do your art skills come from? Family thing? Did you attend Art School at any point?
Well my dad doodles a mean “Poppy The Sailor” with 1 line… I never could no matter how many times I tried? Hahahaha I majored in Art in high school & had a great teacher named Lamont Westmorland. I did some City College classes but that was it… I would just really like some art in a book or on an LP & draw it over & over. I would draw on everything from my schoolbooks, pants and boards – even on the wallpaper in the back bathroom at my folks’ house growing up! Hahahaa…
Craig Stecyk. I think I saw it in his photo – spray painted on a wall – not sure if Craig had paint on his fingers? Jim & I were making boards for us & our friends, as things were blowing up. We were driving out to a Val pool with Craig and we told him we were doing Dog Town boards for Dog Town skaters & asked if we could put the cross on ‘em & he said, ‘Yea!’ It was a DTS at first, then I added the skates banner at the bottom & have done 10,000 variations over the years! Hahahaha
And can you define “Dog Town” for what it means to you? Is it a distinct area? Does it have street borders?
It was pretty much take no prisoners; we just took over your pool or park now sit down & take notes! Hahahaha. Dog Town 70′s I ‘usta say it was Santa Monica between the Piers or where POP was & from the beach to Lincoln cuz Muir, Keiser & a few others lived on the other side so… just to piss them off! Hahahaaa
Where did “Dog Town” come from as a name?
Craig & Skipper talking out front of the Zephyr Shop in the 70′s & Craig called Santa Monica a “Dog Town” is the way I heard it… Hahahaaaa
Was there ever any problem with Stecyk or Ho or any of the Z-Boys about using the Dogtown name?
Not that I know of, they all have their own things going.. In the beginning Jim & I asked if we could use the cross & he was OK with it, but I doubt any one could have known what was coming in the next few years? I always felt the Zephyr Team was one thing & Dog Town was the hardcore pool & park skaters…
At what point did Jim Muir leave the Z Boys and when did you and Jim start Dogtown?
Not sure the year or month but Jim, Paul Constantineau & Bob Biniak rode for Sims for a while after leaving Z-Team. Some of the bigger/longer boards Jim got we cut off the tail, glued it back on & grinded it into a wedge to make it a 30″ to 31″ board. That was what we liked in pools at that time. It seemed like we were always making skateboards when we weren’t surfing.
Why did you start Dogtown Skateboards? Was it to make tons of money, or just to do a local project you wanted to do.
It was all about making a better board to ride. The boards really sucked back then & were flat out dangerous to ride. There wasn’t money in it at the start but as the boards got better people wanted them & we were turning out a few to 10 or 15 on good weeks depending on how hard we wanted to work & if there was waves or not? We were selling or trading them for a nice profit so it worked out nice.
When was this, around?
We started late ‘75 or ’76 I think? It’s hard to go by the old photos that show boards in mags ‘cuz they were months behind what was really going o
Was it just you and Jim doing Dogtown? Who did what job?
Yea at first Jim & I both made the boards in my folks’ back yard, then we cut a cross into a hunk of cardboard for a template so Jim could do the lines of the cross & sun then I would do the lettering…
In the introduction to your book by Jesus Sanchez, he wrote: “Jim and Wes would make regular trips to the House of Hardwoods and buy enough wood to make fifteen to twenty boards. Soon they would look for wider planks. The boards, which started at about seven inches wide, were now being made intentionally wider. Nine and ten inch boards were now common. Because of Wes’ big feet, he just felt more comfortable on wider boards.”
He’s funny & I can be a bit braggadocious. Hahahahaa Yeah I have big feet but ya have more foot contact so then more leverage over a wider board…
Where were your production facilities?
They started in my folk’s back yard till one day we made a bunch & there was so much dust it looked like it snowed. When my dad got home from work he wasn’t having it, so I started making them at Kevin Kaisers. Kev & I had made bellyboards there for years cuz I also got kicked out of the garage for making a mess glassing bellyboards, kneeboards & fixing surfboards. Hahahaaa As for the art it was just where ever I could find a place to do the work, pretty much.
Do you remember what your first product was? The deck?
The DTS 10″ x 30″ Bulldog Design. Yeah baby! Hahahaaa When DTS started, Paul Constantineau already had his 8 1/4” x 30″ model & Jim wanted a 9” x 30″.
What wheels and trucks did you use, and did that evolve?
Kind of what ever we could get. We never had much money, at first: Cadillac wheels and Chicago trucks with loose bearings & wood screws. Talk about taking your life in your hands. Hahahahaa The wheels & trucks were evolving bigger & wider along with the boards then the trucks got wider for the wider boards. Sims made good wheels then Tunnel Rocks & there were Bennetts, Tracker, Lazers. We would try anything & it was always cool getting something new cuz what we were riding was beat to crap! Hahahahahaa. DTS made the “Rock n Rolls & K-9′s” at the end of the 70′s…
How did Dogtown do business wise?
Pretty good for a few years there. When Bob Biniak got his model he had a $3,000 guarantee every month & was driving a silver BMW – not bad for a Kid in the 70′s? Mutt & Jeff had twin Black BMW 633′s. I had a little 1600 BMW. I squeaked out some extra money to do the art ‘cuz they would need to pay someone to do it & I already was nailing it so I told them they could pay me. Hahahaaaa
Okay I’m sorry I’m a little lost here. You and Jim Muir started Dogtown Skates, but Paul Constantineau and Bob Biniak were your riders? Mutt and Jeff? Maybe Mutt and Jeff are Greg Clappert and Jeff Cooper. The intro to your book by Jesus Sanchez says: “Jim and Wes were able to expand Dogtown Skates with the financial backing from Greg Clappert and Jeff Cooper. They also found a board maker that could reproduce their handmade, solid wood boards into production-laminated boards. The board makers would strive to make the production models every bit as pure as the hand made boards with close attention paid to every detail.”
Yea “Mutt and Jeff” were/are Jeff Cooper & Greg Clappert – they were named by Craig I think. They had signed Paul Constantineau & wanted to sign with Jim – but Jim wanted to do DTS with them so I kind of had to go too or, “they were going without me” as Jim said… They had a skate shop called “Skate City.” They had the money and found the board makers got them screened & had a lot of good ideas. They tried to get production boards made as close to my hand-done boards & were always interested in the new technology & to what was going on in the industry – down to the ad’s…
So I am wondering, how were things when Dogtown really got rolling? Do you know how many boards you were selling a month? Were you two getting rich?
It was pretty good & we would bitch a lot about how tight they were but it wasn’t too hard to squeak money out of Mutt & Jeff. One time they were giving me some attitude about something that DTS was going to do – like it didn’t matter what I thought. So the next day I was hanging with Jay’s dad [step-father Ken Sherwood] sketching up some ideas I had for the 10” x 30” Z-Pig Wood Board with a full Santa Monica cross. When that hit the mags with my art Mutt and Jeff flipped out & threatened a lawsuit if Z-Flex used it! Kent was laughing & did it anyway – without the Cross. We were pretty cool with the checks after that… Hahahaaa
The boards seemed to be all over the parks & the mags. We had a pretty good-sized warehouse that had pallets of each model, boxes of shirt’s & wheels. It was like Christmas a few times – just grabbing boards & wheels, weather Mutt & Jeff knew it or Not! Hahahaaa. Then we’d stop by the skate park at Marina Del Rey & hook up some kids that had beat to crap boards.
You guys started up at the end of the 1970s, when the Second Boom was busting. How long did the business last?
Yeah two years max until mid- to maybe late-1979, then the wheels started coming off. It was pretty sad. I would hear stories from the guys at Skate City about stacks of our boards at Swap Meets for $5.00 & under a board…Ouch! The checks stopped and ‘ya couldn’t find Mutt & Jeff. They were long gone back to NY was the word.
Has Dogtown been producing boards since the late 1970s or has the business come and gone and come again?
Jim has kept Dog Town Skates through the years. By ‘79/80 it was done so I got a good job in the printing trade (thanks to a girlfriend at the time that was tired of paying for sushi – hahahaa) & did art on the side for a few people. Jim started it back up early 80’s & I did art for him as side work through the mid 80’s & would sign it as “BDA/Bulldogs Art.” I still made boards at home but was always kind of bitter toward the skate biz. I moved from DT late 80’s & missed making boards so I started making them at home again mid-90′s. I started Bulldog Skates later 90′s on the side.
This interview is going into a chapter about the 1970s, so we have to stay within 1981. Later in the book we can show some Bulldog Skates. But for the record, you were involved with the Zephyr team and the Z-Boys and Dogtown during the times that have been immortalized in books and documentaries and feature films. Is there anything about how Dogtown has been media sensationalized that bothers you? Time to get it off your chest.
Yeah for sure. I dug “Z-Boys & DT” & loved the old photos & footage. The Z-Boys were cool but I felt that Dog Town was really the pool riding & only ½ the Z-Boys really rode pools. So I felt there were things left out that were way more rad than the “Little Hair Spinner from Charlie’s Angels” IMO… First is John Palfreyman – the first to ride a BMX bike in a pool & not just ride it: ripping it! I would love to have seen more Craig & the older guys that were really the framework for Dog Town/Santa Monica with their art and surfing, and also the other skaters that ripped pools & was all left out…..
Written By Ben Marcus