Speed Wheels Stories: A Conversation with Natas Kaupas
Coinciding with are recent feature in our Fall 2021 quarterly on the Art of the Speed Wheels and the current exhibition, The Art of the Santa Cruz Speed Wheel on view at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History through January 2, 2022, we will spend the next few months dipping into the Santa Cruz skate archives and speak with the designers, artists, skaters and team managers who were influenced and shaped by the era and designs. Today, we speak with skate legend and team rider, Natas Kaupas.
Lee Charron:What was Speed Wheels all about for you in the 80’s skateboard scene?
Natas Kaupas: I was sponsored by Bones Wheels at the time and once NHS started producing Santa Monica Airlines boards I inched closer and closer until they finally just gave me wheels to try and the thing about Speed Wheels, it just felt like the willingness to put new shapes and innovative ideas out there. I It just felt like there wasn’t readily available good wheel options at the time. I went from Bones sending me Street Cubic’s, which are really wide like a 70’s wheel and they were just super clunky and heavy. And then Speed Wheels came out and had small freestyle wheels and different shapes and they were open to work with those shapes to move forward with street skating. I got paid like nothing, but the wheels were really good for what I was trying to do with my skating and that started the relationship.
How do you think Speedwheels was different versus everything else that was out there at the time?
It was the graphics. The graphics are still mind blowing; a four-color process graphic on both sides of a wheel. I think that’s the only time you saw it and to print wheels that way- I’m a huge Jim Phillips fan so whatever came out of his studio. For them to take that much time and detail and I thought they were great; t no one’s doing anything like that still. I always liked that, that kind of high standard for the artwork and detail.
Let’s talk about your OJ Semi Transition ad, was that ad planned or did that shot just happen?
It was super planned, they had to fly me up to the Monterey airport. I didn’t have a driver’s license at that time. I think Richard Metiver shot that one, he didn’t even use like a real photographer, but he had scoped the location and the scene. I think we had talked about it in advance, and he facilitated and planned it all out. You can even see in that photo I’m wearing the OJ shirt backwards so you can see the logo. So, we had it fully set up and it took a while to do it. It was a pretty big gap, it wasn’t that hard, but the Trailer truck roofs are kind of mushy and they had these ribs, so you had to start your pop further away from the edge.
Another ad, I’m so curious about this, is the OJ had you had at Derby, and it says “OJ ll’s Frozen Music.” And to this day I’m like how does a phrase like that come around, what does it even mean?
I was told, this is through Richard Metiver, but apparently at the time the phrase was used in the production of urethane. He really wanted to use it and he asked me if I would be okay as my quote for the ad and I thought it was pretty cool. I didn’t really care, and we ended up using it in the ad.
Was there a favorite wheel of yours at that time?
I bounced around, but I think I liked the OJ Team Riders, I used those the most and the OJ Freestyle wheels. I also liked a pair of really tall Hosoi Rocket wheels to steam roll over curbs, they were like 63 millimeters, vert wheels on street.
Do you have any funny Metiver stories about just working with him in general or how would you describe him?
Probably the funniest one was- he wasn’t really a skater and probably didn’t interact with a lot of people like me, he was kind of a jock, and like a regular guy but super nice and always straight up with me and accommodating. So, he picked me up one day, this might’ve been to go shoot the semi-transition ad, so we’re driving, and we stopped at a rest stop or gas station and keep in mind we were very different people and I’m trying to get to know him. So we stopped at the rest stop bathroom and he goes into the sit down stall and I just did the urinal and I’m washing my hands and he starts going “check this out” and he starts reading out loud the graffiti off the inside of the wall and it’s pretty X-rated and a guy walks in the bathroom and I walk out and he’s still reading this stuff on the wall and it’s just some random guy in there and I don’t know what the guy thought but I was just laughing outside just imagining what’ the random dude was thinking.
I get the idea Metiver was this really nice softball coach type guy who had this weird and odd humor and he brought that into Speedwheels.
Yeah. First couple times I went to NHS, I’m still a teenager and I’m going up to NHS in Santa Cruz to work on SMA boards and stuff and the first time I come in and he’s like “hey, how’s it hanging Natas, you getting any tail lately?!” And I’m like “tail? What do you even mean?” But yeah, super nice guy and pretty respectful to me and fun to work with.
The Art of the Santa Cruz Speed Wheel will be on view at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History through January 2, 2022. Throughout the fall, go to Juxtapoz.com for exclusive stories from the skaters, artists and brand managers on the history of Speed Wheels.