Speed Wheels Stories: A Conversation with Steve Alba
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, Steve Alba, aka Salba.
Lee Charron: What do you remember your involvement with Speed Wheels in the 1980s?
Steve Alba: It’s kind of crazy because for me Speed Wheels was, I don’t wanna say it was a complete collaboration, but we did a lot of stuff with Richard Metiver and we did a lot of crazy antics in those days. Just being on the Speed Wheels team was super, super cool. I think how it all started for me originally was Metiver was actually making larger diameter Bam Bam wheels for G&S. We were riding Upland and he had 63 and 65mm G&S Bam Bams. When we found out he was actually making ‘em I said, “dude if you’re making these why don’t you make some larger wheels for Bullet?” I told him what we wanted, he came up with an initial shape and we changed it slightly. From there it was super killer because we felt it was a collaboration- the larger diameter Bullets were for riding bigger terrain. Bullets were the bigger size Speed Wheels at that point. We were super hyped on that because they worked really good at Upland. Upland had super big coping and you had to have big wheels to get over the coping to maintain your speed. So then from Upland we would go to the Arizona pipes; I always made sure we had different wheels for the pipes. I'd call Metiver up and say “hey you know we’re gonna go to these pipes, they're gonna be smooth, they're gonna be fast, but is there any way we could get a couple different durometers? 92’s, 95’s, 97’s?” and he supplied that to us. The team was rad- Roskopp was riding them, Grosso was riding them, Dressen was riding them - so it was a cool thing to be part of it in those days for sure.
Do you think that's what separated Speedwheels from everything else, was the team and the look?
Well number one I think the team, the ads, the graphics, the overall look was what separated it. And let's face it, to be honest with you, when you talk about your big three skate companies at that time which was Santa Cruz, Vision and Powell, and nothing against those dudes at all but they had no fucking image, their image was whack, just being honest, you know what I mean. Santa Cruz was so much fucking radder than those brands at that time and that's why a lot of people gravitated towards Santa Cruz. There was that tie with me, Olson, and Duane from the beginning, but then you got all these new guys that tie it all in like Grosso keeping our whole punk attitude going. You had Kendall who’s this fucking ripper from the Midwest; you had all these other dudes, so that was the Santa Cruz team - and all Speed Wheels. And there whole bunch of other dudes riding Speed Wheels too like Craig Johnson and Christian Hosoi. Outside of the Santa Cruz Skateboards team, you had all the other dudes that were riding them. Speed Wheels were really the thing that was under people’s feet.
Yeah, it’s interesting when I’ve been talking to everybody- under like OJ or Slimeballs or Rockets kind of or Bullet, what team rider identified with what- Dressen was like oh I’m an OJ guy, Kendall was like I was an OJ guy, but I look at your ads and you had Slimeballs ads, and you had Bullet ads.
Yeah, we did both, I kind of changed with the times so to speak, we were totally big Bullet wheel guys at the time, in 1988, times were changing, and Bullets didn't really work as good for me in backyard pools and especially on ramps. After that I period, I liked a wider wheel surface and that's why I went to OJ Team Riders, which I thought worked really well, had more of a radius on the back end, so when you’re doing lip tricks and pivots and smith grinds it worked better.
It was like an asymmetrical shape with a rounded lip inside.
Yeah, wheels started getting smaller and smaller- the 66’s went away, the 65’s went away and then people started riding the 63’s, but then even 63’s went away, and you can’t even get anything bigger than a 62 or 60. I started riding Hosoi Rockets a lot. It's kind of funny cause I still have a box of Speed Wheels to this day and whenever I go on these pipe missions, I always take like four or five sets of Speed Wheels with me, you know the 66 Bullets and the 64 OJ’s and maybe a pair of the Hosoi Rockets, just depending on what pipe we're going to ride whether it’s the 25-footer, 20-footer, 18-footer that kind of thing. These pipes we'd skated in Colorado that were always kind of wet, so we’d never ride 97’s, always 95’s and 92’s. It’s kind of cool just having that wheel quiver so to speak, it’s just like you’re playing guitar- I mean you don’t wanna be playing the same guitar the whole set, I mean you can and that’s cool but if you wanna go for different sounds and different tones you’re gonna use the Strat, you’re gonna use the White Falcon, you’re gonna use a couple things, and just like when you’re skateboarding, you’re gonna paint this little canvas. Skate boardings really a jazz- we’re all jazz musicians, skateboarder artists so to speak. When you’re doing that you wanna have the right stuff under your feet.
You brought up the ads which I think is such a huge part of that whole legacy of Speed Wheels. If you’re looking at all those ads is there any of the Speed Wheels ads that really stuck out to you?
Let me just put it this way, in the old days when you look at the mag I was like “ooh what’re they gonna put out this month?.” You never knew what Speedwheels was gonna pull out for an ad or product; a whatever gross vomit kind of thing or boogers- Ricky Winsor spitting it in a cup and drinking it- I saw Ricky Winsor actually eat that stuff. Everybody had sick ads in those days but one of my favorite ads I was in was a Bullet ad. It was this pool up near here and my friend's mom and dad went out of town for the weekend, so, the kids let us skate it. I had a shot there, my brother Mickey had a shot there, I think four of five us had a shot at this particular pool. Two or three of us had ads there and couple of us had photos in the mag. They also made a Thrasher t-shirt out of that same photo session. No helmets, short shirts all cut off, duct tape shoes.
When those ads came out was it sort of like nobody sort of knew who was getting the ad or did you kind of know?
n those days they didn’t really plan ads like they do nowadays- I think it was like “oh we just need an ad, the deadlines due, go get a shot and you’re gonna be with Steve, Mickey and Roskopp – whoever." When we were shooting the Speedwheels Speed Freaks video, I remember they would shoot photos while we were shooting the video. Some of those photos became ads. That was always a cool thing knowing you’d have a photo shoot and then some video to go along with it.
Any other thoughts on Speed Wheels and that era of skateboarding?
Now you can look on it thirty years later and have a little nostalgia, a little laugh. It was super fucking cool to be part of it, still cool to be a part of Santa Cruz, Speedwheels and NHS- I love it. So, I just think it was a cool period, skating then was so much different than now. In those days you just kind of winged it, that’s one thing I kind of miss is that it wasn’t so structured. But it’s cool that some of the imagery is still there and let's face it, out of all those things- again going back to Vision, Powell, and Santa Cruz in the old days, some of those guys are still around today but who’s still fucking killing it more than anybody? Santa Cruz, cause the imagery is there. I always liked our imagery better. I just liked all the imagery of all that stuff- OJ, Road Riders, Indy, I mean all those brands. And just having ties to that over the years, being a part of it and still being a part of it, seeing it still grow, it’s cool.
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.