Interview with Skateboard Legend Alphonzo Rawls
In the late 80’s and early 90’s skateboarding emerged as one of the fastest growing sports to date. With over 18 million skaters worldwide, skateboarding has continued to grow since its conception in the late 1960’s. One skater who laid the foundation for early African-American professional skateboarders is Alphonzo Rawls. Rawls,who is an independent shoe designer in San Diego, spoke with us about skating and his career.
Interview by Brandon Q. Jackson
So you’re a shoe designer now? How did you segue into doing that after skateboarding?
Kastel Shoe Company approached me around 1995 about doing a pro model shoe. I was already into art and designing things so I knew it was something I wanted to do. I presented 10 designs to the company and they liked it. 17 years and over 102 designs I’m still at it!
Can you talk about skateboarding when you first started vs. today? How much has changed in the past 20 years?
I think skateboarding is in a good place today. Skateboarding is more recognized today. It’s more accepted than it was in the past. A lot of adults are backing it today. Skateboarding is more diverse today that it was 25 or so years ago.
When you came out on the scene, you joined the ranks of skaters like Ron Allen, Ray Barbee, and Ron Chatman as being one of the most visible African-American pro skaters. Did that do anything for you knowing that you influenced black skaters that did not grow up in a diverse setting?
Yes and no. I was kind of doing my own thing and I didn’t really think about it at first. It wasn’t until after the Hokus Pokus video that I started to think about it. There were few scenes in my part that addressed the issue of race so I guess I felt there was an influence.
What was it like skating for H-Street and what do you think Hokus Pokus did for street skateboarding when it was released?
It was the most amazing time in my life. I was 14 years old when I first got sponsored by H-Street. It was all new and a lot of it was being done for the first time. H-street is such a “doing it yourself” brand. The graphics were tighter and it really put skateboarding on the map.
I know that you skated both vert and street. Did you ever lean to one more than the other?
It was a golden era and we just skated. We were just skateboarders. When I think of skateboarding as a whole I think we should get back to that. I respect pros more when they are diverse. It was cool to see Jason Lee (Actor), Lance Mountin, and Eric Kosten do both when they skated.
Any advice for kids who are currently learning how to skateboard?
Just skate and have fun. If a kid wants to get sponsored they have to realize it takes more than just skill set and doing lots of tricks. A lot of pros these days are more in charge of their career today.