In the 1980s, Powell-Peralta dominated skateboarding like no other company, before or since. Not only did it have the finest riders in the world—Tony Hawk, Steve Caballero, Rodney Mullen, Lance Mountain, Tommy Guerrero,and Mike McGill formed the core of the Bones Brigade in its heyday—but it was also the skateboard company most responsible for bringing the sport to a larger audience with its forward-thinking marketing and advertising campaigns. Its print advertisements in particular, absurdist works of art in their own right that sold the irreverent culture of skateboarding more than any Powell-Peralta product, did much to make skateboarding the force for creativity it is today.
We recently spoke with Powell-Peralta co-founder Stacy Peralta about the witty, snarky ads he concocted with the company’s resident mad genius Craig Stecyk. Read on for Stacy’s thoughts on burning cars and embracing bad press, and be sure to catch Peralta’s new documentary on the Bones Brigade, Autobiography, available here.
“This is an ad that Craig did with Lance himself. I was teaching skateboarding at a Swedish summer camp, and I came home and I saw that ad and I laughed my ass off. I thought it was one of the funniest things ever. That’s something that Stecyk just cooked up with Lance, and I thought it was brilliant. It’s so simple, and so funny, so perfect. Ads work best when they’re simple. It’s a statement, at the same time it’s absurd, at the same time it’s kind of poignant and funny and silly. There’s no complexity to it at all. Craig wrote all the copy. A lot of times it would be me making suggestions but Craig was the talent with the pen.”
Avoid Obsolete Technologies
“All I can remember is that Craig wanted to burn a car. He wanted to have a real burning car in an ad, and it was his concept to put Ray [Rodriguez] in front of it. He thought it would look provocative and visually stimulating. And so we lit the car up in front of George [Powell’s] parents’ house, and it was actually really difficult to keep the car burning. We kept having to throw this kind of rubber glue on it because only the rubber glue would keep the flames going. If you put gasoline on it, it would burn up and it would be gone in a second. The car, I believe, is one we bought for Stecyk, because he wanted the tail fins off of it. And so we not only burned the car that day, but we also cut it in half. George was a welder and he cut the car in half for Craig. Craig was a complete freak to work with. He always asked for weird things, it’s like, ‘Y’all do this, buy me this car and then cut it in half for me. You can have the front and I’ll take the back.’ He eventually used the whole back of the car for an art show he did.”
“This was an homage for something that Stecyk had done for the Zephyr team, not in an ad but in one of his Dogtown articles. He’d done something very similar to this, and that thing he had done in the Dogtown article was an homage to the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street album cover. There’s even some similar photos in it.
“The graphic was done by Stecyk. He did that ages ago, probably in the early to mid ’70s. That was a Dogtown graphic, and I don’t mean Dogtown skateboards, that was a graphic out of Dogtown, out of Santa Monica, out of Venice. I remember liking that, I remember growing up with that graphic and liking it so much that I encouraged Craig to bring it back for our products. And I don’t think he thought much of it. I said, ‘Look, this is a fantastic graphic. We’ve gotta use this.’ And he said, ‘Alright, fine.’ So we brought it in and used it on shirts and whatnot, it was super popular. If you look at it now, it was one of the very first commercial pieces of graffiti art. It even has the drip on it and stuff like that. He was very forward thinking in that regard.”
“We were trying to figure out a way to market McGill differently and do something funny, stupid. I remember having to get Mike give us his faces. Stecyk was shooting it, I was over Stecyk’s shoulder, kind of screaming at Mike, like, ‘Come on, give me this, give me this!’ He and I were yelling at each other, and I was doing it to kind of motivate him to give me that face. And then Craig took the face and put it on the body. I don’t remember which wrestler’s body we used, but it could have been Freddie Blassie. Very easily could have been Freddie Blassie.”
“This is one of my favorite ads. My girlfriend at the time and Stecyk’s wife painted Tony’s graphic on his face, and Tony had no idea what we were doing. He wasn’t thrilled about doing it, and was getting sick while it was happening from the paint fumes, and so they were never able to actually finish painting it as well as we wanted them to. He was getting nauseated so we had to hurry up and shoot it. Of course when he saw the ad he was thrilled with it, but at the time he had no concept of what this was going to look like.
“It probably took about 30-45 minutes and it should have taken about an hour and a half, but as I said there were two people doing it so that we could get it done quickly so that Tony wouldn’t have to keep breathing the paint fumes. We shot it really quickly, and we washed it off his face really quickly. He was probably 16 years old there, so a lot of times they just didn’t understand what Craig and I were doing and what we were trying to do. They knew we weren’t going to lead them down a bad road, but at the same time they would lose patience with us sometimes because it was like ‘OK, what are we doing now? This doesn’t make sense.’ And very rarely Craig and I ever explained what we were trying to do.”
Animal Chin – Have You Seen Him
“At that time there were two incarnations for Animal Chin. The first we were trying to make fun of the fact that during that time, during the ’80s skateboarding boom, a lot of new companies were forming and they were making pro models for people that didn’t deserve pro models at all. We decided to create a character that was so undeserving of a pro model that he, number one, didn’t skateboard, and number two had never even seen concrete. That was the first Animal Chin incarnation. And somehow Animal Chin then became this zen figure for a video that we did, the idea being ‘Have you seen him?’ i.e. have you found inner peace, have you found your inner skateboarding? It was a suggestion of something to come, or maybe not. We liked doing things that made people go, ‘What on Earth are they doing now?’ We always figured that was better than just having them turn a page.”
“This was an attempt to embrace the negativity that people were spouting off about our company, and to celebrate it. Like, If you’re going to say things about us, then at least let us advertise it. This was one of our better campaigns. These are quotes that people actually said about us, our company, our products. We were pretty much the No. 1 company, and whenever you’re No. 1, people are always going to take shots at you. People were taking shots at us, and so it’s like, OK, let’s show them. We’re not only going to embrace what they’re saying, we’re going to put it into our advertisements. That was a ballsy thing to do. We did things that we found entertaining. The good thing is that we were a company that was not beholden to anybody. We didn’t have shareholders, we didn’t have any adults telling us what not to do, and so we were able to do this. We were able to have fun. And we were able to operate in what you might call a nontraditional manner.”
“This is one of my neighbors that lived across the street and my dad, dressing up as bums and homeless people. We wanted to show the kind of people that endorsed our products. The one with the missing tooth is my neighbor and the other one is my dad. We just messed their hair up, made them look real fat, and asked them not to shave. They had a ball doing it.”
“Originally we had latched on to this kind of military look in the ’80s when there weren’t any wars going on, and then we went from that to a kind of primitive thing, because we thought skateboarding was a primitive thing and somehow we stumbled on it. Shortly after we did those graphics, Mick Jagger came out with an album calledPrimitive Cool, Sting had something that had to do with something primitive, Rush did something, so there was this zeitgeist of primitive stuff. For us it was our search for skateboarding’s beginning. We were always trying to do something different, something cool, something that would entertain us.”