Speed Wheels Stories: A Conversation with Shepard Fairey
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 the legendary street artist and, of course, major skateboard champion, Shepard Fairey, on his connections with the Speed Wheel era.
Lee Charron: I guess I’ll just start with quickly talking about where you’re from and your first memory of Speed Wheels that you can remember being like oh Speed Wheels?
Shepard Fairey: Well, I’m from Charleston, South Carolina and I started skateboarding at the end of 1983 and got my own first board for my birthday February 15th, 1984 and at that time even though it was a really small scene, a lot of my friends were riding Santa Cruz boards. I had one friend with a Steve Olsen, another friends with a Duane Peters and another friend with a Mickey Alba and you know I don’t remember whether I realized that OJ’s were- Speed Wheels Santa Cruz, or how all the stuff worked together brand wise, but pretty quickly in ‘84, ‘85 I started to notice that. What year did Slimeballs come out?
I think it was around 1986.
Right, so ‘86 I definitely remember that OJ’s and Slimeballs started to be wheels that a lot of people were riding and the first Speed Wheels that I rode were Hosoi Rockets. I liked the urethane formula and Hosoi was my favorite skateboarder at that time. When his cover of Thrasher came out in ‘84 and he was still on Alva at the time. My friend was like “yeah I got the new Thrasher with Hosoi on the cover” and I was like let’s see it.” He left it in my locker at school and so it was a Friday afternoon, and I broke into the school, climbed up a window and got into the second floor, this is how hard it was to come by anything skate culture related back then. So needless to say, when Hosoi launched a wheel company with OJ, I wanted to get those wheels. My second board ever was a Hosoi, I had a few Hosoi’s over the years, so I loved Rocket wheels and I rode a couple sets a those and when Bullet’s came out, I had a set of Bullet’s. I knew it was the same urethane, so I was trying out different shapes and the Bullets were a little skinnier. I think if my memory serves me right and Bullets had that cool kind of Celtic shield thing on them. It's weird when you’re a kid that age, part of its logic and part it’s just like that shit looks cool. One of the things I noticed, because I was really into doing a lot of slides back then, but no flat spots on the Speed Wheels. But you know I’d love to say that I had perfect loyalty to Speedwheels but I didn’t- if a kid was like “hey I’ll trade you these Alva Rocks for a homemade Husker Du t-shirt" I was like yeah, let’s do it.
I like the honesty of this conversation; I think it’s important because that’s how it was back then.
But then the OJ Team Riders came out, that was the wheel I was loyal to for like three years straight which is like an entire skateboarder lifecycle for a lot of people. This is just a minuscule fragment of my career as a skateboarder but from the time like ‘87 to ‘89 to ‘90 that was all I rode. Either 57mm OJ Team Riders or 61mm Team Riders. I read somewhere that white wheels were faster because the pigment somehow slowed the urethane down and so all I wanted to ride was white wheels and the Team Riders were white. And it was almost like the Jeff Kendall Graffiti board graphic got a wheel companion in terms of the colors and the type style. Looking back on it now considering how much amazing Jim Phillips art there is and how great the Slimeballs artwork was and how great the original OJ logo was, the OJ Team Rider graphics were not anything special, but they felt different. The OJ Team Riders were just great for ramp and street, I just loved those wheels, I was riding them mostly because I liked the shape; like I probably still ride those now if I got a chance to grab some.
Can you remember as a kid back then experiencing any one of the Santa Cruz Speed Wheels ads in a Thrasher or anything, do any stick out to you from your memory?
Well yeah, I mean as much as I always pretended, I wasn’t into people cultivating an image, that was a total lie, when Hosoi’s there holding the wheel with a cracked mirror behind him and you know it was sort of a nod to the Black Flag Damage album cover but in a little bit less ominous way, I was like oh my God that’s so fucking sexy.
My very first Speed Wheels ad was the Slimeballs ad where the guy had the wheel in the guy’s nose and his nose hairs were coming out the side of it, and it was also the first Thrasher I ever saw, and I was like that’s so gross, I love it.
Oh, I totally remember that I was like how’d they make a wheel that small to fit in his nose?
Or Roskopp puking or Ricky Windsor drinking the ash tray, like those things were just so disgusting to me and what speaks more to a young boy than some gross shit?
Totally, and if I liked what the rider was about, and they were cool. I really liked a lot of the stuff with Jeff Kendall where he was sort of a versatile all terrain skater so when you have a combination of something connecting with him riding for Speed Wheels and then like the Screaming Hand logo was such an iconic, awesome logo and it seemed like everybody even if they didn’t ride Speed Wheels or Santa Cruz had that sticker on their board. Natas was another one of my favorite skaters so anything he rode I was into. Tom Knox, the way he would reference Minor Threat in an ad and stuff like that because that was the music, I felt like it saved my life seeing that somebody else was celebrating that and doing an excellent job with paying tribute and the brand was behind it- all of that was really important to me feeling like I had an ally. Everybody’s got their moment of finding their identity when everything that’s around going to seem like the best ever. So yeah that ’84 to ’88 period for me which was high school. I really do think that Christian was somewhat remarkable even within a time that had some pretty amazing personalities; I remember that one OJ ad where he’s at the beach, he’s done some graffiti on the wall and he’s wearing some rolled-up clam digger pants and I was like this would kind of lame except it’s Christian, so it’s awesome! And I did think it was cool and a bit subversive, but I mean 6 years within generations of skateboarding is a lot. But I’ll let you go, and I really want to hear the story about SST.
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.