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 graffitit and tattoo artist Mike Giant, on his connections with the Speed Wheel era.

Lee Charron: What was your impression of Speed Wheels in the 80’s skateboard scene?
Mike Giant: I mean I rode all the wheels for sure, as a kid. I definitely rode Slimeballs. I think what originally drew me to them was the advertisements; they were disgusting. I remember they were really glossy at the same time. There was one where it was like all like guts and stuff and the wheels were just sitting in the guts and it just appealed to me as a kid. Like that horror gore kind of weird stuff, I don’t know how to explain it, it was different, it was very noticeable. I feel like all the 80’s companies did a good job of having a distinctive graphic design style that was recognizable right away. An ad from the Powell camp would be a different ad than from the Santa Cruz camp. I dug it. That was my early excursion into branding and understanding how branding worked. Also, just how a new wheel company could just come out of thin air, just by changing the wheel shapes, the colors, and the graphics. I always thought that was kind of fascinating. And Christian Hosoi, didn’t he do his own OJ’s or something?

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Yeah, they brought him into the NHS camp and he ended up doing Hosoi Rockets by OJ.
Yeah, cuz I rode OJ Rocket wheels too, absolutely. That was something I liked as a kid- it’s just a piece of urethane, it's just this wheel, but you’re able to give it this story through the graphics and the ads and I just remember being fascinated by all of that. The amount of time and effort that went into that. 

I remember the first Thrasher I got was the nose ad with the Slimeballs in the guy’s nose with the nose hairs coming out of it, it like cemented into my soul, from that point forward like that’s the craziest shit. I was like just blown away as a child.
That’s how the “wheels floating in the guts” ad is to me. That’s the thing that stood out. You know it’s a skateboard magazine, so it’s mostly skateboarding but a lot of the times, especially the Slimeballs ads, there might not be any skateboarding in it at all, it's just this concept of this slimy, disgusting stuff. 

Right, it’s like the Roskopp puking on a Slimeball wheel ad.
Yeah again, like as a kid you know there’s the different brands that come from Speedwheels, right? Like I rode Bullets, I rode OJ’s, and I rode Slimeballs and really, it’s the same urethane, but it’s the branding that makes them different. It would affect my product decision making when I was a child. Like if I had a deck graphic that was kind of disgusting, I might throw some Slimeballs on it more so than OJ’s. If I had more of like a clean style vert deck that had more of a graphic, like Hosoi might have, I’d throw OJ’s on there. I’m still kind of brand specific in that way. I feel like we were worried in the 80’s about not looking like a poser and keeping your brand separate like “no I’m a Santa Cruz skater or no, I’m a Dogtown skater”, so you’d try to get all the stuff you could from that company and keep your set up consistent. 

hosoi rocket air

For sure. I think that was the other cool thing about Speed Wheels was that there were so many dudes on the team.
Well, all the different personalities too, which was such a big part of it as well and getting to know which guys rode which set up. It was one of those things, I would look in the magazine and be like okay well Christian is obviously riding the Rockets, but what’s Jeff Kendall riding? I even remember those OJ freestyle wheels, that were made for the actual rectangular freestyle decks. I had all kinds of friends that were street skaters that rode those, I rode them too- they were dope. That was like before the small wheel thing came into the picture. I was always curious about what Dressen was riding. He was the first Pro skateboarder I ever saw in action. He was in the parking lot of Del Mar Skate Park; I think it was ‘84 or ‘85.

My dad took me there just to see it and the boy scouts owned the skatepark at the time and you had to be a boy scout to skate it which was some bullshit, but Dressen was there with a friend and they couldn’t get in to the skatepark either, so they were just in the parking lot fucking around and my dad and I just watched them do like thirty different tricks on and over a parking block in a matter of like five minutes. Stuff I’ve never seen anybody do, didn’t even consider that a parking block could be an object to skate, much less there’s all the various shit you could do on one. So, I immediately asked my dad if I could have a parking block in our driveway in Albuquerque and he was like “absolutely” because he saw that “oh this could keep this kid happy for hours trying to learn all this crazy shit.” It was like when no comply’s just came out and with your front truck on and over stuff and shifties; the Olly had really taken hold, so it was just all these variations from there that started to blossom. 

Is there any of those wheels that you can really remember riding several sets of?
Those orange OJ lls. I would cone the fuck out of them and would have to replace them, absolutely. I used to love bombing hills and doing four-wheel slides like Stacy Peralta and I would just cone the shit out of those fucking OJ wheels. I loved the OJ formula, I have some of the original OJ’s set up on a Dogtown Bigfoot board right now. I like to ride stuff from the era, when I first discovered it, because again it takes me right back where I really discovered skateboarding and to skate on an 80’s style set up is just so satisfying.

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 for exclusive stories from the skaters, artists and brand managers on the history of Speed Wheels.