"I don't wanna say it was a gang — but it was," confesses Mario Rubalcaba, leaning in with a roguish smirk on his face. "The Del Mar guys didn't like us, because we were street guys. There were times when we got into it with some of those guys and they were older than us. And we were like, 'Fuck you!' We didn't take shit from anyone and we claimed Vista as our town because we made these skate spots happen." In the late Eighties and early Nineties, the VSL gang [Vista Skate Locals], which included pro skaters Rubalcaba, Matt Hensley and Danny Way, ruled the streets and were protective of their turf in Vista, California — "V-town," as they called it.
Posted up next to Rubalcaba in his Oceanside home, Riley Hawk listens fervently to tales from back in the day. Hawk, 25, has heard his fair share of stories about the skateboarding history of his notorious hometown from his dad, Tony Hawk. But hearing them from Rubalcaba, one of Riley's musical heroes, makes them all the more compelling. "It's trippy to hear about those times," says Hawk. "Because there weren't Tony Hawk video games when I was young — my dad was just a skater trying to make it work and feed his family. And the only reason that the video games and skating in X Games happened is because he stuck it out and kept skating vert through some really dark times."
Two decades separate Rubalcaba and Hawk, but they share a timeless bond. For one thing, both are pro skaters. Rubalcaba skated for Team Alva in the late Eighties and Nineties, riding ramps with Jason Jessee, Steve Steadham and even Hawk's dad, and then hit the streets when vert ultimately went out of fashion. Riley Hawk turned pro for Baker Skateboards in 2013 and, despite three ankle surgeries in the past few years, managed to drop two of the most savage video parts of 2017 — a prolific performance in Shep Dawgs 4 and a behemoth of an ender part in Lakai's The Flare. In the latter, Hawk skated to Metallica's "The Four Horsemen."
As if being pro skaters weren't badass enough, both Rubalcaba and Hawk are also both musicians in hard-rocking psychedelic bands. Rubalcaba — who has done time with Rocket From the Crypt, Hot Snakes and Off! — is the drummer in the mostly instrumental trio Earthless, which he co-formed back in 2001. Hawk, largely inspired by his love for Earthless, sings and plays guitar in his own riff-worshipping doom outfit, Petyr, who have shared the stage with their heroes in recent years. With both bands fresh off recording new albums, Revolver spent a day with Hawk and Rubalcaba to talk skateboarding and music — why the two go so well together and why, sometimes, they don't.
MARIO, WHAT WAS THE V-TOWN SKATE SCENE LIKE WHEN YOU CAME UP?
MARIO RUBALCABA Fuck, it was pretty small back then. Skating was more looked down upon and we had to deal with the typical shit that skaters dealt with, people just fucking with you. There was a lot of that, but we held our own ground and we would just skate all day and rage at night. The crew of guys that I grew up with all became pro skaters — Danny Way, Matt Hensley, Brennand Schoeffel and Steve Ortega. But there was an older crew of guys that only skated vert, like Marc Hostetter, and they had one of the biggest vert ramps at the time called the "Vista Ramp." Actually, Riley, I skated with your dad there. It was awesome because that ramp and the Fallbrook Ramp were like the best half-pipes in the country, so all the pros would come out and skate. I'll never forget those sessions.
RILEY HAWK What year would that have been?
RUBALCABA That was probably '87 or '88. It was a crazy time …
WHAT WAS IT LIKE BEING A PRO BACK THEN, WHEN, LIKE YOU SAID, SKATING WAS MORE OF AN OUTSIDER THING?
RUBALCABA I turned pro right when skating had died. It just fucking died. All that big vert skater stuff was starting to fizzle out around 1990. That's when street skating took over and ended a lot of guys' careers because they just couldn't make the transition from ramps to street.
HAWK Most people don't know that vert skaters, especially my dad in the Nineties, made no money. He was living out in Fallbrook and had a ramp. I'll never forget him telling me that while he was skating for Powell [Peralta] — and, you know, they were making so much money for a while — he had a friend help him sort out his new contract to guarantee him a minimum salary, regardless of board sales. And that actually got him through the early Nineties because boards weren't selling.
RUBALCABA I turned pro when I was 17, still in high school and living with my grandparents, so I had no worries. I was getting paid to ride a piece of wood and go have fun with my friends. I didn't drive. I just travelled and had fun. I mean, looking back, I wish that whatever money I did make back then I would have saved. I probably could have bought property for nothing in the early Nineties — dammit! [Laughs] Unless you were Matt Hensley or Jason Lee, no one else really made any money skating at the time.
RILEY, YOU HAD A GNARLY LAST YEAR IN SKATEBOARDING. YOU DODGED A FEW NEAR-CAREER-ENDING INJURIES AND STILL MANAGED TO DROP TWO INSANE VIDEO PARTS.
HAWK Yeah, I was really going for it. I kind of knew, filming for the Lakai video, that they kind of wanted me to have one of the main parts in it. It's a lot of pressure. You pretty much want to kill yourself for it and get the tricks you want. I had two surgeries on my right ankle and one on my left in the process of filming that. But you don't want to half-ass it, you know? It's the same with music — you want to push yourself and make something that you're proud of. But yeah, I would have never in my life imagined, when I was a kid watching the Lakai videos, that one day I'd have the last part in one.
MARIO, WHAT WAS YOUR INTRODUCTION TO PLAYING MUSIC AND HOW DID YOU START OUT WITH DRUMS?
RUBALCABA Fuck, man, I was actually just born into it, dragging out pots and pans and beating the shit out of them. I got a drum set when I was four years old — a Mickey Mouse kit from Toys "R" Us. I destroyed that kit and I got a real kit at six years old — a knockoff Japanese Ludwig kit. My grandmother babysat me and I would listen to Grand Funk Railroad and Deep Purple on an 8-track cassette. I played those two 8-tracks all fucking day long, but the first record I ever bought was Kiss Alive! I connected to the music — I was all about Kiss. Both my uncles listened to all the classic-rock music back then. I would listen to their records all day long and jump on their bed with a tennis racket, pretending to play guitar. [Laughs] They gave me Van Halen and Foreigner records for my birthday party. I was like, "OK, this record sucks, but Van Halen is awesome."
HAWK That's insane — at six years old you were like, "I know what sucks and I know what's good."
RUBALCABA Yup, that's when the "disease" really kicked in for me.
WHAT ABOUT YOU, RILEY? YOU'RE LIVING IN THE EPICENTER OF THIS WHOLE SKATE-DOOM SCENE. WHEN DID THE "DISEASE" KICK IN FOR YOU?
HAWK Once I found out about Black Sabbath — that started the whole thing for me. I was 13, listening to Black Sabbath all the time. Then, when I was 16, I went and saw Pentagram at a 21-and-older show. I'll never forget, my homies and me just went and didn't know how we were gonna get into the show. And this dude, "Hippy" from the band Loom, was just there and asked what we were doing outside. I told him I wanted to get into the show. He lied to the bouncers and said I was his little brother and got us in. I'll always be thankful to Hippy for that. But seeing Pentagram for the first time — Bobby Liebling looked like a creature out of some heavy-metal cartoon.
RUBALCABA Totally, like a zombie.
MARIO, EARTHLESS ARE KNOWN FOR PLAYING MOSTLY INSTRUMENTAL MUSIC, BUT YOUR NEW RECORD, BLACK HEAVEN, HAS VOCALS ON FOUR OFT IS SIX SONGS. HOW DID THIS SHIFT COME ABOUT?
RUBALCABA Earthless has always been a selfish endeavor of us wanting to enjoy playing. There was a time when people didn't really care for what we did. Like, "Oh, these guys are just fucking jacking off onstage for an hour." But, living far apart from each other now, we just didn't have the luxury to build these long instrumental arrangements. The time needed to build a song like "From the Ages" [the 30-minute-long title track off the band's 2013 album] doesn't just happen. It's actually a really structured song with lots of room to improvise between all these little parts. We really didn't have the time to do that. So we kind of figured, "Let's write some songs and utilize the secret weapon of [Earthless guitarist] Isaiah [Mitchell's] voice — fuck people up and see what happens."
RILEY, YOUR BAND, PETYR, IS HEAVILY INFLUENCED BY EARTHLESS, BUT THE NEW RECORD, SMOLYK, NODS TO OTHER MUSICAL HEROES, AS WELL, DOESN'T IT?
HAWK Yeah, initially, we were just figuring it out, you know? Me, "Slurk" [Luke Devigny, bass] and "Juice" [Nick McDonnell, drums] all love Earthless and were like, "Let's just jam." I feel like it's better that way, rather than someone coming in like, "I have this vision for a band." To me, that seems off-putting, but that's how it is sometimes with bands, people have a vision. So the first record definitely was like an Earthless tribute in a lot of ways. But then after playing together for all this time, we went a bit heavier for our second record, with a little less jammy psychedelic vibe. We also wanted to pay homage to other bands we love, from Witchfinder General down to Metallica. So we wrote these fast-paced-riff songs with vocals here and there.
DO YOU FEEL LIKE BEING TONY HAWK'S SON HELPS THE BAND OR DO YOU CATCH FLACK FOR IT?
HAWK Not in a cocky way, but I kind of have my own name through skateboarding. People don't really see me anymore as Tony Hawk's son. I'm just a skater now. But when we first started out, all the stuff online was like, "Tony Hawk's son has a stoner-rock band." We all joke about it and don't take it seriously in that sense. And we get it — people trip out. We can't help that people find it easy to say, "Tony Hawk's son has a band," or whatever. It's not like we're playing for fame or glory. We just like playing music. So it's like, take it or leave it — it is what it is.
EARTHLESS AND PETYR PLAYED SHOWS TOGETHER THIS PAST YEAR. HOW WAS THAT?
HAWK Getting to play with Mario and those dudes is like, as a kid, I never thought that would happen. So it's pretty cool to actually be up there and I feel like it works well.
RUBALCABA Definitely. We were trying to do that entire tour with you guys but I think you had skateboarding stuff lined up.
HAWK That's the one thing that sometimes is kind of a damper. I like skating as much as I like playing music. And when I'm healthy, I'm just like, "Fuck, I wanna skate!" I don't think people realize, being a musician is definitely hard in its own right, but fuck, man, sacking your nuts on a handrail before you go and play a show — it's pretty brutal. I remember skating one day on tour and I fell and thought I broke my elbow. I couldn't really bend it, but luckily it was my picking arm so I was already stuck like this. [Bends arm] I just threw back a couple shots and said, "Fuck it," and played the show. That's when I figured out that this is not something you can really mash together for an extended period of time on a tour and make it work.
RUBALCABA You'll fucking die. [Laughs]