Many young skaters learning the craft in the early 1990s, like myself, had a ‘crew’ consisting of every skater in every high school in not only my town but all the neighboring towns. For me and the baggy-pantsed brethren this meant there were maybe 8 or so of us, not including the random dabblers and sit-boys. We would take turns purchasing the latest skate video on VHS and then, connecting two VCRs, record personal copies (usually in EP mode so you could fit a whole bunch onto one blank tape).
Some of the crew would make friends with some kids from New Haven or Hartford or New York and the extended network of spot access and skate gossip would steadily grow. As luck would have it, eventually the network included someone who was getting pretty ensconced in the national skate scene as a filmer, thus gaining for himself entry to insider events like video premieres and even invitations to California. From this connection we procured, sometime in the summer of 1996, a bootleg copy of Welcome to Hell.
Before we contemplate the birth of Habitat, Mr. Dibbs, and how it feels to skate New York City with one pant leg rolled up, let’s catch up with historic Fred Gall to see what he has been up to since our last episode. First, we contemplate Fred’s 7 clips from Transworld‘s 1997 video, Interface. While this video was released the same year as Alien Workshop‘s Timecode video, it is a much more contemporary look at the style Freddy would be rocking for the late 90s. Although just 10 tricks, it features a few weighty moves like the varial heelflip over the Brooklyn Banks wall and the ultra tech switch shove nosegrind to fakie shove out.
The dust had barely settled on the grey VHS tape that is Timecode before things started to shift. Lennie Kirk quickly slipped through the looking glass of militant Christianity and off the pro skating landscape and, significantly, Jason Dill and AVE joined the Sect. Most importantly to Freddy’s career, Alien hired a new video and team guy name Joe Castrucci, and the first order of business was to make a 411 Industry Section. By the time 1998 was in full swing, Freddy had more or less detached himself from the Philadelphia scene and, when not touring with the Alien team, concentrated his attack on the New York / New Jersey area. His hair was long and tied up, his pants were baggy and cargoed, and for some reason all his footage was in black and white in that segment.
Freddy and the AWS team immediately started filming for their next full length video following the 411 section. But by the time Y2K rolled around, a new team had formed around Castrucci’s vintage tourism aesthetic, a trio of East Coast professionals, a couple of future stars in Danny Garcia and Mark Appleyard, and the heir to the dirty Jersey ledge crown… young Brian Wenning. Also Rob Pluhowski. Fred Gall was the human link from the old Workshop to this new team.
But before we get into all that, once again peep Freddy’s 3 New York tricks in Zoo York’s Peep This video from 1999 (as seen in our All the Gall intro post).
Habitat was introduced with its own cohesive 12-minute segment in the middle of Alien Workshop’s monumental Photosynthesis in the year 2000 (runner-up for the unofficial greatest skate video of all time competition); And Freddy’s got a solid minute and a half in there. His part displays a skater within a transformation, perhaps not yet quite finding his lane entirely. Timecode-era teenage Fred was gone and the Mayor of Dirts had yet to arrive.
The stock Gall tricks are all kicked up a notch: The switch 180s to 5-0 grinds are on a handrail in a line. The backside 5-0 to backside 180 out is taken to Los Angeles’ famous J-Kwon gap to ledge. A full 2/3rds of his tricks are switch. We see one of the first filmed wallrides of Fred’s career and it’s a doozy – kickflip to backside at the Brooklyn Banks – good enough to get Fred his only Transworld cover. We even get a pair or rare glimpses at Fred’s badass nollie hardflip [see the triple-bonus note below]. The level of competition from the rest of the team is intense, but Fred holds his own. And unlike his parts in Timecode and 411 #30, the Photosynthesis footage felt cohesive within itself and the rest of the video. The days of just gathering whatever clips could be found from friends was over… for now.
On the clothing side of things we witness some of his more memorable/forgettable kits: Cinched up baggie pants and lots of yellow t-shirts. Fred seems to be dabbling into fresh territory and it just doesn’t suit him, in my opinion. It does make footage of this era distinct and easy to spot when later sliced into retrospectives and such; It is definitely ‘of the era’.
Fred has admitted to not stepping up and pushing his potential during the years immediately before and after Photosynthesis. Those were times when big money was to be made in the skate industry and a few short-sighted decisions for quick cash in the shoe game along with a generally laid back attitude towards his career kept him from those true superstar paychecks. Fred Gall, of course, is not big on regret. And while he might not have won the Y2K shoe sponsor sweepstakes, how many professionals can claim a single board sponsor for 30 years?
Bonus Fred: If you ever wanted to bask in the warming glow that is new millennium Fred Gall fucking up the Venice pit ledges switch stance with his cargo pants cinched up, today is your lucky day cause that is precisely what happens in Danny Minnick’s 2001 Collage video.
Bonus Bonus Fred: Digging deep into Quartersnacks using the command-F function unearthed this Jim Hodgson footage from a 1998 Vans Triple Crown contest from Asbury Park, New Jersey. The video starts with 20-year-old Freddy dropping in off the top turnbuckle and the entire run is excellent. Fat stalefish airs, steep varial heelflips to fakie, and a nollie hardflip on the flat bank. Further research shows Willy Santos won the contest (of course) and Freddy didn’t even place in the top ten.
Bonus Bonus Bonus Fred: I asked the man if he still has nollie hardflips, a trick we shan’t see again after Photosynthesis. He told me, “Thats another one that I can still do. I don’t know. I haven’t done that one in a while but I know I can do it.“
Alien Workshop knew exactly how to package and present teenage Fred Gall and his part in Timecode is a brilliant mess that set the template for his next couple decades of parts. Black Sabbath, locomotives, beanies over the eyes, heaved flatground 360 flips and large drops into embankments will all become standards. While the spots might not be as crusty as future episodes, the aesthetic of the part is grimy enough.
The clips are often dark and filmed terribly, sometimes the result of LSD on both the skater and filmer’s part. The footage was pieced together from several years of clips scattered from various sources but the product is cohesive. Fred is blurred but powerful, having graduated from the crisp bright ledges of Love Park to the dimly lit nighttime streets of cities nationwide. Freddy ollies onto parked cars, nearly gets clipped while bombing hills in SF, and utterly destroys Hubba Hideout. Only one of his three Brooklyn Banks tricks is your typical over-the-wall affair. The opening line is mostly just ollies and pushing in Philadelphia’s Underground and it fucking rules! Listen to Fred talk about the tricks he filmed that got lost (at around 12:55)… tricks that couldn’t be replicated without psychedelics. I’ll be referencing this Bobshirt interview a lot, to be sure.
When I asked Fred what the greatest trick of his career was, he responded: “The tricks I did on the Hubba Hideout were really important. So I guess maybe the switch crook was my favorite.“
As mentioned by Fred, it would be neat to see these tricks filmed clean and from multiple angles, but the way it is feels like an authentic reflection of Fred’s skating at the time: rugged, raw, and without pretension. It fits well.
Overall, Timecode presents a team in flux. The Workshop was wisely transitioning from its opening line-up of fading Florida bruisers and no-name laser-flippers to a team built around a still respected Dyrdek with Freddy, Josh Kalis, and the bright but brief flame of Lennie Kirk. This lineup would last another year before Joe Custrucci would take control and thing would enter their next phase. By 1999, Fred would star as the DNA brand continuity for that most successful Workshop spin-off, Habitat.
Bonus Fred: Fred had just a handful guest tricks in Dan Wolfe‘s 1996 masterpiece, Underachievers: Eastern Exposure 3. They were mostly slow-mo jams in the almost entirely slow-mo (and even the non-slow-mo was pretty slow) minute long part of (1 of 3 Ams) Jerry Fisher.
It is a real shame we didn’t get more of this era of Freddy being filmed by Wolfe. What we did get was the legendary Love Park ledge gap to flat rail 50-50. A trick that was great at the time and later revealed to be executed on a borrowed board not long after Fred had smoked crack from the first time. Moves like this, for better or worse, helped cement Fred’s status as a reckless party animal, a prophecy that would self-fulfill again and again throughout his career.
Bonus Bonus Fred: Although released in 1994, I group Fred’s peppering of footage in Thrasher’s Feats video with the Timecode era (plus, the last post already had so many bonuses). It is a real treat to get to see some extra San Francisco Gall.
Bonus Bonus Bonus Fred: Somebody uploaded some footage of the jump ramp at the Love Park contest in 1994. The backside flip in Feats was from this, and here is an obscene (in a good way) switch pop shove from that day. There is even more footage from this contest in 411 #9. Fred tied for 2nd place with Ricky.
Bonus Bonus Bonus Bonus Fred: We’re all pining for more Fred footage from the 95-97 years: that sweet post-Philly Timecode era before he tied his hair up. Here’s some random demo in Australia from 1996:
Bonus Bonus Bonus Bonus Bonus Fred: I found another frame from this dope-ass 1995 session of Fred skating the Underground in Philly by Ryan Gee. Hell yes. This and lots of other amazing East Coast skate history prints are available from Gee here.
Tune in next time when Freddy rolls one pant leg up and helps launch Habitat, a team that he is still professional for to this day.
For the designation of true lifetime ambassador for street skating, consider the nomination of Josh Kalis. Slice out any portion of his storied three decade career and you see a man who is 100% about it. Be it a baggie-pantsed kid 360 flipping gaps for cigarettes, or a baggie-pantsed young father bringing his infant daughter to Love Park with him, or a baggy-pantsed 42 year old man landing his first Thrasher cover; It is obvious he bleeds skating. Inspiring those who would go on to become legends as well as successful contemporary emulators, recreating classic clips over garbage cans for the nostalgia crowd, building and skating his own granite ledge in his garage during quarantine (and shaping the obstacle like one of those small street-level sidewalk steps); Kalis does not let you down.
Unassumingly, he has slowly inched his way up from pro status, past legend, and into the hallowed halls of GOATyness. He somehow got rich yet never sold out. He hasn’t really changed up his kit yet never seems to be dated. His reputation is one of both extreme loyalty yet genuflecting to no man or corporate entity.
Case in point, Josh filmed and released this excellent Mind Field part for Alien Workshop as he was more or less quitting the team. In a video that featured phoned-in parts from two professionals who literally owned their own training facilities, Josh had plenty cause to go half-hearted for Mind Field. He was already way ahead of his AWS colleagues in term of productivity with the release of Kalis In Mono in 2006 (the precursor to the current solo internet part routine we are in today, which is another notch in the Kalis belt). Why risk injury to promote your team when all signs are pointing towards a shift towards the younger recruits? As we all know, despite a solid part in the TWS Cinematographer Project video, Josh was the canary in the coal mine when he left the Workshop.
Yet Josh Kalis delivered in Mind Field on a global scale. With all the 360flip variations, complete ambidexterity, and not even a hint that any trick was completed in any other style than that which was intended. The fact that this part is perhaps regarded as routine rather than exemplary is both a testament to Mind Field as a video overall as well as Josh Kalis’ rock solid repertoire of video parts.
Way under the radar in 2018 was an entertaining quick part from Alien Workshop professional and aromatics hippie Yaje Popson. Don’t let the long hair and brightly colored pants relax you into interpreting this as a feel good cruise. Brick is a gritty East Coast urban psychedelic attack. Its a bit disorienting but thoroughly enjoyable.
The filming is close, the music is distorted and rhythmic, the editing is tight on the tricks, and interstitials zoetrope animations strobe. Clocking in at just over 2 minutes, we approach the maximum tolerable length for a video like this to be comfortable. In fact, I wasn’t even aware of Thiessen’s unmistakable nauseating fish eye movements until the last trick. Five minutes of this would has the potential to get brutal and completely negate the skating, but two and a half minutes is perfect.
Tossed into the part is a surprising trashcan wallride grind at Philly’s Board Game plaza. The banked ledge backside lipslide is pretty tasty, and I’m still impressed by people skating those little lumpy garden edgers. With the exception of the terribly documented ‘ender’, the final 6 tricks kill it, with the best moment the easy style on that penultimate switch backside lipslide to regular.
I can imagine the new Alien squad often feel like they are fighting an uphill battle for legitimacy; A challenge they seem to acknowledge. But if they can keep producing regular parts like this (and add Suciu to the team already), we’ll all forget Dyrdek ever existed.
Looking back, the first tremors of the coming seismic shift in skateboarding are all present in 2009’s Debacle video from Nike footwear. I recall sitting at a computer and streaming a full length skate video for the first time, in High Definition no less, and thinking the game done changed.
And it wasn’t just watching a skate video on a computer screen without paying a cent. Nor was it the fact that I actually enjoyed and accepted a Nike product as a legitimate skateboarding artifact. The game change was seeing Grant Taylor skate and realizing he could do fucking anything, anywhere. Be it backyard bowls or European plazas, tech to rails or blasted airs. All fluid and easy.
But Grant Taylor wouldn’t go on to be another once-in-an-era superhero like Cardiel. He, along with others like David Gravette and Aaron Hamoki , were just the vanguard of what would become a regular occurrence among the young sponsored ranks of the future. We’re not talking Tony Hawk awkwardly skates a handrail out of career preservation necessity… We’re talking total domination of all styles of skating.
All this progression greets us a decade later in the contemporary era where we have such all terrain innovators as Oski Rozenberg or street maniacs who seem as equally at ease on a roller coaster rail as twirling transition 540s or ally-ooping oververt park pockets. Your Zion Wrights, your Evan Smiths. An era where a strickly park dog like Cody Lockwood just tosses in a gnarly street rail here and there.
As we truly revel and grow jaded in the common era of everybody-can-do-everything, let us look back or even look right and left, and appreciate what Grant Taylor begat.
Chris Carter. Rob Dyrdek. DNA LLC. Joe Castrucci. Burton Snowboards. Mike Hill. AVE and Dill. Neil Blender. Pacific Vector Holdings Inc. Don Pendleton. Dinosaur Jr. Bo Turner. The saga of the Alien Workshop, both on the board and in the boardroom, is long and complicated.
In 2014 it all came to an end and the skateboard world mourned the shuttering of an institution after 24 years.
Within months Castrucci secured Habitat and developed a brief courtship with Tum Yeto. The remaining Workshop riders whom hadn’t fled to FA started their own brand called Mother (forcefully renamed Quasi within months). Meanwhile, Carter moved into a decommissioned nuclear bunker.
And then, while we were still in mourning, Alien Workshop was hastily reborn once again out of Dayton, Ohio. I may be going against the grain here, but I feel that the Workshop benefitted from this all am reboot. Some team continuity (and amazing skating) from Crockett and Jake Johnson would have been even better, of course. But, I’m pretty happy with where this all ended up.
Bunker Down debuted the new Workshop team in late 2015 and while still drawing from the classic Alien video iconography and style, the video production is surprisingly crispy.
Skip that 2+ minute intro (a very Alien thing) and go directly to the good stuff with new team tentpole Joey Guevara (Yajedidn’t join until a few months later). The spots are unexpectedly gritty and urban with more cellar doors then sunny schoolyards. Joey glides through the sidewalk cracks overgrown with weeds and I get the impression he doesn’t slam very often.
The rest of the team follows up with their own flavor twists, but the over video style is cohesive. Frankie Spears checks all the multi-kinks and ridiculously tall loading dock flat rail boxes needed in this day and age. Frankie goes big and it is easy to see him slipping into to Foy/Walker/Nyjah club of casual death defiance. Max Garson samples most of the the streets have to offer, from serious-consequences-if-you-fuck-up handrail grinds to the sweet little dish spot line. Those orange street barriers are generally not to be skated as ledges from flat. Brandon Nguyen ends the rebirth with a precise style the conceals just how gnarly some of these tricks really are. I can only imagine how difficult it is to smoothly dismount a kinked hubby frontside smith?
And a special reminder to take a second look at Paul Liliani. With a team popping with so much star potential, from a brand identity so infused into our skateboarding bloodstream, His mid-video tricks can easily be overlooked. His switch loft and clean haircut brings to mind a young Paul Sharpe. Liliani skates casual, making 180-manuals look like afterthoughts and generally not break a sweat.
Will this new Alien era ever approach the cultural impact of the Sect’s past eras? There might not be bigger shoes to fill. My enjoyment of the new team is definitely aided by the clean break and reboot brought on by total bankruptcy. Let’s face it, you aren’t going to ever adequately replace a Kalis or Gall or Kirk or Dylan. I’m hoping the new team stands a chance by having it’s own identity disconnected from the riders of the past, while still entrenched in the traditions of an Alien Workshop video. I’m pretty psyched on these dudes and have high hopes for another Alien full-length issued on a color cassette tape.
A heads-up, though… The mute your computer before watching Bunker Down. The music soundtrack is unforgivable.