Photos: Remo Knecht
When you look back through the many years of skateboard history at some point you will no doubt discover Eric Dressen‘s name in lights. Street skating and this bloke go hand in hand. He is a pioneer, who skated fast and hard and was up there with very best inspiring generations with his skills on a board. Growing up in Torrance, California, Dressen found skateboarding at a really early age due to his father who worked at Free Former Skateboards. By 8 year’s of age he was testing decks, by 10 he was winning his first contests and was picking up his first sponsors. Just take that in for 5 seconds.
At 46 years of age and a skateboard CV to kill for, Eric still loves a shred and found himself in London on a tattoo tour this month. Greg Atkins met him on a cold, miserable Friday afternoon at Parlour Skate Shop in East London to bring you some tales from the ink chair.
Welcome to Crossfire Eric, how did this tattoo tour of the UK come about?
In the last year I’ve visited Japan twice doing the tattoo tour just through Instagram and Facebook, so I thought it would be fun to bring my stuff here. It all came about thanks to Heel Bruise, Rock Solid, Shiner and my friend Jerome who suggested I come out here. It’s always been a dream of mine to tattoo and skate in Japan and England so yeah, it’s definitely a dream come true.
I guess you could call it the Grey Britain tattoo tour with the crap weather we are having this week. I hear you are sensitive to light, how do you cope in sunny California?
I love rain and clouds and I prefer the cold to the heat. Unfortunately I get sunburn pretty easily. Back in the day I’d skate in contest starting at 9 in the morning, in the middle of summer there be a heatwave and I’d just get fried. I avoid the sun. I think it’s my English/Irish roots.
Growing up in California did you gain any influence from surfing which you used in you’re skateboarding?
Oh yeah definitely. I was skating in the mid 1970s and I saw that movie Endless Summer so I decided I wanted to surf. I think I was about 8 years old. My uncle was a semi-pro surfer and one of my other cousins surfed and they suggested I learn how to skateboard first. I watched all the old surf movies and that’s how I got into skateboarding but back then it was sidewalk surfing – everyone skated barefoot and just pretended they were surfing.
Musically, what bands were your biggest influences and did you ever get involved playing in any yourself?
Well as a little kid I was exposed to so much music like rock n’roll, Led Zeppelin and Ted Nugent. When I was in 3/4 grade I listened to Ted Nugent a lot, that fast rock n’roll would get you hyped up to skate fast. I also listened to Kiss, Van Halen and Aerosmith, but then when Punk rock came out I started listening to Black Flag and The Damned. As a little kid I’d go to shows and stuff. I always wanted to play in a band and took guitar lessons for like 2 seconds and then drums for like 2 seconds, but for some reason I thought that musical talent was something you were born with. That’s like my little secret, I wish I played in a band and could get up on stage and just blow everybody away but that didn’t happen.
The 80s thrash scene hit the skateboard world pretty hard back then, you featured in Suicidal Tendencies’ ‘Possessed to Skate’ video right?
Yeah, it was the day after I got on Dogtown ’85 / ’86 or something. It was kinda a big deal because skateboarding died in like ’81 and it was just coming back. So it was kinda neat you know, Cab, Natas and Jessie Martinez were present and an empty pool, so everyone was there. I even met Timothy Leary which was kinda weird. It was fun. I actually watched it recently and I look like I was 12! I did an invert on the hip and I was like: “What?! I did that?!” I don’t even remember. I had a scar on my shin for years though from that shoot. Caballero’s board shot in the pool and gave me the biggest shinner. I got scarred and ended up tattooing over it.
‘Thrashin” and ‘Gleaming the Cube’ still get props in 2013, how weird was it being around two of the cheesiest (but legendary) skateboarding movies of all time?
It was during the resurgence of skateboarding in the mid 80s when that movie came out. That’s right about when I met Natas and Jesse Martinez and used to go down to Venice and hang out with them. I had a little bit parts in Thrashin’ (kind of). Actually, I tried out for a part acting in it but I didn’t get it. I ended up being a standard Dagger. We had to check in at like 6.30am and stay the entire day ’till night, so after the first day I was over it. We’d go skate a ramp or a pool or something. I’m at the very beginning of the LA downhill in ‘Thrashin”. I’d filmed the scene like 100 times and was just over it so I decided to butt-board instead so that’s all the skating I contributed.
With ‘Gleaming the Cube’ I was supposed to stunt double and they promised me 6 months work. I was riding for Dogtown and riding contests and making a little bit of money, but I had a full time job. They convinced me to quit that job and then after the first day they told me they didn’t need me anymore, but that’s actually one of the best things that ever happened to me. I went on a trip to Hawaii with Christian Hosoi and some of the Venice guys after that happened and at the time I was really worried financially ’cause I was right on my own, but I skated everyday instead of weekend’s only, and that’s when I won my first pro contest.
With the highly competitive edge to contests back in the 80’s did you feel much pressure at all?
I had a lot of pressure on me in the late 80s/early 90s to be a super good skateboarder but now I like just going out and hanging out. I get to travel and skate a little bit and I don’t have to be the best. I’ve had a few knee surgeries and my knees are shot so I have to take it somewhat easy these days.
What do you make of today’s scene?
I’d hate to be a pro skateboarder in this day and age. The amount of pressure is insane and people are just doing such gnarly things. You could kill yourself on some of the things they’re doing or injure yourself for the rest of your life. They’re so fucking good right now!
I heard your first re-issue on Santa Cruz sold out in 2 days. That says a lot about your roots and influence in skateboarding. How does that make you feel?
Yeah, I think right when they released it they sold right out. I rode for Santa Cruz from 89′-93′ then I popped round other companies like 151, Dogtown again, some little garage projects. They were doing re-issues and said I wanted to be back on the team. I never thought I’d be back on Santa Cruz again.
I bet you never thought you would have a trick named after you either when you first started either?
Yeah, Salad Dressen, I guess Kevin Thatcher from Thrasher magazine named it from that. I called it the windshield wiper, ’cause it’s kinda more like that. I did it kind of as a joke – it’s a long story. On mini ramp we’d always do it backside to slow down and set up for the next trick. I was skating with Lucero and Grosso on this little mini ramp one day and decided to do it frontside. I did it with my truck just a little on the coping and didn’t think much of it. I thought it was kinda kooky. I was in SF with Bryce Kanights and Tommy Guerrero after this and they had a mini ramp there that we sessioned. I was fucking around and could extend it further and that was the day they started calling it the Salad Grind. I never dreamed of doing it down a handrail or on pool coping and people just took it further.
You’ve been involved with skateboarding for about 30 years now, did you ever feel your mainstream involvement was over at a specific time?
Yeah I think ’93-’94 it was out with the old and in with the new so it kinda pushed everyone away but I kept skating. All I’ve ever done is skateboard as a kid so it’s all I’ve ever known. I never thought I’d imagine myself doing another job. I never had a plan B so that’s kinda how I got involved in tattooing.
What day to day things do you get up to when you’re not skating or tattooing?
Not much, I tattoo almost everyday. Just funny stuff like drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes. I walk my dog. I watch a lot of travel channels and go on the internet a lot. I go on YouTube, I like YouTube a lot, watching documentaries and interviews with people. I spend a lot of time on YouTube, it’s kinda funny.
Being Friday 13th and 13th question what was the meaning behind the skull and 13 image on the insole of your vans syndicate shoe?
I grew up looking at Chicano and Cholo graffiti (many Dogtown graphics come from their art) and they always use ’13’. I used to see SM13 (Santa Monica) or V13 (Venice). I guess bikers used it too like the 13th letter of the alphabet being M. You know, like M for marijuana. But 13 to me has always been a neighbourhood thing so I tend to use the 13 in many things for some reason. I kinda adopted it. I have a number 13 tattooed right there on my leg but you can get in trouble for that now. It has a gnarlier meaning with the Mexican mafia.
Look out for Eric Dressen on your travels and enjoy hucking out a Salad Grind in his honour this week. Thanks to Heel Bruise for hooking this up.
Watch Eric and the Santa Cruz team shredding Hawaii.