Ollies in Alhambra: A conversation with skateboarder Lance Mountain
For a few local skaters in the 1970s and 80s, Alhambra’s Grand View Drive was a skateboarding haven, a place where neighborhood kids congregated to build makeshift skateboarding ramps in their own backyards.
Robert Lance Mountain was lucky enough to live on Grand View for nearly 37 of his 48 years. The professional skateboarder, who has gone on to kick and heel flip alongside Tony Hawk and Steve Caballero, fondly remembers growing up in Alhambra when he and his friends would ride empty swimming pools, hang out at abandoned lots, and experiment with skateboarding tricks.
Mountain sat down with Alhambra Source to discuss his rise to skateboarding fame, the importance of skateparks, and how a deck with four wheels changed his life.
What sparked your interest in skateboarding?
I had a friend who was 4-5 years older than me; he lived four houses down on Grand View Drive. We kind of mimicked what he did all the time. He played football, baseball, foosball. He was good at everything. He got a skateboard when the Euro Wheel came out.
At the age of 10, I started skateboarding. So a majority of anything I ever did has kind of been revolved around or based around skateboarding. As a kid in school, when it came to a poetry notebook, I’d write about skateboarding. When it came to preparing a demonstration speech, I would bring a ramp and show the kids how to skateboard. And I started dreaming that this might turn into something.
What was it like growing up skating in Alhambra?
There were really no skate parks at that time. Kids would try to find places to ride and we’d venture off and skate different places. We would often skate to North Alhambra, all the way from Alhambra Road to Las Tunas. And around 1973-4, there was kind of a skateboarding boom.
Skating was very based on surfing and emulating surfing. Right behind Arby’s there was a famous bank up against a wall in the 70s. There would be 60 kids that were riding it.
We had a skateboard ramp in Alhambra from 1977 to 1991. We all built the ramp. I was like 4 or 5 years younger, so I put in one nail or something, but I helped. But we built this ramp because there weren’t any skate parks nearby and we all used empty swimming pools. I started noticing, “I’m decent and I'm getting better than some of the guys.”
How did you go from skating in empty pools to getting sponsored?
All of the younger kids got sponsored by skate parks. I won lots of those contests and it just started happening.
The ramp down the street had moved into my yard [on Grand View Drive] in 1979. By 1980, skate parks were starting to close down and my ramp was in the magazines. People from all over the world started showing up, coming to my ramp to skate. People from Sweden, Australia, Germany — they’d just show up and be like, “Can we ride your ramp?”
How did neighbors and Alhambra city government react to your skate ramp?
Skateboarding was just annoying to people because they hadn't seen it or didn't understand it. They just thought it was a bunch of rowdy kids. The funny thing about skateboarding is because it's such an interesting, adventurous thing, it's not like a basketball court. It's such an artistic thing.
My ramp in Alhambra was one of the biggest features through the magazines and worlds to tell other people you could go do this thing. And people started building ramps all over the world.
When did you start thinking about skating professionally?
My dad took me to England in 1979 and when I got there, all the British kids were like, “Who are you? You’re sponsored, you have this new equipment. A lot of professionals have been here, you’re just as good or better than them.” And that got me thinking, “Well, maybe I can be a professional.”
When I came home, all my friends were basically getting cars, jobs, or girlfriends and having to quit [skateboarding] because it was a kid’s toy. At that point, I already knew I was never going to stop doing this, even if I had to get a job and get a car and grow up.
You became involved with with the Bones Brigade, a professional skateboarding team that featured top skaters like Tony Hawk, in 1983. What was that like?
I got on Powell-Peralta’s Bones Brigade in a complete collapse of skateboarding. No one was making any money. There were probably 200 professional skateboarders and one summer, they were gone. They went and got jobs.
[The Bones Brigade] were 15 kids who were the professionals. Those 15 kids became really close friends. Tony Hawk, Steve Cabarello. We started making videos and the videos are what really created a new industry.
How did the Bones Brigade change your life?
I was just barely 20. I got married, had a son, and I was making $200 a month from skateboarding. I went and worked other jobs, because I was not going to let it go. I was still at my parents' house in Alhambra.
Right when I had my son, and our videos came out, I started making decent money and bought the house next door. I stayed on the same street because the ramp was there. It was kind of like my livelihood. I stayed there until I was 37.
I'm so formed by skateboarding. I've done tons of other things, but I do see the world through those kind of eyes. It's provided a family, it's provided income, it's given me a home. Things we dreamed about: can we take this toy and make it a living? That came true, which is insane.
You’ve said that if a group of people were interested in building a skatepark in the San Gabriel Valley, you would help. Why do you think skateparks are so important?
It's a little bit of a touchy subject, but I'll get into it. Skateparks in the 70s were owned privately because people were investing into this thing they thought was new. But they got built so quickly that a lot of it was obsolete and didn't work right. And so less kids would show up there and skate. They closed completely in 1982-83, and everything went into backyard ramps and street skating. As more kids got into skateboarding, there was nowhere for them to do it.
Skate parks are important because there are so many kids that have nowhere to go. I think skateboarding is a healthy thing. If you provide the right avenue, it gives a kid an outlet.
Interview was edited and condensed.