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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.

Mountain on a backyard ramp in Alhambra as a child.

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.”

Mountain in 2011. | Photo by jaredeberhardt on Flickr

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.

Mountain in England in 1979.

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.

Mountain skating in a Montebello skatepark in the late 1970s.

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. 

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7 thoughts on “Ollies in Alhambra: A conversation with skateboarder Lance Mountain”

  1. Robert Lance Mountain is certainly a very skilled skateboarder. The tricks he performed in the small pool can only be done by professional.

  2. You make a valid argument but with regards to the specific situation in Alhambra, are flawed.

    There is no “loose skater” issue in Alhambra. If it were a problem, a skate park would make sense. However, why would they want to attract skaters from outside the region to come to Alhambra?

    Like I said – you have to separate your own self-serving wants and look at the big-picture. I like basketball. But I understand that basketball, especially at a street level, attracts a lot of street people. There’s a reason Almansor has 6 tiny courts…to ensure they are used by CHILDREN only.

    Would YOU like a skate park? Sure. I’m sure you would use it properly. But long-term, it just would to be too large of a risk for a city.

    The right types of people need: dog parks, farmers markets, boutique and major-chain retail, educational institutions, etc. Which is exactly what the city is doing.

    I used to skate (WAY back in the day) and I’m familiar with the types of kids that are skaters. Not bad people like you said. They are often the kids from bad neighborhoods who didn’t choose the gang route that so many around them fell into. They should be commended for that but should governments cater tax money towards them? Heck no! I mean, they’re not that productive. That’s not what a smart government does.

    1. It is quite fascinating of what you think skateboarding is. Not all skateboarders are bad people from gangs. There are also kids out there who just want to have fun. If you build a skatepark I think it would help build a community. There are many residents in Alhambra who skateboard and have no where to skate. Do you realize by not building one there is a much higher risk of skaters going around the city and just skateboarding. That means much more skaters going to private property’s grinding on the hand rails and probably skating where they are forbidden too. That just leads to even more problems for the city to handle. Seeing the comment you wrote about having no skatepark just looks like you are being stereotypical towards the sport itself acting as if it is a hooligan sport which it isn’t there are many skateboarders out there that are great people isn’t and was never in a gang or doing bad activity.If you don’t want the government to ‘cater’ tax money towards skaters then make a fee to enter the skatepark which provides money for the city.

  3. M. Payne – Your comments make me sad that you are so isolated from the reality of what our city, region and people are like. Claiming that building a skateboarding park will attract “gangs and ex-gang type people” is an odd argument.
    In my years growing up in areas with gangs and people in gangs, the skateboarders usually had nothing to do with a gang. That’s the idea. Provide an alternative activity for those youth in our community (including those of our neighbors) to spend time in a wholesome environment.

    What do you think the city should build to attract “the right type” of people?

  4. I really hope no city builds a skatepark. There are pros and cons, but the cons probably outweigh the pros.

    I love basketball but I can understand why cities don’t build more basketball courts. It attracts the wrong type of people!

    Alhambra/Monterey Park are WAY TOO CLOSE to East LA and all the gangs and ex-gang type people. Definitely not the crowd those cities want to attract.

  5. Nice story and Video and it reminds me of kevin kelley of Alhambra too who they named a skate baord after, The kelly Baord but he passed away while still in high school at alhambra high (drug related) so sad

    Lance is right, kids need some good activity to keep them out of trouble and skete baording looks fun even though there are some risks, nothing completely fun without some risks


  6. Who is going to be the first city in the SGV to build a public skatepark?