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Jim Alesi: Skateboard Photographer You Must Know!

Here at ZzyxX we're so stoked to have Skateboard Legend, Jim Alesi working here with us. His background and contributions to skateboarding and snowboarding are undeniable as a pioneer.  In 1978, Jim Alesi was one of the first to take pictures and document his journey not only as a ripping skater but a great photographer. With the help of his close friends such as Bill Billings, Sonny Miller, Jim Goodrich and of course his brother Mike Alesi, they all contributed and pushed skateboarding forward. Later he was one of the first to snowboard in Southern California before there was a snowboard industry. This week we're going to focus on his photographs and his skate boarding contributions...enjoy Volume 1 of 2 with Mr. Jim Alesi....

What kind of skateboards did you first ride? 
We made our own boards. We’d just cut them out of plywood and we’d ride them and they’d snap because they couldn't handle the drop in. Then we stepped it up with trucks. Bennett trucks were the classic trucks then to Tracker Trucks. 
 

 Photo Credit: Jim Alesi/ Skater: Mike Alesi/ Circa 1977

Where did you grow up?

Lemon Grove, California. I learned how to skate on my driveway. The drive way had a nice arch and we thought it looked like a wave, so my brother and I started skating it. I think we were 16?... Soon after that, Palm Junior High School in Lemon Grove was where everyone went to skate, because when there were no waves, you’d go there and carve it up. Its funny, all you did was talk about the waves. If it wasn't for Palm Junior High, I’d never even start skating. 

Photo Credit: Jim Goodrich/ Skater Mike Alesi 
What kind of shoes were skated in back then?
I’d say mostly Vans. Adidas low top also Chuck Taylors of course. But the vans I'm wearing on the picture at Del Mar (below) was my favorite ones. Also barefoot. It was just how we did back in those days; no shoes. We’d have a skateboard and we’d eat fruit off of trees and we’d be patrolling for skate spots. It was all about finding a pool to skate. Surprisingly, we had a network of people; we’d all be in contact and we’d go and we shared the spots. Those pools were not meant to be skated back in those days, but we skated them anyways.

 

Del Mar California Photo Credit: Mike Alesi / Skater: Jim Alesi

Photo Credit: Jim Alesi  / Tony Alva in Spring Valley California.

When did you start shooting pictures?

I picked up a camera to start shooting when I was 17 with a Pentax 35mm camera. I took pictures of my brother Mike and then we’d take pictures of me. I was also taking pictures at Palm Junior High in Lemon Grove of everyone skating. They’re all in black and white and I still have them, actually.


Photo Credit: Jim Alesi / Skater: Mitchel Long

What motivated you to pick up a camera and express yourself with it and document it? 

I’ve always loved documenting things. I was taking pics like I said of my brother and then I took a photography class in high school. We’d go out and take pictures and we’d have a good time in the dark room developing those prints. It was really cool to play in the dark room in high school and make art and see all of us skating during the day. Everything was just for fun and for the love of it. There wasn’t any money involved. It was pure; beyond pure. We didn't know any better and all we did was play outside and skateboarding was just our activity. 


What was your experience working at the influential "Skateboard Heaven” in Spring Valley 1977/78?
Yea, in Spring Valley, San Diego, California. I helped open that shop. I was like 21- 22 years old and I worked there and I helped design a “Soul Bowl” at Skateboard Heaven. Back in the day, there was a bowl that was at San Diego State University and it was a perfect bowl that everybody skated. It was off campus in a parking lot and we’d skate that spot and it was called the “Soul Bowl”. It was abandoned in this apartment structure and we’d all go and skate it till it shut down. 

Soul Bowl 2 In San Diego/ Photo Credit: Jim Alesi 

The owner of Skateboard Heaven, Craig Colburn, had an idea to recreate it, but even better and I helped shape it to make it better than it was. I took it upon myself to make it better. The transitions weren’t quite as smooth as it could be, so before they poured the concrete, I smoothed it out with my hands. Because of that bowl we made, we held a lot of contests there. We held a Hester Pro Bowl Series there and had a lot of Dogtown guys coming up from L.A. and we had a rivalry between the SD guys and the Dogtown guys. Also, there was a rivalry between the G&S guys and the Dogtown guys; it was intense. There was fighting, but it was fun. Your skating ultimately did the talking…Later while I was working at Skateboard Heaven, I designed the Tijuana Skatepark. I get a lot of complements and I built it with a clay mold and it got built. We did a spread in Skateboarder Magazine that was like 3 or 4 pages. 
Photo Credit: Bill Billing / Skater Jim Alesi / Camp Pendelton California.
What’s something historical you shot at Skateboard Heaven? 
One that comes to mind is Dave Andrecht. He invented the the “Andrecht Handplant” and I shot the first one he attempted and did on Super 8 Film. 
Photo Credit: Jim Alesi / Skater: Bill Billing
Who where some of your influences while at Spring Valley?
Steve Cathy, Dennis Martinez, Tom Inouye, Lane Oaks, Dave Andrecht, Doug "Pineapple” Saladino, and of course, my brother, Mike Alesi. These guys just skated so hard and skated everyday and just blast Led Zeppelin and skate after hours till like 1 or 2 in the AM. We’d always be pushing each other.
 Photo Credit: Jim Alesi/ Skater: Chris Strople in Del Mar California
Who are some memorable people or images you’ve shot?
Tony Alva in Spring Valley when he was about 18 or 19. Tom "Wally" Inouye from LA; he was a fringe Dogtown-er. Steve Cathy; he was the resident pro from Spring Valley. Also, Jim Goodrich was a photographer in Spring Valley who used to take pics of me skating and it wasn't until I started working at Del Mar that I took my next step. During that time I actually hired a young Mr. Grant Brittain and Bill Billing. Grant used to use my camera to take some of his first shots. Bill was (and still is) one of my closest friends. He’d take us surfing and we’d go and find a ditch somewhere and skate together. I have the most amount of pictures of Bill than anyone really, cause we’d always be doing things together. Tony Hawk was a little kid with a squeaky voice and he’d skate all day, but he was like everyone else really. It was a bit wild I guess, but it was a great time with live bands doing Elvis covers while people skated.

Jim Alesi sitting on ASL Ramp / Photo Credit: Bill Billing.

After awhile of working at Del Mar..We got burnt out of the whole scene and so we built our own ramp called the "ASL Ramp”. Grant has a cover shot with Tony Hawk. And we’d just go there and we’d skate instead of skating Del Mar. 
Photo Credit: Jim Alesi / Skater Brad Bowman/ Del Mar Skate Ranch.
What was the craziest thing you saw while working at Del Mar? 
Seeing Brad Bowman doing incredible ollie’s was one of many. Also of course Stacy Powell and the Powell boys. I was working there for like 3 years and things were great, but then later that’s when the skate industry died. It died so fast, almost overnight. It was the craziest things and skaters just did different things. Some guys robbed houses, some guys went to jail, some guys did other things, it was really dark times. In Spring Valley, there used to be a great atmosphere on opening night and on opening week. I recall Tom Inouye from LA Dogtown, he rode these longboards and he’d do carves and they’d say “why is this man in a swimming pool? and why is he on a skateboard?" The public just changed their minds. 
Photo Credit: Jim Alesi / Skater Kyle Jenesen. 
 
What happened to you after they closed Del Mar? 
The year was 1977. So one day I was hanging out with Steve Cathy in Spring Valley and he said to me, “Boy, do I have something to show you, it's a skateboard on the snow...” Then i was like, ”Ohhh!!,” and a light switch went on....we went full on snowboarding in the pioneer days. 
Volume 2 next week....SNOWBOARDING!!


Dogtown Jim Alesi Mike Alesi Skateboard Heaven Soul Bowl


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