Santa Barbara’s Bones Brigade Featured in New Photography Book

J. Grant Brittain Captures ’80s Team in Skateboarding’s Golden Era

Jef Hartsell, Gonzalez Pool, Mar Vista, CA, 1986. | Credit: J. Grant Brittain

As skateboarders growing up in the 1980s, each month we coveted the newest issues of Thrasher and Transworld magazines.

Todd Swank. Del Mar, CA. 1987. | Credit: J. Grant Brittain

Thrasher was gritty and encapsulating — with articles about backyard ramp sessions, adolescent punk bands, and hotplate recipes by Chef Boy-Am-I-Hungry — but its mostly black-and-white imagery was confined to cheap newspaper stock.

The shots in Transworld, on the other hand, launched from glossy pages with the action of a full-color pop-up book. If Thrasher was our alleged bible, then Transworld became our proverbial stroll through the vibrant Louvre of skateboarding.

Most prominently among this museum’s permanent collection is the work of founding photo editor J. Grant Brittain, captured now in the long-awaited PUSH: 80s Skateboarding Photography, released by Berkeley-based Ginko Press in December. The hardcover 224-page coffee-table book covers what Brittain, 66, describes as skateboarding’s golden era with a balance of imagery, from intimate black-and-white portraits to critical-action color spreads. 

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For the most nostalgic among us, a patient flip through PUSH takes us back. There’s a mohawked Owen Nieder at the deserted Del Mar Skate Ranch in 1983. And that’s master stylist Chris Miller — arguably the Tom Curren of skateboarding — soaring from Mt. Baldy’s tubular spillway. Closer to home, Santa Barbara’s Powell-Peralta Bones Brigade team riders — including a fledgling Tony Hawk — dominate dozens of PUSH pages as impressively as they once ruled contests during that seminal decade. 

DOUBLES: Thrasher magazine photographer Mofo (bottom) shooting as Bone Brigade elite Mike McGill airs over teammate Steve Steadham. The Pipeline skatepark, Upland. 1984 | Credit: J. Grant Brittain

Brittain started shooting in the late 1970s while managing the Skate Ranch pro shop, learning angles and timing from Skateboarder magazine (before it died in 1980) and attending Palomar Junior College. “It was fun,” he remembers, “just kinda shooting willy-nilly and not knowing what F-stops and shutter speeds were until I changed my art major to photography.”

He took every photo class the college offered, studying the work of American greats, including Walker Evans, Irving Penn, and Ralph Gibson, to name a few of his favorites.

In 1983, right around the time the cash-strapped Brittain had been sleeping on the Skate Ranch pool table for several months, he joined the newly minted Transworld, printing photos for the first few issues in the Palomar darkroom.  

Brittain’s eye led the now-defunct magazine for 20 years before leaving to launch The Skateboard Mag in 2004, which had a 10-year run.   

“I’m stoked that I was there to capture this golden era,” he says. “I just wanted to shoot pictures of my friends because it was fun. I didn’t look at it as if I was documenting something important. It was just skateboarding. We didn’t know it would be in the Olympics someday.”

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