Vert brigade, jacked germs, and Florida folklore.
Vert brigade, jacked germs, and Florida folklore.
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all roads lead to florida

A funny thing, history. To those who experienced the past, going back to a specific point in time can be a heady rush of memories not too dissimilar from mainlining heroin and sinking into a warm, fuzzy fog of nostalgia. To those who did not, these crusty reflections of yore can oftentimes be nothing short of an insufferable bore, because it is incumbent upon the young to punch that in the face which is fucking old. Unless, that is, you happen to be like Nick and I. Apparently the two of us were both born out of sync with own generations and share the peculiar compulsion to get down and dirty with the historical roots of our obsessions. Look, we just want to know how the past influenced the present, okay? Anyway, all of this brings us to… Florida. Well, I'm not sure any of that really did, but here we are now nonetheless.

It all started with Mike Frazier. Not biblically speaking, of course, although that does sound like a funny tangent to take on this fine Easter morning. Alas, I'd best stick to the story at hand, because time is fleeting and my feet are very soon to be physically hoofing it to Florida for the annual Tampa Pro shebang April 4–7 at the Skatepark of Tampa—a place that will be figuring rather prominently in what eventually became a much broader story than we'd first anticipated back in mid-2023.

Anyway, back to Mike. And me too, I suppose. Our histories first intertwined when Mike joined the Bones Brigade roster at Powell-Peralta, circa 1990/91. He was an up-and-coming mover and literal shaker in the vert scene then—as his opening segment in Powell's Bones Brigade Video 8 attests—so it wasn't all that surprising when the assignment for his debut pro graphic crossed my desk. Unfortunately, all I really knew about his background was the geographical fact he came from Florida and previously skated for Zorlac. And while one of those things would indeed prove top graphic worthy, the bottom graphic was an entirely different and problematic matter.

What a difference 32-ish years makes. If there was ever a reason I wanted a time machine it would be to go back and address some formative issues when my skills apparently didn't know any better. Yeah, roots, whatever...

Let me explain. Or at least elaborate now because I definitely didn't so then. And perhaps I should have, because it may have alleviated some rather awkward conclusions certain people have jumped to over the years? So, here's the real origin deal: I didn't have an easy time coming up with a graphic for Mike. Every concept I threw at the wall wasn't landing with George [Powell], who ruled the company with an iron fist but especially so when it came to green lighting anything out of the art department [1]. Seeing my struggle, George suggested I head over to the Santa Barbara Public Library and rummage around the art history section for inspiration. It was there, somewhere between dusty old tomes dedicated to Expressionism—an art movement described by Wikipedia as "presenting the world solely from a subjective perspective, distorting it radically for emotional effect in order to evoke moods or ideas"—that I married my predominant mood of the moment, frustration, with a woodcutty chip off the Russian Revolution art block. So, odd as it may sound, the graphic is ultimately based on and born out of my exasperation in trying to find a direction that would find favor with George. Seriously, all you would really need to do is swap out "FRAZIER" with "FUUUUCK" and it would be my very own emotional proletarian poster child for that frustrated moment in time.

Fortunately, Mike's style of skating—basically shaking a vert ramp down to its core foundations through raw speed, power, and fury (again, refer to his opening sequence in Bones Brigade Video 8)—fit the graphic vibe as well. Or, in other words that I could never have come up with all by myself, I presented Mike’s skating solely from a subjective perspective, distorting it radically for emotional effect in order to evoke a mood or idea. Ahem. All that said, if I was ever asked to rattle off my Top 5 personal graphics drawn at Powell the Frazier would definitely be one of them.

Incidentally, I'd like to state here and now for the record that Nick and I had been bouncing around the idea of a Frazier guest model for quite some time—and by "some time" I mean like maybe a whole year before any plans had been made to reissue his model over at Powell-Peralta. In fact, one of the main reasons we'd even begun talking about it was because Nick had been flowing StrangeLove product to Reese, Mike's son, who formally joined the team this year. Like I said, we love a good story, especially one such as this that spans multiple generational layers. It just took a little (read: lot) longer to come together than we'd anticipated. Honestly, though, it was only for the better that it did, because…

Left to right: Paul Zitzer, Mike Frazier, and Brian Howard (photo by Josh Stewart).

All right, here's where I promised the Skatepark of Tampa would come back into play. Mind you, the timeline for this tale is still dribbling out in the fall of 2023, so as we were projecting out into the future then it made sense to plan a release for Mike's guest model to coincide with the upcoming Tampa Pro event in 2024 and the return of a vert ramp to the park. That's also right about when Nick, who'd once been employed by SPoT in the '90s, remembered a photo taken by Josh Stewart that featured Paul Zitzer, Mike Frazier, and Brian Howard standing in the park with the original vert ramp in the background. And [insert finger snap] just like that we now had three guest models in a rapidly expanding Florida-based story. Okay, so it wasn't exactly "just like that," numerous phone calls and texts had to be made, ducks put in a row, blah blah blah, but there's no point in getting bogged down in all that minutia. I will, however, hand the keyboard off to Nick for a minute, so he can share his more personal side of the story:

By the summer of 1995, I was working full-time at the Skatepark of Tampa. The X-Games were only just about to begin and we were still a few years away from Tony Hawk's Pro Skater, but the park had already become a legit business. However, it was also a warehouse surrounded by hookers who worked just off the small stretch of highway nearby and not exactly the most ideal place for mom and dad to drop off the kids. But the real beauty of the park was everyone that hung around there; the diehards, the characters, and the creativity attracted to the place was incredible. Tampa was known for its vert ramp and it attracted skaters from all over the world—Canadians, Australians, and riders from all over the East Coast—but Mike Frazier, Brian Howard, and Paul Zitzer were the locals. Sometimes they would be the only the ones skating at 9pm on a Friday, which had been designated as "vert night." 

Josh Stewart, Allen Russell, and myself shared the responsibility of the “day-to-day” at the park during that time. Josh put out a local video called Prospects and had begun to really get serious about his next project. He was filming constantly… local skaters, bowl trolls, vert skaters, random pros from out of town. He was a madman. Always experimenting with film (along with our pal Leonard Trubia), chasing birds, and collecting random images with his 8mm camera. I really appreciated his perspective on skating then. He documented everything [2]. Never worried about what was popular. Focusing on what was real and raw.

When it came to vert, Frazier led the charge bringing modern skating to the ramp. I had known Mike since my early teens. I got to know Brian and Paul from the thousand-plus hours spent at the park. The photo Josh took of the three of them behind the gate with the vert ramp in the background has always summed up that year for me… probably that whole era at the park, to be honest.

Brian [Schaefer] built the foundation for the park and a cast of thousands kept the blood pumping. If you were to strip down what SPoT gave to skateboarding, at its core is keeping the fire lit. Keeping something alive that people thought was dead. —Nick 

There you have it. A veritable who, what, when, where, why, and how tale of epic proportions for the vertical history books. This has been an exceptionally fun project to assemble and a real hoot to finally release after rolling with a few scheduling delays through the beginning of 2024. Also, who said Rocco killed vert? Okay, maybe that whole rock star '80s mentality, but such evolutionary corrections are inevitable. Rest assured, the pursuit is still very much alive and well and kicking up the masonite dust. And not only at SPoT, but numerous other halfpipes found all over the dingle-dangle of Florida, too. Just give Mike Frazier a follow on Instagram for a daily dose of what's going off in the air down there. —Cliver

**********************

1. Unfortunately, I don't have any of the discarded Frazier sketches, but I do distinctly remember one with a bowling alley motif. And, believe it or not, there was even a half-ass doodle comprised of some green olives that pre-dated Duane Pitre's rookie model graphics on Alien Workshop? Sounds weird, I know. Feel free to go ahead and loudly call "BULLSHIT!" but I swear it was there… tacked up on the "big board" in my office for George to shoot down with the quickness.

2. Go watch Josh Stewart’s Cigar City and Rising: The World Market Video for a thorough look back at the Tampa scene during the 90s. 


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  • PJ Cote' on

    Ahh yes, Schaefer’s park as we called it before it had an official name. Us Brandon street rats would pile into Jesse McLemore’s Cavalier wagon and head down ti ride the hastily assembled street obstacles formed from stolen construction site lumber from the greater east Tampa and Brandon area, where me and my twin bro Chris hailed from. The vert ramp loomed in the background of our pressure flips and inward heels, and I was one of the only dudes in our crew who could drop on and scrape a few axles and pop a few Ollies to Fakie well below the coping. My all time skate highlight was a very non-decked rock n roll on that vert ramp which is still my fondest skate memory of all. I poached an entire Frazier part until he asked me one day “Can you not film?” Which was devastating to a young homeschooled grom like me who was more clueless than most about the politics of 🛹 riding, or even functional human interaction in general, but I digress. The Butt Twins aka Left cheek and Right cheek (as we were affectionately or not so affectionately called) would be out there on the Street course filming lines on my hi8 Sony vx3 until they shut the lights off on us and dad showed up in the Volare to pick us up, as we were still too young and naive to take part in the drinkin’, tokin’ and carousing from the dudes who lived at the park, and I was rarely shown the bowels of the park in the “residential” areas where the older dudes lived and lured our local girls into, so we mostly observed the madness from afar while focused on that Frontside heelflip without the adult distractions that abounded. I was lured into a boxing match or two on the flat bottom of the original vert ramp location and got socked up, eventually Techno was changed to Hechno, and as I grew I witnessed the park grow with me and flourish into its own stardom, where eventually I moved to San Jose in ‘99 to film and skate out west, chasing a dream of skate filmmaking that Josh has already eclipsed me with by then thanks to his relentless traveling all over the east amd west coast. At the park’s start we were the only 2 filmers in Tampa. It was hard for a 14 y.o. sheltered and home educated mind such as mine to wrap his head around why a grown man named Weiss would take a dare to spray paint his ballsack with black paint, then run screaming in agony across the street area (he would later tell me he pissed black for a week.)
    I’ll never forget the look on Mike Daher and Brian Howard’s face when they emerged redeyed from Tully’s microbus stinking of the sweet leaf only to see me clutching a manly broken arm after I missed a front tail on the new handrail. I’ll end this poorly structured comment by saying thanks to Brian and the crew for holding it down for a whole helluva lot longer than they probably thought they would be able to, and cementing a legacy no other town in skateboarding can attest to. Stoked to have been there since day one. Hey Paul, make sure you shout out the Twins again this weekend!


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