Mythology has become an accessible commodity. Fifteen years ago, the people who shaped a generation’s manner of approaching the world on a skateboard were confined to hard media with dwindling circulation. Half of my age group grew up hearing the holy words “Tom Penny” for years, without seeing anything until Menik Mati came out. Today, mythology is a click away; you can tend to your old soul without going far. The full spectrum of inspiration is available.
Ray Barbee, for this same reason, has become even more of an inspiration to us in the present day — even as we drift further from the days when he was releasing video parts. Ray’s graceful simplicity on a skateboard is an image that summarizes why anyone skateboards in the first place, no matter the age. We usually save thank yous for the end of interviews, but preemptive thanks to Ray for taking the time out to talk to us, and for pretty much everything :)
Where are you from and how old are you?
I was born in San Francisco, and when I was five, we moved to San Jose. That’s where I got into skateboarding. Right after my sophomore year of high school, we moved to Orange County. I’m 45.
How old were you when you first started skating?
I was 12. It was right before 7th grade.
I think I also started around 12. Do you think that where you grew up had an impact on the way that you skated?
Oh, completely. Your biggest sphere of influence is your immediate community. When I got into skateboarding, I didn’t know about magazines or videos. My friend got a skateboard for his birthday, and then when we went to school, we met up with other skaters. They took us to backyard ramps and things, and that was my introduction into the culture. Later, I started finding out about videos and magazines.
Did you face challenges in the skate world because you were black?
Yeah, I did. But never from skaters, or not from whites, if you will. I got it way more from other brothers and sisters…other blacks who thought I was trying to be white. They would always make fun of me for riding a skateboard because they thought it was a white thing. In the 80s, it was so close to punk rock and surfing, so I can see why they thought that, but at the same time, it motivated me. I always felt like, “I love what I’m doing, hopefully you guys are digging what you’re doing.”
Did you get that same response from family members?
No, not at all, thankfully. I’m sure they were probably scratching their heads — I know my parents were like, “what is this skateboard thing?” But for them it was more like, a financial thing. Skateboarding’s not cheap, man! But no, my family was encouraging.