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Frankie Hill – Just as Important as Gonz and Natas?

Frankie Hill is a really interesting character in skateboard history. You don’t hear his name that much in lists of the most influential skaters. And that might be more of a reputation issue. We’ll talk about that later. But some people say he’s just as influential as Gonz and Natas. He took a lot of the stuff that they came up with, and doubled the size. Or more. And he inspired the skater who inspired the skater who inspired your favorite pro today.

He started skateboarding after seeing a guy do an ollie on some street transition, and he realized that he got more air than Frankie could on his bike. In his pursuit of more airtime, he eventually discovered street skating.

After a few years, he started doing a couple of contests, and he got sponsored by Dogtown. He really wanted to be on Powell though. And he had to beg for about 6 months, but he eventually got on.

When he got on Powell, he started making appearances in their videos. Videos back then were kind of a joke – especially Powell’s. There were sound effects and other weird stuff. Look at this boardslide. Frankie said he never landed it, but they did some cuts and stuff to make it more cinematic. It’s almost like this was a movie featuring skateboarding, and not really a skate video, as we would think about it today. If you haven’t seen any of Powell Peralta’s videos from back then, go check one out. The skaters wear the same clothes throughout a part to make it look like it’s all one session. And sometimes it really was.

Hard to imagine videos being like this today, given how things went later. But Frankie went so hard in his video parts that he actually went pro without contest rankings at all. He says, “I was getting a lot of fan mail because of my parts in Ban This and Public Domain, and I’d write back and ask them to send their next letter to George [Powell] and ask him to turn me pro.”

Whether those letters really helped or not, I don’t know, but he did eventually go pro after Ban This came out, and he became one of the first real video part skaters.

“George (Powell) said it was the first board that came about not from contests, just from kids asking.”

This doesn’t mean much today, because contests aren’t emphasized as much. But back then, you had to be a ranked competitor to get anywhere in skateboarding. Nobody had a pro model if they weren’t placing in competitions. There are stories about this in my videos about Kareem Campbell and Jeremy Klein. To go pro, you had to compete. And Frankie almost never did. He said he got too nervous to do well in competitions. The fact that he went pro from video only says a lot about those video parts.

If they were really that good, let’s take a look at them. But first, you need to keep in mind where street skating was in the late 80s. You’d see a couple stairs here and there, and a lot of no complies. Kickflips were still tough for people to do on flat for a while.

Look at these gaps. There’s some huge stuff in here, especially these rails. He ollies a double set, which he said he had never seen anyone try before. And he even kickflips a couple gaps. That’s seriously no joke. Don’t forget how giant these boards were at the time. Frankie’s Bulldog deck was 10 inches by 31.5 inches. He was riding 65mm wheels with risers. This board is probably very similar. You’ll see a lot of grabs too. He says that was because he couldn’t keep his feet on the board. But it ended up being a really iconic part of his style.

Here’s the ender. A 35 set boardslide. Yeah, he didn’t land it, but he says he got close. There was a video on ETN of Nyjah Huston, and it hyped him up by saying that he’s one of the only guys who skates rails anywhere near that big these days. I didn’t record this when I had my trial subscription, but it showed a filmer talking about how nobody even keeps track of stuff that big for their spot book. And that’s almost 30 years later. The fact that he even tried that was unthinkable.

Funny enough, there was a 30 set on the other side, and he meant to skate that. He tried it earlier, and this is the story:

“One of the tries, it was just one of those where everything seems to work. I slid the entire thing. It was just a perfect railslide. I fully had it. About five stairs from the bottom I wasn’t even sliding that fast and I looked over at Todd and was just like, ‘Where’s the camera?’ I jumped off at the very end and just walked out of it because I didn’t want to hurt my ankle.”

Unfortunately, when they went back, they were doing construction on that side and he ended up skating the bigger side. I wonder what would have happened if he landed that 30 on video.

The next year, Propaganda came out. It’s got some good stuff, like a 360 flip over a hip, which was still new, and ollies over a wheelchair ramp. Years later, everyone was doing those, but not in 1990.

He’s got a much bigger kickflip mute. And he’s starting to 50-50 rails instead of just boardslide. And even a willy grind right here. But according to him, he hadn’t filmed anything that remarkable yet.

But there was a gap at Dos Pueblos High School, where Frankie went – yeah he was still in school at the time. He saw this gap every day and thought about skating it. This thing is enormous. The biggest gap anyone had ever attempted. He says that there’s a bubble in the pavement, and you can’t even see the landing from where you have to ollie… Also, being a hill instead of stairs adds another layer to it. You can build up: ‘I can do 8 stairs, and this is 9. No big deal.’ But it’s a completely different animal as Frankie says.

Here’s his story:

“We were filming for Propaganda and went to my high school, but I was having a bad day. I was a little hungover, but I said, ‘I’ll show you this big gap thing I always wanted to do before I graduated, but I’m not saying that I’m going to do this.’ I showed Todd [Hastings – the Powell Team Manager] the gap and then walked away. I was halfway down the hallway, and he stopped me and told me to hang on, and we both sat down. He said, ‘This is really serious. You need to think this through. Your life will never be the same if you do this. This is serious.’ I had done some stuff for the video, but Todd knew there was nothing I’d filmed that really put a punch on my part. I have to give Todd at least 80 percent of the credit. Maybe 90 percent. I have to give him a lot of credit. Maybe I get 20 percent of the credit, even though I’m the one who did it. I wouldn’t have done the gap if it wasn’t for him.”

So he decides to try it. He said it was too big to waste time on throwaway attempts just to get a feel for it, so he went for it.

“I landed the first test one, but I immediately jumped off my board and started screaming, ‘I’m going to make this!’ I took a little speed off on the second attempt in order to set it up better, with a cleaner mute, and that’s when I really felt how big it was. I released a little early, and both of my feet came off before I hit the pavement. That’s the one in the video. I did it a third time, taking even more speed off, and it felt like an absolute cliff. I came down and totally compressed. I squatted on my board and put both hands over my head, but I couldn’t even stand up and cruised along in squatted position. They filmed it from further back, but it didn’t look as big, so they never used it.”

Biggest gap ever done on a skateboard, and he did it twice, on his second and third try.

This thing is still legit. It might not be an ender in a video part these days, but it’s still relevant.

You know the quote about being able to see further because you stand on the shoulders of giants? Isaac Newton supposedly wrote that to make fun of a rival of his who was short, but the point that most people get out of it is that you have to pay respect to people who paved the way for you. If you took any pro skater from today and dropped them back in time as a baby, would they have been able to do something like this? It’s a lot easier going into something already knowing that it’s possible.

What was the effect of this part? “I did feel a little bit of a mindset change at that point, more from the San Diego guys. It didn’t take long for those guys to start doing the big 50-50s down double kinks and Sean Sheffey with all the big hammers. Jeremy Wray with the big two-circle gap. I had felt like a racehorse that was in the lead for a second and then the guys started coming up behind you really quick.”

His Bulldog deck was very successful. It had one of the biggest kicknoses of a board at the time, and he put it to good use, doing some tricks in his video part with the board backward. And it started selling.

“They said I was the number-one board seller in Canada (for a few months). My checks started at 5,000 dollars a month. I was pretty blown away.”

Not the biggest success story you’ve ever heard, but not bad for a teenager in 1990!

Later in 1993, Kris Markovich backside 180ed the gap. But how long would it have taken for someone to try it if Frankie never did it first?

After a couple of years, the tech era came about, with pressure flips and stuff. It had an effect on his skating:

“I tried to get more tech. Even though that wasn’t really what I had been into. I did set a goal to take some of the tech tricks to something big. That was my whole focus when that stuff came in. Occasionally I’d be able to do it. I learned those 360 double flips and did it down 6 stairs.”

Gonz and Jason Lee wanted him to come skate for Blind, but he decided to stay at Powell. Probably would have been a good move. He says, “But doing things differently I think I would [have] taken Gonz up on the chance to skate for Blind. Skating with the Blind team back then would have been a dream come true.”

He stayed with Powell for a while, but eventually left the spotlight. What happened to his career?

“That was at the end of 1992, right when the popsicle boards came out. So I’m riding that little popsicle board for some TransWorld calendar, and tried to ollie over a wall that was on 7 stairs. But I didn’t have enough speed. My truck barely nicked the edge of the wall and I came down with my leg fully extended. I just knew. I screamed, ‘I’m done, it’s over!’ I had to push myself on my butt, on my board. It blew everything. The cartilage, the tendons, everything went. That was the end of it. There was no question at all. Instead of taking the MRI it required, I went to a Trade Show and then down to Mexico. That happened right when Blind and these companies were taking over. Powell was saying that I needed to bring the attention back to the company — that’s the impression I got, at least. I knew that with one leg and without surgery, it wasn’t gonna happen. So I eventually just quit. The video ‘Chaos’ had a full part of mine, it was all filmed with one knee! That was my going-away present to skateboarding.”

It hurt just reading that. There’s nothing worse than being in the air and just knowing you’re going down and there’s nothing you can do about it.

He quit Powell, feeling that he couldn’t contribute. He want to Consolidated for a while, but he says he felt bad taking their money when he couldn’t skate. He stopped skating for a while, then tried to come back and boardslide a double sided curb and blew his knee back out again.

“My whole career stopped right there-1992. My girlfriend cut me. My friends cut me. I moved in with my sister. It all ended right there for me.”

Like pretty much every kid who comes into a lot of money suddenly, he basically blew it, and took a job delivering brake parts.

“When my knee blew up I would pray to die in my sleep every night for two years. The thought of not being able to push myself in skating was too much for me to handle at the time, I run on passion, when I have none left I feel like I’m already dead.”

After a couple of years, his mom hired a worker’s comp lawyer and got $30,000 for surgery and 2 years of college paid for. People still mistake him as the guy who sued Powell, and they hate him for it. For some reason. I guess they think that he might have caused Powell to crash in the 90s. But he says that money didn’t come out of Powell’s pocket. It came out of a shared fund that they paid into, managed by the state. But this made him a pariah in the skateboarding world. A lot of people lost respect for him, and it might be why you don’t see his name come up that much. People also thought that he tried to sue the school where he hurt himself, but that isn’t true either.

His stepdad has a prosthetic teeth business, and Frankie went to dental school and eventually joined him working there. He says his knee still has only about 70% of his leg mobility back, and he was only skating once or twice a year through the late 90s. But he was part owner of a skate brand called Legion, which he started around 1999. That died out later that year.

“The company went under, there were three owners and the company was going in too many directions at once. The company went bankrupt in the end of 1999.”

But he did start skating again! His friend, Kit Erickson, tragically died in 1997, and his dad gave Frankie his board. After staring at it for a couple of years, in 2000, he decided that Kit would want him to actually use it. So he skated it. And with this board, for some reason, he didn’t have as many problems with his knee anymore. He skated it until it was completely destroyed.

He put out a video in 2003 with Revolver skateboards. He goes pretty big in this video, considering that his knee has zero cartilage and he says it’s just bone on bone. It’s really cool to see some of his old school Japan grab variations, and newer stuff like double kickflips all mixed in. And look at this ollie late shove it over the rail.

He also worked with Unity skateboards for a while. That company split up, and they relaunched Legion after a while. He had other sponsors, like Tracker Trucks, and small brands like Skate Crank wax. He actually had a pro model wax.

He was also involved with Tail Devil. I’m sure you remember this. It was a skid plate that made sparks. Completely pointless gimmick, and he put his name on it along with guys like Todd Falcon.

This kind of stuff really hurt Frankie’s reputation, especially since they already hated him for taking down Powell with that lawsuit.

In 2010, he had a guest board with Krooked.

In 2012, he launched Hill Skateboards. There’s still an old Flash site floating around out there. I don’t know what would happen if you tried to order from it at this point, but I wouldn’t risk it. It seems like you can get his stuff through Skatehoarding, which is a store for wall hangers, and other collectible, display kind of stuff. But he has a new model on there as of 2017.

But that’s not all. In 2016, he got back on Powell! Sort of. He’s on their legends team, and you can buy a re-issue of his Bulldog graphic right now. He’s skating a Powell Flight deck in his Facebook posts right now, too. Yeah, he’s still skating today.

One thing that impresses me about Frankie is how much he stuck with skating. He got reinjured a few times over the years, but he always found his way back to skating one way or another, and he’s always had passion for it, no matter where life took him.

If you want to learn more, there’s a documentary by Nate Sherwood here on youtube about Frankie. He actually interviews him and other pros from the time. It’s an hour long, and there’s a lot more info in there.

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