Boise Weekly Magazine
Interview
November 6, 2002


THE FATHER OF PRO-SKATEBOARDING
Skateboard pioneer takes it easy in Boiseby Chris Stevens

Russ Howell is some kind anti-Colonel Kurtz--you know, Marlon Brando's character from "Apocalypse Now" who had accomplished everything in his life and now had gone upriver to go slowly insane. I say anti-Kurtz, because Howell moved away from the insanity of Southern California to the relative obscurity of Boise, Idaho, and unlike Martin Sheen in the movie, I was merely sent to interview him, not "interview with extreme prejudice."
Reading through Howell's accolades is pretty impressive. I had to ask myself if there was anything in skateboarding he hasn't done. Among his list of accomplishments: 1975 California State Champion, 1975 World National Skateboard Champion, 1976-77 World Invitational Champion, World Record 360 spins on a skateboard, World Record longest handstand on a skateboard, stuntwork on three Hollywood action films, appearances in four different surf films, wrote three books on skateboarding, numerous TV and commercial appearances including Johnny Carson and Good Morning America, has criss-crossed the globe skateboarding and founded his own company.
  I asked him how he kept from being bitter and disillusioned after such an ordeal and he simply stated, "I moved to Australia for a year, but aside from that, I don't blame skateboarding for what happened. I don't have an attitude of, 'skateboarding owes me something.' I owe something to skateboarding. I'm all about action, not appearance."
Ironically, this upbeat attitude and energy is exactly what drove Howell away from skateboarding as the sport embraced the punk movement of the early '80s. Repelled by the negativity and aggressiveness of the music and culture, Howell decided to dedicate his time to teaching instead, earning his teaching credentials in 1985 and his master's degree in 1987, both from Southern California University. Howell's teaching credentials were becoming as lengthy and accomplished as his skateboarding career, then something happened to bring about the beginning of the end to the endless summer.
A fellow teacher in the aero-robotics program with Howell at California State University was shot and killed while teaching an at-risk youth who had
Russ Howell in his day was the most famous and well-known skateboarder in the world. He was also considered to be the first professional skateboarder ever. Howell, now 53, lives in a typical Southeast Boise home. All the neighborhood kids know where Howell lives--he has a ramp in the backyard and rooms full of skate memorabilia and other grownup toys. One room houses a four-foot tall trophy that Howell won setting the World 360 Record at the 1977 Long Beach World Championship. Across the room are the wheels that he designed specifically for that purpose. The record spin set on that day was 35 spins, he broke that record in 1986 with 163. Since then, every skater spinning over 50 rotations has adapted to his wheel design. recently been released from incarceration. "I was gettng shot at while I was jogging in the morning, so I had to ask myself if it was time for a change." While on a tour of national parks of the Northwest, Howell made his way through Boise during a Boise River Festival and was amazed. "I didn't even want to come to Boise, but here was a half a million people all in one place, there was no fighting and everyone was getting along." He shortly thereafter decided to move to Idaho.
These days, Howell is, in his words, "semi-retired and loving it." Besides obsessive 18-hour computer programming binges, he's generally tinkering with a project or making new toys that attract the neighborhood kids.
Russ Howell was born in Winston-Salem, North Carolina in 1949, but moved to Southern California after his father was transferred for his job. Howell started surfing and skating in the 5th grade. His first sponsor was Hobie and after winning several contests they decided to start paying him to promote their products. Howell was the first skater ever to earn a living from riding a company's product; by the mid-seventies he would have 150 separate sponsors.
After winning several U.S. and world titles, he decided to start his own company. Russ Howell Skateboards made $6 million in its first year and Howell never saw a dime. The other partners in the company embezzled all of it and bankrupted the company while Howell was on tour with his team.
  He does some longboarding, is a member of the Golden Years skate club and makes appearances at most of the local skate events and parks. If you see an old guy at a skatepark spinning like a top in front of a group of amazed kids, you've probably found Russ Howell.

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