interview by Leland Ware
photography by Mike Blabac
video by Bill Strobeck
In honor of our new Josh Kalis and Stevie Williams Love Park decks, we decided to interview a couple of the people that were highly instrumental in documenting that era – Mike Blabac and Bill Strobeck. Both Mike and Bill were at Love day in and day out with Josh and Stevie shooting photos and filming everything that went down. Given that, we knew that they would have an interesting perspective and some good insights on what skating at Love Park with Josh and Stevie was really like. As an added bonus, Bill laced us up with a quality export of Pigeon to include with this piece; this video pretty much sums up how raw the Josh and Stevie combo at Love was better than anything else. Enjoy!
What are your favorite memories from shooting / filiming with Josh & Stevie at Love?
I think my favorite memories at Love are of that entire time around the late 90’s. It was amazing to hang out at there – smoking, eating cheese steaks, and shooting photos all day! We were all just friends hanging out doing what we loved to do.
Bill Strobeck: Well, just the fact that they landed their tricks pretty quickly was a plus. I was filming so much down at Love Park that I’d be running around all day like someone with a.d.d. So when you’re filming skating in general there is nothing better than filming someone that one, you want to document, and two, they get it done quickly.
How did the two of them feed off each other during that era?
Mike Blabac: I think anytime you’re skating with your friends – you push one another. This was definitely true with Kalis and Stevie back then at Love. Everyone would just kick it in the ledges by the fountain, and if one of them was skating – the other would be psyched to skate after they filmed their line or whatever they trick they were trying.
Bill Strobeck: It’s as simple as a wrestling tag team, when one is tired they slap the other person into the ring to fight. Josh would film until he was tired and then Stevie would want to film something when josh was done, and then back and forth and so on. I think there was a time when I was going home everyday with three or four good things. They’d be stacking footage quickly.
Do you think their styles complimented each other, if so how?
They’re both just the rawest of street skaters, so yes.
Bill Strobeck: I do. To me Stevie had the manuals and Josh could go big over the can, but both of them had ledges. So you put them together and it was kinda like an all areas covered machine down at the park.
In what ways did Josh and Stevie’s presence impact the overall scene at Love Park?
Mike Blabac: During that era at Love, they both greatly affected the scene by simply being there all day, every day. Most everyone knew one another there including Josh and Stevie, and their homies.
Bill Strobeck: It seemed to me that Stevie was more down to go down there and hang with his boys and skate, I feel like josh was going down there to get shit done. Stevie is rad cause he could just grab any person’s board and skate it. He is that natural, I miss that type of shit. Kids these days are so picky and have tons of excuses, “I can’t skate cause I scratched my griptape and I can see it, it’s bothering me, I need a new board…” wasn’t like that then. What’s rad that Josh did is he was about using Love Park as a symbol for his shit, he loved it down there as well as all of us. We all miss that place I think, or the nostalgia of that style and time. I’m sure everyone that was at Embarcadero feels the same way. It’s a different world everywhere now, wouldn’t be the same at Love today either.
Josh and Stevie branded themselves with the Love Park symbol and were responsible for so many people coming there from all over the world. Do you think that scene in that mid / late 90’s era at Love would have developed in the same way or become as big as it did if they were not there?
Mike Blabac: It’s tough to say. I personally doubt it though. Everything happened at the right time during that era. There were many other dudes that skated there obviously, but Love received a great deal of exposure due to Josh and Stevie. It was so sick how it all happened. They skated Love just like some kid skates the grocery store curbs down the street with his homies. It just so happened that they were pro, and had people to film, and shoot photos of them like Gee and myself.
Bill Strobeck: Well Ricky had a board out on Zoo York in the mid 90’s that had the Love symbol as the graphic on it. I had that board in the color grey back then. I think I traded someone for it because it had a sign logo, anyways Dan Wolfe was filming with these guys (Fred, Ricky, Matt, Serge) as well as a bunch of others so that was the scene at that time, and what he put out was what everyone was seeing then. I was really attracted to that era in Philadelphia, I moved there based on seeing that. It was rugged there then, and it showed in skateboarding; everyone was young enough to not care how shitty they looked and I liked that. When I started filming down at the park with Josh and Steve and everyone else there, that other crew wasn’t skating Love as much. I felt like it was more of Stevie’s home spot and Josh really knew where to place his chips and he had the skill and style to back it, so he brought Stevie back into it and used the sign more up front as the symbol for what was going on at that time. They put the sign in articles and on shoe boxes with their faces and it became theirs. People were coming there from all over the world, that’s crazy shit! I think if you show the sign in a video now it doesn’t make sense to me. It represents that time in my head, there is no “new” Love Park.
Being that you’ve shot / filmed with so many amazing skaters, was there anything unique or different about shooting / filming with Josh or Stevie than some of the other pros that you’ve worked with over your career?
Mike Blabac: Shooting both of them during that time was very special. I’ve been fortunate to photograph some of the best skateboarders, but just being a part of the scene at Love and photographing Kalis and Stevie was an amazing, unique experience for me. They are both my close friends – so it was awesome.
Bill Strobeck: I liked the fact that Josh wanted to make something big. He was super down to work on his craft and I thought that was motivating. He was always trying to film, always was down to help, and what is rad about him is that he was always hooking people up, there’s not many people that I feel can be in that position. Stevie was my favorite to watch down at the park. He did a lot of stuff down there that wasn’t even documented. I tried to document what I could, but there were times he’d roll up in a few tries and make something on a warm up before I even had the camera out. He has a dope style too, it looks like he’s dancing.
Are there any good stories about Josh or Stevie at Love that you can tell us in this interview?
There are too many to really say. I liked the can sessions. Getting those tiles lifted was a bitch! They would be propped up so they could be knocked down hella fast if the cops rolled through – it was amazing.
Bill Strobeck: I cant think of a particular story, one thing that I do remember was Josh basically was boys with all the uncovers. When they’d show up tons of kids would run, but Josh had them all on lock down. He’d just sit there and laugh, they all had his sneakers on too, it was pretty amazing. I remember noticing Steve show up at the park with newer and newer stuff all the time. Looking back on it now, it was sick to see; it’s like you could see that he was starting to make money.
What was it like working down there and dealing with the police presence? It’s pretty amazing that anything got done given how hard it was to skate that place.
I would never have a board with me. The cops would roll up, skaters would scatter everywhere, and I’d just chill there putting my flashes aways greeting them with a smile. They would usually leave me alone for the most part even though some of them knew Josh and Stevie, and that I was there shooting them. As soon as they bounced – the park would be filled again within minutes. It was hella funny! It’s such a waste that they spent all that money sending cops there all day, and putting those whack pink benches there to block the ledges – and now there is way more crime.
Bill Strobeck: It really wasn’t that hard to skate down there, we were there so much that we kinda knew the schedule of the place. We were used to the lifestyle of hanging there. The police added to the scene, it was funny to watch kids get caught. I knew the cops were coming but the out of towners didn’t.
There were so many unknown and random people like derelicts and bums that would hang out at Love. How did those people feed into the overall scene and impact what was going on at Love Park at the time?
Mike Blabac: There were some unwritten rules at Love amongst skaters, bums, and other batshit characters. The crackheads and everyone would mostly chill by the gap to rail, and the skaters would be by the fountain, or wherever skating was happening at the time.
Bill Strobeck: Well, they added personality to the place. We were hanging at the park just like anyone else that was there and since the park is in the dead middle of the city you’d get tourists, lunch breakers, and homeless people to hang with. I liked that about it. It was all one big circle of shit. I liked talking to the random chicks that would come down to watch the skateboarders. It was crazy to see the bums scrapping and shit… I felt that’s why people went there, there is a lot to expect in a place like that.
Many people think that the Josh and Stevie Love era combo was one of the best of all time, what about the two of them together stands out most to you or is so unique that you don’t think it could be duplicated?
Eras like that are few and far between simply because there aren’t any public plazas in America you can just hang out and skate all day which is why your EMB’s, Pier 7’s, and Love Parks are rare. The Kalis and Stevie Love era was amazing. They were such an integral part of an amazing era which is what makes them stand out. I’m not sure if any of them could be duplicated.
Bill Strobeck: Well overall I don’t feel like I will see what I saw at that time again in my life and maybe I don’t want to. It was us and our park that we kicked it in. Also I’ve personally changed as well, so I won’t progress as fast in skateboard video making as I did at that time. It’s a different kind of psyched that I am now on it and I’m into other things as I’m sure Josh and Stevie are. I think it’s safe to say we are all leading different lives now than we once were at that time. Shit, they both have a few kids now… Josh’s daughter Jaylen was only just born then. I’m very fortunate to be where I was. Thanks to both Josh and Stevie, I think we were just all in the right place at the right time, ya feel me?