“The Top of LA,” Hollywood Hills, 1976 (Hugh Holland, courtesy Chronicle Books)
Hugh Holland first remembers spotting a wave of skateboarders outside of his custom L.A. furniture finishing store in the mid-1970s.
“At the time, I happened to be photographing anything that was in front of my camera,” Holland said. He wasn’t a pro photographer — but he did have a darkroom.
Holland started following the new movement, and the skaters themselves. What really captures his imagination was what he saw in 1975 in the Hollywood Hills: vertical skating up ramps. He grabbed his camera from his car and started shooting.
“The vertical was really something radical and new,” Holland said.
“Auto-Ramp,” Benedict Canyon, Beverly Glen, 1976 (Hugh Holland, courtesy Chronicle Books)
He started spending time with the skaters almost daily — after work and on the weekends, for three years. Holland eventually made a name for himself documenting this time, and the latest collection of his ’70s skating photos can be seen in his photography book Silver Skate Seventies.
One of the things that helped fuel the growth of skateboarding at the time: drought. Along with a new kind of wheels, it helped the skateboarding phenomenon to grow.
After a dry winter in ’75-’76, everyone started emptying their pools to save water, according to Holland — but they were quickly filled with skaters looking for more ramps. Dry storm drains were also a good fit.
“Happy Hollow Congregation,” Hollywood Hills, 1976 (Hugh Holland, courtesy Chronicle Books)
The drought combined with the creation of the urethane wheel, which allowed boards to have more traction. Together, these conditions helped make higher level skateboarding — including the vertical — possible.
The weather conditions met the creation of the urethane wheel, which allowed boards to have more traction. Together, these conditions helped make a higher level of skateboarding — including the vertical — now possible.
“We had the discovery of all these tools, and I was right there with them,” Holland said. “Everyone was in competition with themselves, and each other to get higher, and get out of the pool, out of the boundaries — how radical they could be.”
Silver Skate Seventies is a followup to Holland’s previous book, Locals Only, but this one features his black-and-white photography. Black and white, he said, allowed him be more raw in his process instead of thinking about the cost of color film.
“I wasn’t formed when the skateboarding started, it was the skateboarding that formed my style,” Holland said.
Left: Bull at Redondo Beach, 1975. Right: Huntington Beach pier, 1975 (Hugh Holland, courtesy Chronicle Books)
Holland wanted to capture the skaters’ fashion. He described it as surfing style coming on land, cutting up the asphalt with ballet on concrete. Skateboarding has its roots in surfing, and it was a natural outlet for kids in the San Fernando Valley who couldn’t easily make their way out to the ocean, according to Holland.
“Just the way they lived was fascinating — the way they moved around all over L.A. and all over California, just going wherever the action was,” Holland said.
Left: Los Angeles Street, 1975. Right: Robin Alaway (Lerum) with Alan Scott in the background, at Orange County Fairgrounds, 1975 (Hugh Holland, courtesy Chronicle Books)
These mostly teenage skaters didn’t need cellphones to stay connected, according to Holland. Word spread person to person, and they were always able to keep each other in the know about the hot places to skate.
“I had a car, so I was able to help them be more mobile — the kids that I hung out with — then I just ended up being all over, everywhere,” Holland said.
Holland moved to California in 1966 from Oklahoma.
“All the young people were coming to California that could get away from anywhere, it seemed like,” Holland said.
One of the skaters from Holland’s books who he’s gotten back in touch with told him the reason many of the kids would go out skating at the time was because of problems at home. They had to get out of the house, he said.
Contestants at Orange County Fairgrounds, 1977 (Hugh Holland, courtesy Chronicle Books)
While he loved shooting all of the action, Holland’s favorite photos are the ones with skateboarders just hanging out on the street.
“It’s like a window on the times,” Holland said. “Black and white takes you to a place that’s not objective. When you take away the color, you’re not distracted by the color — you just have black and white, so you just have form.
At the end of 1976 and into 1977, skate parks started to become the thing, according to Holland.
“They would charge admission, and they would have insurance — things start commercializing really quick,” Holland said.
“The Big Tubular,” San Francisco Peninsula, 1977 (Hugh Holland, courtesy Chronicle Books)
Holland had enjoyed shooting the skaters and their carefree, barefoot style, as he put it — he started to lose interest in the late ’70s as the culture became more formalized.
But over the years, people started to take an interest in Holland’s photos. His big break came when one of the few photos he’d sold was seen by the owner of American Apparel, who ended up showing Holland’s work in his stores around the summer of 2005, according to Holland.
Now his photos can be seen in galleries, as well as in bookstores everywhere. Silver Skate Seventies is available now.