I don't normally get emo over skateboard photography, but I honestly cannot recall a time when I've ever gotten so happy over seeing a photo. Everything about this image of Ray Barbee is spot on and a testament to his stylish impact on skateboarding—especially if you're of the "step off" street generation like I am. I first witnessed the "43 shifty" at an amateur street contest in Rockford, Illinois, circa 1988, and I believe it was Barker Barrett, or possibly Mike Kepper, who whipped it out on the roller-rink course (this was, incidentally, just around the time the Shut Skates team started to blow up and out of the East Coast scene). It was a very "snappily" done 43, an interesting flatland trick that I'd never seen in our region of the country before, but it wasn't until watching it done so fluidly by Ray Barbee in Public Domain that I avidly took to learning the move and emulating his style. Needless to say, the latter never happened, because if there's one thing I'm not it's effortlessly loose and confident in the feet.
This has been a rather nostalgic year for me, though, and it just so happens to be one that is rather entwined with Ray's own history as well. I started in the Powell-Peralta art department in January 1989, the same year he turned pro. The Barbee Ragdoll was my first board graphic that was "all me" (I don't count my secondhand participation in finishing off what V. Courtlandt Johnson started on the Powell Peralta Tony Hawk Street model) and perhaps my most well known, which, as I've mentioned elsewhere, doesn't say much about the next 20 years of my career as a board artist, but whatever. At least I can claim this one!
I was responsible for all of Ray's graphics while he rode for Powell-Peralta, his fourth and final in 1991 bearing not only his fateful timeline at the company as a pro, but mine as well. In 1992, Ray moved on to join Lance Mountain in his start-up The Firm, while I ventured down to "Pleasure Island" over at World Industries after being kicked to the curb in a round of lay-offs at Powell. Flash forward to sixteen years later, when I was contacted out of the blue by Ryan Kingman over at Element. He said they were finally going to be releasing a model for Ray Barbee and wanted to know if I would be interested in handling a reprise of the original Ragdoll graphic from 1989. After all, with Ray's 20th anniversary coming up in 2009 (and mine) it just made sense. I, of course, readily accepted the offer, as the opportunity to graphically bookend Ray's career in skateboarding was a sincere honor for me. And I hope I'm not blowing the big marketing bubble here for Element, but an early sample of this very board was displayed last night at the Ray Barbee Vault by Vans shoe release party held at Proper in Long Beach, California. Look for it to hit the catalogs early next year.
In addition to the large selection of his past pro models on display (with brief notations by Ray regarding each graphic), there was a case of uniquely Ray memorabilia, the most famous perhaps being his trademark caps from the late '80s. Best of all, though, was a special live performance by Ray and Tommy Guerrero, as they freestyle jammed their way through an electric guitar set. I don't know what it is, but there certainly is something to be said for the street-oriented pro skaters to come out of the '80s with their inherent ability to creatively master whatever medium they choose to pursue in life. Kinda like how the nerdy freestyle sect went on to dominate the industry in all business-minded aspects. Weird, huh? Anyway, Ray and Tommy both set the style bar in skating back then and from what I witnessed last night they've continued to do just that with their music. Further proof that you're either born with it or you're not—and they most definitely were.
Incredibly tight yet impossibly loose—Ray Barbee and Tommy Guerrero.
A selection of Ray's Powell-Peralta and The Firm models, circa 1989–1993.
A continuing selection of Ray's models on The Firm, circa 1993–1997.
A final selection of Ray's models on The Firm, circa 1998–2006, and his forthcoming Element board.
An assortment of Ray's personal memorabilia from throughout the skating years.