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Russ Howell    by Cooper Productions LLC   

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Russ Howell began skating in 1958 at the age of nine.  He kept skating throughout the 1960's, but it was only in 1974 when he really got serious about skateboarding.  When the Bahne/Cadillac Contest took place in 1975, Russ dominated the Freestyle event.  He was known for his gymnastic moves (including handstand jumps, and three-finger handstands).  However, he is best remembered for his incredible spinning ability. Russ Howell can spin 360's for a long, long time.  His personal best is 163, a world record.  (I was one of the people that counted.)  Russ was sponsored by Vans, Power Paw, and Pepsi.  He even managed to venture out to Australia in 1975 for 6 months with Stacy Peralta to promote skateboarding in the land down under.  He was also featured as a guest on the "To Tell the Truth Show", the "Johnny Carson Show", and appeared in various movies.

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Interview by Dan Gesmer

What was the skate scene like when you started?  How does that compare with the skate scene today?  Skateboarding was just being invented.  When companies figured out there was market, products started showing up in the stores.  Roller Derby and Chicago (both roller skate manufacturers) made most of the stuff we were using back then.  The early equipment was terrible, but we were young kids having fun and didn't know any better.  Better equipment was introduced from companies like Hobie and Makaha.  Surfing was still a major influence.  We skated with our friends and made up tricks as we went along.  The skate scene today is much more technical, but friends still gather together to push each other's limits.

Were you strictly a freestylist, or did you do other kinds of skating as well?  My surfing interest kept me riding skateboards throughout the years.  I've always been interested in freestyle, but I also enjoyed slalom racing and riding halfpipes.  The halfpipe in my backyard is ten feet high with various other heights.  Competiting in the old "specialty events" of the mid 70's was also fun: 360's and high-jump.  

How did you prepare for a contest?  Long hours of practice (6-10 every day) helped make skating a reflex.  I used to make maps of what tricks and lines I'd use during the freestyle event.  Having the right music play helped me remember that I was supposed to be having fun.

Did you get nervous during a contest, and if so, how did you deal with your nerves?  I remember competiting in my hometown at the Long Beach World Contest.  Many of my friends were there, and I didn't want to disappoint them.  My nerves were going crazy as I walked out onto the floor.  I yelled at the top of my lungs, and the entire arena went silent.  It helped, I wasn't thinking about my skating anymore.  

How do you feel about flat land freestyle these days?  Is there a future for it at all?  Skateboarding has always been a sport enjoyed primarily by youth.  The young are often influenced by friends and the media.  Street style has become the #1 choice of most skaters.  Too many of today's streetskaters have changed the old "Skate and Create" philosophy to "Skate and Destroy."  The skate magazines don't promote flatland freestyle because they see no profit in it.  I think freestylers will have to carry the burden of organizing their own events. I still prefer "old school" freestyle, but am eager to learn the new tricks.  Can't we just all get along?

Why do you think freestyle died?"  Did it really die?  Many of the freestylist left the sport during the late 70's because their sponsors saw no profit in keeping them active.  Only a handful were able to make a transition to the "new school" form.  But I still get a lot of request to teach "old school" freestyle to other skater's at the skatepark.  

Have you invented any original tricks?  Freestyle had five main categories: Footwork, spins, handstands, aerials, and multiple board tricks.  I introduced many of the handstand variations.  

Do you have any advice to both the newcomers and more experienced freestylers?  Never skate with the attitude that the sport or somebody else owes you something because of your efforts.  Skating is it's own reward.  Being a better skater doesn't automatically qualify someone as being a better person.  Strength isn't shown by pushing others over, but rather by lifting others up.  Enjoy what you have and help others when you can.  Poverty isn't a diminishing of one's possessions, but rather the increase of one's greed.  

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