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Lee Ralph

01 MAR 2006 | Posted By: Jamie

Lee Ralph Words by: Jamie Driver | Images :  Steve Gourlay

The year is 1988; I’m a fresh faced, virginal twelve-year-old who loves skating more than life itself. My banana board has been cast aside and I am on the real thing, grip tape and all. Mum shells out cold hard cash for the latest edition of Skatin’ Life, and Lee Ralph is on the cover.

The year is 2006; I am a slightly weathered man with a receding hairline. I still love skating. I am staring an Australian skating icon in the face. His name is Lee Ralph, and it dawns upon me that it has taken me 18 years to get to this place in time. What is most refreshing about this intimidating looking man is how nice he actually is. What I thought I knew about Lee Ralph, and what I actually found out about him are two very different things. He is living proof to never judge a book by its cover.

JD: You were a hero to an entire generation of skaters in the 80s and an Australian skating icon, but you seemed to go quite underground for the past decade, what have you been up to?
LR: After I stopped doing so much skating I moved into doing a lot of drinking. The reason being, I stopped skating and I had always skated my whole life. I started skating when I was about seven and so I started doing things I had never done before. I was straight edge until I was 22 years old, I didn’t drink alcohol and had never tried marijuana or anything like that so I caught up on a lot of that which took a couple of years of hard flogging. Then I found that I was getting a bit empty because it didn’t fill the void that the loss of skating had left behind. Then I started to focus my attention of wood carving and got into the arts through the wood carving …

JD: Wood carving, wow …
LR: Yeah my dad was a wood carver; I have been around wood carvers since I was born. Since before I was born my father carved traditional Maori woods.

JD: What’s the major focus of your wood carving?
LR: To date it has been Polynesian and Maori. Learning about their culture, or my culture, as I am a cross breed of Irish, Scottish and Maori and a few other blood lines. The ones that I have come to learn about through the family tree are the Irish and the Maori.

JD: How long has it taken you to graft your skills, it’s really not an easy thing to learn?

LR: It’s such a deep question because art is never ending. It’s not like skating where you can look back and say ten years ago I could grind this far (uses hands to indicate about 40 cm) and then ten years from now say, well I can grind this far (stretches arms as far as he can). Sometimes I will pull off pieces of art that I personally think are awesome, but other people might not be satisfied by them. You can satisfy yourself in art with a low level of so-called skills, where as in skating you can’t do that. You have to have a high level of skill in skating to get that satisfaction but with art even a beginner can pull off something that makes them feel completely whole about what they are doing and that they are on track to becoming good at it. With wood carving though you have to have a lot more skill. With painting you can really slap paint on a wall and call it something. You can’t do that with wood, you have to actually… well there are all these defined rules …

JD: There are no mistakes with wood …

LR: Yeah.

JD: Would you say that art is your biggest influence now and is there anything else outside of art and skating that you do?
LR: No, there isn’t really … Well music is quite a big part …

JD: What kind?
LR: I play a lot of instruments, like bass and guitar. I find playing music similar to my other interests. The skating was the first thing that encouraged me to be really open minded to things. My skating is quite open minded. It’s really that open mindedness that leads you to other things in life that are equally about being open minded. Like art. There’s a really strong thread there.

JD: We heard that you have been overseeing Globe’s new creative project up in the Gold Coast called the Loft, what have you got planned there?
LR: I didn’t go in there with any plans. Peter and Stephen Hill who run Globe, I have known for a very long time and they really look after me well, asked me to move some of my art into their space and I said that would be great. I went and had a look at it and it got a really high presentation level. It looks really cool … How do I explain it …? It’s like for people who like collecting dolls and stuff like that, like trekkies and stuff like that …

JD: Like Amos toys and designer vinyl …
LR: Yeah exactly, like that. There will be a lot of super-cool dude names displaying their work there like Natas Kaupas and Mark Gonzales and I am really excited about it. There are a lot of fellas that I haven’t been in touch with. I’m quite lazy and like to sit in my house and do my art.

JD: Tell me about Natas. I never thought that he would have gone into art as well as he did. I remember him back in ‘Wheels of Fire’ and then all these years later I started seeing some of his designs and layouts and thinking shit he’s really good …
LR: Yeah, he is good. He’s a really good bloke, a really hot surfer …

JD: He always used to look like a surfer…
LR: Exactly, the way he used to skate. I never used to like his skating but I can look back now and say it was cool. At the time I used to think it was way too rough, you know the foot hangers; it was totally surfed out but not like Christian Hosoi or someone. You see Christian Hosoi can’t surf, he is not a surfer. He’s got the most surfed out style in skateboarding in my opinion, and a lot of people would agree, but the thing is he doesn’t do surfing so his surfing style doesn’t come from surfing. It comes from living in Venice Beach, growing up at Marina del Rey skate park with the first breed of skaters, and falling in love with it and being unable to move away from it because he didn’t want to. So he stuck with it and he was the most stylish pro around.

JD: It was so religious back then …
LR: Yeah and I fail to fall short of saying that it is exactly the same now. I don’t think that skateboarding changes. I get in rooms with guys, and I always try to be positive, that’s not why I am saying this, but I get in a room with the older guys and they say ‘these guys now don’t know what it was like …’ Well that’s just fucking insane, what sort of mad man would say that? You would not have to know and understand what your skateboard is about to say that. Skateboarding is riding your four wheels around. If you have picked up the thing and played with it, it’s grabbed you and taken you into its world. You can’t start claiming that you have a greater affinity to it than other people around just because you are in a new time or another time.

JD: It’s like looking at Mullen back in the 80s and saying that he had that small little thin board and small wheels and rainbow pads and saying wow…
LR: Yeah completely wack, beyond just one million percent wack, beyond what wack could be. Things change, times change and different appreciation comes around.

JD: Yeah, look at him now, the amount of tricks he has invented…
LR: It would be hard for me to say anything too great about the Muff. You know like, that’s what I mean about the past, my roots can never be changed. Just like the wackness of that situation …

JD: … can never change…
(A knock comes at the door and Lee gets up …)

Unknown voice: Yo!

LR: Hey Mark!
(Mark Appleyard enters the room with deck in one hand and guitar in other.)

(Random banter … I nervously move around on my seat.)

JD: How much skating are you doing now?
LR: Not a lot at the moment. I just did that tour in NZ with the Vans team. Do you know those guys Mark?

MA: Yeah yeah …

JD: Thrasher recently named you in their ‘15 most loved skaters of all time’. How does it feel to be recognised as one of the greats all these years later?
LR: Nothing can, like, well not many things, make you happier. The other day I was walking down the street with my girlfriend and this guy came up to me and shook my hand and said that he loved me and I thought that was amazing! I went down the street to get my lunch and wow!

JD: How did the re-release of your board from Vision come about?
LR: It came about without my knowledge.

JD: Really?
LR: Yeah, but those things work out well for me because a lot of people see that board and see my name and a lot of people don’t know who I am. I figured that out on that Vans tour. Those young fellows have never heard of me, I thought that was really cool. Some guy came up to me like four days into the tour and said to me ‘so you used to ride for Vision and you used to be a pro skater, that’s really cool!’ He had no idea who I was and had never seen a picture of me or heard of me before.
MA: I just moved into this apartment recently, like two months ago and I looked in the storage room and there were all these tins of paint and on a Lee Ralph board …
(Laughter all around.)
MA: I was trying to get it off him but he didn’t want to get rid of it.

JD: Who’s your greatest influence and who do you admire the most?
LR: Probably my greatest influence would be Steve Caballero.

JD: Nice. What’s Lee Ralph’s definition of Sweet?
LR: Definition of sweet? This is true right, seeing Mark at the door just then. Seeing some other posse I have had the pleasure of hanging around with lately. Seeing that we are all going to be here together.

JD: And Mark, seeing you’re a part of this interview now, what’s your definition of Sweet?

MA: Just living the life I get to live and travelling the world, skating and meeting the people I get to meet. I would have never experienced them if I wasn’t skating.

JD: Thanks boys, sweet.

Prepare to get wet, messy and gunge
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Comments on this Post
There are "4" comment(s) on "Lee Ralph"

Advanced Member EA4C966E
Hi jamie awesome interview brother. just one thing the bro lee is from new zealand hes a kiwi im not hateing on oz but im a kiwi and theres no way ild like to be called a ozzy SWEEEEET shot cuz!
EA4C966E  -  8 years ago
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New Lounger 87DF5844
1988 lee would have been 20 right? if he is 41 now..
87DF5844  -  5 years ago
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Respect Jamie
Wow, two full years between comments!
Jamie  -  5 years ago
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New Lounger 2DCF4C7F
Very nice, Jamie! I remember many years back I wend to the World Cup in Münster, Germany (i guess it was in 88-89) and I meet Lee, behind the building where the contest was - we drank a few beers, had a few smokes and just hang out for few hours. Then, it was just a magic moment (I was only 16) but also a bit crazy and a bit scary, cause Lee wasent like all the other skaters, his size, big mouth etc. Thanks for the interview! Martin, Denmark.
2DCF4C7F  -  4 years ago
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