What do you mean, if you didn’t like their attitudes, or they didn’t know how to skate?
“It had nothing to do with their skateboarding ability. It was just — we don’t want people around that are blowing it. It could be anything.”
Is it like some surfers who don’t want people surfing their area unless they are local or are really good?
“This is a whole different scene. Everyone was welcome and invited in, until you specifically blew it for yourselves, by…I can’t think. Doing something really dumb. Burnside has been around since ’90, and only a small handful of people are actually 86ed from the park for life. It’s not like something about disrespecting some other person. The park is pretty much its own little scene, its own little country. We’ve policed it ourselves, run it ourselves, built it ourselves, with no outside help from the city.”
I asked Shirley Bookey when it was that Heddings first came to San Diego. “He and his friend Jason, and Steve, who they call Pigpen, made their first journey to San Diego in June 1992. It was the day after graduation. They were in heaven. That’s where the weather is the best, they said.”
After a couple of weeks, Heddings and his friends returned, and “Neil moved to Portland to go live with and work for Brian Bean at the Palace — just a few blocks down from the Burnside bridge. This is where the first skateboard with his name on it came from.
“Getting sponsored,” Bookey continued, “that’s what it was all about. ‘They pay you, Mom. I’m sponsored by Graffix, by 1984. I’m sponsored by Randoms, Vans, Independent, Pig Wheels, by 151.’ I don’t even know who all. Neil started getting into magazines in 1993, as far as I know. Thrasher was the first, I believe. Neil would call and tell me what magazine he was in and what page, and I would go buy it. Thrasher, Slam, Slap, Big Brother, Transworld, Skateboarder, you name it, he’s been in them.”
Skateboard companies had become big business, with their sidelines of clothing and shoes. If a board with a skater’s name on it sold for $50, the skater might get two bucks for each one. Skaters also got income from other products, ranging from stickers to posters to berets.
I talked to Brian Bean, who started Palace skateboard-manufacturing company in Portland. He said, “Neil was one of the first people on board, helping me out as far as getting the company up and going, making the skateboards, the woodwork.”
So he can skate and build the boards too?
“Yeah, he’s smart like that. He started working for me around 1994 or ’95. We worked on Burnside together. The company evolved from that project.”
What are some of the things you and Neil did at Palace?
“We just made wood skateboards. No wheels. We just pressed the wood, cut it out, silk-screened it, and sent it out the door. They were sold all over the U.S. We sold to Spain, Germany, the UK. It got to the point where it was so cold in Portland during the wintertime, we couldn’t press the boards. So we moved everything down to San Diego.”
Is the company still in business?
“We closed down. I’m in San Francisco now, working with furniture and doing metalwork.”
How long did Neil work for you?
“Close to a year and a half. He created some stuff and had free license. He did some graphics, drew some. He came up with some shapes for the skateboards.”
Neil’s mom told me the first board he designed was built at Palace.
“Yep,” Bean said. “It’s actually hanging on the wall right here. It was a dinosaur. In Portland there are these two twin towers, and it was a picture of a dinosaur crashing between those towers, like Godzilla.”
Jordan Powell is a friend of Heddings’s from Oregon. I asked about Heddings’s skating style. Powell said, “He was good and full of potential. When he met Pigpen, he came out of his shell. He stopped holding back. He used to be all tech. But he found his niche and killed it. He’d wake up, drink a beer, and go skate. Big shit. It got bigger and bigger. He’s got the fucking gorilla grip — his feet. It’s just crazy. We were just watching some footage today of shit of him at Burnside six years ago, killing it. When you watch him skate, you can hear it. See it. Some people do tricks and land and barely make it, and sketchy. He would do something, you’d hear his tail hit; you’d hear him grab the board, or flip it, and catch it, and then land it and smack it down, feet on the board. It’s, like, you seriously forget about everything when you watch him skate. You wonder how the fuck he does that.”
What’s the hardest move you’ve ever seen him make on a board?
“He’s done this before, but I filmed him doing it for the first time at Burnside. He does a frontside 270 kickflip and he grabs it frontside, like five feet high. But when he landed it, the first time he did it, his foot, his heel was hanging off the nose of the board. Like, if he didn’t put his feet on the board, he would’ve broke his ankle off. That was probably one of the gnarliest things I’ve seen him do.”
On the Skateboarding Motion website, Bryan Sise, the CEO of Athletic Motion, says this about the first time he saw Heddings skate.
“It was in Burnside, in 1996. It was a cold, wet day in Portland. The kind of day that makes falls hurt twice as much as normal. Most of the locals were sitting on their decks on the bird-crap-covered platform, sipping on Pabst Blue Ribbons with their hoodies pulled tight over their heads. But as the wind swept torrents of rain under the Burnside bridge, one skater was still riding. With his mesh hat backwards and his shorts reaching lower than his knees, I thought at first that he was a little kid. But rarely do little kids perform frontside rock ’n rolls on tiny transitions with five feet of vert. As Neil rocketed up a two-foot-wide cement pillar, it became obvious that he knew the peculiarities of Burnside like the back of his hand. Witnessing Neil in action was my introduction to the Portland skate scene. A scene that is very different in its style and outlook than its California counterpart. Such differences are testament to the diversity that pervades the sport.”