Tony Hallam is about as vintage a skater as you’re likely to get (we don’t think he’ll mind us saying that). With a remarkable collection of skate memorabilia including stickers, photos, magazines and a mind-blowing 800+ boards, the guy is also a serious collector. How serious? When he offered to bring in some shoes for us to photograph, he even asked if we wanted to see the original plastic shopping bags from back in the day! He’s an obsessive-compulsive for sure, but Tony is also a qualified engineer who has been designing skateparks for over 15 years, and he is still a common sight on a board in his hometown of Melbourne. He remains one of the few elder statesmen of the sport – thanks to gnarly dudes like Tony Hallam, history has survived to tell this tale...
You started skating as a little kid and you’re still in the industry, so give us a quick rundown.
I was born in ‘67, got my first skateboard in ‘75, won the New Zealand title in 1980 and then came to Australia where I won the Victorian title in ‘83. Then I went to the States in the late eighties, did pretty well over there, never got ranked because I didn’t do enough contests, but I had a lot of fun traveling. Through the eighties I had a couple of models out, designed a couple of boards and never stopped skating except for injures. I did my engineering degree in the eighties, and now I design skateparks.
It’s amazing how much stuff you’ve collected over the years. You also kept the most thrashed pairs of Vans I’ve ever seen. What made you hang onto this stuff for so long?
Well I guess there’s sentimental reasons. Growing up in New Zealand, having stuff that was really hard to find, especially Vans and Nikes... it made you. You had to wait twelve weeks for the shoes to turn up in the mail and God knows what you’d actually receive. I’ve hung onto pretty much everything I have ever ridden. There’s a couple of boards I don’t have that I don’t regret giving to people because they needed them at the time, but the stuff that I’ve accumulated over the years is stuff I couldn’t get as a kid.
I think any collector does that to some degree. I must admit I’ve never thought about skating going back to the fifties and earlier.
Yeah, it did start in the fifties when the steel wheel boards came out. There was no nose or tail, no tricks, you basically just rolled down the street. And in the sixties it came with a tail and you could start doing tricks like nose wheelies and skids and slides. It’s history worth telling, because it really did evolve in its own underground way. And then from basically ‘76 to ‘81 there was a huge progression in the sport.
You’ve got an amazing issue of Skateboarder that goes all the way back to 1965.
Yeah, the first issue came out in ‘65, and there were four editions. It was a bit of a laugh back then, skating was competing with hula hoops and yo-yos. The urethane wheel wasn’t invented until 1973, so they were riding steel and clay wheels and those things were super dangerous if you were on bitumen. Your feet would be chattering and your wheels would slide out! Kids were getting run over by cars, so skateboarding was banned until ‘73 when the urethane wheel was invented – then you could go into a turn and the wheels would grip, so it changed things a lot.
What do you regard as the first real skate shoe?
For me, Vans were the first recognisable skate shoe.
Before that though, there was Randy's. I love the ad you brought in for their 720 shoes, what a rare find. Steve Van Doren (son of Vans founder, Paul Van Doren) mentioned in an interview that his father originally worked at Randy’s.
Yeah they look the same don’t they, classic boat shoes. I guess he knew that the Randy’s shoes worked – don’t fix it if it ain’t broke. As you look through the era of skate shoes, they have always had a flat sole and it’s always been simple. The last fifteen years have become more technical but the flat sole is still really functional, and that’s why a lot of guys today are still skating in Vans.
That ad says the shoes have ‘Randyprene’... It has to be the earliest marketing jargon for the skate footwear industry.
Definitely. There was nothing else as far as footwear specifically for skaters at that time. As you can see from the photos, it’s either barefoot or Randy’s.
Does riding in bare feet seem crazy?
Not really, it was a surf based sport. People that surfed really wanted the same feel on the land. You don’t wear shoes on a surfboard so why would you on a skateboard? When there were no waves they would be skateboarding.
You were living 5000 miles away but you knew Vans were super cool, how did they create that aura?
As a kid you get sucked into the marketing. Nike never advertised in the magazines, but they had the best skateboarders wearing their stuff. That was enough to make people want to buy Nike, but Vans took it a step further, they had really marketable skaters wearing their stuff, and you could make custom shoes as well. But the marketing was the big thing, because of the photos in the mags, it just made you want to look like these guys. If you had the proper shorts, the proper pads and the helmet, but shitty looking shoes, you weren’t wearing the uniform.
Plus all this shit was super hard to get right?
I only got my first set of Nikes when someone went to the States and when he came back I looked a million bucks. My first pair of Vans came off a mate that had sent away for them, but by the time they came back his foot had grown and he couldn’t wear them, so I got them for $20! I was stoked, but he was spewing. I used to send off for mail order to get shoes, I still have all the documentation and letters they sent me.
You kept everything... including those Vans ankle guards which look pretty cool.
You wore them with a low-cut shoe, because at the time that’s all that was available. This is in the 1976-80 era when Vans were still the dominant shoe, before Nike came out with the Blazer. People used to get a board in the back of the achilles tendon and that would kill. That ankle guard was stupid because it was so cumbersome and horrible to wear, but I guess I had a few in the back of the ankle and it saved me.
Did you ever skate in the Makaha sneakers?
Nah, to be honest, that’s the only pair I have ever seen in real life. The sole was really hard and everyone I knew either rode a very simple boat shoe or a pair of Vans or just bare feet.
Makaha’s advertising slogan was pretty funny, “Break the deck shoe barrier!” Like they were just going to smash Vans?
Hahahaha, great ambition but it never happened.
Another interesting shoe in your collection is the Hobie in the blue with yellow trim. Was that the same company that makes little yachts?
Yeah, I think it was. They diversified, and even made skateboards in the sixties, so they started really early. I think they were from a yachting background so maybe they entered skateboarding through a boat shoe connection? Hobies came out in a low and a high and when I saw guys riding them I thought they were a really good looking shoe.
They are for their time. It’s interesting to think that if they got their product right, they could actually be really huge now.
Yeah I don’t know, I just think when skateboarding died in about ‘82, they died with it. I remember in Skateboarder or Thrasher – they had a Hobie sale – five dollars for a pair. You could send away to this one liquidating company for kryptonite wheels for five dollars, decks for ten dollars. The death of skateboarding killed a lot of brands like that, I guess they just went back into their original business again.
Do you remember kids wearing Converse?
Dwayne Peters rode for Santa Cruz and he was one of the first guys to wear Converse in a magazine, and one of the first gnarly guys that bought punk rock into skateboarding. Dwayne was hard core and had leopard spots in his hair and he was a rad skater, he was around in about ‘78, and rode for Hobie and I think soon after ditched that whole scene and rode for Santa Cruz. Him, Steve Alba and Steve Olsen all wore Converse. Now and again they would wear Blazers but that’s when I first remember seeing them. Before then Eddie Algerra was another guy that wore them as well.
And the Clyde? Who wore Pumas?
I didn’t notice them as much.
There’s a classic shot of either Cab or Hosoi wearing a Puma on the left foot and another brand on the right foot?
It’s Steve Cab, it’s a Puma and a Vans – frontside rock n’ roll slide, yeah. Yeah that’s a mid-eighties shot but in the seventies I never noticed anyone wearing Pumas.
What did you think of the Nike Blazers?
We just thought they were for skating because they were just a high-top Vans style shoe, but it looked a lot better. It was leather, it had a really smooth appearance and the colour combinations were really classy – blue with a white stripe, white with the red stripe or the grey stripe or the black stripe. In the photos I remember the Nikes were all in perfect condition. And the Vans were a little bit thrashed so maybe that stuck in my head as well.
Nike is a fascinating company when it comes to skate. What did you think about the new brand?
It was the marketing. The guys that were using them at the time, if they had tried to do that straight off the bat with this new range in the last decade, they would’ve been successful. Back then in the seventies there were only three brands – Vans, Nike and Converse – now there’s dozens.
Tell me about those Sparks, I remember shoes like that from my school days.
I never rode those but I used to ride Bata Bullets, they were a high-top version, canvas, very thin with no padding. But they were a good shoe, they were cheap, that’s what we had access to in New Zealand.
Can’t imagine kids putting up with that now. Do you remember seeing Jordans for the first time?
The first person I remember would’ve been Lance Mountain or Chris Miller. When they came out, everyone was still wearing Vans.
Do you remember seeing Vision and Airwalk?
Vision was around in the seventies, but it never got huge until the mid-eighties. They made decks and these shorts called Mad Rats, which were shorts with nylon material, so if you ate shit on concrete you would just slide and not bruise up.
Were you happy with the performance?
Now that there is more choice, you’re a bit fussier about what you skate in. I still ride for Osiris with something like a Blazer sole, because I know the style really works. As long as it’s flat and its got a Blazer-ish sole I’ll wear it. But I don’t think it has changed that much, it is a very similar looking shoe from what it was many years ago. Shoes got cumbersome once it got too technical. The one I remember was the one called the Salmanaga, it was a Vans shoe and it was massive. It was like your foot had swollen up or something. It was too big to be functional. I wish I had a set of those because they were massive.
Airwalk did the 720, almost up your knee. Things did get big. Really big. So was your choice of footwear linked to who your idols were?
Yeah I think so. But mostly it was based on what I had access to at the time. Shoes were so hard to get – I actually had my Nikes resoled twice! I wore those to death and then the same with Vans, I had them resoled as well. I think the marketing was really clever. As a 15 year old back then, seeing these magazines, I guess the whole thing was euphoric because the magazines promoted terrain we didn’t have and shoes we had to send away for. If we didn’t have the clothes, we didn’t give a shit... we just went out and skated. But if you didn’t have the full uniform, you looked like a bit of a dick.
I guess it hasn’t really changed in that fashion sense, and the function of the shoe hasn’t changed either, because you wouldn’t ever wear a shoe that wasn’t going to work. You always wanted your shoe to be clean. You would never walk through mud to get to a skatepark. You would find a sealed accessway or you would climb a fence to get to the skatepark. You would find a way to keep your shoes clean or carry a second pair of shoes with you. It’s funny to think back to those days...
Man, nothing changes... thanks Tony!
A serious note of thanks to Tony for his unflinching good humor when repeatedly asked to bring more and more stuff to our office for photography. Tony also put us in touch with all our interviewees as well. Thanks to him, these examples of modern history will live on!