In Crust We Trust: The Fred Gall Interview by Brian Anderson
Photos: Roura, Parise
To stick around in skateboarding for 30 years is a rare thing, once reserved for your Alvas and Caballeros. Fred Gall has not only lived 100 skateboarding lives, he’s lived them HARD. Child prodigy, streetstyle innovator, life of the party, total fucking wreck, DIY community activist—all Freddy. He’s a survivor, a ripper and as true a skateboarder as you’re going to find. Fellow lifer Brian Anderson investigates.
Freddy focuses on Jersey’s cuttiest spots in this unforgettable new part
What town in New Jersey were you born in?
I was born in Perth Amboy.
And when did you get your first skateboard?
I got my first skateboard when I was about seven. I remember seeing a Toys“R”Us skateboard called the “Afterburner.” I wanted it real bad and my grandma got it for me. It had a gnarly tail guard and my trick was to go down the hill by my house and just skid forever. I didn’t even know what an ollie was or anything at the time. The kids skating in the area had real boards. I think this kid Dominick had some kind of Alva. I borrowed his board and my goal was to get an ollie over a two-by-four. I think I got it one footed and that was it—I was hooked.
Charging the crust, Freddy off the deep end Photo: Parise
And you had knee pads and a helmet and everything?
Yeah, for sure. Full kit—knee pads, helmet, elbow pads.
Did your folks help you get the knee pads and helmet? Did you have to shovel the driveway or do any chores?
My grandmother bought them for me. She used to spoil my ass.
The Gall family
And they were cool about letting you go skate with your friends?
Yeah. I mean, she would be skeptical ’cause I would hang out with older kids who had cars. And you know, What kind of kid hangs out with a ten year old and brings him skating? I don’t know, man—it was just cool like that, though. My boy Walter would just pick me up. But I think about it and it’s like, Dude, I wouldn’t want to pick up a ten year old and bring him skating, you know what I mean?
Nosebonk with requisite flair, early ‘90s Photo: Graham
Yeah. And then we end up going on tour with these younger guys. What’s your favorite city in New Jersey to skate? And how about when you were a kid?
My favorite city in New Jersey by far would be Newark ’cause it’s always had hidden gems. Growing up it would have been New Brunswick, I guess. That was the closest, coolest college town.
Were there any parks around when you were growing up?
There was the Sayreville skatepark. They had a mini ramp and a street course but it would always get fucked up. Then there was Edison skatepark, a blue mini ramp in the woods. Same thing—it would get fucked up and they would redo it like once every five years or something. Then there was Bricktown which was my local indoor joint. They had that famous contest there back in like ’93. Yeah, like Danny Way—all the fools were there.
Cabs, Trackers and a mystery flip Photo: Salerno
Were there some contests you entered on the East Coast when you were younger?
There was the NSA. One year I won the Bricktown one and then went to the regionals in North Carolina. I got fourth place, then went to the finals in Georgia and got third and that’s where I met Dyrdek and kinda got pointed towards Alien. That was like ’90 or ’91.
Young Freddy, down for the mag Photo: Salerno
Didn’t your mom and one of her friends used to go to Richie Sambora’s house?
My mom used to date Richie Sambora. She went to high school with him. But when I was growing up, her and my cousin would go on these crazy rock-star runs. ’Cause Bon Jovi lived the town over in Sayreville, Bruce Springsteen lived in Long Branch and they used to drive with me in the car to their houses. They’d go knock on the door of Bruce Springsteen’s house and his butler would be like, Oh, he ain’t home, or whatever. They would drive by Bon Jovi’s house in Sayreville and Richie Sambora’s house in Woodbridge. It was wild, man.
Switch-O, taking SF by storm in ’95 Photo: Morf
That’s pretty cool, though.
She had this friend Lenore who was the biggest groupie rock chick. She knew all these bands and shit.
When did you decide you wanted to move to Philly? You left school, right?
I started going to Philly when I was about 12. I was 15 when Alien turned me pro, and I went to SF for that Thrasher interview and all that shit which was in September, so I missed the first month of school. And after I got a taste of that freedom I didn’t want to go back to school. My birthday is on November fifth and I went to homeroom every day and then just quit on my birthday. I was 16.
And you never really moved to California?
No. I would stay in SF for months at a time, though. But that’s about it. Or like I would go stay with Dyrdek in San Diego for a month or two.
When you did your tricks on Hubba, was Huf around?
Yeah, Huf filmed it actually.
Switch 5-0 on the front Feb 1995 Photo: Morf
Back-to-back attack, switch crooks Hubba Photo: Morf
Oh, wow. And a bunch of East Coast guys were there, too. Was Liversedge and them out there?
Yeah, Ben was with us that day—and Huf, Gabe Morford and Lance Dawes on a different day. I skated it twice. I had to do the switch 180 5-0 twice. ’Cause I did it with Morford—I did the switch crook and the switch 5-0—but he didn’t shoot the switch 180 5-0 so I shot it with Dawes later.
Whoa, I didn’t know that. Sick.
I had done it already, but I had to do it again.
And you skated with Mike Daher during that time period, too, yeah?
Yeah, I met Mike at Union Square at night when I was on acid. I was so psyched to be in SF that I would skate all day with Huf and Ben and we’d go out with Gabe, and then when them dudes were over it I would go out and skate to Union Square and skate the ledges ’til nighttime just ’cause I was hyped. I took acid one night and I was down there by myself and Mike Daher was there on acid, too, and we just met. And, I don’t know, man—we bro’d down and then I ended up staying with him for a month or two at a time and we were on this acid trip where we would just take acid and skate every night. It was just so fuckin’ fun, man. It was like all fuckin’ night—acid and bombing hills and going nuts through the city. Yeah, like China Banks on acid—I carved the big bench and I tried to come back the next day and film it normal and I couldn’t do it, dude. I was like. What the fuck, man? I guess I gotta get back mentally to where I was, but I never did it.
China Banks 5-0 drop. Riding the wrong trucks kept this one out of the mag until now Photo: Morf
You needed that Timothy Leary strength.
Wow. And you moved to Philly soon after that?
Yeah, I moved to Philly and lived with Matt Reason and Jerry Fisher.
Sick. I was gonna ask you about Matt Reason. What was it like when you guys would skate during that era?
Dude, it was sick. We lived a couple blocks up the hill from Love so we had a little route—we would skate down to Love and by the time you got there you’re warmed up so you just start skating and then skate Love and City Hall and all them spots right there all day. And then fuckin’ just go home and smoke weed and chill. Then at night we would go to the underground spot in the subway. We knew how to open the gate so we would open it and have the whole place to ourselves. It was sick.
Underground in Philly, 1996 Photo: Gee
At Love Park when you ollie out and 50-50 that rail, that’s the trick that sticks out the most to me out of everything you’ve done. Did Dan Wolfe film that?
That was probably the gnarliest thing you’d done at that time, huh? That was insane, dude.
Yeah, there’s a pretty gnarly backstory behind that.
You don’t have to get into it if you don’t want to. But you probably didn’t sleep before that one, huh?
I didn’t sleep and I was walking around in the ghetto trying to buy cocaine and some dude sold me crack. I had like eight bags of crack and I just kept smoking it and then at like 11:30 or 12 I was like, I’m gonna go skate Love. So I charged down there like maniac and just started trying that.
Sleep-deprived and on a mission, Fred goes gap to grind in Underachievers
Obviously, we don’t want to glamorize drug use, but that was a part of your life then, right?
What are some of your favorite memories or stories of the Alien days?
Probably when Chris Carter and Mike Hill rented a Winnebago—it was the beginning before Photosynthesis. We drove from fuckin’ Ohio, down to Tennessee, to Texas, and it was me, Jason Dill, Van Engelen, Kalis, Dyrdek, John Drake, Bo Turner and Scott Conklin. Anthony Van Engelen had just gotten on. And it was epic times, man, in the Winnebago with Carter as the fucking pilot. And Mike Hill was there. It was the best of times, man—we just barged cities and jumped out of this thing and just ripped what we could.
Alien van, ’93 Photo: Gee
Did you guys do the tour where you had your own ramps and stuff like that?
We did that, too. Carter was really into getting those things. He did it before anybody, and it was pretty cool. We had a tour where a truck followed us and they had our ramps and the dude assembled them and we did demos for like a month. It was super gnarly back in the day. And then at the end, we took the shit apart and left to the next town.
Switch 180 5-0 Photo: Gee
Do you remember Lennie on the tours?
Dude, yeah—he would grab the microphone and start preaching and shit. It was pretty wild.
Was Lennie in his own ride?
No, he was with us. And I would room with him because no one else wanted to. He would preach to me and try to get me to pray and shit and I actually prayed, you know? He was just trying to push that shit on you, but I would just listen to him and be cool with him.
Just try to meet him halfway.
Yeah. He never really bothered me.
Fred and Jody
You told me once that you took your mom somewhere on vacation when you came into some money. Can you tell that story?
Oh yeah, dude, I took her to the Bahamas. It was when I got a bunch of money because I almost quit Alien like an idiot, but I didn’t. They offered me a bonus for staying and gave me a raise. I think it was like $2,500 plus 5K that they gave me and so I was psyched. I took my mom straight to the Bahamas and we kicked it hard for four days.
That’s when skaters finally started making some money. Were there any big shoe opportunities?
That’s the part of my career where I fucked up the most. I was on DC and Droors at the time. And Droors was paying me and DC was giving me whatever. They put me on a trial run where I had to just be on flow for six months. I was 100% going to get on; I just had to wait. I would’ve probably gotten a shoe. I would probably still be on now! But I got a DUI and I had to pay a shitload of money. Recs came along and they said, We’ll give you a shoe right now and five grand a month, and the money enticed me like a stupid little kid. And I did it. My shoe came out and I got paid a couple months of five grand—maybe 20 grand worth of checks—and then they just went out of business. I lost it all and I didn’t get a shoe sponsor for a couple of years after that, until IPath.
Habitat on KOTR 2005 Photo: Dawes
Nude in Albany, KOTR 2005 Photo: Dawes
You ever heard of Elko, Nevada? Tell that story.
Oh my God. So, dude, me and Lou Metal were driving cross country and we just fuckin’ broke down in Colorado. We got the car running but we were instructed to not shut off the ignition until we got to Cali. We shut it off on the side of the road in Nevada at what we thought was a rest stop, but it was just a pull off like 200 miles from the next town. Yo, we woke up freezing in the car and it was snowing out. We were stranded—dead car, right? A truck finally pulls in. We run up and the guy had a cell phone so we called AAA. They come get us and tow us to this town—Elko, Nevada. Dude, it was a nightmare. We were stuck there for a week, in the middle of nowhere at a hotel waiting for a part for Lou’s car. I was gambling. I was too young but I was sneaking in and losing mad money and just smoking what weed we had left, just so fuckin’ stranded, bro; bumming. So we finally made it out of there and then years later on a fuckin’ Habitat tour we’re driving in the van and a tire blows out and where are we? Elko, Nevada! I was like, What the fuck? I think I went in the casino and lost 200 bucks and I was like, Dude, get me the fuck out of here. I told them all the story. I’m like, This place is fuckin’ cursed, bro. We gotta go. Yeah, so that’s the Elko story.
Stepping into the abyss on some seriously top-secret terrain, 2012 Photo: Xeno
Court clothes, 2012
Slap cover. July, 1997 Photo: Dawes
Kickflip pivot in Satan’s hole, 2021 Photo: Parise
Let’s talk about your struggles with substance abuse. What made you finally decide to quit?
Well, this is pretty gnarly. Basically, I broke my hands really bad and I needed surgery. And what do they do when you get surgery? You get painkillers. So I was getting a fucking shitload of painkillers, loving them. They were like the greatest thing for me. I had the time and they gave me so many. I became addicted. And they were giving me Oxycontin, which is the most addictive shit. And so I lived in Brooklyn at the time, my wife left me. I moved back to Jersey to help my mom who was a heroin addict for years. And like, we tried to help her so many times. So you put someone who’s addicted to pills in the same home as a heroin addict. What happens? I ended up doing heroin with my mother because it was cheaper. And it was just an easier route. And I ran with that for a while. I held a job and just did heroin and like, didn’t really even care about skateboarding, didn’t care about anything. We’re getting high. And one morning, I woke up and I found my mother dead with a needle in her arm. And that’s when I opened my eyes. And I said, Fuck this shit. I am never doing it again. And it took me about like three weeks. I’ve been to rehab before and it didn’t work. But this time, I had my mind set. I found my mother dead. I’m not doing this shit again; I’m over it. So I went to rehab and I did it. I came out and I haven’t touched heroin since and I will never touch that shit again. And if anybody out there, if you have a problem, and you fucking need help, man, don’t be afraid to ask. Seriously, your life is worth more than some stupid fucking drug, man. And my life has been so much better since I’ve been clean. I’ve accomplished so much. It’s just more pure. And I love it. I love life now.
Backside 270 flip in Queens
Dig, dug. In the backyard, 2019 Photo: Roura
Ollie at Shorty’s, 2017 Photo: Shafer
We caught up with Fred at home last year to see his ‘crete work up close. Watch it again
In the wild with BA, 2021 Photo: Parise
And even though you had a slip up, you’re really lucky to have a lot of friends around you, right? And I’m not just saying that because I’m one of your friends.
In the summertime, I got hurt. And I took a couple painkillers. And it was my friends who know me—they knew something was wrong, because they could tell. And they fucking sat me down like a fucking intervention and it was like, Holy shit, man. Wow. A lot of people really care about me. So I had one slip up and I’m good now thanks to my friends. All my friends who care about me, especially Lou Metal, the top dude, Brian Anderson and Dan Mercuro. The list goes on—Karen Panza, fucking Joe D’Orsi. Everybody, all you guys. Thank you for fucking having faith in me and caring about me.
Hell yeah, Fred. Yeah, that’s awesome, dude. We’re all happy that we all have each other. And the last couple of years you’re building spots and rediscovering old spots in New Jersey and we’re skating with each other. It’s great. Here’s another quote from Lou Metal. “Every time I have a conversation with Carter and Castrucci about Fred’s career, we always agree that he has five more years. This has been going on for about 15 years now.” So let’s hear it. What do you think the next five years are going to look like for you, man?
I’m still gonna skate. Maybe not go super gnarly, but I mean, you just end up getting gnarly anyway—it’s like part of the game. But yeah, I plan on skating.
Fakie wall jammer with at least five more years to go Photo: Parise
Houston, we have a problem Photo: Parise
What was one of the scarier things you did for this video part coming up?
By far the Green Monster was the scariest. I thought I ripped my asshole.
Whoa! Describe your battle with the Green Monster.
You needed to bring a mattress there ’cause you run right into a brick wall and you’ll die without a mattress. And then I realized that the mattress was too small of a target so I had to bring two. And you gotta put ’em over the fence and get in there and hope that the security guard doesn’t come. But he usually would come after about 20 or 30 minutes—just as I was almost landing it he would kick us out. Then I would go back and add more concrete to the spot, Bondo the top, cut the rail. Dude, I think it ended up being 13 trips before I finally fuckin’ got one. That was the most times I ever went back to a spot. I was losing my mind there.
Thirteen trips and two mattresses later, Freddy conquers the Green Monster with a bluntslide Photo: Parise
Returning to more old haunts, our guy builds on his Inhabitants clips with a bigflip pivot
Yeah, putting in work and bringing mattresses that Ghost ended up sleeping on, right?
Yeah, I would bring Ghost’s mattresses from the bedroom and then bring them back. He was getting kind of bummed towards the end. He didn’t want me to bring them anymore. I’m like, Dude. C’mon, man, I just gotta do this shit.
Only the truly iconic can get the cover without a trick. February, 2022 Photo: Roura
Fred on the news, 2021
Lipslide smackdown at Jody’s spot. Concrete comes and goes, but Fred Gall is forever Photo: Parise
You’ve lost a little weight the last few years, so it probably feels a lot easier to skate—and you’re skating every day.
Oh, man, I’m feeling light now. I love it. I feel young again except for my body hurts. But, dude, we go out and we just built an amazing spot that’s actually getting torn down like any day now, which is horrible. But yeah, there’s so much shit you could do with your life, man. Go out there and get it! No one’s gonna give it to you—you’ve got to go get it and just have fun. Build your own shit; make your own scene. We have so many great people here pitching in and making it happen. Anyone who picks up a shovel—there it is, dude. Life is great!
You go to war with the army you have. Freddy Gall lives! Photo: Roura