Powell-Peralta, maker of some of the most iconic and recognizable skateboards anywhere, is the unlikely love child of two Southern California entrepreneurs. George Powell was a Stanford-educated engineer with a gift for creating high-performance skate decks and wheels. Stacy Peralta, a member of Venice’s legendary Z-Boys skate team, was the highest-ranked skater in the world. When the two launched Powell-Peralta in 1978, they revolutionized the way skateboards were made and marketed; they also assembled the greatest skateboarding team of all time, the Bones Brigade. The company’s signature boards from the ’70s and ’80s fetch thousands of dollars on the collectibles market. Earlier this year, the 13th reissue of Bones Brigade decks, constructed at the company’s Ventura factory, sold out within a week. We chatted with Powell about the company’s beginnings—and why its boards still rule the ramps.
This article appears in the Fall 2022 issue of Alta Journal.
How does an engineer working in aerospace end up building skateboards?
When my son was eight, I gave him my wife’s skateboard, and we would skate around Pacific Palisades on clay wheels. One day, he came home and said, “Dad, my friends have yellow wheels, and they’re really good.” And I said, “Oh, come on, yellow wheels don’t make any difference.” So we trundled over to Palisades Hobby, and I looked at the counter, and lo and behold, there were clear yellow urethane wheels. A light bulb went off in my head. Every time we hit a pebble or a seed pod, our wheels stop and fly off. This was going to make skateboards a viable product. I bought two sets and started developing skateboards in my garage.
A few years after that, in the mid-’70s, Stacy Peralta was the top-ranked skateboarder in the world. Did you know him?
Stacy lived near LAX, and I lived in the Palisades. He had grown up skating at Paul Revere [Middle School] and Palisades High, and I occasionally went to those spots to test new equipment, so I met him a couple of times.
How did the two of you team up professionally? Stacy was working for G&S, a San Diego–based surf and skate company, back then.
I was happily working in a vacuum, not connected to the existing industry at all, and Stacy was one of the most famous skaters of his time. We finally got together when he decided to leave G&S. He wanted to form his own team and bring kids up and help them develop, as opposed to hiring skaters away from other companies, which was the common practice. Still is, actually.
Speaking of teams, you formed the Bones Brigade, which included Steve Caballero, Mike McGill, and Tony Hawk. All of those guys are in the Skateboarding Hall of Fame. In 2016, even Powell-Peralta itself was inducted. Aren’t you supposed to retire before you get that sort of honor?
[The award] was possibly the industry wishing we would retire.
Vernon Courtlandt Johnson’s Skull and Sword deck art for you is instantly recognizable. Why do his decks strike such a chord?
There are certain images that are sort of transcendental in the collective subconscious of mankind. Skulls are one of them, and dragons are right up there. We have more fun with skeletons because you can do so many things with them. Images like the Ripper, Skull and Sword—those original graphics are very special in the industry.
Did you have any idea Powell-Peralta would become so big?
You know, I did. It was that aha moment when I saw urethane wheels. I remember going home after I rode them and thinking, “Damn, every kid in the world is going to love skating.” Because it’s really fun when you’re not falling down every time you turn.•