By Rob Brink
The Skateboard Mag September 2007
Al Partanen started skateboarding in Milwaukee, and since those first Midwest thens and theres it's been a non-stop collision course with all that's ever had to do with skateboarding. From the very beginning he and his friends skated it all. If someone had a ramp or they heard about a ditch or an empty bank-to-wall pool, they were there. "I miss those times," Al says. "Those were like the most die-hard times where we had the most fun. There were days when there would be snow banks along the roads and we'd go out wearing a couple extra sweatshirts and skate curbs in the parking structures underground."
And from that point he kept starting—parks, stairs, rails, and everything that leads to an eventual laundry list of skate experience so diverse, there's really no way to explain it to anyone who hasn't gone through the same. Like with you, like with us, like with Al—each day skating is a new inferno. A possibility to take the abridged inventory to the gnarliest spots, heat it all, and see what can get started. Smoke and fire—Partanen lights skateboarding up.
Pool skating seems to take a lot of work. You gotta find a pool and drain it … Sorta has that old school aspect to it—the hunt and the labor.
Yeah, because you're always looking for new stuff. You got to find the spot, you got to go there and see if it's not a bust, you got to search it out. Every pool is completely different. It's not a vert ramp, it's not a back-and-forth.
There's so much variety within the terrain in itself. Like on street sometimes, stairs are just stairs.
Well, I grew up skating all kinds of different stuff. I was real fortunate to have Turf skatepark with five different pools and all very different tranny. A lot of it was real tight. But I guess skating that so much in those formative years—it's a part of me now—locked down in my DNA structure.
I've always skated everything, though. In the beginning it was on curbs and loading docks and schoolyard benches. After that it was mini ramps and quarter pipes and then vert. The idea is that you want to take your tricks and do them in harder places. I'm not gonna go crooked grind a sixteen stair, but I will crooked grind over a death box or back lip over the stairs in a pool. That's the next step for me in the evolution of my skating. That's me progressing within my capacity and making a contribution to skateboarding—skating stuff I like, pushing myself, and giving something to the culture that's legitimate. I want to try stuff that I've never done before and maybe no one has done before.
A lot of people probably think you are a pool pro whether you want to be classified or not...
I'm just stoked to be involved and that anyone would even care to see my skateboarding. I have just as much fun as skating a curb as I do seshing a pool with my boys. The majority of the photos I've had or what people have seen of me has been in pools. So if they see me in a pool or I'm best represented in a pool, then that's fine. You definitely wouldn't want to see a photo of me on a seven stair. I wouldn't want to see me doing that.
You were on the original Creature and still there now. There's a boom with Creature and it's rad because you guys are the underdog.
It's a traditional approach to skateboarding and there's old dudes and young kids who are into it and it's more of a well-rounded look at skateboarding. It's the way I've always felt about skateboarding, like, "Hey man, you like skateboarding? So do we. This is what we do and this is how we roll. This is what you'd see if you came out and ripped with us on any given day." I think people can relate to that and I think people are hyped on it.
It's a good thing—a reaction to the larger brands—the appeal of a DIY company.
I definitely think so. I remember when I was a kid growing up, I had all my underdog favorites. So if there was something a little more obscure or harder to find … there are people out there looking for that. Something that's just not your run-of-the-mill, cookie cutter-stamped … the same board with just a different guy's name on it or whatever. However that goes. It sucks. It's so generic. It's so fucking Wal Mart it's insane.
I was at Tampa the year of the loop and I've been pondering the succession of everyone landing it...
I did it, then Peter [Hewitt] did it, and then he tried it switch and knocked himself out.
So where does that leave you in the order of people who did the loop overall? Didn't you do it before Tony Hawk in Mexico when he was filming Birdhouse's The End?
That's what everyone thinks. That's the legend. But I did it third—Tony, Peter, and then me.
And that's fourth in the world if you count Duane Peters.
Yeah. I was down there with Team Pain building the ramp and Tony had already done it. Then Peter starts going for it and it's just sketchy. Me and Matt Moffett and Sam Hitz were watching Peter like "Oh, my god, I can't believe we're witnessing this!"
So Peter did it and we're stoked. I was so overwhelmed at seeing him do it that I wasn't even gonna try. But I ran out there because they started putting the mats away and I was like, "Hey wait! Don't put those away, I wanna try it."
It was Kevin Stabb and Mirko Magnum. They were like, "What? Who are you?" So they threw the mats down and I started going for it. I went around it once and kind of came around right where I started, hit the edge, and one of my legs popped out of socket, came over my head, and devastated my groin. I was like "Oh, shit." But I didn't think I would have a chance to ever do it again. Like, "Fuck it, I'm doing it. I can't come that close and not do it." So I got back up there and dropped down and I pulled it. I was laid up in bed for two months and didn't skate for a good five months afterward, but after the loop I didn't give a shit.
So the second time you did it was at Tampa Pro 2001?
Yeah, and that time I did it first go. It was me and Bob [Burnquist] and Peter up there. Peter was before me and told them to move the mats. I was like, "Oh shit, here we go." So Pete went and didn't make it and I licked my finger, put it to the wind, and just did it.
I was freakin' out; the energy was insane. It was the first time anyone had seen it live. It was the best because it wasn't some circus TV-type thing, it was at Tampa. You were there. You saw it. It was all of us and it was cool. I got to share that moment with all of my boys that I looked up to and respected in skateboarding.
Was having a pro career something you always aspired to?
It's never been a career for me. It's always been my life. It's what I live for. I never really anticipated getting paid for it, I just knew it was something that I loved. I'm from the Midwest I have a Midwest work ethic; I've always had a job along with being a skater. I almost feel like to really appreciate something, I have to put some work into it. Nothing worthwhile ever comes easy. I plan on skateboarding as long as I possibly can—be a part of it and contribute to it. The idea is to respect skateboarding and have fun with it, you know? I think if you just keep that in mind and you don't feel like skateboarding owes you anything—you just continue to give to skateboarding—it will always provide for you and you'll be happy. It's a symbiotic relationship. You contribute to skateboarding and skateboarding gives you the life that you live, and then you can be thankful and enjoy it.