Jeff Byrd – A Skater from Mark Gee and Brian Howard times
An exclusive interview with Vert Ramp/Virt Ramp Pro Skater Jeff Byrd – where he shares some of his greatest insights on tricks and tips on Vert ramp Skating. Jeff Byrd has shared the ramps with some of the famous skateboarders of all time – Brian Howard, Mark Gee, Anthony Furlong and Twin Brothers David and Donald Walker.
Vert Ramp/Virt Ramp both stands for the same ramp type. Half of the skating community pronounce it as Vert while the other half as Virt. For ease of understanding we have mentioned both the terms in the heading.
This interview was originally done by Matt Henley on Feb 15th 04 originally titled as “Jeff Byrd”. Below is the republished version – constituting some of the earliest talks by the skater.
I first met Jeff Byrd a few months ago after he called me about doing this interview. At the time I was lying around the house with an ankle so swollen I couldn’t even fit a sock on it, but I decided that cabin fever was just as bad as a sprained ankle so I had him come pick me up on his way to the park. You should have seen the looks we got as Jeff and I made our way to the vert ramp, him carrying gear and me on crutches with balloon-foot. We got about four photos and two sequences that day and since then we skate and hang out whenever he’s in Atlanta. The first time I talked to him I had no idea who he was but now he sleeps on my couch when he comes to town, about every weekend. What you will soon find out is that Jeff is a damn good skateboarder with a personality to match. It’s been fun working on this interview and it’s been easy as well–out of the seven or so sequences we shot for this, Jeff landed every trick first try. No wasted film here, folks.
Switch: State your name for the record.
Jeff: Jeff Byrd, from Augusta, Georgia.
Switch: All your life?
Jeff: Actually I was born in Savannah but I was only there for six months so it doesn’t really count.
Switch: How long have you been skating?
Jeff: About 12 years minus injury time and a little time off where I didn’t skate because I kind of started partying a little too much but I got out of it and got back into skating after about three years.
Switch: The standard “Behind the Skateboard” story?
Jeff: Pretty much.
Switch: So how old are you right now and how long do you plan to keep skating?
Jeff: I just turned 28, and I’ll skate until my body won’t let me skate any more, of course.
Switch: Why do so many good skaters come out of Augusta?
Jeff: Because it’s such a tight-knit group of people that skateboard there who have all been good friends for a long time and since there’s only a few spots everybody skates them together so there’s always people pushing each other. We’ve always had a vert ramp here and there, and some backyard miniramps, and we just have a good time. There are no cliques in Augusta so it makes it a lot easier to just hang and skate.
Switch: But you always had a vert ramp until recently, right?
Jeff: There was up until ’95 or ’96, when Anthony Furlong moved away, and his parents tore the vert ramp down. He left and the ramp left.
Switch: So having a ramp around all those years must explain why so many vert guys come out of Augusta.
Jeff: Yeah, Brian Howard was the first to go pro, in about ’91. Then Anthony Furlong was next and he’s been pro for about three years now and the most recent addition is Benji Galloway. He just turned pro last year riding for Scum skateboards. He rips.
Switch: How did you get hooked up with Ballistic skateboards?
Jeff: Actually, Keith from Switch saw me at one of the warp tour qualifiers and told me that Chad had a company, so I gave him a call. Then I really slacked on getting in touch with him again but I came up when he opened his park [Wicked Grind] and skated and he hooked me up. I’ve been riding for Ballistic for almost a year now, ten months or so.
Switch: What about DC shoes? How did you get hooked up with them?
Jeff: Through the shop I ride for in Columbia, Salty’s skateboard shop. It’s kind of a shop rep flow but it’s been a little more than that. I’ve had at least one pair of shoes a month so it’s been really good. I just sent videos to them.
Switch: How did you end up riding for a shop an hour away in Columbia?
Jeff: We didn’t have a shop in Augusta for about two years, and my girlfriend lives in Columbia so I was up there a lot. I started talking to them and they hooked me up.
Switch: Did the guys in Augusta who got hooked up help out the guys coming up behind them?
Jeff: I got a lot of help from Anthony when I didn’t have a board sponsor. He sent me boards all the time and I have a lot of Counter Culture clothes that are all from Anthony. I don’t ride for them, but he packed my boxes with Counter Culture stuff. I grew up skating with Anthony and he stuck with it while I went out and partied for three years. Now look where he’s at. Anthony helped me out a lot.
Switch: What do you want to tell all the kids out there who have never skated vert? What are they missing?
Jeff: Just the feeling of doing an air on vert is so rad compared to anything else I’ve ever done. I’ve ollied big sets of stairs and done some handrails but floating in the air on a piece of wood is an amazing feeling and that’s what most kids are missing out on. It’s different than a miniramp ollie into a grab; on vert you just fly up and float around. It’s a lot more back-to-back. Street skating these days is so one-trick and it seems like nobody does lines any more.
Switch: How did you first get into skating vert?
Jeff: When I first started skateboarding. There was a park, Skateboard Connection, that opened three months after I started and all they had was a vert ramp. So I started skating vert. It was a ten foot tall plywood ramp with pool coping. I learned how to pump and ride the transitions and do kickturns and eventually got to the point where I wanted to drop in. I dropped in and wanted to start doing other tricks. First ramp I ever dropped in on was a vert ramp; I didn’t know any better because that’s all I’d seen. That was like ’89. My first board was a Lance Mountain bonite
Switch: What kind of tricks were you trying to learn back then?
Jeff: Just the basics like learning to grind frontside and backside. I learned rock and rolls really fast but I hardly ever do them any more.
Switch: Who were you skating with?
Jeff: Brian Howard, Mark Gee, Anthony Furlong, this guy Jeff Hall who’s almost 40 now and still ripping, still learning tricks so that’s a big inspiration. There were some other guys: two twins, David and Donald Walker, and some younger guys like Benji Galloway and Joel Mealing who started to come around. Joel rides for Ballistic now, too.
Switch: Who do you skate with now, and where?
Jeff: I skate at the ESPN park in Atlanta pretty much every weekend with whoever is there or by myself if I have to. Almost every week I drive two hours to Atlanta to skate a vert ramp, but I’ll probably be moving here so I can skate that new ramp anytime I want.
Switch: Have you noticed vert skating becoming more popular?
Jeff: I’m starting to see some younger kids getting into it. I think there were quite a few younger kids at Tampa Am last year and here in Atlanta there are four or five who try to skate vert on a regular basis which is cool to see. They’re young, twelve years old or something like that.
Switch: What do you think separates vert ams from vert pros right now?
Jeff: I would say the consistency level of the pros is unbelievable. A lot of ams have plenty of tricks but they can’t put them all together into a contest run. To be a vert pro you have to be consistent enough to win prize money at contests or get hooked up with demos.
Switch: Are there any unofficial compulsory tricks that any vert rider needs in order to skate at a competitive level?
Jeff: I think you should be able to do at least two kickflip variations in your run, and a few good lip tricks but I don’t know if you necessarily have to be able to land a 540.
Switch: Are there any vert pros that can’t land the 5?
Jeff: Anthony Furlong can’t do regular 540s. He can do fakie to fakie 540s but not regular ones. I don’t know why he doesn’t do them–I’m sure he could do them 7 feet high, perfect every time if he wanted but he just doesn’t do them. I think he bases himself more on his style than his tricks because he’s so smooth and super consistent.
Switch: Have you landed a 540?
Jeff: I can spin them around but I haven’t landed one yet, haven’t put it down. It’s scary; the last 90 degrees of rotation is the whole deal. It’s easy to get to that point but then it’s like “Oh boy.” I’m sure I’m gonna do it and we’re building a new park outside Atlanta, Factory Skatepark, and we’re building a bigger vert ramp that I want. 13 feet tall, 11 foot transitions, 2 feet of vert. And that’s the ramp I think I think I’ll be able to do it on. I’ve only skated a ramp that size once before and it was really to skate–you can land low and still keep your speed. The bigger transitions make everything easier.
Switch: What tricks are you working on right now?
Jeff: I’ve got a few tricks that I’ve been trying get on film–kickfip backside nosegrind and fakie 5-0 shove-it to fakie. I’ve been getting into more lip tricks than airs; a vert ramp is just a big ledge.
Switch: What goals do you have in skateboarding for the near future?
Jeff: I’d like to turn pro if at all possible and I think this new ramp will help out a lot. I think I have the tricks just not the consistency but a big part of that is having to drive two hours to Atlanta every weekend to skate as hard as I can for two days before I have to drive home again. I won the warp tour qualifier in Atlanta and got fourth in a world cup amateur thing in Jacksonville and I’m definitely going to Tampa Am this year.
Switch: Anybody you want to thank?
Jeff: Definitely. Give a shout-out to my girlfriend Kelly Rego, for being supportive and standing by me while I’m trying to make something happen. Chad at Ballistic, who’s been very helpful also, Ben at Salty’s skate shop has been really good to me and Matt Henley for taking photos. Ryan Cockrell for coming up and filming me one time, Ryan Taylor for filming and just a being super cool teammate on Ballistic, everybody better look out for Nicky Motto. I have to give a shout to Nicky just because he’s Nicky. He’s so fun to skate with and a super cool guy. Waldo in Charleston, Mike Swett wherever he’s living now–it doesn’