No bones about; Mike McGill, Brigade featured in new documentary

No bones about; Mike McGill, Brigade featured in new documentary
The Bones Brigade from left: Founder Stacy Peralta, Rodney Mullen, Steve Caballero, Tony Hawk, Mike McGill, Lance Mountain and Tommy Guerrero. The skateboard group is featured in the new documentary “Bones Brigade, An Autobiography,” directed by Peralta. Courtesy photo

ENCINITAS — Sighting a 48-year-old man working behind a desk isn’t an unusual sight, but that this man behind the desk is Mike McGill, the inventor of the McTwist and longtime member of one of skateboarding’s most influential groups is what makes this sighting seem a little strange. On this day, he’s helping set up computers at his skate shop McGill’s, which he opened in 1987, and where he spends as much time as he can.

On the back wall of the shop are racks of skateboard decks ranging through time from the 10-inch-by-30-inch Powell Peralta boards McGill used to ride in the ‘80s to the leaner and more maneuverable decks used today.

McGill still resembles the teen he once was as a key member of the pivotal Bones Brigade, a group of described teenaged outcasts that would, over a decade in the 1980s, help to change the culture of skateboarding.

Mike McGill performs the McTwist, an aerial skateboard maneuver that took skateboard competitions to new levels and discouraged many other skaters who couldn’t compete against it. Photo courtesy of Mike McGill

Fans of McGill still come into the shop; in one day alone skaters from Australia, Brazil and New Jersey traveled to the shop for a chance to visit and meet him.

The fans come from all different walks of life; mostly they’re kids whose dads told them about McGill.

“I love it,” McGill said. “Especially when people see the older videos that we were in, it’s pretty inspiring to know, ‘Wow, we didn’t realize we had such an impact in your life or your son’s life.’”

It’s something he may have to get used to even more following the release of the documentary, “Bones Brigade, An Autobiography.” The story of the Brigade and some of its most notable skaters, including McGill and Encinitas resident Tony Hawk, Rodney Mullen, Lance Mountain, Steve Caballero and Tommy Guerrero, is being told by award-winning director and founder of the Brigade Stacy Peralta.

The film, which has been showing worldwide this year, depicts more than just the amazing feats and tricks the Brigade invented, but also the struggles that many of the skaters had in just trying to fit in during a time when skateboarding wasn’t half an accepted “sport” as it is today.

McGill said he felt absolutely like an outcast, having grown up mostly in Florida where he was one of only two skateboarders in his junior high school.

Traditional team sports like baseball, football was what you did, he said. They were the sports he played because his brothers and cousins all played, but when he discovered skateboarding something just clicked, he said. “It was something that I just couldn’t get enough of.”

Seeing the finished film proved a very different experience than what he thought it would, he explained. “Because all of us hadn’t really seen what the others had said before or had done, so it was very different for me to see that, especially seeing some of the older videos of some of the guys that we skated with and aren’t around today was hard to see that,” he said. “And just seeing some of the emotions of some of my teammates that I didn’t realize what they went through as well, some of the struggles they went through outside of skateboarding, which really enlightened me as well.”

The Bones Brigade name, which was coined by Craig Stecyk was never once questioned by the team on what it meant. “We just went with it,” McGill said. “We were so into skateboarding it didn’t matter what we we’re called.”

A common theme between the skaters was that they had all found solace in skateboarding. For them it was a way to be independent; for McGill, skateboarding was a way to do something artistic and physical without having to have somebody else to do it with. “That’s what really drove me…especially the neighborhood that I grew up in, there weren’t a lot of kids around so I could actually do something on my own and not have to rely on somebody else.”

Looking back on it now, he never could have imagined how far the skateboard would take him. “I was in it for the joy of just doing it and I could keep creating. It was just nonstop creation…so that’s what really attracted me to skateboarding and things just kept progressing.”

Progression was a driving force for the Bones Brigade. Some of the most influential and essential tricks would emerge from then-teenagers Hawk and Caballero.

But with the invention of the McTwist, an aerial maneuver that consists of spinning your body one-and-a-half-times, McGill’s place in skateboard history is firmly cemented.

“I got pretty religious right before I tried the first one,” he said referring to his attempts as a teenager to land the never-before-done trick. “I didn’t want to mess myself up,” he said. “You got to reach down inside and just try to see it in your head and I pictured in my head that I could at least try to bail out of it. I knew if I could do that then at least I could try it,” he said.

In contests, the trick became a game changer and a source of discouragement for some of the other skaters that knew they couldn’t compete against it.

McGill, who continues to skate, said he’s still able to pull off the trick, though maybe not as big as they used to be.

Upon reflection McGill said those were some good times. “Not that we don’t have good times now,” he added, “but it makes you feel just how blessed and lucky you are to have done what you did.”

Hawk still lives in Encinitas and the two meet up at times, but not as much as they have these past few months while going to premieres and touring in support of the film.

They all share a bond together, “all of us do,” McGill said. “Each one of us had to have each others’ back because even though we were competing against each other we were still a team.”

For 10 years the Bones Brigade broke new ground with tricks and skateboard movies, including one of their most popular videos, “The Search for Animal Chin.”

Today, McGill continues to be an advocate for the creation of skate parks (he’s used his influence to help establish skate parks in Carlsbad, Escondido and at the YMCA skate park in Encinitas.) Hawk also travels the country, helping to establish skate parks with the Tony Hawk Foundation.

For people who don’t necessarily skateboard that see this film, they can still find something to relate to, McGill explained.

Despite their challenges in and out of the skateboarding world, each of them had the passion to continue doing what they wanted to do in the face of adversity.

“When times are down, especially for us, instead of just saying, ‘Well everything’s taken away, I guess we’ll just quit skateboarding,’ we still had the passion to skateboard so we found a way to skateboard.”

They were skateboarders and that’s what they were going to do.

McGill was humble about the role the Bones Brigade has played in skateboarding history. “The only thing we take credit for is maybe inspiring kids to go out and skate,” he said.

As for whether the industry will ever see another group of skateboarders as influential as the Bones Brigade: “I would hope so,” McGill said. “I’m not sure, but I would wish for it because I know how good it was for us.”

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