Last Skate Shots of Gator


Everyone at McGill's had no idea what was up with Gator on what turned out to be his last day of skateboarding. We just knew something was up. As he left, he was hugging everyone, including the rollerbladers, who, especially at that point, at McGill's, were persona non-grata.

I'd been skating and had no idea he was going to show up, but a few days before we'd talked about shooting photos for an ad for the new company he was riding for, Fishlips. We hadn't set a day or time to do it, so when he showed up I was stoked to be able to shoot - it was easy and I was psyched to be able to make the extra cash.

Gator wanted to shoot some stalefish shots, he was making the connection between fishlips and the stalefish that now seems too obvious, but at the time it made sense, I guess. We shot one roll - he did some off the extension, I shot some low, and shot these up high. Gator was ripping, but he was especially mellow, and he seemed really focused on getting the shots and not really his normal obliteration of the ramps. He dropped in off the extension, did one set up air, and did the stalefish, and back to the deck. Once we got what we needed, he wanted a couple portraits, so we shot the fishlips shot here and a couple others.

There were a handful of locals at the park that day. I think Datis was there, Derek Williams, Koby Newell, Josh Nelson, maybe the Godoys and a handful of others. As Gator was getting ready to leave, he was really friendly with everyone, hugging everyone, making a point of saying goodbye. It seemed weird, but not one of us could've ever guessed why it was weird.

Gator - Stalefish, 1 of 2 printed
Gator - Stalefish, 2 of 2 printed
Gator- Fishlips With Sad Eyes

It took me a couple days before I went to school and printed these, and I remember as I printed the portrait that his eyes looked weird. Of course it all seemed to make sense a week or ten days later, when word came down that Gator had turned himself in for killing Jessica Bergsten, I was pretty shocked and frankly, in disbelief. It wasn't that it seemed out of the realm of possibility, it was more that I thought of everything in terms of me, and because I'd been hanging out with Gator a fair bit at the time, including a trip to Dallas and a trip to Santa Barbara, and just couldn't understand something so heavy. Obviously the photos weren't going to be used for ads, and they've been sitting in an Ilford box ever since, in a pile of prints that are slowly fading brown from not rinsing the fixer enough... These were used in Stoked, at the end, i think. I've never been able to watch that movie all the way through. I've never printed any others from the roll, either. Might be interesting to do now.

In the weeks after he turned himself in, Gator called our house - Dave Swift and I lived together at the time and we were both friends with him - and I talked to him a couple times. I don't remember any of the conversations, but I remember that the collect call bills were pricey, and I couldn't afford them any more. I also got a couple letters from Gator throughout that year - 1991. I saved them for a while, but after he got convicted I had a conversation with Grant Brittain about it. He basically said that anyone who kills another human could fuck off as far as he was concerned. I didn't know what to think, but I thought about it all, a lot. I looked up to Grant a lot, and his words meant a lot to me, and at some point not too long after that I washed my mind of Gator and threw away the letters. Randy Jansen later gave me a hard time about it, but they just seemed like mental space-takers that I didn't need, and I have no regrets.

I'm glad that Gator is regretful and repentant and I suppose that if I ran into him somewhere after he gets paroled I would be interested in talking to him, but I'm certainly not anxious for that to happen. I'm very curious to see how the skateboarding world would react to that...

This is the most I've thought about all this stuff for 16 years... a lifetime ago.