I had a hard time interviewing Solo Scott for this piece, not because there was a lack of things to talk about, but because there was way too much— we could have kept talking for the next three days. I first met Solo at the first contest I entered, a WSA District 4 at Malibu. Solo won, I got second. So began what should have been a rivalry but wasn’t. I had way too much respect for the guy. I was a middle class white kid from the val; Solo was a black kid from Venice. He ripped. He had style. He came out of the Dogtown skate scene. He had a lot to contend with on the home front (I knew nothing about this at the time—you’ll read about it below), but I wanted his life (Venice High School, skate sessions at Marina Skate Park with Jay Adams, patchouli-scented girls with names like Athena and Anya). We became fast friends.
Solo won both the West Coast and U.S. amateur championships, and shortly after high school did three years on the U.S. Bud Pro Tour. He studied photography at Otis College of Art and Design. He studied acting—I saw him in plays, he was good, a commanding baritone voice. He fell on hard tmes, and picked himself back up. Now he’s a husband, a father of two daughters, a real estate agent, and a hardcore surfer, though at age 51 he admits that the froth doesn’t flow the way it used to (more on that below). We caught up over strong coffee at Primo Passo in Santa Monica. Here are the choice bits—
You grew up Venice when it was a much tougher scene than it is today, with many temptations and opportunities to go wayward. Was surfing a kind of escape?
For me it was more microcosmic. While Venice was a ghetto by the sea, and there was a dangerous vibe to it, my mom was a drug addict, a heroin addict. So for me surfing was my escape just to get out of the house. Our house was a place where people used. She sold drugs out of the house. It was like a fricken opium den, you know, it was tough. So I had to learn to survive in that environment and surfing was really helpful for that. I never looked at it like that when I was young, but looking back now, it was an escape. And my mom recovered and was sober for 22 years and helped a ton of people. She left a big footprint in the sober community (the Red Hot Chili Peppers song “Venice Queen” is about her).
You’ve been a member of the BSA (Black Surfing Association) since the beginning, yes?
Yeah. The world was much smaller then, it was not as global. We didn’t communicate with the Jamaican or South African surfers. So I think the black surfing community was much smaller then. So Tony Corley and David Lansdowne started the Black Surfing Association with a group of friends, black surfers from LA. They started reaching out and found me and others. So it was more centralized back then. Since then the black surfing community has expanded. There weren’t a lot of black surfers in South Africa in the ‘70s and the ‘80s. I’m sure there are now. Now you’ve got Michael February, who just missed out on the ‘CT. Now there’s the BSA and this new organization, the Black Surfers Collective, who are really involved with community—beach cleanup days, youth surf days.
Why do you think surfing is so predominantly white?
Geographics and demographics. It’s real simple. Minorities tend to live in the inner cities based on affordability. Surfing is more upper middle class, affluent. It’s like golf. Being in LA, growing up in Venice, there was always diversity. And my Venice boys were badasses, pot smokers, and partiers, and the guys we were competing against were all really straight. And we always felt like we were facing major headwinds, like they were looking at us like we were less than, like we were the ghetto kids having to go up against these upper middle class white kids. But surfing also allowed us to travel around the world and see all these other cultures. But in the competitive surf world it was really homogenized.
Where does surfing fit in your life now?
It’s much smaller than I’d like it to be. I struggle with motivation. My whole thing now is traveling, going and surfing good waves. Surfing poor to mediocre waves is just not that exciting to me. I struggle to get back to that original purpose and passion I had when I was a young dude. But I’m still chasing the dream. And just getting in the water is great—the salt, the exercise, just communing with nature. You know, we’re here for such a small amount of time. And I’m obsessed with space documentaries, about earth and about space and about astronomy. And one of the reasons why is I just love watching the view of the camera pulling away and going deeper into space, and looking at how small the earth is—we’re barely even ants!—and how large the universe is. That puts it all in perspective.