Carmel Valley’s Billy Ruff goes into the Skateboarding Hall of Fame

Billy Ruff was inducted into the Skateboarding Hall of Fame.
(J. Grant Brittain)

Carmel Valley’s Billy Ruff was inducted into the Skateboarding Hall of Fame at the Vans Headquarters in Costa Mesa on Nov. 12. During his 10-year professional career, Ruff was considered one of the best vert skateboarders of the 1980s, riding for San Diego-based Gordon & Smith (G&S) Skateboards.

Due to the pandemic, there was no induction ceremony last year so this year’s celebration was packed with 36 skateboarders from the classes of 2020 and 2021. Ruff was inducted alongside San Diegans Steve Cathey, Dave Andrecht, Eric Grisham, Denis Shufeldt, Dennis Martinez and Doug “Pineapple” Saladino.

“It was super fun,” said Ruff, who lives in Carmel Valley with his wife Jill and daughters Jamison and Avery, students at Canyon Crest Academy.

Ruff was born in Fitchburg, Massachusetts into a military family—his father got deployed to Scotland shortly after he was born. Ruff moved around the country with his father’s military deployments, living in North Carolina and Florida before his family settled in San Diego when he was 12.

San Diegans Steve Cathey and Billy Ruff were inducted in the Skateboarding Hall of Fame's 2021 class.

“I had stood on a skateboard before I got here but I technically started skating when I got here,” he said.

What kicked off his interest in skateboarding was when the Pepsi Skateboard Team came to visit his middle school, Marsten Middle in Clairemont. Among those doing the skateboarding demos that day was Dennis Martinez, member of the G&S team and his future friend and fellow hall of fame inductee.

“At 12, I see the skateboarding and said ‘Oh my god that’s so cool I want to do that’,” Ruff said.

He convinced his parents to get him the most basic, store-bought inexpensive, plastic skateboard, “I just rode it constantly around my house and neighborhood and Mission Bay Park,” he said. “ I skated every day, whenever I could.”

Ruff was hitting the skateboarding scene as it was winding down from the 1970s’ boom— by 1978, there were few skateparks in the area. He found a second home at the Oasis Skatepark, which was located under the I-805 and I-8 interchange, begging his dad for a ride or taking a bus just to get there and skate for the 12 hours it was open. Sometimes be begged a ride off class of ’21 inductee Andrecht.

Eventually his helpful cousin saw he was riding his skinny little board and gave him a bigger board to ride Oasis’ pools, slalom, snake runs and half pipe.

At Oasis, G&S rider Steve Cathey approached him and offered Ruff some G&S Yo-Yo wheels, his first sponsorship. In the 1970s G&S, a San Diego surfboard institution since 1959, became one of the top three skateboard companies in the world with its Fibreflex board. They were also one of the first companies to sponsor professional team riders.

After winning a contest at Oasis in early ’78, Ruff joined the G&S team at age 15. He traveled around the state to compete in both freestyle and pool/vert- style skating. “Ultimately I went straight to vert and pool, I always liked vert skating better,” he said.

At that point, skate parks all over the state were closing —his beloved Oasis closed in 1979. The Del Mar Skate Ranch was one of the last skateparks standing and Ruff made the migration north after graduating from Clairemont High. Located across the street from the Del Mar Fairgrounds, where Wave volleyball teams practice now, the park had multiple pools, a big reservoir/bank area and a half pipe, “It didn’t get much better than that,” Ruff said. The infamous Keyhole Pool was where most of the action happened.

Contests were frequently held at the park and Ruff said skaters would come from all over the world to practice and compete at the Mecca in Del Mar like a pilgrimage until the Ranch was bulldozed in 1987.

Billy Ruff with his family at the Skateboarding Hall of Fame.

Ruff competed professionally until 1988, known for his stalled hand plants, big backside airs and frontside 540s—during his intro video at the Hall of Fame, Tony Hawk credited Ruff with doing the first 540, an aerial trick with one-and-a-half rotations in midair. Ruff won quite a few contests, racking up 15 victories in his pro career.

Described during his induction as a “master blaster”, super stylish and progressive skater, he landed on the cover of Thrasher Magazine and on his Instagram account, people frequently fondly recall the Billy Ruff Chalice or Joker G&S deck being their first skateboard growing up.

In 1988, Ruff stopped competing and skateboarding entirely—he had taken a position at the footwear company Airwalk as a sales representative and as he got busier and busier there was not much time to practice.

“If you’re not practicing when you’re at that level, you’re not quite as sharp,” he said. In those days, there weren’t as many skaters competing into their 30s, so he made a choice to walk away and roll on to the business world.

Ruff worked for Airwalk for 12 years and moved onto the footwear company Sole Technology, then started his own company, Sha Sha Fine Shoes, which he closed in 2010. These days, he is working for a telecommunications company.

For many years, Ruff didn’t skateboard at all but he picked it up again in his mid-50s when the Pacific Highlands Ranch Park’s pump track opened in 2019, drawn to the rolling concrete hills of the course.

“It was really fun again,” he said of just doing simple things like carving around the track and doing basic tricks. “I got to revisit skateboarding and see what I enjoyed about the sport when I was just beginning.”

Billy Ruff with Sgt. Sal Hurtago at the 2021 Skate Jam.
(Jon Clark)

He also got involved in organizing community events at the park built around skateboarding, which he found he had a knack for. In March 2020, he organized the Skate Against ALS Skate-a-Thon to benefit a good friend in the skateboarding industry who is fighting ALS and, this August, he helped out with the Skate Jam, an event put on by the city’s park and recreation department with the San Diego Police Department’s Northwestern Division where people could skate with local police officers at the pump track. He hopes more Skate Jams are in the future.

With the large number of inductees, Ruff wasn’t able to give a speech at the Hall of Fame event. Had he grabbed the mike he would have thanked his parents for tolerating his interest in skateboarding when they had no idea what it was or that it could turn into a career. He would have shouted out to G&S founder Larry Gordon and his daughter Debbie Gordon, who now runs the company, he would have thanked Cathey his friend and team manager, Dave Anderson at Sk8 Supply, the late Fausto Vitello at Independent Trucks and many, many more too impossible to list.

Ruff said he wasn’t sure what to expect about going into the hall, he just thought it might be something nice. “Now that it’s here, it’s pretty cool,” he said of being a part of such a special skateboarding family and an industry he is proud to have played a role in.

A party will be held on Saturday, Dec. 4 at Green Flash Brewing Co, celebrating the 2020 and 2021 Skateboarding Hall of Famers. The event will be held from 4 p.m.-10 p.m. with food trucks, a street course and live music by DC the Crow, Adrian Demain, Agent Orange. The event has a$7 suggested cover donation with proceeds going toward the Dave McIntyre Skatepark, an effort to rename the Carmel Valley Skatepark in memory of the G&S manager and Carmel Valley resident who passed away this year. Green Flash is located at 6550 Mira Mesa Boulevard.