Part I: Eddy Matzger Interview ...
In Which the Skate Legend Talks About ...
Robert: Where did you grow up, Eddy?
Eddy: San Francisco. And when I was five years old and entered kindergarden, my mom walked me to school about five or six times, and then she said, "You are on your own." [He laughs.] So I was walking to school when I was five years old.
Robert: Were you involved in sports as a kid?
Eddy: Yeah. In grammer school, at recess, I played kickball and ran in track meets.
And every time my dad came home, I would tug on him to come out and play catch. Usually he would say, "Oh, I'm too tired," or, "After dinner." But sometimes, I won out. So yeah, we would play sports. And lots of times, he would drag me out of bed at six in the morning, and we would go play tennis at Julius Kahn Park. Of course, everyone wanted to take us on because they thought they could beat us. But we gave them a good game always.
And in high school, I did pretty much everything: cross-country, soccer, basketball, volleyball, baseball and swimming.
Robert: Were you a good athlete?
Eddy: I was pretty good at everything. Not great. But pretty good. I tried my best.
But I should say, though, that I always secretly wanted to do the school play or musical, and I hung out in the pottery room and did a lot of ceramics. I wish I could have stopped sports for a while and tried the theater thing. But the rehearsal for theater was always at the same time as the practice for sports. And since sports came so naturally for me, I just stuck with that.
Robert: When did you start inline skating?
Eddy: Not until I was in college. I guess it was 1988. A friend of mine whose father was an adventure travel agent had a pair of skates that had been sent to him by then-Rollerblade, Inc. Those skates sat in the closet until I got a hold of them.
My friend's house was at the top of the hill, so I had to learn the opposite from most people: I had to learn to stop before I learned how to go because I found out soon enough that crashing into parked cars was not a good way to stop.
I wore the wheels of the skates down to the size of walnuts. And then, being a good friend, I replaced the wheels and bought myself the very same pair of skates.
I used the skates to get back and forth to school and to haul my laundry to the laundry-mat and to do my grocery shopping and just basically to get around. It became so easy to get around on skates that I became too lazy to walk anywhere.
Pretty soon, I was spending every spare penny I had on wheels and skate equipment. To save I would eat rice and beans. And I scavenged salads at the salad bars and day-old muffins at coffee shops. And I would also help this organization called Food Not Bombs by peeling potatoes and making these huge pots of "stewp," which was not soup and not stew, but this thick soup, which we would serve to the homeless --- and which I would eat myself. I would also take my slideboard out to People's Park in Berkeley, and slide back and forth, and the Naked Guy [a for-real Berkeley character] would come around and watch. He would be wearing a sweater and nothing underneath. And after slide-boarding, I would eat with the homeless people.
At that time, I was one of the only people skating. And so people would turn around on the street and point at me when they saw me. Nowadays, nobody even bats an eye.
Robert: How did you get started racing?
Eddy: When I started skating, I didn't know there was such a thing as organized racing. But in the summer of '88, I went to Holland to visit my grandmother, who was turning 80. My mom had come from Holland when she was 18. So I had family over there; I still do.
In Holland, we rented a boat and went cruising through the northern part of the country, which is all interconnected by canals and inland waterways and lakes and you name it.
It was summertime and it wouldn't get dark until about ten. So when we would finish cruising for the day, I would take off on my skates and explore. Not only is Holland connected everywhere by waterways but also by little bike paths with signs telling you where to go and even with traffic lights.
Well, one night, while I was exploring, I happened to bump into an inline skate race by accident. I saw these people scream around a corner going at full speed on their skates, and they had microphones strung up around the racecourse, and there was an announcer giving the play-by-play, and people were leaning over the barricades to watch, and they would pound on the barricade when the skaters came by. It was really cool!
Well, I was so impressed that I canceled my plane ticket home so I could look for the skates that the racers were wearing. They were wearing these five-wheel skates that I had never seen before. Some of them were low-cut leather, like Italian shoes.
I went off in search of those skates. And meanwhile my family went back home. And then, basically, I made a fool out of myself twice.
The first time was when I was coming out of the factory where I bought my skates. I tried the skates on, and I was pretty lame on them, and all the employees came out to laugh at this American who was trying five-wheel skates for the first time.
I stayed in Holland another three weeks, thinking that would be enough time to prepare for a race and train and all that. And I basically made a fool out of myself again.
I entered my first race, and I got lapped three times on a mile course by a 67-year-old guy. And the announcer made fun of me with my Mexican shorts and my tank top.
Needless to say, I was decimated.
Robert: But you didn't quit.
Eddy: No. I could have given up at so many places along the road, but that didn't seem like the place to do it. And after the race, some guy took pity on me and put his arm around my shoulder and said, "Hey, you know you could get a lot more out of your skating if you just carved when you pushed." And he showed me what the carving looked like. So I realized then that there was a lot more to skating than being young and fit, and that gave me a little glimmer of hope to take back home.