Alphonzo Rawls grew up as any skate rat would in the 70s and 80s in the coastal town of Oceanside, California in San Diego’s North County. He and his friends devoured all things skateboarding in those salad days, even going as far as skating down Pacific Coast Highway to the famed Del Mar Skateranch some 20 miles to the south to see a contest of visiting pros. There’s a photo of Tony Hawk doing an air out of Del Mar’s keyhole pool with Alf and his pals all crowded around in the background in awe of one of their heros. A prophetic image of the life Alf was to have.
By the late 80s, Alf got sponsored by H-Street Skateboards, based in San Diego and making waves in the skateboarding world with groundbreaking upstarts like Danny Way and Matt Hensley. By this point, Alf had honed his abilities on street and transition as skateboarding shifted to a much more street-focused culture (H-street being the main catalyst with its DIY videos like Shackle Me Not and Hokus Pokus). Alf began pushing the limits of technical skateboarding with his H-Street and Airwalk teammates on street and mini-ramp with his recognizably smooth style and memorable kits and bright hairdos. In the early 90s, board graphics, footwear and clothing styles were changing rapidly and Alf never shied away from taking liberties with painted shoes, highwater cut off bleached jeans, or bright sweatshirts and rugbies. It was no surprise when he began designing his own graphics as a rookie pro.
Longevity is a running theme in Alf’s career, and as the 90s wore on, Alf adapted and took his skating to the big handrails that became necessary at the time. Some of his most iconic photos are on huge rails late in his career. As a younger, hungrier generation of skaters arrived, Alf naturally stepped into more of a designer role, mainly in footwear, most notably with DC Shoes where Alf put his Midas touch on one of the pro models of another up-and-coming African American skater named Stevie Williams.
Drawing on his history of skating and fashion, Alf’s footwear design was in high demand as he designed shoes for Axion, Gravis, Fallen, Roxy, Fox Racing and many other skate and fashion brands. The creativity wouldn’t stop so naturally Alf was bound to start a footwear brand of his own. What he set out to create, nearly unprecedented, was a mix of high fashion and skateable shoes. High end materials, creative designs, bespoke packaging, and often in limited numbers and hand-signed by Alf himself. Savalé is the name and it’s on a steady rise in the footwear world coming from the one-man brand builder.
If you don’t know Alf from his video parts or for his shoe résumé, you probably know his comical take on celebrities and skateboarding via his Everybody Skates brand. What started as a joke between friends on Instagram, Alf’s skewered everyone from Michael Jackson to Morrissey and put them on skateboards with captions like “The Smith Grind” (a nod to Morrissey’s seminal band) or MJ with “Thriller” behind him in the Thrasher Magazine font. These designs work, not only because they’re funny, but Alf’s hand in graphic design matches the wit in his brain perfectly. The feedback was so good just on the graphics on IG that Alf naturally decided to try putting the designs on apparel and accessories, and the brand was born. Hats, Polo shirts, Ts, clocks, posters—Alf even made some huge embroidery art pieces. And when Supreme is asking to carry your stuff, you know you’ve made it.
Alf’s always broken down the race barrier in skating. He was one of the only African Americas to skate vert (we see you Cookiehead Jenkins!), and shared a part in 1989’s Hokus Pokus with Danny Way set to an anit-racism rap-rock song. With Everybody Skates, Alf made Black History Month decks that were covered with the names of African American skaters’ names from over the years with the words “Thank You” in the center. Too many names to mention, literally, Alf has done a second edition of this sought-after deck.
Constantly evolving, Alf began his current mash-up collaboraton decks with his heros and legends in professional skateboarding. Mike Hawk is the comical combination of Mike McGill and Tony Hawk, OG Bones Brigade teammates with Powell Peralta graphics just as famous. Alf seamlessly blended Hawk’s bird skull with McGill’s snake and skull. HAWSOI was another mix, this time with Hawk and Christian Hosoi. Former vert contest rivals, Hawk and Hosoi are now veteran peers and Alf brought them together on this collab—a treat for Alf as he gets to honor the pros that influenced him. Matt Hensley and Ray Barbee, a heaven-sent street skating duo from the 80s got the Everybody Skates treatment with their iconic street sign and ragdoll graphics respectively.
Not only does Alf concept, design, and produce these products, he’s out there filming hype videos for his social media channels to promote the drops. When it’s time to pack up and ship out the products, he enlists his wife and two daughters to help with the process—truly a family affair. You really can’t support a more legit skater-owned business. And if you’re wondering if Alf still gets down on a skateboard in his spare time, look no further than clips on his IG. The man doesn’t age and hasn’t missed a step with his skills on the stuntwood.