The feeling you get when you see a kid pull off some outrageous stunt in the X-Games?
Don "Waldo" Autry was giving people that thrill 35 years ago, said longtime friend Dave Heady.
“Once you watched Waldo skate, you realized all things were possible after that,” said Heady, a Seal Beach resident.
Family and friends are remembering the 55-year-old Autry – who was found dead in a van in Seal Beach on Jan. 24 – as a “pioneer in skateboarding” and a kind and happy guy.
A co-worker discovered Autry’s body in the vehicle on the 200 block of Main Street, near Upstairs Downstairs, the hair salon where Autry worked as a stylist, according to Orange County Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Gail Krause. The coroner has performed an autopsy and is waiting for the results of several tests to determine the cause of death.
Autry leaves behind two daughters and a son.
Growing up in northern Long Beach, Autry rose to skateboarding prominence in the '70s. He graced the covers of magazines and was featured in the film Five Summer Stories, introducing America to the "magic rolling board."
“And there are dreamers,” the narrator says as the film goes into slow motion to capture Autry riding the walls of a concrete tunnel. “Waldo Autry’s imagination takes him beyond gravity and common sense on a truly magical ride.”
Waldo is credited with inventing the "kickturn on a vertical wall," a move in which the boarder rides up a curved surface onto a shear wall, spins the board 180 degrees on the wall and goes in a different direction (see him do the move in 1972 in the accompanying video starting at the 9:23 mark).
“He was the pioneer in skateboarding,” said Heady, who skated with Autry on the Tunnel Skateboards' team in the late '70s.
“If it wasn’t for Waldo, there would be no Tony Hawk,” Heady said. “He was the Tony Hawk of his generation.”
According to friends, he was also an accomplished luger, surfer and motorcyclist.
Friend Keith Thompson, who met Autry when they were both in their early teens, said he was “somebody you could always talk to.”
“He always had a smile on his face,” Thompson said. “Don was always a happy guy.”
A memorial service is scheduled for 9 a.m. on Feb. 23 at Bolsa Chica State Beach at the north end parking lot, according to Heady. The date is subject to change.
“It’s a loss to the world really,” said Debbie Hogan, mother of his son. “He’s a legend and was an awesome guy, and talented in everything he did."