Does Longtime Skater, Surfer and Musician André Garnier Plan to Slow Down Anytime Soon? Nope.
On a roll.
- Written & photographed byKat Monk
Although André “Panda” Garnier prefers to skate locally with friends, he travels to the empty pool at the Venice Beach Skatepark a few times a week. On this occasion, he jumped out of the pool and kicked his skateboard upward so that his hand caught the board. The crowd that had gathered looked back in awe.
André can’t help but bust out a little smile. Skate-boarding is just second nature to him. Approaching 60, he skates at least four times a week and surfs or snowboards between band rehearsals.
Born in Saint Paul, Minnesota, André is grateful that his family settled in South Redondo. He is one of eight children—seven boys and one girl. The Garnier kids are of a blended heritage with a strong Creole influence from D’Jalma, their dad, who was raised in New Orleans.
“Music was a priority even when our family didn’t have a lot of money. There was always an opportunity to take lessons,” he shares. His mom, Peggy, gave him piano lessons, and later he took up saxophone.
“André surfs like he skates: very smooth style with ultraclean lines.”
At St. James Catholic Church, D’Jalma served as cantor and Peggy as organist. While they were young, all of their kids sang in the church choir. “We all sang because if we ran, our parents could catch us,” jokes André. “But as we got older, they couldn’t catch us anymore.”
At the holidays, the Garniers organized events where the boys would sing Christmas carols at senior centers and convalescence homes. André’s older brother D’Jalma became a musician and composer best known for Creole and Cajun fiddle, and another brother, Tony, joined the critically acclaimed band Asleep at the Wheel prior to playing bass for Bob Dylan starting in 1989.
While attending Redondo Union High School, André played in the marching band. That experience served him well in the Marine Corps; he shares he was one of a few Marines who could keep the marching beat.
No longer a brass man, André is known to try any string instrument in sight. “The thing about André is that he will gravitate toward any string instrument and figure it out on his own,” says Mark Fitchett, his former roommate and guitar instructor.
Mark remembers one time at a party where one of André’s brothers brought over a violin. “Danger, no, don’t give it to him!” he recalls saying to the brother. “A couple days later, I received a sound text of him playing the violin like a fiddle. He is fearless and loves the challenge.”
André’s musical influences range from Hank Williams to Taj Mahal to Doc Watson, with his favorite genres spanning Americana, folk and bluegrass. “My parents have been my biggest inspiration in life, and knowing I am carrying on their music tradition makes me very happy,” he says.
When his brother Tony would surf at Sapphire Street, André was allowed to tag along. At 9, his future was shaped when his mom brought home a surfboard she purchased at a garage sale.
“I loved that board even though it looked like someone had just splashed paint on it,” he remembers. “That was my first surfboard, and I gave her a big hug and finally learned how to surf Sapphire with my older brother.” He notes that gifts were few and far between back then with so many mouths to feed.
“André surfs like he skates: very smooth style with ultraclean lines,” says Tim Olafsen, his surfboard shaper. As local waves can be hit or miss, skateboarding became routine. André began skating with clay wheels, but around 1974 or 1975 when urethane wheels were introduced—Cadillac wheels, they were called—he took full advantage of the more stable, smooth and quiet skateboarding experience.
The 1970s became the golden age of pool skating. Due to a drought, suburban pools were emptied to conserve water throughout Southern California, creating a concrete playground for skateboarders like André and his friends Jon Scott and Davey Latter.
Six decades in, André says the goal is to have fun but not get injured. With a labor-intensive job, he prioritizes his action time to avoid burnout. If the waves are looking good the next morning, he’ll call it an early night. Also a family man, he loves his time at home with girlfriend Clancey and their pets.
As he approaches the big 60, André plans to keep his sports and music in perspective so he can enjoy them for years to come. “I’m not close to slowing down,” he says.