Aerial Pioneer Kevin Reed Accused Of Murder

Arrested Sunday in Santa Cruz, under suspicion of first-degree murder of homeless man

Santa Cruz legend Kevin Reed, who performed the first documented aerial on the cover of Surfing Magazine in 1975, was arrested on Sunday morning and has been accused of murder, according to The Mercury News.

The 58-year-old Reed has reportedly lived homeless near the seawall along Beach Avenue for years, and was found near the dead body of 52-year-old Steven Lee on Sunday, close to the volleyball courts along Main Beach. Santa Cruz police say that investigators are looking into Lee's death as a homicide, “though the man's body showed no signs of obvious trauma,” reads The Mercury. Autopsy results of Lee’s body are forthcoming. Reed – who now goes by the name of Kevin Callahan – remains in Santa Cruz County Jail on suspicion of first degree murder. Bail is listed at $750,000.

Originally from Seabright, Reed is considered a pioneer of the aerial, the skateboard-inspired maneuver that surfers were just beginning to take from drained swimming pools (Reed was also known as an exceptional skateboarder) to banked walls in the water. He graced the cover of a 1975 issue of Surfing Magazine, flying above the lip on a silhouette-cast stinger, in what many credit as the first photographed air in history.

"He was the first guy to do the aerials. That's a fact, and he did it five years before anybody else," lifelong friend and surf shop owner Bob Pearson told Mercury reporters on Monday. Pearson said that Reed had not been surfing for years, and that he had worked with Flea Virostko and other Steamer Lane icons to help lift Reed out of a post-professional spiral marked by alcohol and drugs. The change in Reed’s life, from the lineup to the Santa Cruz streets, is “pretty damn sad,” Pearson told The Mercury.

"You drive by homeless [people], you hear it a bunch of times: Don't judge the people, you don't know who he is, who she is, where they're from, what happened to them and what's going on in their life," Pearson continued. "I'm sure he has been judged wrong by a lot of people. It's unfortunate, some people just fall through the cracks."

The above clip, an outtake from the 2010 documentary “The Westsiders” features Reed candidly discussing the drug culture in Santa Cruz. He says that he exhorted surfers like Barney Barron and Jason “Ratboy” Collins to be mindful of how such tough living would affect their futures.

"I did tell all of them – Barney, Ratty, all of them – I never want to see any of them living in the gutters,” Reed says in the interview. “Because surfing will not support you."

[UPDATE: On Tuesday afternoon, the Santa Cruz County District Attorney dropped all homicide charges against Reed and released him from custody, according to KSBW news. “After careful review of the evidence submitted by the Santa Cruz Police Department, and autopsy findings provided by the Sheriff’s Coroner’s office, the District Attorney’s Office has determined there is insufficient evidence to charge Kevin Callahan regarding the death of Steven Lee,” said prosecutors.]

Kevin Reed, ’76, Steamer Lane. Photo: Lance Trout