Thrasher Magazine Editor Jake Phelps Gone At 56
Today we mourn a true icon.
News of the unexpected passing of Jake Phelps has rocked the skateboarding and publishing communities like a speed wobble at the bottom of a San Francisco hill. The editor of Thrasher Magazine, he was 56 years old. The cause of death has not been released.
In an era where skateboarding, much like surfing, is at risk of being watered down by corporate interests and Johnny-come-latelies, Phelps dedicated his life and his publication to remaining ardently independent. He gave a voice to the nuanced and gritty subculture of skateboarding. He preserved the cultural integrity of its roots. He was one of the few brave enough to use his platform and sound off when he saw fit. And he was unapologetic about it all, which was beautiful.
“Jake Phelps was 100% skateboarder,” reads the eulogy released by Thrasher. “But that label sells him way too short, because beyond his enormous influence in our world, he was truly an individual beyond this world. When loved ones pass we sometimes mythologize about their full lives rich in friendships and experiences. Sometimes we need to talk ourselves into believing it all. It makes us feel better, and helps us cope with the loss. Well, in the case of Jake, the task becomes wrapping your head around just how many lives one person could possibly live. He really did see it all, do it all, and that incredible brain of his could relish every last detail.”
Published monthly since 1981, Phelps got his start in the mailroom at Thrasher and quickly rose through the ranks because, as he described, he was the only one there that skated at the time.
In 2011, Thrasher co-founder Eric Swenson committed suicide, leaving Phelps to his best, and sometimes worst, instincts.
“When I dropped out of school, they told me I could never do anything or go anywhere, and then when I got the keys to the mag, I was just like ‘Alright, watch this, motherfuckers!’ And I went everywhere,” Phelps said in a 2012 interview.
He took an unabashed approach to speaking truth power, insisting to the very end that Thrasher be an honest and accurate portrayal of what’s happening with skating on the ground. He had no qualms about calling somebody out if they deserved it. His voice and guidance helped keep skateboarding honest. For over 30 years the pages of his magazines were plastered on every skate grom's bedroom walls. In the early days, Thrasher was printed on dirty, stinky, low-cost newsprint. It even smelled like skateboarding.
Phelps famously had the phrase, “skate or die” printed on his business card. He was the creator of the “King of the Road” contest series that was picked up by Vice Sports a few years ago.
“Thrasher lives at street level,” Phelps told the San Francisco Chronicle in ’96. “If parents don’t complain about it, we’re doing something wrong. It’s the kind of thing you hide under your bed at night. It’s the recklessness of youth.”
The style and influence of Phelps is irreplaceable. His loss leaves a huge hole in the fabric of the board sports culture.