Jake Phelps aka The Phelper aka Thrasher Magazine's Editor in Chief. The first time we met Jake was the 2013 SOTY party. We were perhaps a bit overly jubilant introducing ourselves and he shrugged us off with nothing more than a groan of annoyance. Fast forward a year to the 2014 SOTY party and he's nice enough to give us his phone number for an interview. But what kind of questions do you ask skateboarding's walking encyclopedia? You can only imagine our trepidation.
This is The Jake Phelps Interview
Listen to the phone call on YouTube:
Or read the transcription!
Can you describe to the young’uns with 5 skate parks in a 5 mile radius what your skate scene was like as a kid and what your first introduction to skateboarding was?
For one it was before skateboarding was popular. In the 70’s when I started skateboarding it wasn’t really big blow out popular. There were no skate parks. People just skateboarded on streets, there were disciplines, they called them. There was high jump, slalom, long jump, stuff like that. It was more like an Olympian… Slalom you know? Not like tricks per se, just disciplines, there were no parks.
And what would you say was the best thing about the 70s?
Yea that was your favorite era right?
Haha Well I mean I remember skating in the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, Otts, whatever, Teens… I’ve skated them all, but I mean… What was the best thing about the 70’s? The equipment sucked but the stoke, the people were just as hyped at doing it, and then it died and people got over it and they’re like “we’ll find something else” and I was like, “well I’m not going to stop” ha. Guess I had to find some new friends.
Have you had to do that a few times? Find new friends?
I don’t think I have anybody that is my age that still skates as much as me. So it’s like I pretty just much meet out at the skate park that want to skate with me… It’s kinda weird, but… Like I was with this kid the other day, he said some shit to me and I was like thinking about something else. He asked me if I had any cookies. I’m like cookies? No I don’t have any cookies… It shows you how fucked up you know, the kids are just so so little and I’m just fucking old.
Any favorite Hell Ride stories with Cardiel and Stranger?
Favorite stories? I’ve had many crazy moments in my life but picking one would be very difficult.
Are there any pivotal moments of your extensive career that you’re most proud of?
Most proud of... I mean as far as I’m concerned as long as the magazine stays strong. You know when print media was dying it seemed everyone was fucking telling us it was over and shit and we’re like fuck no Thrasher is forever. So we stick with Thrasher and triangulate that with our web coverage we can’t lose; we’ve become our own competition in that regard, it’s pretty amazing.
Alright switching gears a little bit… How many hits of acid would you say you’ve taken in one sitting, like the most, and do you have a craziest acid trip story?
I remember taking acid when I was a kid. I mean I did a lot of acid when I was in junior high, 8th 9th 10th grade and stuff. But I remember… Well first if you’ve ever known Red Kryptonics, they’re really… um… Smooth. And I remember skateboarding on acid in the rain on Red Kryptonics and I could hear the noises made while I was flying like 40 miles an hour and it was like the most insane feeling in the world, I felt like I was electric.
Ha that’s awesome. Alright switching gears again… How many times would you say skateboarding has died? What do you think has been the worst era for skateboarding and why?
The worst era for skateboarding was 1981 when people just died, there was nothing, I mean it was fucking... From 75 to 77 people were building skate parks and skateboard companies, there was like unicorns in ads and weird shit. And then it just died from 1980 to 83. And then the Bones Brigade put it back on radar in 85. And street skating happened. And then after like 1990, 91, 92 it died maaajor fucking UGH. All vert’s dead. And then we still kept skating, that’s all it was. I mean it died religiously because of the equipment and people that didn’t understand what they were dealing with. People that would make skateboards or build skateboard parks and not understand how dangerous and treacherous they are and they were killing their own customers, their fan base. So I mean yea, they weren’t really thinking about their own future.
How would you describe the era of skateboarding we’re in now? Or are there any best / worst trends you see in skateboarding right now?
I think skateboarding right now is better than it’s ever been of course because I mean the kids that we raised from the Dark Ages of time they came to fruition in this era of ya know like the Figgys and the Grants they grew up on the mag and they all want just to rip ride and get down and get gnarly! It’s fucking insane, the magazine, these kids are all like early 20’s and that’s the time when we took over the magazine and took it to another level. Before I worked at the magazine people didn’t skate that much there. So then when I started working at the magazine we tried to hire people that skateboarded and took photos and what not and understood the whole competition, not the competition, the whole ideaology of skateboarding as a lifestyle, more than just a magazine. And Thrasher became part of that program.
You said you’ve been hanging out at the parks a lot, who are a few up and coming skaters people might not have heard of but you think we’ll definitely come to know in the next couple of years?
The kids that I hang out with, the gnarliest kids at the skate parks I hang out with, I hang out at Potrero… Rafa, Zoa, Django, there’s a bunch of kids… And Damien. Those are the kids I skate with. They’re good. Really good.
Can you tell us about Benji Gallow, Tony Farmer, Bill Pepper, Choppy Omega and Frank Hirata… I mean either in one explanation or how each of them got banned? And maybe like what happened with the 5 Days of Hate?
Ummm haha nahhh that’s a no comment, c’mon man… Choppy Omega ripped me offa dope and said Burnside tax. Bill Pepper… Just happened, whatever. His girlfriend was waiting outside in the car, I thought that was pretty cool.
Ha alright, I at least had to ask ya know?
That’s alright, go ahead…
What was really going on at HSP when people thought you were fired for that? Was there point when you were legitimately unemployed?
Oh no way, I made it up myself because I was like “fucking ridiculous”. Cuz it just showed the power of the people talking on the net behind their little Indy43 username. They're clocked, they're just like people that don’t skate that have opinions, but now their opinions matter for some reason? I’ll never understand.
What do you think you’d be doing now if Phil Shao became the new editor? Do you have any other hopeful successors?
I don’t know, that’s a hard feeling to think about. I just dedicated my life to skating, that’s what it was, that’s what it is, it’s not something I could walk away from. It’s what I want, it’s what I want to do, I have the power to do what I want to do. That’s more than empowering you know?
Did you have any input into the design of his skate park in redwood city?
Nooo, not at all.
Do you really have a photographic memory? Like have you been medically diagnosed?
Oh no, I remember photos from the magazine and captions that go with it, but I would never… I could tell you if it was in our mag or stuff like that. I could remember some it but it’s impossible to have a photographic memory for over 412 issues of Thrasher.
I was going to say, if you really tried do you think you could name every Thrasher cover in order by memory?
Oh no like I said that’s impossible, that would take like a Millenium Falcon (burps).
Were there any ads in the mag that caused a shit storm or really caused people to start talking about it?
We had a REAL ad of Salman doing a switch Ollie over a fire hydrant and the logo was backwards cuz it was switch and then they stopped the mag at the press because they couldn’t figure it out that it was real, that it actually happened.
Salman Agah | Switch Ollie, Real Skateboards | Thrasher Magazine
What is your opinion of Eric Swenson’s suicide? Was his death conflicting for you at all in that it meant you were also taking over the magazine?
No Eric was a good guy, a nice guy. He was not very happy so he checked out.
What do you have to say about claims SOTY is rigged and the votes don’t matter?
I don’t think that anybody should talk about things they don’t understand. They can talk about whatever they want. SOTY is up to them. If they want to believe what they want, go for it.
What pick for SOTY have people questioned the most?
Ummmmmm… Well I’ve heard a lot of rumblings about Chris Senn, and different people, I don’t know, I mean it’s like a long time ago, the 90’s and shit.
How is it Steve Caballero was never named Skater of the Year but ended up Skater of the Century?
I read online that Thrasher named him Skater of the Century, it’s like all over the internet.
We have never named anyone Skater of the Century, never.
Alright on Google, I’m telling you, I didn’t think you did but I saw it all over the websites and it kind of threw me for a loop.
So Thrasher says he’s Skater of the Century?
If you Google “Steve Caballero Skater of the Century”… I’m telling you it’s worth a Google.
Well and it’s been verified by Thrasher Magazine… Ok…
I don’t think it’s been verified by Thrasher, that’s why I was asking about it, so that makes more sense.
That’s Vans dude he’s not Skater of the Century, Tony Hawk is skater of the fuckin’ bazillion light years c’mon bro, deal with it.
Yea that sounds a lot better to me too. If there was a SOTY of all SOTYs contest who do you think would/should win, is that Tony?
Now, right now, fucking Grant Taylor for sure. Fuck yea. Grant Taylor. Fuck Yea.
What are your thoughts on the gentrification of San Francisco?
Meh, easy come easy go. Who owns it? The bank.
Top 5 street spots in the city today?
In the city today? Just the hills man. Spots come and go, but the hills and streets are forever.
Can you explain what you mean when you say, “slams aren’t bails”?
Slamming means you’re trying to make it, bails mean you’re jumping off, that’s it’. Slams aren’t, bails it’s the truth.
Tell us about this near death spider bite.
I was fucking underneath my ramp and I got bit by a spider. I thought it was swellbow. Then three days later it swelled up really bad, I couldn’t even put my jacket on. I went to the hospital and they like, immediately pushed the panic button. And when I went in they lanced it, cellulitis. Also I thought in my dream thousands of millions of little milky white spiders came out all over the ground, it was really fucking vivid. I guess it was necrified tissue, necrified means dead, they had to cut all that and then I had to regrow it. Then I had problems with my other elbow, it’s just a real battle of getting old, my body versus the ground, gravity is taking its toll.
What advice do you have for anyone hoping to get out of the mailroom of life?
I would just say, if anybody asks you, always have an answer. That’s the best advice I would ever give. What do you want to listen to? The fuckin’ Ramones. What do you want to eat? Pizza dipshit. Think you can do a better mag? Of course I can. That’s exactly what happened to me. Believe it.
What’re you going to do now that you’ve finished all these damn questions?
I’m gonna go home and clean my room.