Jake Phelps, the patron saint of San Francisco skateboarding and veteran editor of Thrasher, is dead. He was 56 years old. The magazine announced his death in a post Thursday night, although it didn’t specify the cause.
Phelps served as Thrasher editor for 26 years, taking over in 1993 after a few years of working in the warehouse. Under his leadership, Thrasher solidified itself as the seminal skateboarding outlet, refusing to round its edges or stop pissing people off. That ethos came from Phelps. “People always call me an asshole,” he told California Sunday Magazine in 2016. “That’s because I don’t stop.”
A recent example: In 2016, the magazine’s flame logo became trendy, and as a result a bunch of big-time celebrities were seen stepping out in Thrasher hoodies or shirts. For many outlets, this would be an absolute coup, but Phelps hated it and told them to quit being posers. “We don’t send boxes to Justin Bieber or Rihanna or those fucking clowns,” he told Hypebeast. “The pavement is where the real shit is. Blood and scabs, does it get realer than that?”
Phelps claimed he remembered the exact moment he first picked up a skateboard: 4 p.m., April 13, 1976, Marblehead, Massachusetts. Over the next four decades, he’s only stopped when he’s been seriously fucked up (like when he smashed his head bombing San Francisco’s Dolores Street in 2017). Here’s his self-described “cavalcade of gnar”:
He’s broken both legs, both thumbs, both collarbones, and his pelvis. He has fractured his skull. He’s had seven knee surgeries — three on one, four on the other. He says his medical record is 290 pages long. “I’ve spent more time in the hospital,” he told me once, “than most people spend in jail.”
To Phelps, covering skateboarding was never about who could do the most difficult trick or who won a vert contest. It was more totalizing than that. It was about an uncompromising lifestyle that gleefully embraced, in Phelps’s words, “slams, collisions, grinds yelling, screams, snapped bones—it’s called bein’ alive.”
Thrasher founder Fausto Vitello’s son Tony summed up Phelps’s lifelong commitment to skating:
Jake never bailed. Jake fucking slammed. And there is a big difference. He only knew commitment. He was going to go for it without hesitation, and there were only two outcomes. Either you’d see his triumphant fist pumping in the air or it’d be an earth-shaking collision with the concrete.
According to skater Chico Brenes, Phelps was at Potrero del Sol park, which he helped design, the day before he died.