March 18, 2019
Hail and Farewell: Jake Phelps of Thrasher magazine
by Ryan Harrington
As our man on the skateboard-publishing beat, it is my unfortunate duty today to report some sad news from one of the raddest corners of the publishing world: Jake Phelps, editor of Thrasher magazine, died last Thursday at age 56.
Founded in 1981, Thrasher remains the paper of record in the skateboarding world, but it has transcended that niche. Look to your left. Now look to your right. One of you three is wearing a Thrasher t-shirt.
Or perhaps skateboarding has transcended niche status thanks to Phelps and Thrasher. The tirelessly engaged, charismatic provocateur was the face of the magazine for over twenty years, becoming a skateboarding legend, a time-traveller from a prelapsarian San Francisco, and an ambassador to underground culture in general.
As publisher Tony Vitello eulogized on the magazine’s website,
“Jake Phelps was 100% skateboarder, 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.”
The cause of death has not yet been reported.
Perhaps a detail from Peter Fimrite’s piece for The San Francisco Chronicle says it best: Phelps had “Skate or Die” printed on his business cards. Hell yeah.
To learn more about Jake Phelps, check out Will Staley’s excellent 2016 profile in California Sunday Magazine.
Ryan Harrington is a senior editor at Melville House.