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Jake Phelps skateboarding

Jake Phelps, longtime Thrasher magazine editor, passed away. Image: Screenshot from Thrasher’s Hall of Meat


The Inertia

Jake Phelps, Thrasher magazine editor and the man who helped shape skateboarding, has died at the age of 56. The cause of death has not been released.

His death was first reported on Thursday by Tony Vitello, Thrasher’s owner, and by Clark Phelps, Jake’s uncle.

“My illustrious nephew Jake, famed editor of Thrasher magazine died suddenly and easy today,” Clark wrote on Facebook. “If you knew him you knew a character. He’s got more space on Google than anybody I know. We loved each other, and if he was anywhere near Salt Lake City he would crash for a night or two. I have dozens of stories and will tell a few in the next few days.”

Phelps first took the helm of Thrasher in 1993 and soon turned the already-popular magazine into the bible of skateboarding. There is a good chance that there has never been—or ever will be—anyone as devoted to skateboarding as Jake Phelps was.

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“I never met anybody who loves anything more than Jake worshiped skateboarding,” Tony Vitello wrote in a touching statement released by Thrasher. “Just as we need food and water to survive, Jake needed skateboarding to keep his blood pumping. It was more than a hobby or form of transportation or way of life – it was his oxygen.”

Phelps was born in San Francisco and lived there until his parents divorced when he was 11. He moved to Massachusetts with his mother and found work at a skatepark at the age of 14.  It soon became clear that he was extraordinarily talented, and he picked up a few sponsors, including Pepsi. According to Datebook, he dropped out of school in the late 1970s, choosing to pursue skateboarding for a career. Soon after, he moved back to San Francisco and met Thrasher’s first editor, Kevin Thatcher. He took a job packing products for them, and so began his rise to becoming a skateboarding legend.

 

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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. But most of you reading this now identified primarily with Jake Phelps the skateboarder, and editor of our magazine, so I will leave you with this truth – I never met anybody who loves anything more than Jake worshipped skateboarding. Just as we need food and water to survive, Jake needed skateboarding to keep his blood pumping. It was more than a hobby or form of transportation or way of life – it was his oxygen. Here’s another thing. 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. I remember him telling me once that he never fell backwards, he always fell forward. Leaning back meant there was hesitation, and Jake was all the way IN. There was no myth. The man was the myth. We love you, Jake. -Tony Vitello

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The skateboarding world is reeling. “Unreal and tragic news about the passing of Jake Phelps,” wrote Tony Hawk on Instagram. “He was a true skateboarder to the end, a fan of diverse styles and a passion for the deep history of skate tricks. He used to jokingly call this weird fakie footplant impossible trick the ‘Spaghetti Western’ and I will always use that name in his honor. Thank you for everything, Jake.”

Although Phelps’ name was synonymous with skateboarding, he was much more than a skateboarder. “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,” Tony Vitello wrote. “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… Here’s another thing. 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. I remember him telling me once that he never fell backward, he always fell forward. Leaning back meant there was hesitation, and Jake was all the way IN. There was no myth. The man was the myth. We love you, Jake.”

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