Archive for March, 2019

‘Get Some Or Get The Fuck Out’

March 16, 2019

Jake Phelps is dead. No two-week notice, no yearslong incremental torch passing, no forced retirement, as if — ’suddenly and easy’ his exit came, according to his uncle. Merciful maybe, but an unlikely end to a tale that seemed fated to finish in some lights-out crash or catastrophe, roughly. Still. As a bookend for a man who made his way in choppy, decisive words, it’s a flame-out versus a slow fade, and one with weight. Jake Phelps is dead.

You felt like you knew him since the volume on his personality ran so loud for so long, too loud sometimes and abrasive, but it was nothing if not consistent. Jake Phelps came camera ready with a rap sheet that reads almost suspiciously well written: NorCal kid transplanted to hardscrabble Boston, coming up just in time to watch the bottom crumble out of skating; doing around a decade in those industry meatgrinders, the skateshop counter and the shipping warehouse, until Thrasher’s reins got handed to him around the time of another industry nadir. Willy Staley’s 2016 profile for California Sunday — easily secular-press skate piece top five — succinctly charts how Jake Phelps remade Thrasher, maybe not in his own image, but for sure the one he aspired to.

And then he lived it, traveling the world, rolling in, breaking his bones, rearing generations of iconic skaters, getting punched, getting stitched up, enforcing rules that aren’t written anyplace, howling at the moon, skating. His matching worldview and lifestyle were blunt, purist and sometimes smacked of bumper-sticker sloganeering. Not always predictable, though. He mourned Prince. Ryan Sheckler, who deeply transgressed by lying to Jake Phelps’ face about bagging an El Toro trick, deserved a ban but didn’t get one. When the Bunt hosts marveled at his stamina and wondered whether they’d still be doing it at 55, Jake Phelps turned suddenly, almost shockingly parental: “Of course you will! You have to just believe in yourself.”

As piss and vinegar-soaked as he appeared up til his surprise dip-out, Jake Phelps for years had been a walking dinosaur, if not necessarily bombing straight toward some tar pit end. On any given morning barreling down his beloved Dolores Street, Jake Phelps surely embodied worlds in decline: Old San Francisco, famously non-PC, MJ1s on his feet until whatever deadstock tap ran dry, proofing a decades-old print publication with a snarling discontent any seasoned editor would recognize and respect. An artifact arguing and cussing every day for a place in a world moving some other way. And by all accounts disinterested in any skate-industry artifice beyond the one he ruled.

Within the journalistic canon, it’s easy to consider Jake Phelps among the lineage of Hunter S. Thompson, with his profane exhortations and self-destructive appetites, or Mark Twain, with his barbed quotables and steamboat-pilot gear, or Anna Wintour, Vogue’s fearsome empress, doling out blessings and banishments in equal turn. But Jake Phelps’ media arc may most closely align with Hugh Hefner, berobed lion of the Playboy masthead — similarly polarizing, uncompromising in his tastes, firmly fixed in his values, constructor of and living totem for an editorial vision that mapped ways and rules for a world where he aimed to live, and you could too. “Who was writing these dream stories? I was,” he told the Bunt boys.

The High Speed offices today likely face no key man risk. By all accounts Jake Phelps’ day-to-day duties at the mag were next to nil. As the last of the old mags still going, Thrasher’s trajectory and point of view seem safe in the hands of Tony Vitello, Michael Burnett, Michael Sieben, Lui Elliot, Dan Zaslavsky and the rest. There will be a hole there left by this one who Tony Hawk’s dad busted drinking beers in the skatepark parking lot, who the Texas authorities nabbed skating a full pipe 200 feet below a dam — who was so long and deeply entwined with the most important institution in skating that it seemed impossible to separate the two, and probably pointless. Somebody else now will write the dream stories, but not with precisely the same vividness, rancor, rapture, and complete commitment.

Check Out

March 10, 2019

Perhaps Pat Canale called it 20 years ago, bemoaning in Big Brother the ‘rave’ that was Transworld’s latest Ty Evans-helmed video. Pat Canale’s ‘rave’ critique became the subject of debate and scorn, most notably upon Ty Evans’ ‘FUCK CANALE’ grip job featured in ‘Chomp On This’ and also among certain rave circles. But, on the eve of Transworld print magazine’s passage into shadow, a man may take his moment to reflect on change, loss and techno raves. When the night grows darkest, when the lightless hours stretch out like yearsold sweatpants of blackest cotton, who remains? The premiere acts’ fans have gone, the dilettantes tucked in to sleep, the drug devotees scattered to their dens; those left are the true believers, or maybe just lost track of time. Sooner or later, the rave can no longer sustain itself, the party ends and everybody goes to Denny’s.

All that’s already been said is true: In those days of yore, before informational freedom and global connectivity enabled navel-gazers to signal boost and flatten medium access to sub-pancake levels, Transworld stood among a very few and precious portals to a then-exotic subculture. A glossy wormhole accessible from junior high libraries and Texaco magazine stands, through which a Midwestern middle schooler or Euro teen could peer into fantastical ramp configurations, learning tribal lingos, tracing fingers from the coping over the channel, circling in blue ink deck-graphic thumbnails that could sharpen anticipation to unbearable heights while those rectangular cardboard boxes inched their way from California.

But even when Transworld was running flatground flip trick covers and experimenting with non-static layouts, the platform Tracker built already was laying the foundation that would allow TWS more than any other legacy skateboard media property to expand and enrich itself in the 900/X-Games/THPS era: Reliably, its swears hunkered down under relatively safe font-size limits; it became the default venue as the Girl/Chocolate and World camps settled into grown-up LA apartments, cut-and-sew tops and luxury sedans, while Thrasher was fucking with Pete the Ox. Throwing open its pages to much-maligned ads for deodorant, hair gel, consumer packaged goods and the US military helped swell Transworld’s page count to Sears catalog levels and bankrolled video equipment that Ty Evans and his successors would use to revolutionize the skate video. Ramped slow-mo, meticulous editing cuts and Gap-ready techno singles were woven into top-shelf skating from both coasts — and even Thrasher standbys — into an incredible string of annual releases running from ‘Feedback’ to ‘The Reason’ to ‘Modus Operandi’ to ‘Sight Unseen’ to ‘IE’ to ‘In Bloom’ in a streak that now seems impossible to match.

While Thrasher survived its years in the wilderness and middling video efforts by building up its SOTY franchise and positioning itself for the great genre-mooshing ushered in by the ‘Beauty and the Beast’ tour, TWS too-comfortably oriented itself around steadily fading Xerox copies of its golden-age video format — the voiceovers and interludes stuck around way too long and the caliber of skaters struggled to rise to the old, iconic levels as pros proliferated and video projects ballooned into multi-year, pan-global money-losers, hoarding footage and photos as they went. Transworld’s VHS/DVD-driven powers began to ebb around the same time that digital storage costs began to fall and broadband internet powers proliferated, shifting the center of the coverage universe away from company- and magazine-backed full-lengths and toward content-farm online platforms and eventually where it is today, Instagram and Thrasher.

Losing the mobile video battle to its longtime NorCal rival helped to seal Transworld’s fate, and surely is ironic given Transworld’s prowess within VCRs and DVD players for a good decade or so. But it is too easy to count Transworld among the newsstand bodies piled high by advertising’s shift to screens, even with its steadily shrinking pagecount and shift to bimonthly publication schedule putting the magazine in danger well before its print plug got pulled in the same game of corporate-asset hot potato that took out Alien Workshop and sunk Zoo York.

The wood-chippering of this once-mighty subcultural tentpole is sad and symptomatic of a broader entropy at play across skating, which has splashed board companies and screenprint brands across the scene like stars in the evening sky. There now are lanes, and lucrative ones, for Swedish H-Street devotees, head-tatted French gutter punks, runway-walking guitar strummers, Andy Roy, first-billing Soundcloud rappers, Saturday morning cartoon breakfast cereal bowl-drinkers. Transworld’s print magazine has not only become superfluous — the big-tent middle that was the magazine’s strength has been hollowed out and scattered across dozens of smaller camps. The East Coast/EU/underground surge that Transworld commendably, maybe calculatedly, but too late tried to harness for its new core unfortunately wasn’t enough, even with a Bronze champagne drip. As Transworld continues, in some respect, as a lower-cost online entity, the watch now is on to see if they update their own list of deceased print mags.

How many lunar cycles shall pass before Transworld’s current owners recognize and reap nostalgia for the magazine’s golden period via limited-edition, expensively priced hardcover books and photographic prints, or find new owners who will? Did Transworld’s video golden age end with ‘Sight Unseen,’ ‘Free Your Mind,’ ‘Subtleties’ or ‘And Now’? Will Thrasher offer any heartfelt send-off for its southern nemesis in the next ‘Trash’ column or will they take the opportunity to twist the knife? Can you find and identify all of the outdated technologies referenced in this blog posting about Transworld as an outdated technology laid low by its reliance on other outdated technology? Is it ironic in the traditional sense that this post itself comes in a years-out-of-fashion weblog format, or just in the Alanis Morissette sense?

Meet Sabatino Aracu, Boss Of All Skateboarding Bosses

March 3, 2019

Within the warehouses clapped together in that storied, swampy section of eastern Tampa, none appeared more powerful on this Tampa Pro weekend than sportpantsed ghetto birder Aurelien Giraud, a young French Plan B rider and Red Bull sipper of some description, positively soaring over would-be competitors en route to an obvious Best Trick crown and sceptre. Aurelien ‘Girbaud’ Giraud only is beginning to pen his own tale, to be told in ultra 4K, homie phone vids and promotional materials for his sponsors; it shall be cradled in digital video and still imagery and the occasional Q&A text companion.

Yet talents like Aurelien Giraud, immense and highflying as they may be, come and go. For nigh 20 years the Tampa contest and its drainage-ditch accoutrements have been governed by SPoT impresario Brian Shaefer. Since 2015, SPoT’s career-making Tampa events have shifted under the contesturial auspices of Street League Skateboarding, managed by former extreme sporting FuelTV media figure CJ Olivares. Street League itself since last year has been in thrall to World Skate, a global governing body created through the IOC-officiated shotgun marriage of the International Roller Sports Federation and the International Skateboarding Federation, where gymnastics camping mogul Gary Ream oversees skateboarding content. Above him — holding in his hands the global fate of skateboarding — sits, in a worldly Italian’s repose, Sabatino Aracua, CEO of World Skate.

64-year-old Sabatino Aracu rose to rollersports power thanks to a canny combo of political pragmatism and raw wit. In 2004, the former rollerskating athlete and Italian lawmaker saw his moment: the International Roller Sports Federation, entering its eighth decade and shut out of recognition as an Olympic sport, faced a schism over recognizing the rollerbladers of Spain’s Catalonia province as a separate nation. Sabatino Aracu vociferously argued against recognizing the Catalans, warning such a bold maneuver could torpedo rollersporting’s Olympic dreams. His predecessor stepped down over the debate, and Sabatino Aracu ascended to his first of four terms as the organization’s president; in his 2017 election, none opposed him.

Another brass ring was furiously rollerskated after and grabbed in the late 1990s, when skateboarding, roller sports’ comparatively scrappy stepchild which remained unrefined through choreographed dance routines, had drawn the Olympic Argus’ wandering eye. Here, the FIRS flexed its decades of familiarity with Olympic rules, asserting itself the official governing body of skateboarding. Sabatino Aracu, in a 2016 interview with ‘I, Skateboard’ dance abstractionist Dave Carnie, presents himself as a uniter of multi-wheeled disciplines, forging a kind of bureaucratic harmony wherein skateboarding will provide a camera-ready vehicle for rollersports’ final triumph over the Olympic cold shoulder — pushing, together, past provincial turf battles and fun-poking novelty t-shirts (on the skateboarders’ side at least):

“Concerning the relationship between skateboarders and rollerbladers,” President Aracu replied, “I honestly do not understand, and I do not see a reason for such a riff: Everyone has its own culture and its own uniqueness. As multidisciplinary International Federation, for years we have managed different disciplines without disagreements simply because we guarantee and respect culture, autonomy, and individuality of each discipline. The role of a manager transcends the specific technical skills inside the international federations.”

As skateboarding preps for its global internet streaming debut next year, Sabatino Aracu remains singular as its planetary controlling persona. His steely eyes and shining pate call to mind the futuristic empire-building of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, the intergalactic masculinity of Captain Jean Luc Picard, the cerebral superpowers of Professor Charles Xavier. As a onetime competitive rollerskater he is intimately familiar with speeds that would make even the most iron-willed GX1000er drag his foot. He doubtless knows bearing-greasing secrets long ago handed down by the gods of yore and, when the chips are down, can be counted upon to don chainmail, hoist a helberd and raise aloud the battle cry in the face of overwhelming odds and an army of the living dead.

Could Sabatino Aracu’s yearslong rule and erudite quotations argue for or against presidential term limits for World Skate? Could enforced, compulsory participation in choreographed skate routines such as this help skateboarding heal the divisions and fragmentation wrought by the Instagram age? Are competitive speed rollerbladers and rollerdancing pros distraught at the prospect of their comparatively underground subcultures being coopted by skateboarding’s mainstream-and-malls set for an Olympic gold grab?