‘Get Some Or Get The Fuck Out’

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.

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9 Responses to “‘Get Some Or Get The Fuck Out’”

  1. Rocuronium Says:

    Right on!

  2. Watson Says:

    Strange coincidence that the human embodiment of Thrasher died just over a week after the physical embodiment of Transworld.

  3. John Says:

    RIP to the phelper. Great obit. The thing I always think about Phelps was he was a pretty corny dude, but then skating is a ridiculous path. kind of a great matching of person and lifestyle. few skate or die as hard as he.

  4. d Says:

    find an editor. save us the prattling verbosity. please.

  5. Anonymous Says:

    Thanks from Craic Skateboarding

  6. All The News Headlines For Now Says:

    […] Miki Vuckovich Police: Skateboarder hospitalized after crashing into car, had beer in hand ‘Get Some Or Get The Fuck Out’ TV personality Bam Margera committed to behavioral facility RIP Jake Phelps: by Patrick […]

  7. David Says:

    Ponerse borde.

  8. Julieta Says:

    De toda la vida.

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