Jake Phelps, Skateboarder and Editor of Thrasher, Dies at 56

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Famous skateboarder and Thrasher magazine editor Jake Phelps, left, died on March 14, 2019. He was 56. (Incase/Flickr)

Skateboarder Jake Phelps, longtime editor of the San Francisco-based skateboarding magazine Thrasher, has died at age 56. Tony Vitello, the magazine's publisher, confirmed Phelps' death in an Instagram post on Thursday.

"I never met anybody who loves anything more than Jake worshiped skateboarding," Vitello wrote. "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."

His uncle, Clark Phelps, posted on Facebook on Thursday that his nephew "died suddenly and easily today." Further details on his death have not yet been made public.

Phelps became the editor of Thrasher in 1993 and was one of the most well-known figures in the skateboarding world. The magazine is known as "the bible" to skaters, and according to a 2016 California Sunday Magazine profile on Phelps, he liked to consider himself as the "brand personified":

Phelps is an unreconstructed punk rocker in a city that has little need or space for them anymore. He refuses to pay his Muni fare, instead slipping through the rear doors. He bums cigarettes everywhere he goes; he calls kids blood. He barks at strangers and screams at drivers. He sails through lights with an unearned confidence, directing traffic with cryptic hand gestures. He shoplifts candy bars just to see if people are paying attention.

He was known to brag about his violent close calls while skateboarding, including in 2017 when he suffered a serious head injury skating on Dolores Hill in San Francisco.


Upon learning of Phelps' death, fans and fellow skateboarders took to social media to mourn his passing.

"He was a true skateboarder to the end, a fan of diverse styles and a passion for the history of skating," tweeted skateboarding legend Tony Hawk.

Many fans cited Phelps and Thrasher as important parts of their lives.

Phelps' brash attitude and use of homophobic slurs made him a divisive figure for some in the skating community. In 2016, he lashed out when celebrities including Rhianna and Justin Bieber started wearing Thrasher apparel.

Phelps spent the first 11 years of his life in California before his parents divorced. He moved to Massachusetts with his mom, according to the California Sunday Magazine profile. That's where he first learned to skate and was briefly sponsored by Pepsi in the late 1970s.

He returned to San Francisco in the 1980s, working at a skate shop in the Haight before starting to write for Thrasher and boxing the brand's hats and T-shirts at its Hunters Point warehouse. Phelps would give editorial input on the magazine while working the warehouse before eventually being tapped to take over the publication in 1993.

"Jake Phelps was 100% skateboarder, but that label sells him way too short," Vitello wrote in his Instagram remembrance, "because beyond his enormous influence in our world, he was truly an individual beyond this world."