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'Artists, Weirdos, Hellriders And Homies:' Thrasher Magazine Turns 40

17 hours ago
Originally published on January 14, 2021 8:47 am

Playboy.

Glamour.

O.

Teen Vogue.

All these magazines have something in common.

They're no longer in print.

While these — and many other — publications have shifted to digital only in recent years, there's a print magazine bucking the trends and still going strong: Thrasher magazine. Created by skateboarders for skateboarders, Thrasher celebrates its 40th anniversary this month.

Founded in 1981 by Eric Swenson and Fausto Vitello, the San Francisco based publication has been busting out new issues every month for decades. Thrasher captures the gnarly antics of skaters as they shred pools, bomb hills and hurl themselves down rails and staircases.

"Back then there weren't that many videos, so that was our source of skateboarding," Mike Carroll, a professional skateboarder, said.

Carroll started reading Thrasher as a kid in the 80's. In 1994, he was given the coveted title of Thrasher Skater of the Year and he's been on numerous covers.

Mike Carroll started reading Thrasher as a kid; he was the magazine's Skater of the Year in 1994.
Sean Dolinsky / Thrasher Magazine

"Skateboarding is so infinite in so many different ways of your love for skateboarding," he said. "If you're looking at Thrasher, reading Thrasher, there's so many different things that you can learn from the magazine."

It's where skaters learn what shoes are in, what their favorite skaters are up to and what bands are worth checking out. Punk rockers like Black Flag and rappers like Tyler the Creator have graced its pages. But most importantly, Thrasher is a source of inspiring, cutting edge skateboarding.

Some readers rip out the magazine pages and posters and tape them to their bedroom walls.

"I remember the pictures that I had on my wall as a kid," Michael Burnett said. Today he's the Editor in Chief of Thrasher. He's the successor of the late, iconic editor Jake Phelps. "You would stare at this thing. It was like the Led Zeppelin album cover. You'd get this magazine and you would look at it over and over again. You're like, how did they get in the air?"

Some of the epic skateboarding moments captured in the magazine's covers include Milton Martinez doing a kickflip off the roof of a car wash in Los Angeles and Andrew Reynolds doing a backside flip down a staircase at Wallenberg High School. But perhaps the crown jewel of Thrasher covers is a photo of Jeremy Wray in the sky as he ollies from one water tower to another.

Pro skater Alexis Sablone remembers seeing the Wray cover when she was young. "He's just suspended in midair. I mean, if he didn't make it, he would die," she said.

Sablone is also featured in the magazine. In addition to putting out a skate video in Thrasher, she landed a spot on Team USA before skateboarding's Olympic debut was postponed last year.

Sablone says that when most people see a simple bench or planter, skaters like her see an obstacle to conquer. "You're constantly looking for skate spots in just your everyday environment," she said. "It could be a street you've gone down a million times, but you always have one eye out for something architecturally strange or something where you're like 'that's skatable.'"

There are so many ways to skate, after all, there are no rules in skateboarding. But what every skater has in common is an intimate knowledge of what it's like to slam into the ground. Sablone says landing tricks can be highly demanding.

Alexis Sablone says she's constantly looking for skate spots.
Jonathan Mehring

"It becomes like this personal battle," Sablone said. "It can be the most frustrating thing ever when it's not going well — and that happens a lot — or it can be the thing that feels the best."

Editor Burnett says there's no cheating in skateboarding. It's just you, the board and the concrete. It's not like you can fake breaking boards or bones.

Despite their commitment to all things skateboarding, Thrasher doesn't cover competitions like the X Games and they don't plan to cover the Olympics either.

"I look at skateboarding more as art than sport," Atiba Jefferson, Thrasher staff photographer, said.

A legend in his own right, Jefferson has been on many adventures with skateboarding's biggest stars. Some skaters, like Jefferson, say that skateboarding is about more than doing a bunch of tricks for points.

"You could put guitar playing in the Olympics if you really wanted to. It's a physical thing, right?" he said. Instead, Thrasher creators focus more on the skating that happens in the streets.

Still, Burnett knows there's room to grow the skate community. He's expressed interest getting everyone who loves skateboarding involved.

There are 488 Thrasher issues. But look at the covers, you'll quickly see that most of them are photos of men. The number of women featured on the covers can be counted with one hand: three.

YouTube

The magazine has featured more women pro skaters in recent years, but men still dominate the pages and covers.

"Thrasher is one of the biggest, most influential publications in skateboarding. They really lack diversity," Leo Baker said. Baker is a pro skater who has been featured in the magazine and also earned a spot on Team USA. Last year, they helped create Glue Skateboards with fellow skaters Cher Strauberry and Stephen Ostrowski.

"When Stephen, Cher and I decided to start Glue, a huge part of that was just being able to skate with and be on a team with people that are queer," Baker said.

Glue Skateboards, There Skateboards and The Skate Witches are among the many groups led by queer and women skaters that are helping expand the skate community.

"That's what I love about skateboarding," Burnett said. "Different groups around the world latch onto skating and make it their own. People get a little taste of it and then they customize it for their scene and their friends and what they're doing. And that's really exciting."

In his editor's note for the anniversary issue, Burnett writes that the magazine relies on, "the rippers, ragers, videographers, builders, artists, weirdos, hellriders and homies who keep on creating, keep on making skateboarding the beautiful, [f*****-up] thing that it is."

It's because of them that Thrasher continues to bring skateboarding to people's fingertips, month after month.

Nina Gregory edited this story for broadcast. Petra Mayer and Milton Guevara adapted it for the Web.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Playboy, Glamour, O, Teen Vogue - what do these magazines have in common? They are no longer in print. While many publications have shifted to digital in recent years, Thrasher Magazine is still going strong. Created by skateboarders for skateboarders, Thrasher celebrates its 40th anniversary this month. NPR's Milton Guevara spoke to some skaters about the magazine's enduring legacy.

MILTON GUEVARA, BYLINE: The spirit of Thrasher Magazine is summed up by its mantra - skate and destroy.

(SOUNDBITE OF BLACK FLAG'S "RISE ABOVE")

GUEVARA: Founded in 1981 by Eric Swenson and Fausto Vitello, the San Francisco-based publication has been busting out new issues every month for decades. It was born when punk rock and skateboarding dominated the city's cultural underbelly. Thrasher contains articles, photos, videos, and it's not just skate content.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RISE ABOVE")

BLACK FLAG: (Singing) Jealous cowards try to control. Rise above. We're going to rise above.

GUEVARA: They famously include music features as well, punk rockers like Black Flag and rappers like Tyler, the Creator, have graced its pages. But at its core, Thrasher captures the gnarly antics of skaters as they shred pools, bomb hills and hurl themselves down rails and staircases.

MIKE CARROLL: Back then, there wasn't that many videos, so that was our source of skateboarding.

GUEVARA: That's Mike Carroll. He's a professional skateboarder who started reading Thrasher as a kid. In 1994, he was given the coveted title of Thrasher Skater of the Year, and he's been on a handful of covers.

CARROLL: Skateboarding is so infinite in so many different ways of your love for skateboarding, you know, so if you're looking at Thrasher reading Thrasher, there's so many different things that you can learn from the magazine.

GUEVARA: It's where skaters learn what shoes are in, what their favorite skaters are up to. It's a source of inspiring cutting-edge skateboarding. Some readers rip out the magazine pages and posters and tape them to their bedroom walls. Michael Burnett did.

MICHAEL BURNETT: I remember the pictures that I had on my wall as a kid.

GUEVARA: Today, Burnett is the editor-in-chief of Thrasher.

BURNETT: You would stare at this thing. It was like the Led Zeppelin album cover, you know? You'd get this magazine and you would look at it over and over and over again. And you're like, how did they get in the air?

GUEVARA: Some of the epic skateboarding moments captured in the magazine include Milton Martinez doing a kickflip off the roof of a car wash...

(CHEERING)

GUEVARA: ...Andrew Reynolds doing a backside flip down a staircase at a high school.

(CHEERING)

GUEVARA: Perhaps the crown jewel of Thrasher covers is a photo of Jeremy Wray in the sky as he ollies from one water tower to another.

ALEXIS SABLONE: It's like a black-and-white photo and Thrasher's in red, and he's just suspended in midair. Like, I mean, if he didn't make it, he would die.

GUEVARA: That's pro skater Alexis Sablone.

SABLONE: I saw that and never forgot that cover.

GUEVARA: Sablone is also featured in Thrasher. In addition to being a street skater, she earned a spot on Team USA before skateboarding's Olympic debut was postponed last year. Sablone says that where most people see a simple bench or planter, skaters like her see an obstacle to conquer. During the filming of her most recent Thrasher video, she turned New York streets into her playground.

SABLONE: You're constantly, like, looking for skate spots in just your everyday environment. So it could be a street you've gone down a million times, but you always have, like, one eye out for something architecturally strange or something where you're like that's skatable.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: Oh.

GUEVARA: There are so many ways to skate. After all, there are no rules in skateboarding. But what every skater has in common is an intimate knowledge of what it's like to slam into the ground.

SABLONE: Trying something and falling and, like, bleeding and, like, getting up again and trying again. And it might require getting kicked out several times, going back, going back, going back just to do this one thing that you got stuck in your head. And it becomes, like, this personal battle.

(CHEERING)

SABLONE: It can be the most frustrating thing ever when it's not going well, and that happens a lot, or it can be the thing that feels the best.

GUEVARA: Editor Burnett says there's no cheating in skateboarding. It's just you, the board and concrete. It's not like you can fake breaking bones. Despite their commitment to all things skateboarding, Thrasher doesn't cover competitions like the X Games, and they don't plan to cover the Olympics either.

ATIBA JEFFERSON: I look at skateboarding more as art than sport.

GUEVARA: Thrasher photographer Atiba Jefferson, a legend in his own right, he's been on many adventures with skateboarding's biggest stars. He says that skateboarding is about more than doing a bunch of tricks for points.

JEFFERSON: You could put guitar playing in the Olympics if you really wanted to. It's a physical thing, right?

GUEVARA: Instead, the magazine's creators focus on skating that happens in the streets. Reading Thrasher kind of feels like you're hanging out with friends, friends who probably should be wearing helmets.

JEFFERSON: There's nothing that will stop the spirit of a skateboarder.

GUEVARA: Jefferson has been photographing skaters for years. His shots have made many covers, so he's seen a lot.

JEFFERSON: Thrasher is one of those things that, you know, it's always kept to its roots and core of just being skating. And that has kept it fresh. That has keep it strong for the last 40 years. It never lost its focus. It never lost its way. And that's just to show great skateboarding in a creative way.

GUEVARA: Editor Burnett knows there's room to grow the skate community. As he puts it...

BURNETT: Getting everybody who loves skateboarding involved with what we do.

GUEVARA: There are 488 Thrasher issues, but look at the covers and you'll quickly see that most of them are photos of men. The number of women on the covers can be counted with a single hand - three. While the magazine has featured more women pro skaters in recent years, men still dominate the pages and covers. That makes it harder for some skaters to relate to the magazine, despite their shared passion for the craft. The Skate Witches is and Glue Skateboards are some of the groups led by women and queer skaters who have been nurturing the community.

BURNETT: That's what I love about skateboarding. I love that different groups around the world latch on to skating and make it their own. People get a little taste of it, and then they customize it for their scene and their friends and what they're doing. And that's really exciting.

GUEVARA: In his editor's note for the anniversary issue, Burnett writes that the magazine relies on the hellriders and homies who make skateboarding beautiful. It's because of them that Thrasher continues to bring skateboarding to people's fingertips month after month. Milton Guevara, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF TYLER, THE CREATOR'S "I THINK") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.