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