Phelps, whose business cards said “Skate or Die,” maintained Thrasher’s enormous influence and popularity even as the magazine industry otherwise floundered.
Young and old punks alike have heavy hearts today, as the Chronicle reports the sad news that Thrasher magazine editor-in-chief Jake Phelps died Thursday. Phelps had started in the magazine’s merchandise shipping department in 1986, worked his way up to being the magazine’s editor-in-chief in 1993, and steered the publication into the digital age while perpetuating its influence as the definitive skateboarding publication for multiple generations of skaters. He was 56 years old.
“Jake Phelps was 100% skateboarder, but that label sells him way too short, because beyond his enormous influence in our world,” Thrasher said in a published statement written by Tony Vitello, son of the magazine’s co-founder Fausto Vitello. “I never met anybody who loves anything more than Jake worshipped skateboarding. 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.”
Additional eulogies to Phelps have been posted by the biggest names in skateboarding. Phelps deftly managed the magazine’s transition to the internet era, diversifying the brand into video game tie-ins, competitive events, and popular online skater forums.
But Phelps was a skateboarder first and foremost, even into his 50s. He continued to be a skateboarding advocate, and as recently as 2017 was injured at an unsanctioned event on Dolores Street called Hill Bomb that turned into an ugly melee and near-riot between skateboarders and police.
Phelps’ cause of death is unknown and has not been announced.