'Thrasher' Editor Jake Phelps Dies at 56

Phelps, 56, was known for his iconic 'skate or die' philosophy.

Jake Phelps, the longtime editor of skateboarding magazine Thrasher and a beloved legend in the skating world, has died at age 56.

His death was confirmed on Instagram by the mag's publisher, Tony Vitell -- son of the magazine's founder, Fausto Vitello -- who wrote, "Jake Phelps was 100% skateboarder, but that label sells him way too short, because beyond his enormous influence in our world, he was truly an individual beyond this world. When loved ones pass we sometimes mythologize about their full lives rich in friendships and experiences. Sometimes we need to talk ourselves into believing it all. It makes us feel better, and helps us cope with the loss. Well, in the case of Jake, the task becomes wrapping your head around just how many lives one person could possibly live. He really did see it all, do it all, and that incredible brain of his could relish every last detail."

"But most of you reading this now identified primarily with Jake Phelps the skateboarder, and editor of our magazine, so I will leave you with this truth - I never met anybody who loves anything more than Jake worshipped skateboarding," wrote Vitello. "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. Here’s another thing. Jake never bailed. Jake fucking slammed. And there is a big difference. He only knew commitment. He was going to go for it without hesitation, and there were only two outcomes. Either you’d see his triumphant fist pumping in the air or it’d be an earth-shaking collision with the concrete. I remember him telling me once that he never fell backwards, he always fell forward. Leaning back meant there was hesitation, and Jake was all the way IN. There was no myth. The man was the myth. We love you, Jake."

No cause of death was announced at press time and a spokesperson for Phelps could not be reached for comment. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Jake Phelps was 100% skateboarder, but that label sells him way too short, because beyond his enormous influence in our world, he was truly an individual beyond this world. When loved ones pass we sometimes mythologize about their full lives rich in friendships and experiences. Sometimes we need to talk ourselves into believing it all. It makes us feel better, and helps us cope with the loss. Well, in the case of Jake, the task becomes wrapping your head around just how many lives one person could possibly live. He really did see it all, do it all, and that incredible brain of his could relish every last detail. But most of you reading this now identified primarily with Jake Phelps the skateboarder, and editor of our magazine, so I will leave you with this truth - 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. Here’s another thing. Jake never bailed. Jake fucking slammed. And there is a big difference. He only knew commitment. He was going to go for it without hesitation, and there were only two outcomes. Either you’d see his triumphant fist pumping in the air or it’d be an earth-shaking collision with the concrete. I remember him telling me once that he never fell backwards, he always fell forward. Leaning back meant there was hesitation, and Jake was all the way IN. There was no myth. The man was the myth. We love you, Jake. -Tony Vitello

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Phelps' uncle, Clark Phelps, paid tribute as well, writing on Thursday (March 14) that Jake "died suddenly and easy today... If you knew him you knew a character. He's got more space on Google than anybody I know. We loved each other, and if he was anywhere near Salt Lake City he would crash for a night or two. I have dozens of stories and will tell a few in the next few days... I am still somewhat stunned at the unexpected news." 

Phelps, born in California on Sept. 25, 1962, was the editor-in-chief of Thrasher for 26 years, leveraging his lifelong passion for skateboarding into a gig at the San Francisco-based sport's bible, never giving up his love of riding. His middle-finger spirit was summed up by the mantra printed on his business cards: "Skate or Die." According to SF Gate, Phelps could often be seen cruising around the city on his beat-up skateboard, which he continued riding even after suffering a serious head injury in 2017 after falling during an unofficial event in the city; it was unknown at press time if that injury contributed to his death.

Phelps' death was mourned by fellow skaters, musicians, comedians, admirers and fellow rebels across the spectrum on Friday (March 15).