By Joe Sare
I went to 20 years of Thrasher photography at House of Vans.
House of Vans is tucked away in one of the vaults in Waterloo. It’s down one of the free paint tunnels; an underground road, caked in throwups and intricate freehand drawings. The smell of beer and piss and sweat and aerosol is nauseatingly familiar. it feels relatively comfortable. It reminds me of all the places you think you’re not allowed to go into when you’re a kid.
The exhibition is well worth a visit. If you’ve never been to House of Vans, it’s a labyrinth of skate spots, bowls, lockers, bars and exhibition spaces, all with the same distinct smell of piss and sweat.
The photography by Micheal Burnett alone is worth the smell. His images portray the absolute determination given to skateboarding by skateboarders; the explosive faces of a successful landing, the pain, vomiting, blood, and tears of injury, and the strange visuals of the imaginations of the weirdos who’ve dedicated years to the sport.
Of the artifacts worth noting is the collection of photographs and decks from the KOTR. King of the Road is by far one of the most bizarre competitions in sport. It’s an aggressive cross-American skate trip competed by different skate brands (so converse will have a team, Blind, Emerica, Etnies etc) that’s more like jackass. It was bought by Vice a year or two ago, and has since become more documentary and less a skate edit, but the original vibe is still there. and the pressure and speed of the competition has always broken records or pushed for impossible tricks to be landed. If anyone’s interested in looking at any of it, here’s a link to arguably the best year here (skip to 33.58 for one of the maddest lines ever skated by Sammy Baca)
The exhibition also gave space to Jaws, a skater known to ollie the biggest stair sets architects have ever designed. The 11 min doc(skip to 9.30 for the completed set) on his 25 stair ollie in France is legendary. his commitment and skill is the exemplification between the amateur and pro skaters. Where amateurs know a risk isn’t worth taking, a professional knows no odds go against landing a trick never accomplished.
But the most significant thing for me was an interview with Jake Phelps, the editor in chief of Thrasher. He talks about why his magazine has lasted the test of time and maintained such a cult following. His answer: Integrity. “we just didn’t give a fuck. We spelt something wrong? Oh well. Who won the competition? Oh, we didn’t get the photo? Oh well, get another beer”. The magazine didn’t care for perfection; it was just raw skateboarding, and it didn’t take itself to seriously. Even when his brand struck popularity outside of the skateboarding scene, he struck back, calling out celebrities wearing his brand who he deemed ‘posers’. For most, this would seem like PR perfection, but he never started Thrasher for a bunch of hypey kids to pretend they’re into skateboarding.