20 Years of Skater of the Year with Jake Phelps

It might be surprising to see someone like Jake Phelps talking to me, but when it comes down to it, it's hard for anyone to deny the sheer importance that Thrasher's Skater of the Year award holds -- it is the one that no soul forgets. No disrespect to other awards, because they're important, too, but when a skater has a lil' Rusty, they're amidst a select few of pro skateboarders. 2009 marks the twentieth year of the award, so this one's really special. I spoke with Phelps about the history and the future of SOTY. Click read more and read on ... also check out our SOTY Gallery

The dust has settled and Chris Cole has been crowned the 2009 Skater of the Year. Before the cat was out of the bag, I talked to Phelps about the meaning of the award.

How did the Skater of the Year ceremony come about?
First of all, we used to have a Christmas party -- a High Speed Christmas party -- and we figured we'd give out an award, because no one was giving out awards at that time, in 1990. So, our tenth anniversary of the mag, we had a silver cover of Tony Hawk doing a melon to fakie that was one of our best selling issues of all time, so we did a reader's poll for a Skater of the Year, and it was Tony Hawk. So, we gave the first one to Tony Hawk at our tenth anniversary party.

Who actually made the trophy?
Kevin Ansell designed it. It's designed after my body, and my friend Noah Peacock's head. They took pictures and then made a bronze caste out of it. We call him "Rusty." That's his name. It's kind of like an Oscar [Laughs].

What are some of the most memorable or funniest moments from the SOTY parties?
Dave Durren falling down a 20-set of stairs. Jim Greco and Geoff Rowley getting into a fist fight. The bouncers always used to get psyched up to beat on little kids. As time went on, our reputation preceeded ourselves and the parties calmed down, because sometimes we couldn't get certain venues. But, this year, we're going to a whole different place. We're gonna have a ramp this time. We had a ramp before in 1993 and we had Christian Hosoi and Dan Drehobl -- it was pretty awesome. It made the party, so I figured, we're not doing any entertainment this year. We're just gonna have a DJ and skateboarding, like the old days -- if someone does something, the whole crowd gets to see it, so ... We're trying to get all the Skaters of the Year there, but that's an orchestration nightmare in itself.

It's cool, though, to go back to that old way of having a skate party -- just a ramp and some music.
That's what I said. I was thinking, what are we about -- cold Hamm's beer and skating some mini ramp out in the middle of nowhere. It sounds perfect to me. Why should we reinvent the wheel? It's no secret that times are tough, so why not just do something that's fun and stay true to what we represent? We're hoping a good portion of the SOTYs show up.

Rad. So, this is kind of a hard question, but who are some skaters in the past that didn't get SOTY that you would have liked to see win?
Well, I know that the Gonzo [Mark Gonzales] should have gotten it, of course, and Tommy Guerrero. In their times, the '80s were a pretty legendary era for skating, and if we would have started giving out the award sooner, those guys would have won. Some people say Jamie Thomas should have gotten it or Chad Muska, but it only goes to one person a year and eyes were peeled different directions those years. It's just the way it is. That's the objectivity we try to bring to skateboarding with this award.

There must be some years that you want to give out two awards or something?
Oh yeah. But, we make one choice. The pressure that comes with the weight of that trophy is pretty staggering. Some people are like, "Whoa, now I gotta produce an interview?" I mean, it comes with some heavy real estate -- you have to produce an interview for the mag. It's gotta be a guy that can bust out a good interview after he's chosen. It helps to have some eloquence or some personality. Some people want to split awards into categories, but we just pick one guy and you can love it or hate it.

Coming up on the twentieth ceremony for Skater of the Year, what do you think is the future of Skater of the Year? I know this one is still shrouded in mystery, but who do you see down the line who could one day be Skater of the Year, if you were to predict?
You know, you can never tell if people are past their prime or if they've peaked or not. You never know who's gonna win it. It depends on so much. But, it's always gotta be someone who's the best that year. I mean, when you're known as Skater of the Year and you're standing next to Tony Hawk and Cardiel and Danny Way, you've got to be able to deal with being a part of that history.

Do you guys ever consider ams for Skater of the Year?
Well, you can't just come on the radar. You've gotta be percolating on the scene for a long time before you can be "the guy." But, those things can be relative, too. Like, Mike [Burnett] told me one time, when John Cardiel was Skater of the Year in 1992, he said his friends and him had never really heard of him. And, a lot of other people hadn't heard of him either. But, in our town, where we were, Cardiel was the embodiment of what we were and of what Thrasher was, so I can say without a doubt that we didn't make a mistake there. You know, he was hat backwards, chaw -- chewing tobacco -- and saying, "Let's do this." You can get a sense for how down for skating they are and if they want to be a part of it. Like I said, it's history. You're part of history. Guys don't know at first, but then it hits them. Like, Daewon [Song] was crying at the ceremony. It hits them for just how prestigious it is.

To peep who we picked before the final ballots were cast, click here.