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Patrick O’Dell, as most of you will know, is the creator and host of skateboarding documentary series Epicly Later’d. Given his years of experience in the skateboarding industry I decided to email Patrick to see if he’d be down to talk about modern skateboard media. Coincidentally, Patrick was to be in London just a couple of weeks later and was kind enough to agree to meet up. The resulting interview is the conversation we had - we spoke about his work at Thrasher Magazine, Epicly Later’d, his take on the current media landscape and more.
When did you first get into photography and skateboarding? Did one come before the other?
It was probably the same time. I got into skating then immediately looked at skate magazines, maybe I was a little interested in photography first, but when I got into skating I wanted to try and shoot skate photos right away, just on a little point and shoot camera. I remember first doing a lot of Poser of the Month kind of photos, where you pose on a trick and make it look like you really did something. I probably did those the first day, fake skate photos. I’d say I got into them both together.
How did you end up working for Thrasher? Was it something you built up to?
Yeah, I built up to it. My first ever printed photos were in Thrasher, when Bryce Kanights was the Photo Editor. Later I tried shooting for a bunch of different magazines and sent pictures everywhere. At some point, after I'd moved to New York, Michael Burnett hired me and I became a Staff Photographer for a little while.
How did you develop the idea for Epicly Later'd? Did it come from travelling with all those interesting characters on Thrasher assignments?
I ended up working at Vice as the Photo Editor, the Editor was a guy named Jesse Pearson and they were trying to think of shows for VBS TV, which had just started. Jesse asked me to make a skate show, they wanted to make shows about all different topics, but it was his idea that I do a show about skating. The look of it kind of involved over time, but it began through working at Vice.
Was it difficult to get people to trust you when filming the shows? I guess you already knew a lot of the guys?
I started with people I knew and worked my way out. Beginning with Dustin Dollin, Spanky, Jason Dill, I think Billy Rohan was an early episode too. Then when I got to people like John Cardiel, who I didn't know, he just said 'Jerry Hsu did one, Spanky did, ok I'll do one.' Same with Andrew Reynolds, he did one early on. I used the fact that I got those other people to get people that were harder.
What's your opinion of the current skateboard media landscape? We've lost magazines like TransWorld and The Skateboard Mag, whilst in Europe we have this shift towards free publications.
I like Thrasher the best and always have, and it was sad to see those other magazines go. It's cool to see all the zines and self published magazines, like Skate Jawn for example. They can kind of do whatever they want. I think when zines were really popular back in the 80s there was only really one magazine. Independent skate zines are really cool. I am not against social media, I think it's fun. But it is sad that at one point there were five or six major skate magazines in the US and now there's only one.
"What's rad about Thrasher is that they've probably had every opportunity to sell and never did"
Do you feel there are certain kinds of stories that Thrasher miss?
I don't know, because they're the major magazine some people might expect them to be able to cover everything, or have a responsibility to cover everything. But the reality is that it's still just a couple of people, it's still just Burnett, three or four photographers, an editor and an owner. It's a family owned magazine, with the Vitello's.
Even if you'd hope they can cover everything, I don't think they can. It's just the nature of having a couple of people make the magazine. What's rad about Thrasher is that they've probably had every opportunity to sell, people wanting to buy them out, and they never did. Even though from the outside it might look like this giant thing, it's still an independently owned magazine from San Francisco, they're doing their best.
Are there any publications, journalists or photographers that you think are particularly interesting or important at the moment in skateboard media?
I feel like I am just going to say the obvious stuff, I read Thrasher, I usually watch the major videos, though not everything. I watched the Emerica Green video that Jon Miner worked on, I'll watch the Supreme stuff that Bill Strobeck does. As you get older you tend to just watch stuff that your friends are in. With podcasts, I’ll listen to episodes if I'm friends with the person and probably not listen to the ones where I don't know anyone.
It ends up being a little bit like that with skate coverage too. If Spanky films a part I’ll watch it, or Jerry Hsu does something I'll watch it. My knowledge of skating is perhaps not like it was when I was watching everything. It is nice to have a circle of friends, people you know, a little bit of a bubble, and just watch their stuff. If you're from a smaller city or town it's cool to be able to zero in on your friends and what you know and keep up with what they're doing, it didn't used to always be like that.
Yeah, I think as a skateboarder as you get older you often pay less attention to XYZ pro and enjoy more watching your friends or a local video.
Right, as I get older I tend to not worry about the big picture skate politics. When I skate, I just think about the skating that I'm doing, pretend it's the 90s and skate how I skate, or skate with my friends and have fun. When I look at coverage it's mostly always people I'm friends with, and that's a nice thing about skating.
When I was younger I think I got really into the politics of skating, whereas now... It's tough because some of these questions are about big picture stuff, and I didn't realise it but I don't think about that very much. I think about the tricks my friends are doing, some of them happen to be pro skaters, I'm just thinking about what's fun and what's interesting to me.
With so much social media skating can be a lot more casual. When I was shooting for Thrasher there was an emphasis on stair counting and big tricks. Now there's a lot more artistic photography and tricks that aren't necessarily that hard. But the trick looks cool, the spot looks cool, or it looks fun, and you identify with the fun of what the skater is doing, not so much on how hurt they could get!
"I would definitely do Epicly Later'd again if Vice asked"
You mentioned podcasts a moment ago, is that something you've thought of doing yourself?
I don't like the sound of my voice. I've thought about it, but even when I've been on a podcast I feel so embarrassed and I don't listen to it back. I think about all the dumb stuff that I said, particularly if it is unedited. On my show we would always edit, we could make someone sound smart if we needed to. I don't think I would want to host one, but hey anything's possible...
Do you see a return of Epicly Later'd at all? I am sure you get asked this all the time...
I would like to. Vice didn't seem interested in doing any more, we had talked about doing more. I don't really mind there being little breaks because we've done a lot of them. If they were to want to do another round I'd be happy to do it.
The last ones we did were for television, the problem with television is that it needs to be exactly fifty minutes. So an hour with commercials, and the commercials always have to be in the same place. It can make it hard to tell the stories because you're having to construct them around these defined time limits. We made eight episodes for that season, some of them should have been shorter and some of them could have been longer. I liked doing them for the internet because they could be any length and it didn't really matter.
Did you have to consider having a slight hook before each break?
Yeah, exactly. To get people to come back after the break. It was tough, you had to consider all these different things. Like having to have music, which looked good and I was happy with how it came out. When we were doing them for the web we never used music, purposely, then suddenly for television you need to use music and work out a music budget.
I would definitely do them again if Vice asked. I'm sure at some point it will happen. It's the kind of thing where we've taken long breaks before and I come back feeling refreshed and ready to do it. We could just be in the middle of a three year break. Sometimes I'm amazed people even remember it, I think it was two or three years ago the last time we did it and that's a long time in skate years!
"You can almost see an entire new Thrasher issue on Instagram the next day"
What's your take on brands using non-traditional media outlets, ID for example, to tell lifestyle stories?
I don't think there are enough skaters to be a skate only brand, and be able sell enough stuff to stay in business. I think Emerica has that problem, they make rad videos and have trouble because non-skaters don't really buy their stuff. When you're a skater you want companies you like to just represent skateboarding, but then skateboarders tend to buy whatever's cheapest or sometimes mainstream stuff. I think companies have got to do whatever they can to stay in business, it's a tough situation from the perspective of a core brand.
I just watched the new Emerica video and it's so good, the skating is amazing. It's sad to watch some of those brands struggle, to me they've not done anything wrong from a skate perspective. I'm sure Emerica would love it if someone wrote an article about them for a different sort of media. I don't generally have a problem with it.
You've worked in skateboard media for a long time, what's it like trying to make a career in that world?
It's tough, and there's a lot of people trying to do the same things that you want to do. It's tough and it takes forever. I was doing it when everyone shot on film, it was harder to get the results and get good because you'd shoot a bunch of photos then hope they came out alright a week later.
It also can be tough to shoot with the right people. I remember when I was shooting for Thrasher, and you think of Thrasher as being this rad magazine, I'd have trouble getting people to shoot with me in New York sometimes because they'd be shooting with other photographers. It can be a challenge in many ways. It's a tough world out there!
Where do you see skate media and journalism going?
I really don't know, I'm not clairvoyant enough to see the future. It's tough because people don't want to spend money, that's the first thing you'll see if someone wants to charge for online content or for a magazine - the skaters revolt. The money has got to come from somewhere.
I've noticed this a lot with consumers of skateboard content, the consumer doesn't want to spend money. Say somebody shoots a bunch of photos and they end up in Thrasher, immediately the brands want to put the photos on Instagram, you can almost see an entire Thrasher issue on Instagram the next day. It's tough because nobody really wants to spend the money, and I don't have an answer for that.
Patrick O'Dell images via patrickodell.org.
After checking out some old episodes of Epicly Later'd for the good of this interview and it suddenly being two hours later (in what was seemingly ten minutes) we thought we'd bring this article up to speed for everyone stuck at home right now due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Whether you need to simply pass the time or you're 'working from home' this should easily eat up many hours.
Epicly was so good because it focused so much on characters, it wasn't the slickest production and didn't need to be. It was an era of skateboarding a world away from pro's posting Instagram videos of themselves training in a gym. Character is everything in professional sports, they can get overshadowed by guys who get results but guaranteed their legend lives longer.
Here are some of our favourite episodes in no particular order:
This is for obvious reasons, still so tragic and almost heartbreaking just to watch him talk. But enjoy what magic he brought to skateboarding, on and off the board. This won't be replaced anytime soon.
Love or hate Dill, he's got an aura about him that makes you want to watch him and listen to his tales. Maybe less so today but this was when he was still living in New York City and way before FA was even a board company. It focuses on all the video parts he's done since he was a kid on Blockhead up to his awesome Feedback and Photosynthesis parts.
Bam's story is just too epic, it's a huge hope these characters will continue to appear in professional skateboarding.
The first-ever Epicly Later'd and another amazing character in Dustin Dollin. Similar to Muska and Bam you cherish all the moments these guys gave to skateboarding. The footage off the board, in retrospect, is way better than the footage on it and the interview with his wife at the time is unreal. Total legend.
Ricky's story is one of true East Coast grit. At the time he almost single-handedly changed the style of skateboarding. He introduced new tricks and a whole new way of skateboarding simply from the fact that West Coast spots and style just didn't fly in his native Philly. He spoke his mind and built up some East to West Coast beef that was parallel to some Biggie and Tupac shit. Many dudes have said that Ricky never got his worth out of skateboarding and this episode has it's unfortunate moments but it's what makes it such a great watch.
Most of the Epicly shows were around skaters that came up in O'Dell's time in the 90s, but this is awesome 'cause Dressen is way older having turned pro for Santa Cruz in 1978 at the age of thirteen. Kinda crazy. Dude was one of the very first 'street pro's' in an era when most pro skaters rode vert and vert only. You can tell he simply still loves to skate, talk about skateboarding and be around everything it brings.
This is both entertaining and eye-opening. Billy suffered from a few types of mental illness in a time when it was far less tolerated due to the complete lack of awareness around it. Thankfully we're in a better place today. The story of him in London trying to prove to the police that he was not drunk by getting on the roof of their car and backflipping off it... just priceless!
Similar to the Dylan episode, this has taken on a fresh meaning post Jake's untimely death. Jake is a huge slice of San Francisco history as he drives around telling stories in this episode, it's worth the watch just for the Cardiel love as he visits some of the more insane terrain that Cards stepped to.
Of course, we had to include this one, the original skateboarder's skateboarder. Nothing we could say here will add to the legend that is Cardiel. Just sit back and watch his story, you'll have long forgotten about some strange virus that it spreading around the world.
Props to Patrick O'Dell for the years of work he put in to this show that will hopefully resurface again at some point.
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