Since the dirt that Liz and I were planted in seems to be short on likeable ambassadors these days, it’s a good time to acknowledge an unsung hero of ours from Texas. Another wayfaring stranger of the psychedelic variety. No, not Roky Erickson, not MayoThompson, not Sir Doug Sahm, not Butthole Surfers or DJ Screw… In fact he’s not a musician. He worked in another medium altogether. This is a tribute to skateboarder Jeff Phillips, one of the best and most far out skaters of all time.
If you don’t know him, it may be because he’s dead. He removed himself from the planet on Christmas day in 1993. As is always the case, there’s a variety of speculation as to why. I’ve definitely heard the rumors, but don’t find it necessary to get involved in that discussion. Anyone inclined to investigate the circumstances should do so on their own – though you might not get very far. There’s no tell-all documentary out there like the ones about Gator or Hosoi, the other ‘fallen heroes’ of 80s ramp skating – two skaters that Phillips beat in national contests. I mean this dude even beat Tony Hawk, the biggest name in skating, reportedly while he was tripping on acid and there’s not even a Wikipedia page for him. Hell, check the who’s who in the contest results in the video still below. People who have never even touched a skateboard will recognize half of those names. So since we were asked to talk about something, we thought we should fly the flag for Jeff.
I pushed around on a skateboard for a large part of my youth. Skating in ditches or near the carwash that I had my first job at, or acid dropping the loading dock behind the school. Like most of the other things that I participated in, I was OK, but not great. I mostly just liked cruising around all day listening to my Walkman. If you were remotely into skating in the 80s and lived in Texas, Jeff Phillips was a legend. The skatepark he opened, the tie-dyes, skating the vert ramp barefoot, and yeah, the acid stuff. Looking back I can see what set him so much apart from the pack. He was sort of the anti-Tony Hawk. He wasn’t an athlete perfecting a trick, he was more like a free-jazz musician, just ‘blowing,’ and going wherever he ended up. I remember boiling summers when I was a kid at the Jeff Phillips Skatepark in an old warehouse in Dallas—mostly watching this guy, 15-years older than me fly through the air. When I’d seen all I could process, I’d go outside and wait for my grandfather to pick me up in his old maroon Oldsmobile. I might try to tell him what I saw over an afternoon breakfast at Kip’s Big Boy, but words couldn’t really express it. I won’t go into any skate/trick terms, but the point is that he skated like it was an extension of himself. And aside from that, he was a seemingly sensitive being that did things for his own reasons, or just to do them period. In the intro to Jeff’s part of the Santa Cruz Speed Freaks video, he says “I skate for fun and that’s it. When I don’t have fun you’ll see me quit”. Well, I guess that’s what happened. R.I.P.