So, speaking of Public Enemy…
I’d seen him in Animal Chin doing the wallrides. I’d seen the ad with him and Tommy in their drawls. But I didn’t really know who Jim Thiebaud was. I knew he wasn’t pro and that’s about all I knew. C’mon, I was like 11 and if it wasn’t Cab or Lance, it wasn’t really on radar. Then came Public Domain. What I took away from that video is that he had more bails in the bail section that anybody else, but by the looks of the Experimental board he was riding, he was turning pro. The guy with all the bails who stood around in his underpants. What was I missing? I didn’t get it. And then all of a sudden, things started changing.
He got on SMA. That sold me. To be associated with Natas, that was something that would legitimize anybody. His first pro model was really cool (I had the original one, with the Joker.). I learned kickflips on it, so that was a good association. Then Speed Freaks dropped, and I truly became a fan. The half-flip. The super-long manual. The fact that he spent half the part saying hi to all his friends who happened to be all the skaters I loved most. He has those elusive Ellesse shoes I couldn’t find to save my life. He had long hair. He skated fast. And he had a Public Enemy beanie. That was the clincher. All of a sudden he seemed, I don’t know… bad-ass. Without that beanie, the transformation might not have seemed as complete.
Soon after, A Reason For Living came out, and his part in that was on a new level. Totally ripping. A second pro model came out, and it was dark and weird and rad. Poetry. Giraffes. Tripped out coffee mugs. There was definitely something cool happening here. A lot had changed in skating and my personal taste since Public Domain, and as I was getting more into the underground world of skating, as opposed to the Vision Streetwear world, Thiebaud was more and more up my alley. That late classic-period of SMA, when it was Natas, Jim, Julien, Mic-e, and a very young Sheffey, was an incubator for awesome ideas, skaters, and graphics and I had been sold on all of it. Then came Real.
Being in the Bay Area when Real was just coming out, it was like there were all these whispers about it. New company. TG. Thiebaud. Shhhh. Coming soon. The day the boards dropped, people were riding them everywhere, and Jim’s graphic was immediately iconic. This was a guy who was saying something, and it was bold and it was righteous, and coupled with his SMA-era stuff, Jim was fast becoming a favorite for me.
Those early Real days felt like you were part of a fan club. Little Xeroxed letters/collages came in the mail. Jim’s words and handwriting were all over them. I replied back by sending a bag of coffee beans to him at Deluxe. I’m sure they went straight into the trash- who would brew up some coffee that a weird unknown kid sent through the mail? One of the little letters had the announcement that Thiebaud had two books coming out on something called Caffeine Machine Publications- they were called Do The Distance and Loose Change. The guy was a writer! He seemed so cool already, so his stories must have something awesome about it. I ordered them, and then absorbed them. They were mind-blowing to me, and had a major impact on me in terms of opening my mind up to skaters being creative in a multi-faceted way, and it encouraged me to pursue and take seriously artistic aspects and interests in my life. Years later, I even wrote a paper about him as a poet for a college English class.
1991 was a huge year in skateboarding in terms of progress, and in all honesty, Jim was soon replaced for me as being a favorite skater- I mean, damn, anybody would have a hard time competing with what Gonz, Jason Lee, Brian Lotti, and Jovantae Turner put out that year. But Thiebaud had etched a place in my mind. For years after, I thought of him like this: he’s not my favorite skateboarder, but he’s my favorite person who rides a skateboard. I still got his boards (how could you resist that slick series with him in a rabbit suit?) and was stoked to see photos, but his lasting impact on me was more as somebody who represented idealism, and thought behind image. That was heavy.
Jim Thiebaud, good for two with a jump shot.