'SKATEISM' Is Highlighting Queer Issues in Global Skateboarding
The magazine features stories on everything from Israeli skate yoga to the difficulty of skating in competitions as a trans woman.
SKATEISM bills itself as skateboarding’s first diversity magazine, and looking at their recently-released second issue, it’s clear what they mean. Flip past the cover’s striking portrait of Unity Skateboards power couple Jeffrey Cheung and Gabriel Ramirez and you’ll find articles on everything from Israeli skate yoga to the difficulty of skating in competitions as a trans woman. Notice the coverage of skate scenes in Niger, Cambodia, Greece, the West Bank, and Native American communities, and you begin to see just how broad their focus is.
Skateboarding has long since grown beyond its roots in SoCal schoolyards, but most mainstream publications still primarily focus on a select group of top pros sponsored by traditional brands. SKATEISM aims to rectify this by showing that all sorts of people from around the world love to skate. They're part of a growing movement to broaden skateboarding's collective focus, typified by projects like Luke Williams's Cave Homo zine, the genderqueer Xem Skaters zine, and the extra attention given by publications like Jenkem and Free Skateboard Magazine to nontraditional, non-Western scenes. SKATEISM is distinct in that it still looks like a typical skate mag, right down to the full-spread Sean Malto Nike ad in the front, but its subjects and contributors are women, trans folk, kids in Palestine, and a lot of other people you might never see in the mainstream skate media.
Their tagline—“Let me be weird,” paired with a sketch of a squiggly skateboard—neatly sums up their approach to covering skateboarding. As editor-in-chief Oisin Tammas urges in his intro to issue #2, “Think of this magazine as a platform for you—yes, you!—to showcase what it is you do for skateboarding. Wherever you are. Whoever you are. Because as you’ll see here, skateboarding can really be anything you want it to be. It’s just a fucking toy after all.”
We sat down with Tammas and SKATEISM’s art director Moch Simos to find out how the magazine came to be, their favorite pieces so far, and why they hope their work will eventually be unnecessary.
VICE: In your minds, what is SKATEISM?
Oisin Tammas: SKATEISM is a diversity skateboarding magazine.
Moch Simos: It wasn’t always.
Tammas: Yeah, but definitely now, and for the last year since we started publishing in print. We like to dub it, “For the underground and overlooked.” The reality is that we’re essentially offering a platform for people who aren’t covered in the mainstream so much, but are equally if not more relevant to skate culture than a lot of the industry hype is.
Like all the different people who are out there physically doing it?
Yeah. I think that SKATEISM comes from a place of, sort of, the same passion that made you pick up skateboarding in the first place. Which is like, it was fun to try and balance on this toy. It was fun to put some wood up against a brick wall and ride on it. And it didn’t matter who you were, everyone was doing it.
Moch, you originally launched SKATEISM in Greece. How did that happen?
Simos: I was just making stickers with some little logo, and one of the words over that logo was SKATEISM.
Tammas: It came from the idea of, like Catholicism, skateboarding is kind of a belief system.
Simos: After that, a friend I used to know was making websites. He made me a Wordpress. It was just me talking about Greek stuff. Oisin came two year laters to Athens, and then…
Tammas: I was studying in Norwich and did an Erasmus Programme exchange. I was at uni and there were five of us who were like, Let’s go to Athens! Ancient Greek shit and all that! We had no idea what was to come, and every single one of them dropped out except for me. So I ended up with this ticket to Athens on my own, without this crew that I thought I had. I had to find a flat, and then arrived in the country. It was a bit scary at first, because this was in 2014, just after the first big protests. You get there and it’s like—it’s the most graffitied city in the world.
Simos: In every European country they have laws about it, but in Greece they don’t really care.
Tammas: It’s actually super safe, but I didn’t realize that when I first arrived. Anyway, I googled “skateboarding in Athens” or something, and luckily Moch was an expert in SEO at this point, so the first thing that came up was SKATEISM. Which was just a little blog reposting videos and doing lists and stuff like that. I sent an email to the contact page and was like, Hey I just arrived and I want to skate, where should I go? Not expecting him to reply, really. He was like, Meet me at the foot of the Acropolis tomorrow at 10 AM. Within three weeks I was writing for SKATEISM, doing proper articles.
So you skated together a bit and Moch mentioned he had a blog and you decided to team up?
The last four years, I don’t think there’s been a day we haven’t spoken. Moch works for the biggest fashion magazine in Greece as an art director as well. And they employed me for a bit as an editorial intern. That’s how we got a lot more in-depth knowledge of how you run a publication.
Is that why SKATEISM looks so polished?
Moch’s boss would be like, we have to rebuild the website by tomorrow. Moch and I would look at each other like, Fuck, we have to learn how to build a website. So overnight we’d learn how to build a website. Now we’re kind of this weird team.
When I left after that eight months, we basically continued SKATEISM over FaceTime. We’ve done the whole thing over FaceTime, just the two of us. When I went back to university and Moch got more responsibilities at the fashion magazine, SKATEISM became sort of a culture magazine. We’d worked out what we wanted to do with it.
And you're doing really amazing stuff. I was surprised to see the piece in issue #2 on Nigerian skating. How did you learn about that scene?
Instagram, interestingly. I think if we all spent as much time following skateboarding scenes growing outside of the West as we do scrolling the same insta clips pages again and again, scenes like the one Go Skate Nigeria is pushing would finally get the attention they deserve.
Guilty as charged. My friends at Skate Like a Girl also really loved the op-ed by Paige, because they’ve struggled with that a lot when allowing trans and genderqueer people to skate in their women’ s competitions. People felt like being born male gave certain competitors an unfair advantage, but Paige really broke down what all the hormones do and what the actual experience of transitioning is like. How did that one come about?
We found her online, after she found us. I could tell she was trying to get this story out there, but was struggling to find the platform. Since SKATEISM is all about platforming, it seemed the obvious choice to help Paige tell it. She did a great job, but even if our perspective writers aren't actually "writers" we do everything we can on our editorial team's end to help them get it out. Because we don't know what it's like to experience that, what we know is what'll increase the chances of others taking the time to find out.
What were your personal favorite pieces?
Well, Lacey Baker's cover feature from issue #1 will always have a special place in our hearts. It was very much the making of us, and gained us so much support from her fanbase. Sam McGuire's interview from issue #1 too, since it cemented a beautiful relationship with him as photo editor for SKATEISM. But these are both because of the personal things that came out of them. If it was just down to the story, I'd say “The Minister's Address" from issue #2 is a real favorite. Not only is it about the second coming of a dear friend's skate shop in our birthplace of Athens, but the story itself and the way Alex (The Minister) Seyet speaks is beautiful. Never had I heard anybody sneak a Morrissey lyric into an interview and it not sound contrived until I met him.
What is your goal for the magazine?
I think the specific goal is to make SKATEISM not be necessary. The irony of it is that the point at which we’ve succeeded, we should theoretically not need to exist.
Simos: We’ll shut it down.
Tammas: [ laughing] Yeah, we’ll just walk away!
What are you trying to accomplish in the short term?
For the first few issues, we’re still setting the scene about what we’re doing. So it’s OK to have general conversations about diversity and DIY in skateboarding. Whereas, as we get to issue six or seven, we need to really specify what we’re talking about with these people. We can’t keep having the same conversation.
You can’t keep calling people up and saying, “So you’re queer?” Where do you go from there?
The next frontier is, well, we’ve just brought in Ruby Mateja as women’s editor and Robin Hoe-nig from Make Life Skate Life as the DIY projects editor. Because we don’t just cover women’s scenes, or LGBTQ scenes. We also cover DIY and “skate aid” and also a huge thing for us is non-Western scenes.
Simos: Because no one is covering it.
Tammas: Athens is not even non-Western, but it’s far enough away that no one knows what’s going on.
But you have a serious skate scene there?
Yeah, and like the first article in issue #2 is about India. That article was so amazing to put together, because of the stories they’ve got. The corrupt system and stuff. The next frontier for us would be getting someone whose main role would be to keep an eye on all the different areas. Once we’ve shown what we do and what the point is, then all we’re doing is raising the platform to equality. So the point then would just be to talk about the same stuff other people are talking about, but in these other areas, you know?
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