At the close of 1988, the first issue of Slam hit the shelves of newsagents around Australia. To give you an idea of the times, Crocodile Dundee 2 was playing in cinemas, Bob Hawke was our beer-swilling Prime Minister and it would be another decade before people really even started using the Internet.
Since 1988, Slam has published 222 issues, plus around a dozen Photo Annuals. Chima Ferguson and Jake Duncombe have earned the cover spot seven times each and Dane Burman has had eight of the bastards. Six men have taken the helm at Slam for various periods: Mike Perry, Andrew Currie (twice), Mike O’Meally, Dave Adair, Jake Frost and Trent Fahey, who’s been the editor since 2011.
In looking back on the past 30 years of print, we picked 30 covers to reflect on Slam’s legacy in Australian skateboarding. Since most of this happened long before my time, I spent a couple of days poring over old issues and asking the fellas around the office for tall tales about the glory days. I then had the task of writing up some of the little-known backstories from Australia’s longest running skate mag. So here’s some Australian skate-history, as told through 30 covers of Slam.
Words by Nat Kassel.
Behold, the first issue of Slam, featuring an amateur Powell skater by the name of Mark Saito, launching a frontside stalefish on a vert ramp in Southern California. Slam’s very first editor, Mike Perry, was from The States and he had a background in surfing and skateboarding in the ’70s and ’80s. He was also tight with Stacy Peralta, hence the first few issues were loaded with American content that he secured through Stacy. Mike’s first lesson as editor can be seen in this cover: never crop out the coping. It’s an obvious one now, but back in ’88, skate photography was still a relatively new art form. Respect to Mike and the publisher, Peter Morrison, for taking a chance on creating a skateboarding magazine way back in ’88.
Christian Hosoi had the second cover so it wasn’t until issue three that an Aussie would grace page one of Slam. It was a fella named Danny Van with a “high concrete kickturn”, photographed by Chris Stroh. Van is also said to be the first Aussie to do a 540. Bless the days when you could buy a 70-odd-page magazine for $2.50.
Even back in the late ’80s, you wouldn’t expect that someone could score a cover for a trick that they did not land (aka, DNL), but it seems like that’s exactly what happened with issue four. The cover shot is of David Mock at sunset, clicking his heels together over a pile of welding tanks, his single-kick board aloft, but distinctly separated from his feet. The caption simply reads: “Art and Forms”. Five years ago, Slam writer, Max Olijnyk, attempted to investigate the mystery behind this shot – whether this was, in fact, a pop shove-it or just an ollie attempt gone wrong. He consulted Australian skate aficionado and former Slam editor, Andrew Currie, who summarised, “I hate to be the eternal sceptic and say that it’s a bailed ollie, although my educated guess would suggest so.”
Considering that we’re not even sure what the cover of issue four was, you’d have to say that Ray Barbee’s back Smith on the cover of issue 11 in 1990 was the first issue of Slam to legitimately feature street skateboarding.
The Birdman himself, Tony Hawk, had the cover of issue 12 with a backside indy air. (Only a tiny skerrick of the coping survived the crop, but it’s there, as is his hand somehow reaching up from below...) Tony was still a pimply young man at this point. His photos for the issue were shot by veteran Californian lens man J. Grant Brittain, who was the chief photo editor at Transworld for its first 20 years and one of the founders of The Skateboard Mag.
By this stage, it was 1991, and Andrew Currie took over from Mike Perry and became the second editor of Slam. Cuzza was only 15 and still at school when he took the job. As he explained in issue 50, “Words can’t explain the thrill of sitting in Year 11 Maths, planning the next issue in the back of my exercise book while Miss What’s-Her-Face was explaining algebra on the blackboard.” One of Cuzza’s key influences on Slam early on was to move away from US skating and advocate for as much Australian content as possible in the mag. This cover shot of Joel Webb’s lien melon inset in the thick, textured border could almost be the cover of some hip new skate video or DIY zine. It’s funny how design trends come back around. Unfortunately, the slogan ‘Weet-Bix Kids’ was patented as an advertising slogan by Sanitarium and Slam got a cease and desist letter for appropriating it. As a result, issue 15 had to be pulled from the shelves. I can only imagine how that conversation went down between Cuzza, the teenage editor, and the publisher – although, it’s likely a cover line of this nature was the idea of MM’s management team.
Oh, the irony: Salman Agah slamming on the cover of Slam. The first and only time a photo of someone getting pitched has made the cover of Slam.
Dave Adair, who was the editor at the time, shot this photo and it’s still a sick trick to look at today; Anthony ‘Sporto’ Fitzgerald wallriding at an iconic Brisbane spot.
By this point in Slam’s trajectory, Dave Adair was still the editor and in an ode to his favourite trick, the frontside grind, he cropped Sean Holland’s body and head off the cover. Instead, you can just see Holland’s legs and board, grinding the concrete coping at West Hobart bowl’s snake run. Years later, Adair said it was, “Definitely a statement, definitely void of ego, my take on skateboarding purity.” For his part, Sean ended up as the editor at Australian Skateboarding Magazine and later co-founded The Skateboarder’s Journal.
Max Olijnyk once described this cover as “one you can’t fuck with”, and you’d have to agree with him. Matt McGinley’s long-exposure photography is amazing – especially for the time – and Brett Margaritas’s ollie through what looks like a skateable waterfall is mindboggling. This was shot with film, long before Photoshop, but apparently, some people still suggested the photo was somehow fake. “I do remember heads at Slam mag trying to figure out the photo,” said Brett, “Some didn’t believe it was real.”
Here’s Gregsie [Greg Stewart] at a classic Melbourne spot called Tiles, with a fakie five-o. Everyone in the office agreed that Gregsie’s pop and form was groundbreaking for the time. Mike O’Meally shot it. O’Meally’s influence on Australian skate photography is hard to overstate – his photos are iconic and still great.
This photo of Cuzza at The Pothole in 2002 is Steve Gourlay’s favourite photo that he’s ever taken for Slam. In Gourlay’s words, “I’ve shot a lot of photos, but one trip that really sticks in my head emotionally was getting all the crew together to go and shoot The Pothole… There were about 40 people on this amazing adventure of four days, camping, skating every day, and shooting in the most photogenic situation I could ever imagine. I look at all the people in that photo, and they mean so much to me, every one of them. They’re pretty much just skateboarders and friends; a couple of them aren’t with us anymore. It couldn’t have been a better time in my life.”
The centenary issue was also the first issue with a selfie on the cover: Steve Gourlay took a photo of his own foot on his board with the concrete rushing past, replete with those big chunky kicks that were all the rage back then. This was a gatefold cover, which meant that you had to fold it out to get the other full-size cover page of Joey Dodd kickflipping on the distant horizon of the Melton Drains.
To this day, issue 101 was the biggest seller in Slam’s history. The cover was Shane Cross, front Smithing a big ol’ Californian handrail in one of those Australia T-shirts that you’d usually see a foreign tourist wearing in Chinatown. Michael Burnett shot the photo, and it’s trippy to see the way Shane’s shadow is hitting the wall, kind of like a cross. It was a beautiful moment for Australian skateboarding: one of our most promising young skaters was causing a buzz in The States. Another reason this issue sold so well was that it came with a free Almost DVD and Almost two hardboiled lollies…
The Cook and Phillip 17-stair was such a gnarly and iconic Sydney spot. When Chima kickflipped it in 2005, he must have been nearly 17-years-old. As you can see, MM had the designer number each step, just so everyone knew it was a 17. “I was so off that at the time,” says Trent Fahey, who was assistant editor back then, “It was like, ‘Are we seriously stair counting on the cover? What are we, a bunch of six-year-olds?’” Guy Miller shot the photo – which is fitting, since he was the first man to sponsor Chima on his classic clothing brand of the noughties, Juice. I’m still not sure what ‘ematic’ means but when I was a kid, Juice was as important as Pass~Port is now.
This one takes the cake for the most obnoxiously large cover line of all time. The backstory is that the publisher or the creative director had a look at this photo and said the trick looked weak for a cover. It had to be explained to him that George Newsholme’s frontside Smith was actually switch. The result? A big fat caption stating, ‘THAT’S SWITCH! GEORGE NEWSHOLME, SWITCH SMITH GRIND.’ George later relayed, “They could have written it a bit larger, to be honest.”
Shane Cross passed away in 2007 and the June issue for that year was a tribute to his life and legacy. Aptly, the cover of the next issue was Jake Duncombe, one of Shane’s best mates, in a tie-dye tee, 50-50ing this double-kinker that Shane had talked about skating. A beautiful tribute, captured by Rome Torti.
Here’s Dustin Dollin’s first Slam cover, frontside nosesliding this big white Hubba in Thailand – shot by Andrew Mapstone. It was 2007 (a little late for Dustin’s first cover of this magazine), and apparently, Slam’s editorial staff had been waiting a while to secure a cover shot of Dusty, who had already been such a pioneer for Australian skateboarding. In the footage, you can see two workmen carrying a ladder through the run-up and Dustin rolls under it and then stomps the front nose. On his roll away, you can hear Dustin cry out, “Under the ladder, bitch. Under the ladder!” It’s been said that this kind of sums him up. His fuck you to everything, including the superstition of bad luck under a ladder.
Here’s another one from Mapstone, Lewis Marnell’s SOTY issue for 2008. This huge switch flip wallride was ridiculously groundbreaking for the time, and he went on to do a whole bunch of other tricks at this spot that blew everyone’s minds about what was possible. He copped his SOTY surprise at an old pub in Kings Cross after Globe’s Slaughter at the Opera House handrail comp. Every big name pro from the US was there, partying with Jah Lew.
Shane O’Neill’s overcrook (or backside nosegrind for those who staunchly deny that overcrook is even a trick) was a pearler of a cover. The trick was definitely gnarly, but the way Steve Gourlay managed to shoot it from above and yet still so close-up was pretty much unseen at the time. This is Nugget’s only Slam cover to date.
With Dane Burman, the question is which of his covers do you pick? He’s had seven standard issue covers, plus one Photo Annual, and they’ve all been gnarly. This was Dane’s SOTY issue for 2010: a backside 180 reverse nosegrind shot by Andrew Mapstone. The cover had a Ride The Lightning theme because Dane was a big Metallica fan.
Around this time, there was some heavy pressure from publisher Peter Morrison (who owned a dozen different magazines) about what should go on Slam’s covers. Surfing Life, which Morrison also owned, had run covers featuring Kelly Slater and they always sold really well. His logic was basically, Who’s the Kelly Slater of skateboarding? Let’s have him on the cover of Slam! Jake Frost, who was the editor of Slam at the time, thought it made more sense to focus on Australian skateboarding, rather than some American superstar. They butted heads about this, and as a test, issue 181 had two separate covers, one of Nick Boserio 50-50ing a kinked rail in Melbourne and the other of Eric Koston doing a front blunt on a DIY barrier in New York. The cover featuring Boserio sold just slightly better than Koston’s but not enough to get the publisher off Frosty’s back.
These were the days when magazine covers were kind of busy-looking – note that there’s text everywhere and Beau Reid and Ryan Sheckler’s ‘floating head’ are both deep-etched over the masthead. It’s pretty messy by today’s standards. This is partly because there was pressure on Frosty from the publisher to put Sheckler on the cover. Frosty rebutted that Beau Reid’s backside 180 nosegrind at Martin Place was way more relevant to Australian skateboarding than a photo of Sheckler. The compromise was to run a portrait of Shecks as well. After holding down the fort at Slam for nine years, Frosty stepped down after this issue.
This was 2011 and Trent Fahey’s first issue as editor. He agreed to take the job on the proviso that he would change things up. Trent tells me he had to create a detailed publishing strategy about why and how he wanted to change things up. Notably, the text on the cover was much less obnoxious, and there certainly weren’t any portraits of Ryan Sheckler. It’s just Chima Ferguson’s front five-o, front and centre, captured by the legendary Mike O’Meally.
The creative director at Morrison Media had suggested that Slam should get someone to skate the graffiti wall outside the Slam office in Burleigh Heads. The asphalt out there was too rough though, so instead, they got Andrew Peters to paint the wall of a warehouse with the Slam masthead and then Corbin Harris skated through the wet paint. Peters got a pretty unique and eye-catching photo and, for what it’s worth, this issue sold really well. The joke at the Slam office at the time was that Corbin bought them all himself.
Here’s one that ticks all the boxes. You’ve got Jake Hayes – who’s gone on to become one of Australia’s best skateboarders ever – getting his first cover of Slam with a big back-lip on a big Sydney rail. Then you’ve got Jake Darwen – who’s gone on to become one of the world’s best photographers ever – capturing a unique and interesting angle of it. Great form all round. This was 2012, but I feel like if it happened tomorrow, it would still be cover-worthy.
This was the last cover that Rome Torti shot before he passed away. Apparently Pat Dandy and Rome had been to this spot once before, on Christmas Day, but Pat slammed hard and hit his head pretty badly. When they went back the second time, Pat rolled away from this five-o and Rome captured an epic photo.
Creating a tribute issue is generally really difficult because the people who are affected the most are the ones who often step up to write or talk about the person who has passed away. This one, for Lewis Marnell, came at a crazy time when Trent Fahey had just bought the magazine from the publisher, Morrison Media. Friends and family of Lewis had the challenge of dealing with grief and doing justice to Lewis and his legacy. This was Lewis’s fifth cover – illustrated by Gimiks Born.
Here’s the 25th Anniversary Issue, which showcased Slam’s most influential skateboarders of the past 25 years. Obviously, all the winners of Slam SOTY up to that point made the grade, along with the other Australian skateboarders who Slam’s editorial team viewed as having the most impact. Many of these skaters paved the way for Australian skaters to make their mark in America. Marcus Dixon came through with these illustrated caricatures of Australia’s best.
The cover is never really locked in until the final hours of the deadline. As Trent tells me, “There’d be quite a few Australian skaters who have had a cover mocked up at some point and then had it pulled at the last minute.” Chima’s switch 360 flip down this Melbourne set and over the bollards was one of those last minute jobs, sent through by Andrew Mapstone only a day or so before the issue went to print. Apparently, Chima was shooting a bunch of stuff for a Thrasher interview at the time, and Michael Burnett even called Mapstone asking about this switch tré. Mapstone had to tell him that it was already on the press for the next cover of Slam.