August 16, 2022

Eric Swenson, Co-Founder of Skateboarding Magazine, Dies at 64

Eric Swenson, a founder of Thrasher, a magazine that re-energized the sport of skateboarding and helped propel it from a suburban teenage activity to an international form of recreation and a competitive sport, died on Monday in San Francisco. He was 64.

The cause was suicide; he shot himself in front of a police station, the police said.

Mr. Swenson and a partner, Fausto Vitello, started Thrasher in 1981, largely to promote their business, Independent Trucks, which made skateboard “trucks” — the fixtures that connect the deck of the board to the wheels — and other parts and accessories.

Skateboarding had grown popular in the 1960s, when it became known as sidewalk surfing, and began to flourish in the 1970s, when sturdier, better-designed boards and urethane wheels added the speed and maneuverability that appealed to young thrill seekers. Empty swimming pools and public skateboard parks gave practitioners places to display their daredevilry.

Mr. Swenson was known as the quiet, pragmatic, handy partner, largely concerned with the design and fabrication of the company’s skateboard hardware. Mr. Vitello, who died in 2006, was more flamboyant and outspoken.

“Eric made things,” said Gwynn Vitello, Mr. Vitello’s widow, who is president of High Speed Productions, which publishes Thrasher and two other magazines. “My husband was the voice.”

They started Independent Trucks in 1978, just as the skateboard craze began to flag, partly because many communities, concerned about injuries and lawsuits, dismantled their skateboard parks. Those who continued to skate, however, skittering gymnastically on the streets and around public buildings, leaping on and off curbs, flying down stone stairways or sliding down metal banisters, exemplified an authority-defying spirit, and this was precisely what Thrasher magazine reflected.

From the start, Thrasher professed the values of punk-rock, the renegade music of the era; its articles, interviews and photos had a swagger, a recklessness. The ethos was expressed in an oft-repeated motto: “Skate and destroy.”

Thrasher galvanized skating enthusiasts, drew former skateboarders — or skaters, in the sport’s argot — back to it, and created new fans and participants. The magazine today has a circulation of about 250,000, Ms. Vitello said, and a Web site,, which draws 1.5 million visits per month. Once virtually alone in the publishing universe, it is now the largest of 20 or so skating magazines around the world, and the sport is included in the X-Games and televised on ESPN.

“Skateboarding had pretty much died in the late 1970s,” said Michael Brooke, who publishes Concrete Wave, a skateboarding magazine based in Toronto. “It was the biggest thing since sliced bread, and then it just fell off the face of a cliff. It was really sad.”

Mr. Vitello and Mr. Swenson brought it back.

“Thrasher magazine really was the linchpin,” Mr. Brooke said.

Eric Leon Swenson was born in San Francisco on Aug. 4, 1946. A committed motorcyclist, he met Mr. Vitello, a fellow biker, when both were in the Army Reserve in the 1960s. In the early 1970s, a serious motorcycle accident mangled one of Mr. Swenson’s legs, and complications of his injuries colored much of the rest of his life.

Mr. Swenson was repairing motorcycles, driving a cab and attending college classes when he and Mr. Vitello started Independent Trucks. Though not a skateboarder himself, he knew many skaters, said his wife, Linda McKay, and he was attracted to the lifestyle of tattooed, hard-living musicians and artists who spent many of their evenings perfecting their skating skills and challenging one another with ever more daring tricks. He liked punk music; he played guitar.

In addition to his wife, his longtime partner whom he married in 2006, Mr. Swenson is survived by two sisters, Rebekah Engel and Sonja Taylor, both of San Francisco.

Ms. McKay said that as the years went by her husband had trouble with his back, his hip and his knees. He had been in increasing pain recently, she said.

“I was shocked,” she said about his suicide, “but he felt old and sick, and he said he was a burden to me.”

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