Skater – Editor – Photographer
‘When Dave Swift was trying to get a job at Transworld Skateboarding Magazine, I resisted because I thought he was a trouble maker. He ended up working there and getting really good at Skate photography and we worked together at two magazines for 30+ years. He has shot some of the most iconic photos of the most iconic skaters over that time and he’s still a bit of a troublemaker.’
‘When I applied for TWS, Grant told the guy who interviewed me not to hire me because I was considered a “trouble maker” from my days of skating the Del Mar Skate Ranch. It was true, when I was younger I’d sneak into the park without paying but beyond that I was pretty chill. Didn’t matter, because I got hired and the rest is history.’
When exactly did you pick up skateboarding?
I started late in 1977, seventh grade. I had a Spanish teacher that would take some friends and I to the Carlsbad skatepark once a month. I fell in love with it at that point but ended up quitting for about a year when I went to high school. I remember the reason being that most of my skate friends went to a different high school which left me without friends that skated. Tried riding dirtbikes but after a year I found some new friends that skated and haven’t stopped since—that was spring of 1980.
My first pro board was Bryce Kanights at Schmitt Stix. That is not really newsworthy but I learned during my research that you guys were team riders. You never had the goal of turning pro as you also rode as an AM for Santa Cruz?
Oh, it certainly was a goal. And for a long time, I thought it was attainable but as I got older (early 20s) it started to feel like I might need to step up my education/employment game. I was all set to go to college in San Francisco when I learned about a job opportunity at TransWorld Skateboarding. It was an assistant editorial job (writing, transcribing interviews and editing articles that others wrote) and I whipped up a resumé and applied for the position. A couple days later I got an interview and to my surprise I was hired!
Once I started working at the magazine the desire to be a professional skater lost its appeal. I was a decent skateboarder but the next generation of young shredders were already turning pro (Danny Way) and I knew it wasn’t going to happen for me. I ended up skating in a few pro contests in 1990 and that was the end of my competition days.
I rode for Schmitt Stix from 1984 until 1990 when Paul (Schmitt) left the distributer (Vision) and started a new brand called The New Deal. At the time, some of my best friends rode for Santa Cruz and they got me on the team and that lasted for a year or so. I was getting free gear and stuff but realistically it was time for me to concentrate on my newest love; making a monthly magazine and skate photography.
‘I was a decent skateboarder but the next generation of young shredders were already turning pro (Danny Way) and I knew it wasn’t going to happen for me.’
You also had some deep history with another iconic skate photographer Grant Brittain. You skated his park in the early days, went to the same college, worked together at Transworld and founded The Skateboard Mag. How instrumental was he for your own career?
When I applied for TWS Grant told the guy who interviewed me not to hire me because I was considered a “trouble maker” from my days of skating the Del Mar Skate Ranch. It was true, when I was younger I’d sneak into the park without paying but beyond that I was pretty chill. Anyway, I didn’t expect Grant to say that because we always got along when he worked at the park and even when I saw him at Palomar College. Didn’t matter, because I got hired and the rest is history. He was the one who ended up giving me my first camera set up and helped me develop my skills in the next few years.
From ‘troublemaker’ to being a mentoree. How did you turn things around with him?
Not really sure. I guess working in the same office created an atmosphere of love! (laughing). It’s not like we didn’t get along before I worked there, he just saw me as someone who wasn’t really qualified to work in the TWS bubble. I proved him wrong with my dedication and work ethic. Like I said earlier, he knew me as a bit of a troublemaker from my days at the skatepark. I hung out with Owen Nieder and some of the other Punk Rock skaters of the time and we’d get wild after skating. We’d hang out in the parking lot, dine and ditch at Denny’s and stuff—the shit young adults did in the 1980s. I did have a job (unlike most of the skateboarders I knew) as a Clerk’s Helper at Vons grocery store and attended junior college so it’s not like I was totally irresponsible. Anyway, I never thought he hated me, but the culture at TWS when I got the job was pretty vanilla. Most of the original crew had left and basically only Grant and GSD (Garry Scott Davis) were the only real OG’s left. It only took a month or two before Grant and I were going to lunch together on the regular. Thick as thieves from that point on.
As Grant got you into photography, what was it like when you became Editor in Chief at Transworld in 1991 and ultimately his boss?
It was probably 1992 when I graduated from Managing Editor to Editor In Chief. All I know is, Grant had that position and he hated it. The guy above him (Editorial Director) was an old surfer and just looked at skaters as bums or at least a lower form of human to surfers. Grant argued with that guy non-stop about shit and even quit once (or twice) before deciding that he just wanted to be photo editor. The Editorial Director at the time wanted Miki Vuckovich (who at the time was living in the former USSR studying or something) to have the job and basically told me I would be in charge until Miki returned. In my next review I told him I wasn’t down for that and I’d prefer he’d give me the chance. With the support of the General Manager of TWS and the skate advertising manager I was given the title and never looked back.
‘Not only is Dave an awesome skater, he is a pioneer behind the lens. He has captured some of the heaviest moments in skateboard history and continues to do so to this day. And he has a beautiful smith grind.’
You worked at TWS from 1989 to 2003 in different roles. Writer, Staff Senior Photographer, Videographer, Associate Editor, Managing Editor, Editor in Chief. What did you like doing most and why?
I like it all but shooting photos was and always will be my favorite. During the mid-90s we had to do everything because skateboarding was just beginning its growth spurt and the bosses didn’t want to invest too much money into staffing. When we started doing videos in 1994 it was Grant Brittain, Ted Newsome, Skin Phillips and myself doing all the filming, editing and overall marketing for those projects twice a year. That alongside making a monthly magazine was pretty hard on the four of us but by 1996 skating was growing superfast financially and the magazine was making a decent profit again. That allowed for us to hire staff and move forward into the new era of TWS (you might have recognized 450 page magazines by the end of the decade).
Yes I did! I also heard that TWS generated over $1m in ad revenue with 40% being editorial. Did you ever get complaints from readers that there were too many ads?
Many complaints about the amount of ads but rarely did anyone complain about the amount of skate editorial in each issue. It’s crazy to look at those things now.
What is the role of Editor in Chief?
Basically I oversaw the consumer magazine from concept to finished product every month (14 times a year), managed the video department, worked closely with advertising and marketing, managed the Skate Business staff and still shot photos and wrote stories for the magazine. When it came to Transworld Skateboarding, I was the guy in charge. What was your biggest challenge in this role? Nothing really at first but by 1999 the challenges were mostly dealing with the corporate aspect that became interested in skateboarding. Suits were always touring the building and asking questions about skateboarding. Keep in mind, this was in the days when grown-ups knew next to nothing about skateboarding—man, I wish it was still like that! Nowadays you have fringe skaters graduating from college and entering in the skate world claiming to know what’s best because they grew up skateboarding in Chicago, Illinois or something. The way I see it, those are the ones who have killed skate culture as we once knew it but that is a whole other story.
‘It’s not like we didn’t get along before I worked there, he just saw me as someone who wasn’t really qualified to work in the TWS bubble. I proved him wrong with my dedication and work ethic.’
Like pro skaters driving expensive sponsored German cars? Don’t get me started! On that note in the interview with North skatemag you stated ‘I came from a time when those of us that rode skateboards were looked upon as losers and vandals and nowadays it’s so mainstream. Maybe I’m happy and sad at the same time.’ If you have to choose, are you more happy or sad?
Definitely more sad about where skateboarding has ended up. That doesn’t make it any less awesome, just doesn’t seem to have the same kind of leadership it once did when it comes to youth culture.
In the Visual Revolutionary podcast you mentioned that Transworld did not turn away any ads. Hence did you struggle about the mag’s authenticity and credibility when there were good paying ads in the mag with no relevance to Skateboarding?
It was hard at first because we were skaters and seeing stuff that didn’t have anything to do with skateboarding made us cringe a little. We’d look at the mag like it was ours and not really care if it was selling a million dollars in advertising per month. Part of my growth was learning to accept that and by the time I quit working at TWS it was just part of the culture.
What were some of these ads?
Got Milk ads, Army (Recruiting ads), Ford. Those were the ones I remember most. Not even that bad considering they paid three times the rate that a skateboard company would pay for the same space. And looking back, they (TWS) wouldn’t give them premium space (back cover, inside front cover) for the money they were spending.
Was there huge rivalry with other skatemags like Thrasher or Big Brother?
Don’t forget about Slap and Skateboarder! We had a rivalry for sure. In the beginning it was Thrasher because it was only two mags. Later in the 1990s Thrasher wasn’t really an issue because they were doing their own thing and it was so much different than what was in TWS every month. Skateboarder came out later in the decade and we considered them a closer rival because they were much more similar to what we were doing. I always looked at every magazine and considered them all great in their own way.
‘Many complaints about the amount of ads but rarely did anyone complain about the amount of skate editorial in each issue. It’s crazy to look at those things now.’
What is the success of Thrasher from your perspective? Why are they still around?
Well, in my opinion it’s because they are a family-owned business whose business is skateboarding. If you didn’t already know, the family(s) that started Thrasher also started/own Independent Trucks, Real Skateboards, Anti Hero Skateboards, Thunder Trucks, Venture Trucks, Spitfire Wheels, Krooked Skateboards and the brand Thrasher is a very lucrative clothing business. And add to that, NHS (Santa Cruz Skateboards, OJ Wheels, Creature Skateboards, Independent Trucks, Krux Trux, Bronson Bearings, Mob Griptape) who also have a small ownership interest in Thrasher (but I have no idea to what extent). Most of these brands are highly successful. It’s hard to find any Pro or Am skater out there that doesn’t ride for at least one of these brands.
Thanks Dave. I did not know that. Why did Transworld fail eventually?
TWS was started (reluctantly) by Tracker Trucks owner Larry Balma in 1983.
Sorry to interrupt. Why do you say reluctantly?
Oh, because I’m told that the industry at the time (1982) didn’t feel comfortable having Fausto in control of skating’s ultimate destiny (and their collective future). They thought that having the other major truck manufacturer (Tracker) start a mag would create an interesting rivalry and put Fausto in check. All of those that prodded Larry into starting TWS gave an advertising commitment to get the magazine off the ground. They also continued supporting Thrasher and everyone was happy. I say Larry was reluctant only because he had enough on his plate already with Tracker.
At that time and all through the 1980s Tracker was a very successful skate company but by 1993 it was practically bust. They tried to launch wheel, deck, clothing brands but none had much success and TWS was sold to a publishing company in NYC. The only reason they bought the magazines was because the success and growth in snowboarding and skateboarding. Beyond that there was no attachment to skate/snow and that became obvious a few years later when they sold off the catalog of print mags for the first of many times. After I left in late 2003 to start The Skateboard Mag (with several staff members) I’m not sure what the culture at TWS became. From an outsiders’ perspective they became less of a leader and more of a follower in terms of what they were doing editorially. It looked as if they were run by the advertising department who probably demanded that everything, they did was advertorial instead of letting the staff create content on their own. It looks like they were selling pages (covers, interviews, trips) in the mag along with sponsorship of the videos and anything else that could be bought.
What I’m saying here is, when I was at TWS we rarely had any interaction with advertisers as to what content was in the magazine. At the most, I would talk to the Ad Sales Staff manager once a month to let him know what was in the magazine to which he/she would use as bait to bring in new advertisers or let current advertisers know if they had riders featured prominently in editorial (rider interviews, trips etc). I never let those guys know who was on the cover, that was kept secret until right before printing. Beyond that it was no contact between Edit and advertising, shit, we didn’t even go to lunch with the advertising staff.
‘Cheers to all of you out there making it happen.’
This is such an interesting point around the advertisers influence in the editorial space. In the podcast you also mentioned that around 2008 the skatemags were becoming conjugal for the brands that were advertising. Those brands are providing material to create stories. At the Skateboard Mag you said you would put in skateboarding that was not the best, but it would give you an ad. Is this the only way for the remaining skatemags to keep alive you think?
Survival is a crazy thing. Again, Thrasher was just beginning their run as the number 1 skate publication in 2008 and had money to invest in their website and staff. During the next decade you’d see them building staff as their Web and social media presence grew and they never looked back. The rest of us were running on fumes as far as I can tell so selling editorial to advertisers became totally normal and competitive between Skateboarder, TWS and The Skateboard Mag as well as the quickly growing Berrics. Competition for the remaining dollars that brands were willing to spend on conventional advertising in print magazines. Honestly, I hated doing business this way because it was not why we started our own mag in the first place, completely the opposite actually. I quit TWS not because I was upset by how I was being treated but mostly because I could see the direction things were going with all the corpos interested in skateboarding. To me, it would be all about selling editorial in the future but an independent publisher with no ownership in skate brands would be viewed as a good thing by the skate industry. It worked at first but in the end, we just became what we set out not to be. Sad.
You are one of the founding members of the Skateboard Mag. After some good first years, you mentioned that you blew it by neglecting the importance of having a website. Do you think this was also true for Transworld?
We blew it because we didn’t invest dollars into our website so we could create more video content on there. We weren’t denying that it was important but in 2008-2009 ad sales were down significantly and we just did all we could to keep the staff we had. As for TWS, I really have no clue.
‘It was hard at first because we were skaters and seeing stuff that didn’t have anything to do with skateboarding made us cringe a little.’
In 2014 you sold the Skateboard Mag to the Berrics but remained as staff. You mentioned that you did not see more ads coming through so you were wondering how they were able to keep going. You said you ‘turned a blind eye to whatever that was.’
After we were bought, I really had high hopes for the future because the Berrics was a successful skate media brand that was owned by skateboarders. It was great to redesign the mag and inject some dollars into the quality of the product. At times it was hard to deal with the General Manager at the Berrics as he and I did not see eye-to-eye on most things, and he wasn’t all that interested in my experience and knowledge in running a skate media brand. Within a year he fired of one of my best friends, Kevin Wilkins even though I fought for two months to keep on on staff. He also got rid of our ad sales manager and left print ad sales up to someone who really wasn’t interested in the few dollars to be made in publishing. It was at this time that I checked out on the business side of publishing and put all my time into creating content for the mag by doing my own articles and trips. It felt like I was getting back to what I loved. I was happy to not have to manage staff members or deal with advertisers any longer but that all changed in November of 2016 when Grant Brittain and I were laid off from the magazine we created in 2004.
However, you started working as Web content/IG for the Berrics the same year. Are you still doing that?
After getting laid off I was on unemployment for about six months, selling prints of my archive of photos and just trying to figure out what was next. At some point I started getting texts from Steve Berra, he was having trouble running the mag without me involved and basically wanted me back in some capacity. I got to work on the very last issue of The Skateboard Mag before it was renamed The Berrics Mag (which only lasted two issues) and I got to work on both of those. The Berrics sold a majority ownership to Hype Beast, and I was kept on as a staff member creating content for the website until June 2020 where I was laid off due to Covid 19 (or so I was told). The funny thing was, after Joey Shigeo Muellner left for work for Monster Energy in 2019 I had little or no contact with anyone at The Berrics but still got paid every month. I just worked on my own little projects, and they would put them on the website, but I knew the call was coming sooner or later.
‘Dave is an inspiration ! There’s nothing like skating with your friends; getting to be creative and work your skills . When I see Dave I already know he wants to ride and he’s got plenty of stoke to offer through his skating and his creative mind . Whether that’s a bowl session or photo opportunity we’re rippin that day . Tail taps , smith grinds , slappys , Volvo, skate history intel , laying in the dirt for a photo , patience , generosity , all classics in a day.’
What are you up to now?
Nowadays I work as a staff photographer for Cariuma Footwear and Protec as well as shooting ads for other brands in skateboarding. 2021 was a pretty good year and I hope it continues in 2022.
You must be one of the few photographers that makes a living shooting skateboarding which is remarkable considering the current climate. Well, you make a living for more than 30 years in the skateboarding industry. What has been your proudest moment if you can pick only one?
Proudest moment would have to be working with my staff at TWS during the 1990s and making it the biggest and most successful skateboard magazine of the time. For a good 5 years (1993-1998) we had the freedom to make the magazine just the way we wanted without any outside interference. We changed logos every month, made outstanding videos and created a place for writers, photographers and filmers to make a living doing what they love.
One of your regrets I learned is that you did not shoot portraits in the early days. Why?
I always saw the portrait work of other skate photographers like Grant Brittain, Dan Sturt, Skin, Pete Thompson, Wig Worland and a few others as far superior to what I could do. I’d shoot the skating but let one of them take the portrait. But looking back there were so many moments that I could have shot an off-handed portrait or lifestyle image that would be a great addition to my skate portfolio. Skaters like Tom Penny, Bob Burnquist, Steve Berra, Bucky Lasek, Heath Kirchart, Eric Koston, Jeremy Klein, Ron Chatman, Geoff Rowley, Kris Markovich, Rob Dyrdek, Matt Mumford to name just a few, all in their early glory days. I’m glad I shot a couple at least.
‘Dave Swift. He’s a Skateboarder. Yes he’s made a life of skateboarding but not by sitting behind a desk.. not by saying who’s who or what’s what.. but by being a General in the field. Still battling in his own! It’s funny many industry heads I often find myself eating lunch with… well with Swift.. I find him at the skate park. Skateboarding. I admire that more then words.’
Navarette Darren Diego
In all the interviews I heard about you, you always mention that you want to do a skatemag again. How close are you?
In my head I’m super close! But in reality, it’s pretty far- fetched. Of course, I shoot enough to do my own zine but what I miss most is working closely with a staff of people that all have the same goal—making a magazine or whatever because they love skateboarding. That’s my thing, I just turned 57 and I still love skateboarding like I did when I was 16 years old. I don’t care to make millions of dollars from it, but I also can’t do it for free.
When we started The Skateboard Mag, we were lucky enough to find a single investor to give us $500,000 dollars to start the mag. We used this to pay staff for three months and print the first issue. These days you would only need a fraction of that to start a quality publication with a small staff, but the return would be very small as far as revenue. To put it in perspective, we sold more than $200,000 dollars in advertising for that first issue of The Skateboard Mag.
Do you think there will be a revival of printed skate mags?
I hope so. I mean, there are mags all over the world and some really good independently published ones like North (Scotland), Slam (Australia), Free (Europe) and Confusion. These mags are all done for the love and its obvious. Cheers to all of you out there making it happen.
Last question. If you could interview one person, who would it be and why?
As a photographer there are so many because the talent level is truly at an all time high. When it comes to actually interviewing someone in the skate industry, I think it’d be my mentor Grant Brittain because of his body of work in the 1980s and how he changed the level of skate photography over the years.
‘Proudest moment would have to be working with my staff at TWS during the 1990s and making it the biggest and most successful skateboard magazine of the time.’