Slam

Nat Kassel
SLAM
Associate Editor

September 2022

Is it true that you source your food from rubbish bins?
(Laughing) Great first question. I was wondering if my past as a bin scavenger would ever come back to haunt me. But yes, I used to be super into dumpster diving, especially when I was a uni student on the dole. I used to score lots of food from supermarket bins, everything from bread (so much bread), to frozen steaks, fancy cheese, fruit and veggies and sometimes even beer. Most of the time all this stuff is individually wrapped so it’s not actually dirty. I got pretty obsessed with it for a while there and I had a dumpster diving blog, which I’ve since deleted because it was way too cringe. I haven’t dumpster dived in years, mainly just because I’m busy doing other stuff and I have a little more money than I did back then. But I’m not ashamed. I’d still eat from a bin any day.

You were a freelance journalist for VICE. What did you do exactly?
VICE was the first proper publication I worked for as a freelancer. I think I got my first piece published for them in 2013. Basically, I just pitched and wrote different stories to fit the publication. I interviewed lots of different people and wrote about lots of different stuff, from Centrelink to hoarding disorder to the gentrification of Byron Bay to a con artist who was scamming influencers. It was fun while it lasted, then the Australian VICE office shut down around the time the pandemic started. I think they might still be doing stuff in Australia but it’s a lot smaller than it was a few years ago.

‘My take is that Slam has survived for more than 30 years because not only is it an extremely iconic and well-respected publication that is drenched in history and nostalgia, but because it’s run really well.’

Kicky rock to fakie from many moons ago in Bali
Kicky rock to fakie • Bali   © Alexi Falson

I noticed that you interviewed Rodney Mullen. This guy keeps such a low profile, so I am curious in how you managed to interview him.
A friend who works in PR actually hit me up to interview him. It was to promote the latest reboot of the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater game. We talked a little bit about the game and its influence on his career, which was interesting. From what I understand, pretty much all the skaters who were characters in the Tony Hawk games made good money out of it. It really kickstarted their careers to a new level and set them up for life. Rodney told me that one day he was skating some picnic tables at a school in the ghetto in LA and some young gang member dudes came out to rob him. Then they recognised him from the game and started fanning out on him. But yeah, Rodney was great to talk to; he’s super passionate and lovely.

How did you end up with Slam Skateboarding Magazine?
I was doing an interview with Sydney’s funniest skater and all-round good bloke Cameron Sparkes for a VICE article. It was about skateboarding being announced as an Olympic sport. Sparkes is a great interviewee – you can’t shut him up, which is a dream when it’s your job to get someone talking. Anyway, he mentioned that he was doing work for Slam at the time and I asked him to hook me up with the editor’s details. He introduced me via email and I started writing articles for the mag soon after.

What is your scope of work as an Associate Editor at Slam?
I do interviews, write articles, subedit other peoples’ articles and interviews, and generally take care of most of the text in the mag. Then I proofread it from front to back. Sometimes I come up with ideas for features but I mostly leave that to the editor. I think most people would agree that the best thing about Slam is the photos.

‘Rodney told me that one day he was skating some picnic tables at a school in the ghetto in LA and some young dudes came out to rob him.’

OFC_SLAM-186

‘Then they recognised him from the game and started fanning out on him.’

You interviewed a few big names in skateboarding. Which one stands out for your personally and why?
I guess Rodney Mullen and Steve Caballero would be the biggest names that I’ve interviewed. When the Real team came to Sydney, I went to their Airbnb and interviewed Kyle Walker, Zion Wright and Ishod Wair, one after the other. That was pretty intimidating, but they were all really cool and down to earth. Ishod kinda played on his phone while I was trying to ask him questions but then when I asked him about his cats he got kinda passionate. I thought that was pretty funny. I’ve interviewed Nora Vasconcellos a couple of times too and she’s super warm and as funny as you’d expect.

This might sound weird to some people but one who stands out is Patrick O’Dell – he’s the guy who made Epicly Later’d. He’s obviously not a pro skater but I loved that doco series so I was kinda fanning out on him haha. I went to his house in LA and he showed me all these old film photos that he’d shot over the past 20 years. He had all these shots of the Baker team and so many other pro skaters. I grew up on Baker 2G, so it was surreal for me to see that big pile of his old photographs. They were just in a big cardboard box, collecting dust.

From your perspective, what is the secret of Slam Skateboarding to continuously release printed issues for so many years now?
My take is that Slam has survived for more than 30 years because not only is it an extremely iconic and well-respected publication that is drenched in history and nostalgia, but because it’s run really well. Trent Fahey, who now owns the mag now, is super diligent and professional. He puts a lot of effort into making sure every mag is as good as it can possibly be. You can rely on a new mag coming out every quarter, and it’s always been like that. I think there’s a lot to be said for running a tight ship and taking it seriously.

‘Silicon Valley has devastated journalism, mostly because advertisers cut out the middleman and spend their money directly with the social media giants (instead of running ads in print).’

Ollie in Denpasar, same trip
Ollie • Denpasar   © Belle Kaiesiepo

What are some of the challenges that you see at the moment?
For print? The challenges are everywhere, but the biggest threat is Silicon Valley. A few years ago it was Facebook and right now it’s Instagram. Silicon Valley has devastated journalism, mostly because advertisers cut out the middleman and spend their money directly with the social media giants (instead of running ads in print). The same goes for magazines. In a way it makes sense, but these big tech companies don’t give a fuck about our little scenes or our culture. They only care about profit. Right now Zuckerberg is one of the most powerful people in the world and he’s repeatedly shown that he’s not cut out for it. He’s got way too much power – more than any person should have.

My hope is that people are waking up to the fact that staring at our phones all day makes us feel like shit. There’s a lot more joy in flicking through a print mag, a DIY zine or reading a book. It’s a lot more relaxing. The internet is handy for lots of things, but I’d still prefer to read in print any day. The question is whether enough people feel the same way, and whether that’s enough to save print.

From when you first started as freelance journalist 8 years ago, to today, what are some of the (good and bad) changes you experienced?
That’s a big question – maybe too big for me to answer here. But I remember many years ago I was working for an agency where we were putting GIFs into all the articles. That was supposedly going to break up the text and keep people engaged. Then a few months later, that idea got scrapped and it was back to the drawing board. There’s been a lot of talk about the future of journalism and how we can engage better with people through online networks. But at the end of the day, I think that a well-researched, well-written feature article is still an interesting way to consume a story.

Feeble - tokyo
Feeble • Tokyo   © Bezdomny Pelikan

When you look at skate mags and of course other publications, it looks like advertisers become more involved in the editorial aspect. What is your take on this?
I think in most cases, brands influencing the content in a skate mag isn’t such a big deal. The act of skateboarding and the hard goods that are used for skateboarding have always been deeply intertwined. People really care about skate companies. Think about when, for example, Andrew Reynolds switched from Emerica to Vans. People gave a shit. I guess that’s because companies are integral to skateboarding — they fund the videos, put on demos and events and pay professional skaters to skate. So I think skateboarding and advertising are uniquely intertwined. On the other hand, it’s a slippery slope. If every skateboarder in the newest issue of Thrasher was wearing Cariumas, people would rightfully be talking a lot of shit. The job of a skate mag is to showcase the best skateboarding, regardless of which companies a skater skates for. Outside of skateboarding, like when it comes to news, brands influencing editorial is super dangerous. Would you trust the Shell oil company to give you your news about climate change? Fuck no. That’s why it’s important for publications to remain independent.


Last question. If you could interview one person, who would it be and why?
In terms of skateboarder, I think Ed Templeton would be pretty cool to talk to. I’ve got a lot of respect for Ed. In terms of non-skateboarders, David Walsh, the owner of MONA would be an interesting one. He seems like a bit of a riddle.

‘Trent Fahey, who now owns the mag now, is super diligent and professional. He puts a lot of effort into making sure every mag is as good as it can possibly be.’

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