Arizona Desert, late 1970s: while death takes out many professional athletes, it would appear that skateboarding seems to suffer more than its fair share of losses | Photo: Warren Bolster

One of the most amazing things about skateboarding is that its superstars tend to be within reach of the ordinary skater.

For example, Tony Alva can be found hanging out at numerous events. There are dozens of skateparks that are frequented by pros worldwide.

Even at a contest, many pro skaters are accessible.

If you are fortunate enough to attend the Skateboarding Hall of Fame (SHoF) in California as a fan, you'll have an opportunity to be with many legends.

It is the accessible nature of skateboarding that makes it vastly different from other sports.

Since it's not the same size as professional football, basketball, or baseball, it remains something that true fans can embrace without destroying their savings account.

Thanks to my role as a writer and publisher within the skate industry, I've had many opportunities to meet some of the movers and shakers.

While death takes out many professional athletes, it would appear that skateboarding seems to suffer more than its fair share of losses.

If you jump over to this website, you will see for yourself just how many skaters we've lost.

Many are under 60.

I went through this list and started to pick out skaters who I had either met or spent some time with. It was quite an overwhelming feeling.

So, for my own sanity (and probably yours as well), I am going to break this up over a series of chapters.

It will be in chronological order, and I hope it gives you some insight into the vast number of truly remarkable people I've had the privilege of knowing.

Tim Brauch (1974-1999)

Tim Brauch (April 26, 1974 - May 9, 1999)

I am going to start with Tim Brauch. Tim was someone who I met at the Action Sports Retailer (ASR) show.

He died in May 1999, and I think I met him in January of that year. He would have been 24 at the time.

My most vivid memory was just how incredibly friendly and down-to-earth he was. He seemed to possess very little ego.

How I truly wish I'd been able to spend more time with him.

Bob Turner (1956 - March 23, 2002)

Next up is Bobby Turner.

Bobby was a legend in the world of slalom back in the 1970s. His boards were extremely expensive back then.

I met Bobby briefly, and I recall him having a huge amount of skate stoke. The resurgence of slalom skateboarding seemed to be nurturing his soul.

Fausto Vitello (1946-2006)

Fausto Vitello (August 7, 1946 - April 22, 2006)

Although not a professional skater, Fausto Vitello left a huge mark on the skateboarding industry.

He was the co-founder of many of the brands you know and cherish.

He helped establish Thrasher Magazine, Independent Trucks, Thunder, and Real - just to name a few.

I had the opportunity to speak with Fausto at length when I was doing my research for the book "The Concrete Wave."

He spent over two hours with me on the phone, and the result was a hefty piece in the book.

Oddly enough, the folks from Transworld Skateboarding never returned my calls and were pissed that they didn't receive the same type of coverage that Thrasher had in my book.

Fausto died suddenly riding his bicycle at age 59.

What is most intriguing is that the New York Times contacted me about his passing. With respect to the obituary, it appears I seemed to be one of their only sources for the piece.

The folks at Thrasher didn't seem interested in returning their calls. This is ironic in so many ways.

I am publishing the piece in its entirety so you can understand my point:

Fausto Vitello, an entrepreneur and publisher who helped take the dying pastime of skateboarding out of the suburbs and into the streets, where it became a rude and riotous multibillion-dollar business, died Saturday while riding his bicycle in Woodside, Calif. He was 59 and lived in Hillsborough, Calif.

The apparent cause was a heart attack, his family said.

Mr. Vitello was revered by skateboarders (and reviled by their parents) as a founder and the president of Thrasher magazine, which for a quarter-century has been the rebellious bible of the skateboarding subculture.

He was also a founder of Independent Trucks, a leading manufacturer of skateboard equipment, clothing, and accessories.

"He's the godfather of punk-rock skateboarding," Michael Brooke, the publisher of Concrete Wave, a skateboarding magazine based in Toronto, said in a telephone interview yesterday.

Published monthly, Thrasher has a circulation of about 175,000.

Its Web site,, features articles, interviews and, for school-age readers, a selection of downloadable term papers "to free up more time to skate."

Skateboarding has been around since the early 1900s when some thrill-seeking child first nailed a two-by-four to a roller skate.

Conditions improved in the late 1950s, when the first commercial skateboards were marketed, and again in the early 1970s when urethane wheels and better boards made fancy maneuvers possible.

By the mid-1970s, skateboarding was hugely popular among suburban boys, who performed in empty swimming pools and in specially built skateboard parks.

By the end of the decade, however, many towns, concerned about liability, razed their parks, and the sport went into decline.

But it was still possible to skate in the streets, using features of the urban landscape - curbs, steps, railings, benches - as launching pads from which to take flight.

Mr. Vitello, a devoted skateboarder who had founded Independent Trucks in 1978, capitalized on the fledgling sport of street skating, starting Thrasher with several associates in 1981.

With its mantra "skate and destroy," the magazine embodied the punk-rock ethos of the day, exhorting readers to devote their lives to their art.

And if the pursuit of art happened to involve some imbibing and inhaling, it implied that was all right, too.

"Thrasher magazine has had its detractors," Mr. Brooke said.

"Fausto and Thrasher had no problem being very - how can I put this? - gnarly. There are swear words; there is a whole violent side to it. There are a lot of parents who forbid their children to read Thrasher."

Fausto Vitello was born in Buenos Aires on Aug. 7, 1946, and came to the United States with his family as a boy.

He grew up in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco and earned a bachelor's degree in Spanish from San Francisco State University.

Mr. Vitello is survived by his wife, the former Gwynn Rose, and their children, Tony and Sally, all of Hillsborough; a sister, Lidia, of Elburn, Ill.; and his mother, Aurora, of San Francisco.

Today, skateboarding is a $2 billion industry, according to Mr. Brooke.

And as the sport has been embraced by mainstream culture, including ESPN and the X Games, its roughest edges have been smoothed away.

This did not sway Mr. Vitello from his original vision.

"Fausto never cleaned up," Mr. Brooke said. "You open up Thrasher, and it's still guys drinking and shooting guns."

Warren Bolster (1947-2006) | Photo: SHoF

Warren Bolster (June 11, 1947 - September 6, 2006)

Next up is Warren Bolster, who was both an incredible photographer and editor of SkateBoarder Magazine.

I could write at least four chapters about my experiences with Warren.

Like Fausto, Warren died in 2006, and he too died at the same age - 59. In fact, they both died within five months of each other.

Warren's drive to build skateboarding during its second boom in the mid-1970s almost took him out.

Unlike most of the people that I am discussing in this article, Warren Bolster wasn't just someone I met briefly or conducted an interview with.

I actually worked very closely with him for a period of a year. We worked on a book I called "The Legacy of Warren Bolster."

When I first met Warren, he was battling his addictions.

He was also quite a curmudgeon. He had a temper, and he wasn't the easiest guy to work with.

At the same time, his patience and trust in me with the book project was something that I'll never forget.

Warren left SkateBoarder Magazine in a cloud of controversy. His fondness for a certain illicit drug was his undoing.

The publishers were begging him to get treatment. When he was let go, they had to replace him with at least four people.

He was a workaholic with a vision to make skateboarding something insanely great. Warren contributed a huge amount to skateboarding, and it was a privilege to know him.

Unfortunately, much of Warren's slides had been either stolen or lost in the twenty or so years since he had left the magazine.

There were so many photos that I so truly wished we'd had the opportunity to publish, but they had long since disappeared.

Warren's task was to identify each of the slides that I had chosen.

I also asked him to write about the skater in the photo and what was happening at the time. Thankfully, with most of the photos, his memory was crystal clear.

The book was actually financed by Kevin Harris, the owner of Ultimate Skateboard Distribution.

Although Kevin never recouped his investment, the ripple effect of his patronage was enormous.

A number of magazines and books have reprinted these photos.

He eventually wound up being inducted into the Skateboarding Hall of Fame.

In 2004, "The Legacy of Warren Bolster: Master of Skateboard Photography" was released.

I brought Warren to San Diego to be at the launch of the book at the Action Sports Retailer (ASR) show.

The experience remains one of my top 5 moments during my time as a publisher. The ASR show brought together heavyweights in skateboarding and surfing.

We had Warren stationed at a company called Video Action Sports.

This was a time before YouTube, and people actually bought videotapes and DVDs for their own personal viewing.

As soon as the launch began, I knew we had a very cool experience brewing.

People who hadn't seen Warren in over two decades came up and shook his hand and hugged him. It was a who's who of the skate and surf industries.

There was a feeling that Warren was finally getting his due. I felt proud to be a part of it, and I knew Warren felt good.

The show ended, and we tried our best to market the book. In hindsight, I should have known it was a recipe for failure.

Four thousand copies of the book were printed in Canada. This meant they were expensive to produce. A $40 retail price didn't help the situation.

Realistically, there wasn't the demand we initially thought there would be.

We should have printed overseas with a run of 1,000. But this was the first book I'd ever published, and it was one heck of a learning curve.

Warren was very aggravated by the failure of the book to take off.

I felt very badly about things, but as much as I tried, the demand just wasn't there. Nowadays, if you go searching for the book, it is a collector's item. I've seen copies sell for over $500!

The years following the publication of the book were not good for Warren.

Although he had received treatment for his drug addiction just after the book launch, it was not to stick.

Sadly, he was involved in a car accident which left him with crippling pain, and he returned to using painkillers.

Unfortunately, Warren was never able to get a handle on the demons that plagued him for decades.

Tragically, he committed suicide in Hawaii in 2006, almost two years to the day that I had met him at the book launch in San Diego.

I walked the ASR show with deep sadness but with the knowledge that I'd at least helped keep the memory of Warren Bolster alive.

Words by Michael Brooke | Skateboarder and Author of "The Endless Wave: Skateboarding, Death & Spirituality"

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