JEFF GROSSO | HOUSE OF VANS, BROOKLYN, NY 2012
On March 14, 2019, the spirit of Thrasher Magazine passed away. Jake Phelps (RIP) embodied the duality of skateboarding and because of that, he was a conflicted character but a historian like no other with a photographic memory for skate minutia. Phelps might have had his baggage but the hell ride he packed for connected people.
It’s March 31, 2020, as I type this in minutes after learning that Jeff Grosso has passed, I felt immediate devastation for his family, followed by the realization that skateboarding and the world at large have lost another impassioned storyteller whose care, knowledge, humor, and wit cannot be replaced.
Like Phelps, Grosso had his struggles including his documented drug addictions. Thankfully he was able to face and manage his disease and his wiring to live a colorful life that exuded positivity. Instead of flexing his “legend” status, Grosso used his platform to create a video series titled “Loveletters to Skateboarding” in conjunction with Vans. The Letters were Grosso’s time to not only be encyclopedic about skateboarding but extend his curiosity to others and give them an equal opportunity to share their experiences. Grosso cared about who did the first eggplant. That shit is important. In a sport where documentation is sparse, flawed, and often viewed as irrelevant, Jeff Grosso acted as if he had a late-night show, hosting his series with charisma, charm, and an intense interest in people. He made you care about stories, not just the flashy ones.
In the age of social media and the instant digital homage to those who have passed, it’s common to share an anecdote about the person being mourned. It can come off as self-serving but the reality is that there is no “correct” way to grieve. I’m guilty of judging these types of posts without realizing the comfort or the authenticity they have to the creators and audience. In fact, I blame skateboarding for making me so fucking critical.
Think about it.
Your average baseball fan doesn’t care what someone’s shoelaces looked like when they threw the final pitch in the World Series but skateboarders find fault in the inconceivable and champion the overlooked. For example, a clip of Chris Joslin attempting to 360 El Toro can quickly erode into talk about how it would look better if he wasn’t wearing Rockstar® headwear or jabs about him being an anti-vaxxer. We also discuss clothing or hand formations ad nauseam. How you do something matters and sometimes, that thing isn’t even skateboarding. It’s both weird and awesome.
The greatest synergy between “real” sports and skateboarding is the NBA, where how you do something is as important as the points on the board. Even King James—a player you who can be argued as the greatest of all time or at least, his generation—has fans and even commentators clowning his hairline.
The importance isn’t the critique itself but rather, the love of detail.
Jeff Grosso loved the cracks, folds, hidden history, flair, and personality of skateboarding and I offered the “personal anecdote disclaimer” as this was apparent to me when I met him in 2012 at the House of Vans in Brooklyn, New York.
“Hey man, what the fuck is that T-Shirt?” he said to me. “Is that a real Black Flag shirt?”
Grosso was referencing the “Wonders of Black Flag” Grateful Dead mashup shirt created by designer Jeremy Dean. At the time, Dean’s design had yet to evolve past a black-and-white one-color print and was still in its hobby phase. I gave Grosso the back story and as I was telling him he grabbed Tony Alva and told him to check out the shirt. We talked a bit about music. Being a nerd, I nerded out with him about Orange County hardcore and he quickly reminded me that while he wasn’t straight edge, “Uniform Choice was fuckin’ badass.”
I exchanged emails with him and promised to link him with Dean who sent shirts for both Grosso and Alva, with Grosso later wearing one on an episode of Loveletters. He was a very polite and humorous emailer.
The average skateboarder is more concerned with learning a kickflip rather than who invented the kickflip. I understand this as when I started skating in the ‘80s, I wasn’t immediately on a quest to find old issues of Skateboarder to “learn.” I was in the moment but as the adrenaline turned into repetition, I wanted more and digging back was not only a great way to kill time when the weather didn’t allow skateboarding, it informed the greater world of what skateboarding was to me. Going backward gave me an appreciation for not only the present but what’s ahead. It gave me opinions that I could back up with “fact,” or at least, informed observations that had enough weight to voice and influence my own skateboarding.
In a sense, Jeff Grosso’s contributions to the world aren’t singular but part of an entire point of view—one that could reflect how ridiculous life is while also hugging what he viewed as important tightly in secret. That’s an art. The ability to make things like skateboarding that feel so disposable yet life-changing—tricks that last seconds, yet feel immortal.
Jeff Grosso could do that and add his intrinsic comedic timing, making the heavy feel light.
Now enjoy Jeff Grosso’s part in Santa Cruz Speed Wheels’ Speed Freaks, where he chose to riff and rant for roughly one minute and 37 seconds of his two minute and 21 second part.
Even as a street obsessed grom in 1989, I never gave Grosso the fast forward treatment because Jeff Grosso was fucking cool, so fucking cool.
Rest In Peace.