Photo By:Bill Laskey
In 2021, there’s no shortage of skateboarding podcasts. And while there are plenty of good ones, “Talkin’ Schmit” might be the one we all need after making it through the fiery, fiery dumpster of 2020. The host, Greg “Schmitty” Smith from Thrasher, doesn’t pretend things aren’t tough, but he also knows that if we keep things positive and support one another, then it’s all a little easier. And it doesn’t hurt that he has a stacked list of guests – from Lizzie Armanto to Geoff Rowley to Tommy Guerrero – to chop it up and remind us that we’re all in this thing together.
On the occasion of his 100th episode, we hit Schmitty up to hear some stories and perspective from his 25+ years helping run things at Thrasher and what lessons he’s learned after making it this far in the skateboarding podcasting game.
“Fausto looked straight at us and said, we’re going to blow these fuckers out of the water. Are you guys in?”
Schmitty, let’s start with Thrasher. What’s the story about you starting the website because Transworld made Fausto (Vitello, creator of Thrasher) mad?
I love that story! I don’t remember what year it was, maybe ‘98? Lance Dalgart wrote an article in Transworld, but you can’t really blame him; it was TWS who published it. The article was “The Worst Websites in Skateboarding”, and they listed Thrasher as one. At the time, our site was only one page where you could basically just buy hoodies.
Transworld was the competition, so we would get their mags to see what they were doing. Absolutely, Fausto would read it every month, if only just to make fun of them. At the time, I was just making videos for Thrasher. One day, Fausto called me and Paul Zuanich into the office, and he was fired up over that article. He looked straight at us and said, “those motherfuckers! We’re going to make the best website. We’re going to blow these fuckers out of the water. Are you guys in?”
We did everything we could – gave away skateboards for free, whatever it took to get people to the site. We definitely aspired to be the best. Obviously, the Internet eventually took over, and we got in there early.
Greg and P-stone bask in the glory of friendship and stoke
“Have you ever read that Isaac Asimov book, I, Robot? It’s about a guy who builds a robot and then the robot eventually kills him. If I’m being honest, that’s about how it feels”
And during that time, you also created the SLAP site? Are you the person responsible for the SLAP message boards?
(laughs) Look, the SLAP site is housed out of High Speed, so I don’t want to be disrespectful in any way. To answer your question though: I was actually the first user.
Have you ever read that Isaac Asimov book, I, Robot? It’s about a guy who builds a robot and then the robot eventually kills him. If I’m being honest, that’s about how it feels; it just seems like such a negative place now. That was never the intention or a thing that I’m proud of.
It is definitely strange to visit a forum that you started and see your own stuff getting evaluated. We dealt with it on the Thrasher site when we allowed comments on the Junk Drawer. It makes me think of some Kurt Cobain lyrics, “self-appointed judgers judge more than they have sold”. People love to judge. I don’t understand the desire to go onto a website that’s free, look at the content that’s free, see someone pouring their heart out for something we all love, and then just tear it down. I compare it to a guy who doesn’t know how to draw just spray painting over good graffiti.
Transworld mag is gone now, but it was a serious contender for a long time. Looking back, was there ever a moment where they had you all nervous, or you felt like they beat you to something?
There was a time where our paper was much lower quality than theirs. People would joke that the ink from our mag would rub off on their fingers. Also, you’ve got to hand it to them: they made some incredible videos from Uno up through Sight Unseen and more.
I know that the competition was real, but I appreciated how you all handled it when Transworld folded. You all called them a “worthy adversary” and lamented the loss of their mag. You didn’t just dance on their grave.
It’s nuts that we’re still around. Don’t get me wrong: I think we do lots of things right, but it’s crazy that we’re still here in print and Rolling Stone and Sports Illustrated are not. I appreciated having other mags – Transworld, or Big Brother, or whatever. We’re all skateboarders. I think it would be cool to have at least one other.
So, as the “online content manager” at Thrasher, are you the one who reviews the footage that’s posted to the site?
That’s what the masthead calls me, but I feel like I have my hands in almost every situation. As for the footage, it depends on the project and who brings it in. Tony (Vitello) is the owner, and he runs the company and he has a hands-on approach, especially on the bigger projects – “you want to take that one sagging back tail out” or whatever. Cole Matthews and I review a lot of it. If I’m working with, say, Jason Adams, then he and I would put the part together. (Michael) Burnett does a lot of it as well, helping make sure i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed – he’s a master of his domain.
Greg and Thrasher big wig, Michael Burnett
Despite the power of Instagram, Thrasher is still the biggest gatekeeper to getting respect in skateboarding. If I have the talent but no connections, what can I do to get my video on Thrasher? Is that possible?
If you’re good enough, you’ll be seen by the right people. Most importantly, it’s going to come down to what you did on your board. From there, get together with other people that are good: other skaters, a filmer, a photographer. How your footage looks makes a big difference. Filming with Jason Hernandez is going to look a lot different than being filmed by Indy169, or whoever, from the SLAP message boards. Of course, social media presence matters in 2021; that’s just how it is.
Instagram may have given every skater a voice, but it’s also still important to plug in with your local community. Filming a part in a shop video makes a difference, especially if you have the best part. People at the shop will have connections, and people coming through town will see your footage. The old rules of getting your foot in the door still apply.
“Your mouth can get you into trouble; silence can’t”
On the other hand, from Thrasher’s perspective, what’s the easiest way to kook it? At 16 or 18, how does someone not kook it?
In 2021, I think we could all be a little more forgiving of people’s mistakes. But, there’s a difference between slipping up and blowing it. We all slip up.
There’s no one biggest mistake. If I had to sum it up, I’d take that quote from Hamilton, “Talk less. Smile more.” Your mouth can get you into trouble; silence can’t. You can’t take it back if you say something you shouldn’t. If you’re young, appreciate that skateboarding is something that is way bigger than you. It may just be four wheels and a deck, but a lot of people have tremendous passion for it, and it is deeply important to them.
Who you spend your time with will make a big difference too. Surround yourself with people you admire or who are better than you, then appreciate them.
You’ve said that the biggest change you’ve seen in skateboarding is that comments and likes now dictate what’s cool. In 2021, how much is the Thrasher website, ultimately, a servant to social media approval?
We use these metaphors – skateboarding is our “religion” and Thrasher is “the Bible” – to help understand and explain just how deep the roots of this thing are for us personally. Obviously, it’s hard to be told that some of those things aren’t relevant anymore. I’m learning that, with age, this is something that everyone deals with in their own way.
We’re always evolving at Thrasher, and we need to adapt if we don’t want to get stale. As an “old guy”, I have to accept that.
To specifically answer your question: social media has significantly altered the landscape for everyone, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Thrasher is now “a servant” to it. Thrasher is always changing because it has to; that’s just reality. But the core of what Thrasher is doesn’t change. Bust or Bail: Wallenberg? Chris Cole came up and backside 360ed it, and we’ve got 5 angles. How about the one at Paul Revere? Andrew Langi became a street skater in front of the world while Phelps was there pointing a finger up to the sky. Carbondale, midway point of the first King of the Road? Monumental camp-over party with the best in boarding.
That’s the reason Thrasher is still a thick magazine. Who wears a t-shirt or gets a tattoo for any of the other mags?It’s a lifestyle that people look at and want to be a part of, and we never pulled any punches showing the lifestyle of all these crazy derelicts. These people are insane!
I just want to say that I’ve never been jaded, and I appreciate it every day. I grew up worshipping these people and loving this skateboarding thing, and it still feels like a dream.
Phelpers (RIP), Sheckler and Greg sharing the Glory at Bust or Bail
“every episode is therapeutic for me”
Shifting gears a bit, congrats on hitting 100 episodes of “Talkin’ Schmit”!
I don’t know if this should be a secret or not because guests might start charging me (laughs), but every episode is therapeutic for me. Talking with good friends or even people I don’t know about passionate things in our lives makes it bigger than just, “what was your first board”, or “how did you get sponsored”? Instead, digging deep into, say, how someone deals with anxiety is something we can all relate to. Like, “are you kidding? Danny Way has anxiety?! How did he jump the Great Wall while dealing with that?”
After about an hour and a half, I feel pretty emotionally drained, but I ultimately feel good. It’s helpful for me to hear those things and know that I’m not alone. Hopefully, some listeners can feel that way too after hearing some of these famous people in skateboarding opening up.
After dealing with constant internet judging at work – which, don’t get me wrong, I love my job – it’s nice to have an escape from all that by just putting something out there and not have to worry about comments and likes. And, as I get older, I find that if I learned something today, then I had a great day. Learning and having laughter are the keys, I think.
Have you had any surprising or memorable interactions with listeners?
Definitely. My biggest fan also happens to be my fiancée, and her perspective and encouragement are really important. She always encourages me to copy the letters and things that people send me. There’s a guy from England, for example, who checks in every week. It’s pretty sick when people hit you up saying, “Schmitty, no pod this week?” People care, and it blows me away.
There’s also some stuff that’s pretty gnarly. Sometimes people tell me that they have suicidal thoughts, and the show has helped them get outside and start skateboarding again. People tell me that they are fighting through all sorts of stuff. I never expected any of this, so it’s humbling to hear.
For the folks thinking of starting a podcast, how much time actually goes into each episode of “Talkin’ Schmit”?.
Well, it started off quick and easy: record the interview for about an hour and spend another hour or so editing and uploading. These days we have new mic’s, and we’re uploading to YouTube with different camera angles, so it probably takes twice as much time on the back end. Actually, if Burnett’s reading, then it doesn’t take up much time at all! Only weekends! (laughs) Nah, that’s why I’m taking a hiatus – trying to figure out how to do it quicker and keep it quality.
“I saw so much schadenfreude in 2020. We need to move on and quit taking pleasure in other people’s mistakes. Let’s just focus on ourselves instead. I think we need that as a society, as America. There’s so much negativity, and I think that it makes us all depressed.”
Let’s be real, it’s also hard in 2021. If someone slips up or says something that can be taken out of context, then it’s over for that person. I don’t want to be the cause of anybody’s demise.
When you interview someone, you want to dig out the dirt – it’s part of the human instinct: “What can I get him to say? Can I get him to talk shit?” I started to realize that I needed to take pleasure in the good stuff. I don’t need to drag anyone through that. I saw so much schadenfreude in 2020. We need to move on and quit taking pleasure in other people’s mistakes. Let’s just focus on ourselves instead. I think we need that as a society, as America. There’s so much negativity, and I think that it makes us all depressed.
P-stone and Schmitty
I know that you’ve said “don’t do what I do”, but do you have advice for aspiring podcasters? There are a lot of them these days. Is it difficult for newbies to get a foothold?
The first thing I would say is that while I’ve done a hundred episodes of “Talkin’ Schmit”, and that may seem like a lot, it’s only a two-year span. I’m still new to this and learning all the time. I’m definitely not the expert. With that said, there are a few things that people have told me and that I’ve noticed.
In my mind, the number one thing is the quality of the audio. No background noise. You need isolated audio, and it needs to be as close to the same level of output throughout. I would start there.
“As skateboarders, creativity is so important. You can’t do exactly what someone else is doing. This is where I have a hard time. It is important to know what’s going on out there, but be careful not to see too much or the influence can take over, and you lose your creativity.”
Next up, people love structure. Have a plan for how often and stick to that. Once a month? Weekly? Daily? Don’t bite off more than you can chew. People like the rhythm “oh, first Thursday of the month! Here we go!” I believe that the first time you let people down, you lose a lot of them. Do it again and you lose a lot more. “The Nine Club” knows this: if they miss one, then they do a social media post so that their audience knows that they are important.
After that, good content. You need things to be interesting or educational, and always involve humor if you can.
Finally, they say that imitation is the greatest form of flattery. As skateboarders, creativity is so important. You can’t do exactly what someone else is doing. This is where I have a hard time. It is important to know what’s going on out there, but be careful not to see too much or the influence can take over, and you lose your creativity. That’s how Jim Greco is – when he’s making his videos, he doesn’t watch any other skateboarding because he wants it to be original. But, of course, it’s tricky because you need to know what’s out there.
It makes me think of the Strobeck style of filming. Full respect to him; he pioneered it. But I think we’re all a little worn out on it now since everyone’s doing it.
That principle applies to so many things. Strobeck is awesome. Look at what he did in those Supreme videos with a cast of amazing skateboarders. Nobody needs somebody else to do the exact same thing, but it’s everywhere. The same thing happened with French Fred. His influence was huge at the time. We don’t need another Beatles, but we do need to know that they were one of the best bands of all time. Utilize that influence, but do it in your own way. Of course, that’s the tricky part for young people because they don’t have their confidence yet.
When Insta got big, Sammy Baca told me that the algorithms pushed square cropped videos. He called me up and was like “what is going on? You can’t even see the spots on Instagram! What are people doing?” People want it to look like shit because it gets more traffic? That’s not a winning move, in my opinion.
Schmitty ain’t no stranger to crail sliding with the big dogs
In true “Talkin’ Schmit” tradition, what song do you want to close with?
Grindline The Band. Let’s go with “Broken Bottles”. That was the first song from the first day of the first Skate Rock trip. We were in Las Vegas, and this was the song that kicked it all off. Hubbard, Phelps, P-Stone. (Mark) Hubbard was so prolific and creative. I’m grateful that I got to know him on those trips, and his company has made such amazing skateparks.
Before I go, I want to say big love to everybody! I just want us all to be smiling and know that things are going to get better. Thank you to everyone who listens to “Talkin’ Schmit”. It’s an honor to have made it this far with all of you.