Scott Wipperman; old school skater, photographer and bike enthusiast tells us about skating in the 70’s, falling in love with the BC races and his DH skateboarding son, Max. Enjoy his awesome shots throughout.Hi Scott, how are you doing?
Doing fine! It’s cold, raining, the days are only 3 hours long and it’s feeling like the PNW again!
What’s the PNW?
Pacific Northwest: Oregon, Washington, B.C.
How do you keep the stoke up in the dark months?
Mountain Biking with my dog Pickles keeps the fires lit. I also shoot some industrial and urban landscape in the winter months.
When did you get into skating?
I started skating in the early 70’s in the era of fiber-glass boards and Roadrunner wheels. It was a cool time, skating was breaking new ground every day, we all worshipped the D-Town Boyz and emulated them by breaking into Texas backyard pools and building plywood half-pipes. In Galveston, Texas it was a pretty tight scene.
How did the Texas communit compare to Cali?
It was definitely a “wannabe” state! Sure we lived in the heat, on a little island and surfed, but we all dreamed of Cali. A few managed to get out there but not many.
What kind of skating did you enjoy most back then?
For me it was all about vert skating. I did some downhill racing on little hills through cone courses, but that was a sideshow. Hanging out at the ramp after school was what we did when the surf was crappy.
When did people first get into DH skating?
First time I saw a longboard was when my son, Max Wippermann, got one when we were living in Philadelphia. I thought, “well, looks like good transportation, but you’ll never be able to skate a ramp on that thing”. I think it was about 8 years ago. Max told me it was for racing down hills and showed me some videos, so I drove him up the the tallest hill in our neighbourhood and let him go. He was scared shitless, and scrubbed through a fresh pair of shoes in one run.
Was skating just something you did when you couldn’t surf?
At first, eventually the economy of skating won out. It was just easier to go skate, all you needed were shoes.
Do you still surf?
No, I got into BMX, and then Mountain Bikes and after that I’ve never looked back. Truth be told, I was a terrible skater/surfer. I broke three wrists, totalled my ankles, a few collar bones. The only one happy to have me skating and surfing was my orthopaedic surgeon. If we had good surf here I could see doing some chill longboarding, but not much else.
What was your gnarliest crash?
In the water: I misjudged a jump off the jetty and got washed up on the rocks into broken glass. I paddled in trailing a big wake of blood and almost passed out when I got to the seawall.
Skating: I went to a competition in a full arm cast and actually did pretty well, but when I got home I discovered that I broke another bone in my cast trying to do hand plants. Still crippled from that one.
What has been your favourite decade of skating?
Definitely this one. As a Dad/spectator/photographer it’s been awesome to attend events in Portland, Maryhill and BC. I hope to hit Europe next year and shoot some there, maybe Catalina too. Watching these guys travel all over the world and hit exotic hills in places like South America is inspiring. Way bigger than I expected.
Are there any similarities between skating now and then?
I think the biggest difference is the social media aspect. Skate culture minus all the social media is still pretty much the same- some outsiders/newbies, some major talent, some MAJOR characters and lots of positive focused energy and shared experience. But now everyone is driven to sponsor and promote the industry. We never had that pressure, but we also never had the benefits.
How does social media change the landscape?
Skaters now are like indie rockers, they have to self promote and build an image to succeed. Some guys do it really seamlessly and it’s all good. There was a sense of entrepreneurship back then but nothing like now.
As a parent I think it’s all good. These guys are building life skills as they travel around the world and try to finance their efforts.
How did your son getting into skateboarding make you feel?
Really nervous! It’s the hypocrisy of parenting- “do as I say, not as I did”. We all know the dark sides of skating. I definitely do, I was there as a kid. The thing that keeps it positive is competition, when I realized that, I got behind Max 100% just like any other sport. I became a skate parent. Volunteered at outlaw races and eventually signed on with Lee Cation to be the official photographer for his events. The hard part is to be there, but still step back and let it be what it is. I hope I’ve done a good job with that.
Was it hard not being there with him on his first euro tour?
Yes. But it was also time for Max to spread his wings some and get scared. So we made sure he was with good people, had good insurance and crossed our fingers.
Who is Lee Cation?
Lee is the promoter for Britannia Classic and Whistler, he’s also a great skater.
How did you first meet?
I met Lee when I took Max to the Britannia Classic which was the Gold Rush. I shot the event like I would a job and shared my pics via Flicker. It was a good set, my goal was to get a good shot of everyone, try to step back some and get a flavour for the scene and keep it as honest as possible. Oh, and to share the pics freely. I never charge skaters for pics, I only ask for credit when they get published.
Later, Lee asked me to attend all his events – hard to say no to a long weekend in BC. Best mountain bike trails in the world, watching DH skating and hanging out on the hill. Pretty much a perfect time.
How was the experience?
First time in Britannia was mind blowing. I’d been to Maryhill, the Portland Switchback series and a few Outlaw races, but when I heard Striker over the PA system doing his rant and someone pushed a cold beverage in my hand, I felt pretty much at home. That venue is still my favourite. It’s everything a good race should be.
Great hill, beautiful location and good people. Just driving the Sea to Sky highway to Squammish is almost worth the trip.
When did you get into photography?
I picked up a camera when I was 19 and moved to Italy to study art in Florence in 1983. Moving to Europe was pretty overwhelming, I found purpose when I was making images. From there I moved to NYC to study at Parsons and started working in fashion for some of the biggest photographers of that day. It was pretty exciting to be on these intense sets and doing the NY thing. All film then. Different world now.
That must have been great!
It was amazing. It was also completely different from what I thought I would be doing. My goal was to buy a camper-van and move to Colorado to ride/snowboard and shoot pics. In a way, the longboard scene has let me live a bit of that now which is very cool.
What’s the purpose you found?
It’s life changing when someone says to you, “this is what you are really good at and if you’re not doing it, you’re cutting yourself short”. That’s what happened to me when I walked out of the darkroom for the first time and pinned my pictures to the wall for a class critique. It was the first time I felt like the world had direction.
How important is photography to society?
I have a background in photographic history and can call out the contributions from the beginning, but it pales in comparison to the way images are used now. I’m a little bummed that everyone and their mother is a photographer now, but I’m also thrilled to just text mundane pictures from my iPhone to my family who are really spread out. Last week my wife was in Shanghai, Max was in N.Y. and my daughter Emma is in Berlin. I’m standing on the beach with my dog watching an amazing sunset so I took a picture and sent it off to everyone. In seconds they all knew how I felt, what I was doing and where I was. No words needed. How amazing is that?
Did you capture any images of your early skate days?
Lot’s of vert ramps with locals, nothing great just snapshots. They’re buried somewhere in someone’s basement (hopefully).
How did the community receive your photos when you first started?
At first I started sharing things on Flikr and got some great responses but things really blew up when I started posting the races on FB. The response has been great and every time a picture gets shared or used as a profile it’s a win.
What makes a good photograph of a skater?
For me a good image let’s you feel what the athlete is feeling. I like the rainy days and the technical sections, there’s a sweet moment where you can feel a rider setting up and just about to commit. If I get that across I feel like I’ve done a good job.
Do you have a favourite racer to shoot?
Tricky question. Some guys skate with more style than others, but I don’t think I could pick just one skater.
What opportunities have shooting those events opened to you?
Shooting the events gives me a great way to participate and contribute. As a photographer it’s let me grow into an area that I had no experience with. It’s always a challenge to cover something from beginning to end with zero control over the elements, it’s made me a better photographer than I was.
Is there a community of skate photographers?
Maybe, sorta. Since everyone is a photographer these days, I’d say that the skaters that shoot are the tightest community. Lee Cation has been posting great stuff from South America. Patrick Switzer also does a good job. Jon Huey is the real deal as far as I’m concerned, he skates it and shoots it with no separation. When people go back to what this era in skating was like, his pictures will be the ones you see.
What was the highlight of your first year on the circuit?
Well this was not exactly the first year, but the highlight for me will always be watching Max win the Junior Worlds at Maryhill. After breaking legs and arms, just missing podiums and trying to keep things together in school while racing, that win was very emotional.
What’s it like shooting Max’ skating?
It’s tough. I’m there to see him race but not to play favourites. My goal is to get something for everyone so sometimes he gets the short end of the set.
How has this year gone for you?
Slow, but in a really good way. Well slow now that the summer is over. Lots of racing this summer in our family. Max doing his thing, I started racing Enduro Mountain Bike races and joined a local team. It seems like every weekend I was at some race of some sort somewhere. Glad to have the winter settle in and plan for next year.
Is Mountain bike racing similar to racing skateboards?
More suffering for sure. But when you’re racing the downhill stages it’s all about speed, control and shutting down fear, so in that way I think it’s pretty similar.
Do you shoot any bike stuff?
You know, I don’t and it’s obvious that I should. I plan to shoot more bike stuff next year, but it’s always hard to both ride and shoot.
What’s your weapon of choice?
I love my Cannon 5D3 and my iPhone.
What do you do when you’re not on your bike or behind the lens?
These days it’s retail for us. We opened a women’s boutique in Seattle that has quickly become the centre of our universe. We are looking into a second store now with a more outdoor concept. Lot’s of work.
Pick 3 numbers between 1-14!
7 – why did the chicken cross the road?
To be on the other side.
11 – Justen Ortiz asks: if you could combine 2 animals to create the most deadly animal on earth, what would those two animals be?
Something that would be fast and poisonous… Cheetah and a Scorpion!
It’s been really really fun having this conversation with you buddy, big fan of your photos. Hope to catch you in Europe!
Thanks! I feel thoroughly interviewed. See you in Europe for sure.
Any last words?
Thanks go out to all the skaters that welcomed us into their racing family. Shout outs to Max, Lee, Kyle, Landyachtz and all that good terrain in Squammish. See everyone next year. Also, thanks to Jason and Motion Boardshop for supporting the Seattle crew, and giving them a place to hang their hats.