On August 22, 1998, at approximately 3:30 a.m., Phil Shao died in an automobile accident near the Oregon/California state line. The details are still hazy, but the gist of the tragedy is that Phil and a few Northern California friends were on a tour of skateparks along the West Coast. On Friday night most of the group he was traveling with were asleep at a local skater’s house when Phil woke a few of his friends up to see if they wanted to go somewhere with him and a girl he’d recently met. Nobody is sure where the two were going. The girl was intoxicated and drove off a cliff, but she was not seriously injured. Phil died. That sucks.
We got in touch with some people who were close to Phil and asked them what he meant to them. Here’s what they had to say.
Luke Ogden, Photo Editor, Thrasher
“Shooting pictures with him was so easy–he was on it. He had no attitude whatsoever. The day before he died, he was so stoked to be skating. He had just been out for six months when he had his anterior cruciate ligament replaced. He’d been a copy editor at Thrasher since he hurt his knee, and he had an exercise bike set up in the office.
“We were going to Seattle to skate as many parks as possible. Phil was mapping it out and was so stoked–there were around 24 parks that we’d hit. It was around 11:00 at night when he woke me up, said he was going out, and asked me if I wanted to go. I was already in bed, so I said no.
“I don’t know what to say–Phil always had something to say. He loved AC/DC. The last image I have of him is blasting a huge, six-foot air off the top of a funbox at a skatepark we were at the day before he died.”
Greg Carroll, Think Team Manager
“He was a positive influence on people he’d never even met. He got to touch and influence so many through skating. Right after he died, a kid from Montreal, Quebec named Vincent Dumoulin called me and just wanted to tell me that Phil was the nicest guy he’d met and how bummed he was. You can tell Phil touched so many people. He definitely left a positive mark.
“At demos he’d play trivia with the kids. He’d ask them why the Gonz gap was named the Gonz gap, and who did the first kickflip. He’d always hang out with them. He was more than just a skater, and they knew that.”
Grant Brittain, Photo Editor, TransWorld
“I hardly knew him, besides shooting with him. But, you could tell he was super nice. Even though we weren’t close, we had a good talk; he was a student and not your average stoner/skateboarder guy. He actually hurt his knee on the trick in the photo. He twisted his knee and just lay on the ground and said, ‘Oh no, I’m messed up.’”
Max Schaaf, Professional Skateboarder
“He read awesome books, and he’d always recommend certain ones to me. People should know he was a totally intelligent person–he graduated from Cal Berkley in four and a half years, and he was skating the entire time. He was always aware of your feelings. I miss him. I miss him a lot.”
Jean Shao, Phil’s Mom
“He was a very mellow little kid. He liked to read, but he wasn’t ‘bookish.’ He was always busy–not hyper, just always occupying himself.
“He said in an article that he started skating when he was four, but I think he was closer to eight. He started on a skinny banana board that somebody must have left at our house, because I know I didn’t buy it for him–it was just there. He was ten or eleven when he got his first real board. We bought it at Palo Alto Toys and Sports.
“He read a lot: he read all the C.S. Lewis books, The Chronicles of Narnia, and The Great Brain–he loved those. He’d watch Battlestar Galactica and build spaceships out of Legos. And, of course, he loved Star Wars. He also loved Spiderman. I made him a Spiderman costume. When he was four years old he had a hamster that he named Spidey.
“I knew Phil wasn’t reckless. I think he broke his wrist when he was fifteen or sixteen, and by then I was used to him being scraped up. I was never too worried, Phil had really good balance. When he was younger, he could play on the jungle gym at the playground, and I wouldn’t get worried. He’d push himself, but he wasn’t reckless.
“All his friends in junior high skated, but in high school, they got cars and most of them stopped–they’d go to parties, and he’d go skate. He always got good grades until high school. He took the high school equivalence exam at age sixteen, and he was out. But we made a deal with him: he had to work full-time or work part-time and go to school university part-time. He had some part-time work at a few delis.
“We kind of got used to him being in the magazines. One time a couple years ago, we went to a contest he entered in San Francisco. He wanted us to come, but later he said we made him nervous. He was never a show-off; basically he was shy.
“I think he went back to school University of Berkley, majoring in English because he saw how hard it can be to get to where you want to be in life. He’d take the bus and sometimes complain about the bums and people on them, and I’d say, ‘See what happens when you don’t have a degree?’ He said he liked school a lot. He loved the literature and writing about books. He’d always recommend books to me. That’s what he wanted for Christmas–books, and socks, and underwear.
“His brothers loved him. There’s Matt, who is fourteen years old, and Steven, who’s thirteen. On Matt’s birthday in July, Phil took him to see The Mask of Zorro. His brothers never saw enough of him.
“You never know … but you wish you had one last time, one last talk. He was the longest constant in my life, and he had matured so that he was my friend, too. He was my son, but he was also my friend.”
Phil was loved by many, and he will be missed dearly. Phil Shao: December 28, 1973 – August 22, 1998.