TWS 10 Most Memorable Pro Spotlights

The Pro Spotlight is the bread and butter of each issue. So as a proper closeout to our 30th volume, we had master skate historian and archivist Eric Swisher of the much-revered Chrome Ball Incident blog give his 10 favorite Pro Spotlights of all time and what’s made them stand out over the years. The man’s got taste.

(We’ll be posting a new one each day for the next two weeks)

—TWS

Words by Eric Swisher

Sometimes it's what you do off your board that matters. From its humble pull-out roots, the TWS Pro Spotlight quickly evolved from a glorified poster to become the heart of each issue by providing an all-compassing look inside the lives of skateobarding's top pros. But while each article takes months of preparation, photography is only half the formula. Unfortunately for some, the fact is that all the hammers in the world can't make up for a dude that's just plain boring. If stair-counting is the peak of your personality, you're gonna be in trouble. The Pro Spotlight lends an open canvas for skaters to cut loose and express themselves; albeit stories to tell, opinions to voice or rumors to squash (or start). It's an affair that's led us down some pretty wild roads but it's a ride you'll always remember. This is what keeps skateboarding from becoming just another sterilized scorecard number crunch.

Brian Lotti January ’94 

"Conventional skateboarding at it's finest."

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Technically not even a Spotlight, TWS' only "Pro Flashlight" proved a powerful reminder of how beautiful skateboarding could look once you scraped off all that videocaptured early-90's grotesquery. But what did it all mean? Floating doll heads, a bright yellow jumpsuit and an enigmatic handwritten letter would only serve to heighten the Lotti legend as injury forced Brian underground shortly after the issue went to press.

Jason Lee November ’90

"Television is the ultimate brainwashing machine. That's what I think."
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Sometimes all it takes are picture-perfect 360 flips and some big ass one-foots for everyone you know to start growing gigantic mutton chops virtually overnight. Grinch-era J. Lee singlehandedly sets an Elvis trend with mind-blowing early tech sequences consistent enough to be shot on film. The interview also marks the only time cow farts and the environmental ramifications thereof are discussed at length in this magazine.

Neil Blender June ’86 

"Angles are a precious thing."

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Trying to capture the complexities of someone like Neil Blender within the confines of a few magazine pages borders on the impossible. But TransWorld's attempt, conducted by Stacy Peralta with a jawdropping layout designed by Blender himself, remains our greatest peek inside a mind of staggering creativity. The piece's loose format thankfully allows Neil to play around and be himself, inspiring a generation of kids in its wake to do the same.

Guy Mariano November ’95 

"Powell was dope. Stacy was way cool—I don't know about George."

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To be honest, it was totally unnecessary. Boasting a Kalis cover, a Koston interview and an Ari Marcopoulos retrospective, the November '95 issue already had more than enough going for it. But with a second Spotlight featuring 10 full-pages of the ever elusive/ever grown Guy Mariano, it became one for the ages.

Mark Gonzales January ’12 

 "There's no best skater of all time."

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The cherry on top of TWS' 30-year extravaganza, this is the Mark Gonzales interview we always wanted. Notoriously hard to pin down, the Krookedest one plays it straight and gives us honest insight into skateboarding's most influential career. This won't happen again. 

Jim Greco  March ’01

"I figured out that my technique was mob-just like Gonz's."

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Armed with backside noseblunts down Wilshire and a dictionary of slang rivaling your favorite rapper, Greco's Piss Drunk ballyhoo brought about a punk-inspired paradigm shift that spit directly in the face of a yo'd-out status quo. Hammertime had officially begun.

AVE April ’09

"It's a story that needs to be told."

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A very different Anthony Van Engelen re-emerges from the Mind Field and comes clean about getting clean in his second Spotlight. Never one for nonsense, this is AVE pulling no punches as he describes his descent into a world where most never comeback. An inspiring read.

Jamie Thomas April ’95

"I like having real productive days, so that at the end of the day I have a lot to show for it… It's a good feeling."

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Shooting these things ain't easy. Even back in 1995, the Pro Spotlight was still a long-term project that typically took several months of shooting if the skater were to see it through to completion.  And that's a very big "if".  So in typical Chief fashion, it only makes sense that Jamie would shave his head and shoot all of his in one day; a feat that is still yet to be matched. 

Kris Markovich April ’92

"I'm not into freestyle sessions at Blue Curb-it's a curb, so use it."

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With a Q&A reportedly conducted via séance, Dan Sturt's stark black-and-white photography captures Kris' ghostly apparition mysteriously hovering over large bodies of water and grinding rails of length previously unheard of. Skateboarding's bar is collectively raised, despite reports of Markovich's untimely demise. 

Matt Hensley August ’90

"I still don't find myself on the same level as those guys. I'm so used to looking up to them, not competing against them."

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There's not a geezer out there that doesn't get the warm and fuzzys every time they see that overpass ollie. But while the photographs blared 360 ollie one-foot tailgrabs, the text revealed a quiet 19-year-old kid nervous about meeting Mark Gonzales. It was this piece combined with his recent Hokus Pokus slight-of-hand that truly sent Matt's career into orbit while simultaneously sending the rest of us out to buy cargo shorts at the Army-Navy store.