Recently I came across this legendary Penny ad whilst scanning up images for my Instagram feed. I’ve seen it multiple times over the years. It first ran as an éS ad back in our April 1999 issue (Vol. 17, No. 4). Still, every time I see it I am dumbfounded, as if seeing it again for the first time. This time however, I also noticed that my friend, Magnus Gyllenberg from Stockholm is standing right behind Tom on the deck of the Christiania ramp in Copenhagen. Some of the most legendary photos in skateboard history exist without any video footage to back them up. This is one of them. As such, I thought it would be cool idea for a new column; TWS Witness. Below, Magnus gives an eye-witness acount of this ridiculous 360 flip to fakie with a side of tasty Penny stories from that era.
Magnus Gyllenberg: The guy who took this photo is Jesper Nilsson and at the time I was the editor-in-chief of the Swedish skate magazine Funsport Skateboard. Jesper was turning into the senior photographer at the time and we did a lot of traveling together. I believe this happened in the fall of 1998, and we’d been at a contest in Malmö when we went over to check out the bowl in Christiania (Wonderland in Copenhagen, Denmark). With us were Lewis Marnell and this guy Lill-Micke if I remember correctly (I might confuse all the Christiania trips of the 90s, but whatever). They were just little kids and I caught them planning to try to shoplift a piece of hashish from one of the guys on Pusher Street. Fortunately I managed to stop them. That was one of the most terrible ideas anyone I know had ever thought of. While they were up to no good I chose to go skate the bowl instead.
This was at the time when Tom Penny had gone from being the most popular hyped skater in the industry, seen in mags and videos all the time—to almost totally disappearing from the media. We knew he lived in Copenhagen at the time and had heard a lot of stories about him ripping like never before so when he showed up at the bowl there was some excitement, I must admit. Even though we had a mutual friend in Ali Boulala (Tom's Flip teammate and Magnus' Stockholm skate crew homey), I had never skated with him before.
I’d seen him at some euro contests in the mid-'90s and I had also been heckled by him in London 1992. Me and my buddy Danne Wall were totally into the whole Grosso/Max Evans Black Label thing when everyone else was XXXXL-baggy, pressure flipping and listening to whatever was in the latest New Deal video. When we showed up outside Slam City Skates wearing Vans, punk shirts and bondage bracelets, Tom and his whole crew looking like Goofy Boys started heckling us. “Oh, let’s go to Romford and caaarve…” he shouted while the others giggled. We actually did that the same day so he was right, though.
That day at Christiana, he was skating so good it was ridiculous. Jesper brought out his camera gear almost immediately and shot the photos pretty fast. There were not many tries, only a few as I remember it. The guy is such a natural it’s insane. That roll in he’s skating is no joke. It’s a gnarly place to do those tricks, and the way he did them it was hard to comprehend. I’m not sure if he even noticed Jesper shooting. Jesper got two great photos—the 360 flip for the éS ad and a frontside flip that I don't remember if it showed up somewhere. As far as I remember he made a couple of them (360 flips), maybe two or three. He was so flawless in that bowl, just cruising around doing some sick stuff. Like tweaked airs over the hip and stuff. It’s pretty insane how good he was back then.
Later I heard a rumor that he was pissed when he saw the ad, like he’d been poached or something. I have no idea if that’s true, but about the same time TSA ran an ad of a frontside flip at the same spot, shot by someone else. Maybe he'd been shooting for the TSA ad with a friend and it kind of clashed with the éS ads. If this is true it seems like éS never talked to him about running the ads. The '90s were such a mess compared to the super professional Nike contract, agent/manager “skateboard athlete” world we live in today. I have no idea why I didn’t film it. I did bring a camera but the only footage I know of from that session is of me doing a pretty crappy nosegrind. What a waste of videotape. I could have captured those magic Penny flips instead.
Tom at the Paris Glissexpo during those years courtesy Fred Mortagne.