If you’ve been skateboarding in Wisconsin for any length of time you may have checked out the wiskate.com website. Wiskate has been in existence since 1998 and 20 years in the game of providing skateboarding content is no joke even for websites with nationwide coverage. It’s even more impressive of an accomplishment for a website that is Wisconsin-centric. It was one of the first websites that I would visit daily to get my skateboarding fix. Wiskate.com’s videos always had their own personality and feel to them that always made me feel like it represented Milwaukee and the larger skate scene in the state pretty well. When I moved away from Wisconsin to live in Arizona and later California I would still check the site religiously to feel connected to the scene I came up around.
Josh Ellis has been filming and shooting photos since the 90’s and is the mastermind behind wiskate.com and (in my opinion) blazed a trail for all other skate websites to come later to follow. There are few things I see skate sites doing that I can’t say “wiskate did it first” and that’s worth mentioning. For better or for worse, Wisconsin skateboarding and Josh Ellis shaped the way skate content is presented on the internet for world wide consumption and I wanted to talk to Josh about it a little bit in honor of the 20th anniversary of wiskate.com.
Start with you’re first/most memorable early memory of skateboarding?
It was the 80s, skating was everywhere. It was on cereal commercials. The school library stocked Transworld. But I grew up in a farmhouse with a long gravel driveway. The planets were not aligned for my skate career to begin in earnest. Sure I had a board from the flea market with ninjas on it, but I didn’t really have anywhere to ride it. Inside the barn wasn’t going so well. Finally in 8th grade I was able to buy a used SMA deck from a kid I knew. I somehow figured out how to ollie once and then put it away for a year. I saved all my pennies from working at a greenhouse, and was finally able to buy my first real skateboard. It was 7 1/4” wide.
What was that board?
It was a Powell “plane series” slick.
Dude I had one of those. It was the pin up bomber nose art series. With Deadbolt Trucks and red clear Bones. Like 48mms. Did you get it at a skate shop? A lot of people got boards from Torque Center.
I had the clear bones wheels too. 44mm I think.
I got it at the Turf, but it must’ve been right before it closed. After that I got all of my boards from Torque Center. I went to Phase 2 sometimes, but I felt like a Barney. I liked Torque Center because they had all of the boards out in the open and you didn’t have to ask anyone to see them.
Pretty funny we had similar set ups back then. So where did you start skating? What was your local spot?
I grew up in Oak Creek. We’d mostly skate at this apartment complex or the grocery store by the high school. I spent a solid two years doing slappy fs noseslides, heelflips, or trying to combine the two. I lived in the boonies so I had to ride my 10 speed with my board strapped in a backpack a few miles everyday to meet up with the crew.
So when did photographing and filming come into it? Were you always interested in that stuff?
I’m not really sure. I always liked taking photos when I was a kid. With video I think it all began with my first big skate trip to Tampa. I think the year was 1997 or 1998. It just so happened my family had a vhs shoulder mounted camcorder, which I brought along. Ever since then, it was on. It’s funny to think that I was in the Tampa park filming with that thing. The vx1000 has already been out for years.
Yeah but the VX wasn’t like a family home movies camera back then, I don’t think most kids had them. The VX was some pro filmer shit for like war correspondents when it came out. Was that a Tampa AM trip?
No, we were just some Barneys from Oak Creek. We went down there because my friends Dad lived down there and I think we saw the skatepark in videos or something. We had no plans, I have no idea how we figured it all out in those days before smart phones.
I always wanted to see a contest like that or Slam City go down in real life. Not just a 411 segment. The closest thing for me was when Vans Warped Tour had some pros on a vert ramp. Then later there was some kind of demo in downtown Milwaukee I went to. I only remember Bob Burnquist being there
I remember seeing Steve Cab at the first Warped Tour.
I did go to some Tampa ams later. Not exactly enjoyable, but interesting to see. I remember seeing baby Shecks going ham.
Who was the first pro you became aware of that you really liked?
Tough call, I think it was Laban or Jamie Thomas. They both had parts in the first Invisible video. I had what was probably a 9th generation dub of that video on VHS. The quality was probably worse than YouTube set at its lowest setting. Anyway, I guess I liked them because they hucked. I was young and liked big stunts.
Where there any photographers or filmers that stuck out to you or did that come way later?
No, that kind of stuff wasn’t really on the radar for me. “Content creation” was a complete mystery.
So let’s get into how wiskate.com came about being a reality. What happened to make you want to do a website?
It’s so hard to say. I’m not sure why. In high school I had made a couple of skate zines. Later in around 1997 made a website for my friends band. It must’ve just been a natural combination of the two. The biggest catalyst was having a video capture card. What some people might not realize is in 1998 it was actually really hard to get video onto a computer. You needed to buy expensive pc hardware to do it. I had this at my work.
What were your skate zines called? People might not even realize that to make a website back then you usually had to write actual html code rather than use a service that does the design work for you like squarespace does now. Did you use Avid Cinema back then with your camera hooked up to the computer?
The zines were called “el queso esta en el bano”, and also featured photos of “hot babes”. It got banned on the last day of school, 10th grade. I used a program called Ulead Video Studio Pro. It came with the capture card. It was a “pro” editing program, it’s just no one has ever heard of it. It looked and worked a lot like Final Cut Pro from what I remember. All the early web clips and my first full length vid were edited using that program.
What was the first video called?
Hurry up and die, which I got from the title of a Charles Bronson song, of all things.
Were you thinking at the time that web content was going to sort of push out print, or was it more just web publishing was more conducive for putting out the video stuff you were doing?
I wasn’t thinking of things in those terms. In retrospect, At that time (late 90s) web was the way to go. Big fish, small pond. The site got 1000’s of hits everyday. You have to remember, at that time there was very few skate sites. Even fewer that had video content.
Yeah honestly I felt like wiskate was sort of laying ground work for what other skate sites should be. A lot of sites at the time were sort of just presenting stuff and that’s the extent of it. Wiskate was more interactive and you could tell it was from someone that skated and filmed like everyday. It was pretty amazing the amount of content for such a limited region of the country.
For some time I dropped a new clip everyday. Mind you, it was usually just one trick. But I guess it kept the people coming back everyday.
Instagram before Instagram. Haha. Where people sending you clips and stuff from the beginning? Was anyone else contributing that early on or was it all you?
At the very beginning it was just me. I also used clips from Plan B vids to bring in the hits.
Haha. That might be considered “questionable” these days.
I phased it out pretty quickly.
Were there other sites that you were looking at for inspiration back then?
There were a few other sites repping their local scenes just like we were. Since it was such a new thing back then, we were all in contact. Supporting each other with technical info (where to host video files) and whatnot. Metrospective outta NYC was one. SkateNorthwest outta Oregon was another. There were a couple more but that information has faded from my brain.
That’s cool that it was connected like that. So how did people start contributing content to wiskate?
That wasn’t until maybe around the 3rd year. That’s when we switched to “blog” format. Easier for others to contribute, but much more disposable.
What do you mean by disposable?
Once it scrolls off that front page, the odds of someone seeing it is very low. Previously it was just hand made html pages, lists of videos, and stuff like that. No expiration on that kind of content.
But do you think it made so people would check everyday for new stuff?
Yes, but the old stuff had no shelf life.
I think that’s the major drawback to web content. People easily forget stuff as it gets pushed down the feed. Anyways you had many different design layouts for wiskate. Do you have a favorite?
I’m pretty hard on myself regarding things like that. They are all pretty bad in my opinion.
I remember one with a dinosaur I think It was bright green
Web design was never enjoyable for me, nor my strong suite. But I just did it anyway, someone had to.
Do you have any opinions about the current state of skateboard websites?
My opinion is, is there any? Doesn’t seem like people make them anymore. Everything has gone to social media. Websites are the domain of us old folk.
I mean. There’s the berrics.
I guess, never look at that one. Only one I visit is Thrasher occasionally. The Minneapolis site Platinum Seagulls still receives an update occasionally. That’s about it.
Its funny I complain about no one visiting websites anymore, and I’m guilty of it myself. I haven’t gone on crailtap in many years. I didn’t know it was still up and running as a site.
There was one called Skate and Annoy I liked but it died. There are definitely less out there. Do you feel social media has lessened the importance of website content?
There’s no doubt about it. Why make a website when you can be up and running on instagram in 30 seconds.
Were there any ideas you wanted to run with on wiskate that never happened?
I really wanted some kind of role playing game you could play while on the message board. That was my pie in the sky dream.
Like Chain Mail?
You could wear chain mail if you wanted to, I wouldn’t stop you.
Nah like D&D played through the mail. It was a thing back in the day.
Ah haha never heard of it. Nah I wanted more like a text based rpg you could use your message board login to play. Gain levels, battle other users, etc. I used to play one on a bbs when I was like 12.
What was some memories of the message board?
Ah man I hated it! It was filled with cyber bullies and jerks. So much idiocy and nonsense. Not in a good way! Letting it exist was not good for my mental health, so one day I just nuked the whole thing.
So no good memories?
I mean it’s bad to say but it was fun being the lord of my own fiefdom. If someone was out of line, I just banned them. No warning, just bye bye. I was drunk with power!
What was the most trife thing you banned someone for?
It was 15 years ago so the memories are fuzzy. Probably just dumb stuff, like claiming dance dance revolution wasn’t cool or something like that. I probably wouldn’t ban you for saying something truly controversial, just petty things. Had to keep them on their toes.
I thought you were gonna say you’d ban anyone from mkeskate.
Haha nah that would have been controversial in real life.
Ah. So if it caused real drama it was off the table? I did feel like mkeskate was sort of a baby wiskate did you have any interaction or involvement with mkeskate?
Yeah we knew all those guys, they were a bit younger. Later a couple started skating with us all the time. Eric Risser eventually got fully integrated into the wi crew, going strong to this day.
Yeah I skate with him from time to time. Good dude for sure! Did you have any goals for wiskate that you feel you’ve accomplished? Is there still stuff you would like to accomplish in the future?
I’ll choose to give a positive answer, I feel like I’ve been too blasé in this line of questioning in the past. One of the coolest things that happened- I had a short interview in Thrasher about the site. In it of course, I was very blasé. I also wasted my only chance to appear in Thrasher and instead chose to have them use a picture of a cat instead. Very appropriate if you think about it. Anyway, I think we accomplished a lot. To this day random people come up to me that I’m sure I’ve never seen in my life and tell me they love wiskate. My point is, we’ve gotten the crew out there. A little exposure for a corner of the country that is quite ignored in the industry. We got one of Max’s parts on the Thrasher site, got some hilarious hate mail. Some crap has gone down.
The future- that’s harder. I guess just keep on keepin on. I’d love to find someone younger to pass the torch to, but no one younger cares too much about websites. It seems somewhat unlikely. Maybe I’ll still be posting about Pizzy’s frontside flip at Ameritech when I’m 60 years old.
It was a sick frontside flip though.
But why was Bill wearing a shower cap?
Maybe I should interview him about it?
Haha that’d be a nice side bar. Could show a video screen grab sequence like from an old Big Brother.
(I asked Bill about the shower cap and he claimed that he had found it in Josh’s car and was in need of a prop to express his hype for Pizzy’s trick and that it was the only thing he could find. Even he was having a hard time remembering where that thing came from and it took some prodding to get him to think about it.)
I guess to finish off I want to do some sort of quick questions.
1: Favorite skater? All time, it has to be Mike Carroll. Best style. Kinda seems like a dick, maybe in a good endearing way? Best frontside flips of all time.
2: Favorite local? Easy choice. Jon bunch. Best moves. Best style. Footage is somewhat rare, makes you want more.
3: Favorite video? The holy trinity. Mouse, Welcome to Hell, and Eastern Exposure 3. All came out the same year, 1996 I think.
4: Favorite camera (film/photo)? I’m not too particular about video cameras. I used the Canon GL1 for many years, the redheaded step child of the 3chip world. For film cameras I always liked half frame cameras. I’ve had a lot of different ones from the Olympus Pen series.
5: Favorite trick? Inspired by the man himself, John MacGuire, it’s gotta be the backside 360 no comply, aka the beast master. My most common go-to.
6: Least favorite trick? You don’t have enough space available to record all of my opinionated musings on the subject.
7: Favorite local skate spot? I’ll go with the classic “the fountain”, torn out when they built the Clatrava Wing of the Art Museum. Most old dudes claim they hated it. You had to skate in circles all day. But I loved that place.
8: Favorite skate shoe? Not that picky about shoes. I like the skate Chuck Taylors nowadays. Classic Vans Chukkas otherwise.
9: Favorite band? It’s been the Smiths for the last 20 years, why other changing it now?
10: Favorite local spot to get food and a drink? Whatever is closest to my house, did I mention I’m lazy. Lately it’s been Corazon, Palamino, Hungry Sumo, Centraal… as long as I can walk there. Burnhearts is the go to for a beer. 200 feet from my house, as the crow flies.