Phil Shao: Simply The Best

One of my foremost intentions for starting the mighty 4WBS was to post a gallery of the photos I collected with Phil back in the day. Even though I’m usually never at a loss for words, for some reason it has been extremely tough for me to find the proper way to describe what an incredible person Phil was and what he meant to me. Even after a year of this site being up, and this post being one of the major reasons for getting it going, the photos just sat on my hard drive collecting cyber dust due to some sort of strange writers block. I have some killer stories I could share too: the first time meeting him at his ramp in Redwood City, the road trips we went on, the late night talks about life, consuming copious amounts of LSD and breaking hippies hearts at the Grateful Dead shows, just to name a few. After much creative turmoil though something just didn’t feel right about sharing them on this blog. Luckily for all of us, Mark Whitley has penned an incredible article on Phil that is a must read for anyone interested in his life. He really did an amazing  job and I will go as far as saying it should be required reading for every skateboarder.

However, since this post is about the photo’s I shot of Phil I will at least give you some insight as to how amazing he was to shoot. Phil was simply the best skateboarder I ever photographed.  Unbelievably photogenic, his style and power were unparalleled and it shined through every time we shot. Didn’t matter what or where we were either because he was a stand out on whatever he was skating, no terrain was safe and he excelled at it all. During these early times in my photography life, you know when I sucked, somehow when I shot Phil I didn’t suck anymore and I had glimpses of what a skate photograph should look like. It’s the photographer that is supposed to make the skateboarder look good but it was the other way around in our relationship. Not only did he look incredible through the lens but he also landed everything he attempted and he landed it fast. So fast that my requests for a couple more tries were always granted and at a time when there wasn’t a screen on the back of your camera ensuring you got the money shot, these do overs made certain I would get a sweet photo every session (I can’t remember leaving a shoot without getting a killer photo). Being able to shoot Phil was so incredible that after his passing (without fully realizing it) I ended up quitting photography altogether for quite sometime. While some of the new kids that came around after Phil were rippers and fun to photograph, for me shooting skateboarding just wasn’t the same without him and my passion for it left with him. Without a doubt he played the biggest role in me learning the ins and outs of the skate photo and without him the road would have been much longer and far less amazing.

Phil was definitely one of the best skateboarders that has ever existed- that’s just a fact. More than just a skateboarder though, he was also one of the most creative and intelligent people I have ever met. The future that laid before him as not only a pro but as an industry mogul was unbelievably bright. But unfortunately it was never to be realized. While on a skate trip up north Phil was killed in a tragic car accident- one turn of the key, a few miles down the road and it was all over, his incredible potential unfulfilled. To say it was a huge loss for family, friends and the skate world would be an understatement. It was the type of loss you can hardly put into words and I now realize why this post has taken so long, these words that are so hard to write don’t begin to describe such a huge loss.

As with every great person who has lived though, the very fact that Phil lived is the most important thing. While it bums me out to no end that we didn’t have the chance to witness the man Phil was to become, I cherish the time we did spend together. He was a no bullshit type of person this world needs way more of and I’m sure I echo the feelings of a lot of people when I say I am a better person for knowing him. These photos he left me with actually mean more to me every year that passes and I hope you enjoy them at least a fraction of how much I do. Actually I hope these photos do one better and inspire you to go skate with your friends because the older I get the more I realize how much that really means.

Do another Texas grind for me buddy!


Side Note 1: I have been asked a few times if I would sell a print or 2 of Phil and I just don’t feel right doing it. However my good friend James Casale is starting a print exchange called Give 5 Photos and I am contributing the Basic Bowl photo to it. Hit him up on his instagram (@salt_thecoozy) and try to get one.

Side Note 2: the dates on these photos are from my less than precise memory. If anyone from back in the day has more accurate dates please hit me up to change em.


My 5 Favorite Photos Of Phil


Phil Shao_PA Bowls_1994

Phil Shao, Frontside Ollie, Palo Alto Bowls 1995

Shooting infrared film is tough enough, add the fact that your shooting skateboarding and it made the undertaking almost impossible. However when you have a homey like Phil that would oblige my request to keep reshooting the same fucking trick over and over, I would always leave the darkroom with a gem or 2. This frontside ollie was through a line few would dare to take back in the day. These early years at the Palo Alto bowls were unbelievable and the was no one better than Phil, that’s a undisputable fact.


Phil Shao_Front Kick_Berkeley Ramp

Phil Shao, Kick Flip, Berkeley Ramp 1995

While frontside flips on tranny are a dime a dozen these days when Phil stuck this beauty they were still far and few in between and hardly seen. Not one to waste his time or super intellect during his pro career at Think, Phil enrolled at Cal Berkeley, Built this ramp and killed it both on board and book. A definite role model for the working class pro.


Phil Shao_Golden Gate Park_1995

Phil Shao, Golden Gate Park 1997

Sometimes the spur of the moment is the best moment


Phil_ollie_Basic Pool_2

Phil Shao,Basic Pool 1995

Perfect style at the Basic Bowl


Phil Shao_Nosegrind_Crib Ramp

Phil Shao, Crib Ramp 1995

Here’s another trick all the kids seem to know these days. Back in the crib ramp days though proper frontside nose grinds were as rare as a samsquanch sighting. By the way that’s from low to high and on pool coping. Fucking bad ass!


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