Before there were skate parks in almost every section of Phoenix, there were ramps, backyard pools, and DIY spots built by dedicated skateboarders. The Swamp Cooler Skate Jam will honor that skating legacy on Saturday, September 30, with a West Valley event pairing DIY skateboarding and skate rock.
And it's about time.
The brainchild of Florida transplant Garrett Caffacus, the Swamp Cooler Skate Jam brings together what many older skateboarders would say are the best aspects of skateboarding: creativity, scavenging, and loud punk rock music.
"First of all, there is no skateboarding without music," Caffacus says. "It's impossible to have a good session without fast, hard music to raise the stoke level and get everyone primed for the controlled chaos factor. At a backyard session, it's a speakerbox with a good playlist. We want that same energy level, but with live bands it's just always going to be exponentially heavier and more intense."
Locals Dephinger, The Early Grabs, Sewer Gap, Plainfield Butchers, and Loserfur will be joined by Southern California's Since We Were Kids rounding out the all-day event, which will also feature a variety of skateboarding events, at the Empire Club of Arizona, 5030 West McDowell Road. Dephinger and the Earlygrabs definitely represent much of what is right with the skate rock scene in town right now.
For Dephinger, who were featured in Phoenix New Times last November, this is a great way to celebrate their skateboarding roots.
"I'm so stoked to play the Swampcooler skate thing, I done did a backflip this morning in my bathroom," says bass player Chris Warmuth, before adding, "[This] thing is gonna be fun. See you there!"
We're not sure if "done did a backflip in the bathroom" is some new skateboarding slang for a difficult trick, but the band has longstanding ties to the skate community. For fellow AZPX Records labelmates The Earlygrabs, this show is just a perfect fit.
"We love skateboarding. It is the foundation of our band," says Earlygrabs bassist Matt Polomsky. "Phoenix has always been a DIY scene, and we support the cause 100 percent. It's great when people throw events like this that bring our skateboarding community together for a day of pure fun. It doesn't happen enough, and we are grateful to be a part of it."
The Earlygrabs play a rockin' brand of power skate punk that deserves to be heard by a large audience. The band released a self-titled CD in spring 2017 that absolutely slays. "Playing Metal," which kicks off the 11-song effort is a must-hear barn-burner.
For Caffacus, the upcoming event is purely about keeping the lifeblood of the skateboarding scene alive.
"I'm not trying to sound like a 'hesh' old man here [pauses with a chuckle], even though I most definitely am, but for fuck's sake, we need to remember the DIY roots of this culture," Caffacus says. "Back in the day, if we wanted to skate something other than pavement, we built it. You learned to be resourceful and use your hands to create things. Then you valued, appreciated, and maintained that shit. You created a scene around it. What you built may have been totally jacked, but to you and your crew, it was the best piece of shit half-pipe in the world."
Caffacus has been a great addition to the Phoenix skate scene, hosting regular sessions at his former home, which featured the "Wasabi" ramp, as well as a few preliminary "ramp jam" events in the last few years.
For this event, he has partnered with Roland Sarria, who promoted the Rage in the Cage mixed martial arts events that were incredibly popular in Phoenix for multiple years. Sarria reached out to Caffacus and said, "Let's do a skate event." That was all the impetus the 47-year-old needed.
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"When you get to a certain age and look back on your life since you started skating, you can easily see the periods where the skateboard was absent and you realize that during those times you were incomplete as a human being. Once you become a skater, it's part of who you are and you will never be right without it. Other than major injury, there is never a good reason to not skate," says Caffacus.
The Swamp Cooler Skate Jam will be a great opportunity to share the love of skateboarding with new and old skateboard enthusiasts, and for guys like Caffacus, it doesn't get much better.
"An event like this is born of the DIY ethic. Let's get some skaters together in one place with some skater-built obstacles and some music and let's raise the stoke level right through the fucking ceiling," concludes Caffacus.
The Swamp Cooler Skate Jam is scheduled to run from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, September 30, at the Empire Club. Entry is $10.