If you are not an insider in the world of skateboarding—most of us—it might seem an inscrutable place. On one hand, having the desire to ride around on a board and wheels is understandable (looks fun enough), but watching that also gives the distinct impression that there is a lot more going on its practice than meets the eye. Ian Michna is an insider on the skateboard scene, a journalist (and co-author behind our skate feature this month), and the founder, in 2011, of Jenkem Magazine, which provides little-seen, comprehensive, and nuanced insights into the exciting, intimidating, often goofy, multi-faceted, and talent-heavy skate-scape. While skating has gained a lot more cultural clout recently (as a sport in the 2020 olympics, and with immense cash prizes in competition), Michna and his team at Jenkem show us just how much more—from the very low- to the significantly higher-brow—skating can be.
Where do you live and how old are you, and what is your official professional title? Bedstuy, Brooklyn. 27. Editor-In-Chief / Founder, Jenkem Magazine
What made you first interested in your profession, and how old were you when that happened? I remember watching my brother order skateboards from CCS Mail Order in the early/mid-90s and looking through the catalog over his shoulder. I was just a little kid at the time, but I loved looking at it and seeing the art on the bottom of the boards. I especially liked the cartoon ones, although there was always something strange about them. They were either really bizarre or really gory or just had something “off” about them compared to the regular cartoons on TV that I understood. That was the initial spark and the lack of understanding just made me more intrigued. Later on, seeing people actually skateboard and magically flip their boards got me hooked on doing tricks and documenting and investigating the culture.
Do you feel Brooklyn is still a viable place for a young person to build a career?
For sure. Obviously it’s too expensive, but there’s pockets that can be somewhat affordable, you have to be willing to compromise on space, distance from NYC, and general living standards. I still think it’s worth it to live here (at least for a short while) to build connections, especially if you already have a little bit of momentum. To me, living in BK/NYC kind of feels like living in an accelerator. In the last three years I feel like I’ve made 6+ years worth of experiences and connections. I don’t think that’s true in many other places. You just have to be really stubborn with your vision and not get distracted or lost in the endless amount of parties, events, happy hours, hangovers and riff raff that is constantly going on. I’m trying to get better at that.
Where do you see yourself in ten years?
I’ve had a decent amount of people ask me these similar types of questions, “What’s your 5 year plan?” and such. The problem is, I don’t even know what I’m doing this Thursday… I’ve never been a long term planner like that… as Mike Tyson said, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” I guess I hope to be doing what I’m doing now, expanding the mag, and continuing to have the opportunity to have a voice in skateboarding and ride a toy forever.
Have you ever felt like leaving your career path?
Yeah. I’m sure that’s pretty normal for everyone. There’s always times when you get bummed out or hit a wall where you just want to walk away. And hey, maybe you should take some time away. But if you like what you do and you have a bigger vision or idea of what you want it to look like, I think that can help weather the storm. That’s what helps me. That and a lot of caffeine.
What’s felt like your biggest professional accomplishment?
Probably just the fact that I’m here, able to live in one of the most expensive cities and wake up and do something I enjoy everyday with a group of friends and skaters that also enjoy it. Most people don’t have the opportunity to work in an area that they find stimulating, fun, and personally gratifying. Jenkem has been bootstrapped since the beginning and I started it out of my own savings from working at a wine bar for a couple of years, so it feels good to have genuinely done it independently from the ground up.
What’s some advice you’d give to people trying to get a foothold in your industry?
In terms of general media, just do it yourself. Take cool photos of abandoned buildings? Start a Instagram with your best stuff. Like to write about stamps? Get on WordPress. Start your own Youtube show… etc.. Everyone has more or less the same sets of tools now, the process has been democratized. And the big media companies at the top are so desperate for more media—more content, more talent, more shooters—that if you put yourself out there (and it’s good) you will get picked up. And if you don’t, just go back, study what seemed to get the best responses so far, and hone in on that and improve your craft… rinse and repeat. Be tenacious. The doors are open.
Who are your role models in your industry, and what do you hope to see happen or change in the industry in the (near-ish) future?
People like Dave Carnie, Marc Mckee, Sean Cliver, Rocco, Jeremy Klein, Nieratko… All the guys who paved the way for the fun, silly, and mischievous spirit of skateboarding that got me hooked on it in the first place. I also get sparked by a lot of my peers, Kosta from Quartersnacks, Peter from Bronze, Nick from Fancy Lad… we’re all pretty much the same age and they are all creating their own flavor of skateboarding. I guess in the future I’d love to see more diversity in skateboarders and in the people who work in skateboarding, not just white dudes with beards and tattoos. What about the clean shaven white dudes? The bearded women of skating?
Who would be your pick for a 30 Under 30?
Anyone able to live here and do something they love.
To learn about more sub-30 standouts, visit this year’s list of 30 Under 30.