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Behind the Rise of Epicly Later'd :: A Conversation with Patrick O’Dell

Behind the Rise of Epicly Later'd :: A Conversation with Patrick O’Dell

By Leland Ware

In a time when the internet was in its infancy and social media wasn’t a thing, Patrick O’Dell created a blog called Epicly Later’d. His photos showcased what was going on in the Downtown New York scene, and was eventually turned into a show on Vice in the mid 2000s.

When it debuted on Vice, Epicly Later’d was ahead of its time. Consisting of mini documentaries on up-and-coming and legendary skateboarders, it created a format that is still widely used today. Patrick’s technique of mixing interviews with archival footage allows the viewer to really get the skater’s perspective on their career, and his professional approach makes skateboarding appear more like high art than pop-culture fodder—which is a sharp contrast to the majority of the skate media that existed at the time. With big names like John Cardiel, Alex Olson, and Jason Dill being featured in early episodes, Epicly Later’d quickly became the most popular skate-related show on the internet.

O’Dell is also an accomplished photographer. He served as the photo editor for Vice, was on staff for Thrasher, and has shot for various brands and other publications over the years. Even though he’ll tell you that he prefers his portrait work, he’s taken some great skate photos as well. Part photographer, part documentarian, and part skateboard historian, The Hundreds sat down with O’Dell to talk about his history and unique line of work.

THE HUNDREDS: Where are you from, and how did you get into skateboarding?
PATRICK O’DELL: I was born in St. Louis. I lived in Cincinnati for a couple of years, but I also lived in Columbus, Ohio, for a lot of years. I think like a lot of people, I saw Back To The Future and tried to skate after seeing that. Then I tried to skitch behind a mail truck. When it stopped, I slammed into it. In Columbus, I skated Dodge Skatepark and this place called Sunspots Skatepark. Dodge is still there, but that was in high school. I lived in Columbus during high school.

How did you first get interested in photography and when did you start shooting?
I think I was interested in photography anyway. That’s another thing that I was interested in besides skating. I tried to like merge it. “Poser of the Month” type photos at first, just shooting me and my friends skating. Then, I started making zines and stuff. A lot of times I would just tag along. I would look for people skating and ask if I could shoot them. I don’t remember the brand of camera, but it was a regular SLR with a flash on top. There was no fisheye and no extra flash.

How did you end up in San Francisco?
I moved to San Francisco because it was a big place for skating. I was going to art school at the time as well. Like anything, you would just shoot with people that would let you shoot them. I wasn’t like Gabe Morford, Tobin [Yelland], or somebody that was a really popular photographer. I remember James Kelch needed photos, so I would go shoot with James. He was involved with FIT [skateboards]. So I would shoot with some of their guys. Looking back, I remember that I didn’t have a fisheye. Some of the photos were that weird, crappy 24 millimeter that distorts in the corners. It doesn’t get wide enough to make anything look bigger. I shot a lot of FIT ads. I remember a lot of photos not coming out. I would go shoot a bunch of pictures, then I would develop them, and the pictures didn’t come out. They were just too dark or something, or blurry, or whatever. But that was where I was trying to learn how to shoot photos.

Jason Dill in an Alien Workshop ad, shot by Patrick O’Dell.

The Gonz for Fourstar, shot by Patrick O’Dell

Do you have a favorite photo from back then?
I had a Profile ad of Karl Watson, he’s doing a switch crooked grind at Black Rock or Brown Marble. That one came out really good. It’s black and white. Another one was this picture of Lennie Kirk doing a backside lipslide. It was a make, and my flash goes off in the Time Code video. But he did it again for a photo, he didn’t make it that time. It was a still from a sequence or something. I remember mine was a make, but I don’t think anyone ever ran it. I was trying to dig it up recently, but I couldn’t find it. I might not have it scanned in. My skate photos were always kind of average I guess. I always felt like I had better stuff that were portraits, or people doing things.

Did you start working with Thrasher around this time?
That was after I moved to New York.

Why did you move back East?
A girlfriend.

Is this around the time that you started working with Vice?
Yeah, I moved to New York for a girlfriend. It was really good for me. I was really happy when I moved there. I started shooting and sending stuff to Thrasher. I’d send stuff to other magazines, but Thrasher ended up working out. Burnett asked me to shoot more and more. I got to go on tours and shoot and get some better equipment. It was really through Burnett that I started shooting for Thrasher a lot. I did that for five or six years. I was on a retainer. At one point I had a crisis about it. Some of it wasn’t that fun. I remember thinking that I needed to get a real job. Now, I guess you could carry shooting skate photos for a long time. I don’t know why, but I thought that I should get some work experience so that I wouldn’t be screwed later.

Vice had an opportunity for a photo editor, which I felt like was the type of job that I could take in more directions. I pretty much stopped shooting skate photos all together. I still to this day don’t really shoot skate photos except if I’m just fucking around or something. I was actually tempted to get back into it, but not as a job. I quit right when it switched over to digital. I didn’t have the money to buy a sweet-ass digital skate camera. At that point, I never upgraded to digital. But anyway, I started working at Vice as the photo editor. Then the show started out of Vice.

Epicly Later’d, Ed Templeton episode Part 1

This would have been the early 2000s, right?
Yeah, I would say like 2004.

How was that era at Vice?
While I was working at Thrasher, I interned at this magazine called Index. I broke my arm skating, so I couldn’t do that. I was just an intern, but I may have shot a couple of things. But the editor of Index became the editor of Vice. There were all of these people there like Ryan McGinley, this girl Amy Kellner, who was also an editor of Vice. There was this girl Leslie Arfin who does TV shows now. All these people were kind of the people that I worked with at Vice. Most of them aren’t there anymore. Pretty much all of them aren’t there anymore. I was just inspired by the, you know, by Ryan McGinley—by all of these different people. It was a pretty fun time to be working there.

Ryan McGinley and Leslie Arfin have become famous.
Yeah, this girl Amy Kellner, she was there too. It’s really cool, she’s at the New York Times magazine. She kills it. Even Jesse Pearson, who was the editor of Vice at the time. I remember that he wanted to do all of this journalism-type stuff. I remember Vice at that time wasn’t really like that. It was more like a Big Brother or High Times or something, or like National Lampoon, you know? He was like, “We need to elevate this and do some real serious stories.” I remember thinking that was weird at the time. I remember thinking, “That’s what you want to do?” It was more like New York youth culture at the time. It’s funny that they’re almost known for serious news now, but he’s not there anymore. It was kind of like his kickoff, I think—making it serious journalism.

“It was almost like a race against the clock. I was trying to make as many [episodes] as I could.”

Then you started Epicly Laterd, which was one of the first skate-related blogs to get big.
Yeah, I think I got in early. There weren’t a lot of blogs back then, or almost any that I knew of. I just copied that same girl Amy Kellner. She had a blog. I got kind of into it because I would look at her photos and think, “Wow, this is really cool.” You could just go home and update it everyday. This was obviously way before Instagram. There were some things around, like Friendster might have been around or whatever. There weren’t a lot of ways to story-tell. I thought it would be cool to tell stories. It was a really cool medium. It’s surprising, it was really popular. I think I could login now and see how many views it got. But it was like lots of millions. I don’t know, it’s surprising how popular it used to be. I just kind of fizzled out doing it.

At the time, in my 20s, I was going out every night doing stuff all of the time. But I also got into making documentaries, and I remember thinking—and this is kind of lame, but—when I was doing the blog, there weren’t really other blogs. So it felt like it was something new and interesting. Then suddenly, years later, time goes by and there’s tons of them. And it didn’t feel fun to do. I feel like with my skate show, there wasn’t other skate shows. So I got super amped. It was almost like a race against the clock. I was trying to make as many as I could.

How did Vice approach you to turn Epicly Laterd into a show?
That same guy that I mentioned before, Jesse Pearson—he was one of the people sort of launching the channel. It was called VBS at the time. They just thought, “Oh, we should do a skate show,” and they had me do it. I originally didn’t want to call it Epicly Laterd. But I’m kind of glad that I did now, because I didn’t really like the name anyway. Jesse said I had to call it that—well I didn’t have to, but unless I thought of a better name, I had to call it that. The blog was popular enough that they thought that maybe it would sort of bring an audience over. Which ended up being good, because I ended up protecting the name. They gave me a contract, and I made all of these demands and changed the contract. Basically because of the name, I didn’t want the show to get sold to MTV, get some different host, and have it just drift away. So, I’m locked into it. Later, I think that probably would have happened. I would have gotten fired, and they would have just hired somebody else to run with it. So the name just became the name of my blog. We didn’t really know what we were going to do.

I was picturing Skate TV, like I was going to have skits or something. I think I filmed the Billy Rohan one first, and then the Dustin Dollin one was the first to air, then it was Dill. So it was like Dill, Billy Rohan, Dustin Dollin, and a couple of others. At first I didn’t take it that seriously. But as time went on, I wanted to try to make it better. I think the turning point was when I realized that companies would let me use old videos. I think I made Dill’s, and I had used some stuff from the 101 video. It tripped me out. I was like, “Wow, I can’t believe I can use this.” That was before—I don’t want to say before YouTube, but things weren’t on YouTube as much, like all of these parts. I remember being like, “This is cool, I can grab a bunch of VHS tapes, show a bunch of skating that influenced me or that maybe I really like and some younger skaters haven’t seen.” So it was exciting, it was like an epiphany. I could use all of these old videos and sort of repackage them and explain what was happening. So yeah, it evolved. It got a little more serious. I don’t want to say more serious, but I just took it more seriously.

Do you have a favorite episode?
Well, I don’t know. I would say Ali [Boulala]‘s, the newest one. I’m pretty happy with how that one came out—and [John] Cardiel’s. I kind of like the underdog people. Because Cardiel, as known as he is—I remember noticing when it came out that he was really famous to me because I collect all of the VHS tapes. So I would find everything. But it was nice packaging everything for the younger skaters, and people that weren’t finding VHS tapes. It was like putting together a bibliography of all of his skating, and his personality, of course. I remember thinking, “This is awesome.” I really got to help people see how rad Cardiel is. People would have seen it anyway, but it was nice to put it all in one place.

The John Cardiel episode

PATRICK O’DELL: The same with Eric Dressen and Elissa Steamer—I feel like Dressen was a skater that was a little undervalued. People would ask me what I was working on, and I’d tell them Dressen. I think people thought that that was a weird idea. But I was like, “This guy has been an amazing skater for longer than anybody.” He pre-dates Hosoi and Lance Mountain. He’s never been—well, maybe in the '80s he was one of the number one skaters, but he’s just always been amazing from banana board skating in the '70s to pressure flips and stuff. I thought that was really satisfying, to get his story out.

Ali Boulala, too, he was one of my favorites when he was skating. I was always such a big fan of his. When I’d see him in real life, I’d get a little starstruck. I felt like I wanted to communicate how I felt about him in a documentary. Originally, I didn’t think we would be able to do it because of his moped accident or whatever. But now that he’s sober—I don’t know, it was really tough to tackle. The same with in the Chocolate episode in the Keenan section. It’s tough to tackle—like interviewing Lee Smith about it and everything. But I just felt like I wanted to tackle some serious issues, you know? That was one thing that made me want to start the show. You’d see like X-Games or something, and everything was so lifestyle—like hip-hop or punk rock. That stuff can be funny, like talking about Muska or MuskaBeats. But at the same time, I really wanted to tackle serious stuff if I could.

“But I just felt like I wanted to tackle some serious issues, you know? That was one thing that made me want to start the show.”

Is Epicly Laterd still something that youre regularly working on?
I’m not working on anything right now. Vice isn’t very interested in keeping it going. Sometimes, they say that they are, but every hiatus from the show has been because of non-interest from Vice. I think they want me to make things that they can advertise around better or something. Maybe it’s not their fault, they’ve said that the show needs a sponsor before—someone to pay for the episodes. But it’d be tough, it’d be tough to get like, “Nike presents the Ed Templeton Epicly Laterd.”

All of the last bunch of episodes, I had to really fight to get them made. Now, I’m just like whatever. I don’t know. It’d be nice. If they wanted weekly episodes, I would do them. But I think they are focused on other stuff. It’s funny, there was talk of doing one one-off episode because of advertising or something. I remember thinking that if I’m going to end the show, I want to end it on Ali, and not on some crappy one. It was almost like, “I’ll do seven more, or zero more. But I’m not gonna do like one weird crappy one.” So I don’t know, it could be on permanent hiatus. Maybe in like two years, they’ll be like, “Oh shit, we should get that show back together,” and I’ll do some more. Maybe in like six months, I have no idea.

Its interesting that they launched the Viceland network and Epicly Laterd isnt a part of it.
They’re doing the Thrasher King Of The Road, and I wasn’t a part of that or anything. I feel like the show [Epicly Laterd] has been on television before, and I feel like it appeals to a niche cult audience—like skateboarding. I don’t think that I could turn my show into a reality show. I feel like people flipping through the channels that ran into Ali’s show wouldn’t be that interested. Cardiel or Eric Dressen might not necessarily resonate. That’s why I think it’s better on the Internet, where it can come out and all of the skaters can get emailed or it can be posted somewhere and everyone can go watch it.

I think, through television, I don’t know if it works in that format. I’d rather just have every skater watch it than have it be tune in at 7:30 on Thursday for Spanky Part 4. I’d rather just have it be on the Internet anyway. I think King Of The Road will work like that, but with my stuff, with Ali’s, I almost tried to make it artsy. I went to Bam [Margera]’s house, and I thought, “That would be a good Epicly Laterd.” And I went to someone else’s house and thought, “This dude would be a good one.” I had so many good ones, people I’d talk to and suggest doing one and they’d be like, “Yeah, totally.” And I’d think, “Fuck, I wish Vice would order more shows.” ‘Cause I’m like, “That would be sick—do one on Muska, do one on Bam.” I talked to Spike Jonze about doing one on him and his skate photography.

The Ali Boulala episode, one of Patrick O’Dell’s favorites

Wasnt Spike involved in getting the show launched?
When I started making the show, I remember Vice wanted to put music in my show, which is what I was trying to avoid—those kind of lifestyle cues. Have like a rap song or a Rancid song to communicate skate culture, which I didn’t like. I was like, “I don’t want to sell this as some kind of lifestyle.” You know when you’d watch a skateboarding contest on television, there’d be some dude with a crooked hat, and he’d be like, “We’re here in the skateboard chill room with these radical dudes,” and they would talk in this stupid voice about what they are doing. It was so lifestyle. Whereas, if you were watching the Olympics or baseball, nobody is in the dugout being like, “Yo, we’re with these super fresh baseball players.”

I wanted to elevate it and take it that seriously like we were talking about an art or a sport, or something that should be taken seriously or treated with reverence, and not like we were talking about some juvenile activity. So anyway, they wanted music and I didn’t want music. I remember it was kind of a fight, and then one day they were like, “It’s okay, you don’t need music.” It turns out that Spike had watched the show, and said that it didn’t need music. I had never met him, but I was like, “Yes! Spike is so cool, and he backed me up.” I don’t know why, now, some of them might have music. I just didn’t want to overdo it, you know?

“I wanted to elevate it and take it that seriously like we were talking about an art or a sport, or something that should be taken seriously or treated with reverence, and not like we were talking about some juvenile activity.”

It makes it more focused on the story.
Yeah, it annoys me when it’s like, “And then we drained the pool,” and then Led Zeppelin starts playing. I’d always get annoyed by that. I don’t know, I just wanted to stick to the story. So then, Spike [Jonze] came in to meet with me and Jesse Pearson, and I remember being real starstruck, not because of his movies, but because of like Rubbish Heap and Video Days. It was like, “Holy shit, this is the dude.” I was really influenced by his skate photography as well. He was a really big part of Transworld in its heyday. And he always shot with the best people as well. I still think he might be the best skate photographer ever. I was so psyched to meet him and get his advice. He always gave good advice. Most of the time, he’s given me advice and it’s always been spot on. He really knows what he’s talking about, and he knows skateboarding still. Sometimes he’s sort of helped me deal with navigating my relationship with Vice as well. If I wasn’t getting along with something, I could call him up.

What is your relationship with Vice at this point?
I haven’t talked to them in awhile. But I don’t know. I’m not trying to hate on them or anything, if they wanted to do more shows, I would be super onboard.

From New York, you moved to Los Angeles, correct?
Yeah.

At that point, were you still doing Epicly Laterd full-time?
At that point, I had stopped photo editing, the show was enough of a hit that I was like, “Oh, I’ll just do this instead.” New York obviously got really expensive, and LA was a real cheap alternative, I thought. I moved to LA because it was more affordable, and plus that’s where I was getting most of my work anyway. And yeah, trying to do episodes or whatever.

Were you still doing freelance photography?
Yeah, I worked for a bunch of skateboard companies. I was working for Altamont doing all of their catalogs and ads and everything. I currently work for Vans. I’ve been working for Vans for a couple of years. Now we’re doing this Vans Park Series, it’s like a skatepark contest series, and I work for that. Which is fun because it’s like travel and skateboarding. I think the thing is, I always struggled with Vice a little bit, then I realized that if I treated it like a hobby that I could be much more sane about it and wouldn’t fizzle out. Mostly, I’d just do freelance photography and music videos and stuff, and freelance videos for different companies and projects besides Vice. I am also working on a project for Hulu that comes out in October probably, I don’t want to jump the gun talking about it too much.

Youre living in Philly now, what brought you back East?
My wife got a job out here. So I was like, “Fuck it, I’ll do that. It sounds like a cool place to live.” With my freelance work, I figured that I could figure it out.

Hows it been being back in Philly and what projects are you working on currently?
I’m working on the Vans thing and that thing for Hulu. It’s been good. I went to Australia for Vans for that first event in the contest. We’re doing Brazil next, and then LA, and then Vancouver, and Malmo. So, I have a skate trip to go on like once a month, which I’m really excited about. I’m only an hour and a half form New York, but Philly’s cool… Sometimes when I hear people complain about New York and the way it’s changed, I’m like, “Philly’s a good alternative.” There’s a lot going on and rent’s cheap. There’s things to skate everywhere and DIY stuff and weird art venues and music venues and stuff. It seems like there’s a lot going on here.

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Follow Patrick at patrickodell.com and on Instagram @epiclylaterd. All photos by Jeff Fribourg.

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