Bryan Lathrop enjoying his "little piece of paradise" at FDR Park in South Philadelphia.
Photo by Candace diCarlo
College of General Studies
Length of service:
Won a bronze medal at the National Design Competition this month; former punk rocker with the Sadistic Exploits.
After a hiatus of more than a decade, Bryan Lathrop picked up his weathered skateboard and elbow pads and went back to the bowls and half-pipes that served as his adolescent proving ground. The kids, most of whom weren't even breathing in the '80s, let alone skating, looked at him and no doubt wondered why someone's dad had shown up.
In the year and a half that's passed, he has immersed himself into the grind of it, practically making "SK8Park" at FDR Park in South Philly his second home. At Penn, Lathrop throws a similar amount of reckless energy into designing bulletins, posters, flyers and Web sites for the College of General Studies, of which he's a graduate.
Q. I heard that you've issued a challenge to Channel 10.
A. ..."Vai's Challenge." I challenged [Vai] Sikahema to an old-school test. We finally taped it yesterday [it was to air April 27] and he did much better than I expected - he was a good sport. They did 55 minutes' worth of taping, so I don't know what exactly they will be using, but there was this great point where Vai was standing in the middle while three of us circled around him like sharks.
Q. How do the younger skaters react to a 35-year-old going off a ramp?
A. Some of them smirk and say 'who's that bald geezer?' Until they see me grind a lip. Until they see that, though, they have a tendency to dismiss you as a non-factor. Then they know you could probably school them.
Q. What was it like getting back on a board after years of self-denial?
A. Actually it was between 10 and 12 years - longer really because for a few years before I got a car I was using it as transportation, and that's just not the same as dropping on a vert ramp. And I go through more boards now than when I was a kid. Then I was 150-160 pounds. Now I'm 6'2", 220 pounds.
Q. How often are you out skating?
A. I can't afford to do it every day. My body can't afford it. I need a day between each good skate. I should really find a physics professor who can tell me the science of how bad I could hurt myself.
Q. Are you going back to your old haunts to skate?
A. Most of them aren't around anymore. Back in the late '70s Cherry Hill was probably the pre-eminent park in the world. In the '80s the high price of liability insurance coupled with a downswing in interest killed it. I started there in '78, '79 and I think it got bulldozed in '82. Now I'm at FDR Park which is continually evolving. These guys who used to skate at Cherry Hill have taken all this initiative; they wanted to build something reminiscent of it yet still new and modern.
Q. Doesn't FDR have the same insurance concerns?
A. There are signs all over that read 'Skate at your own risk.' It's well understood, except by the thick-headed parents who send their kids out there on plastic in-line skates straight from K-mart who can only go two miles an hour. Everyone else understands it's about knowing your own limitations.
Q. Is all the skater lingo, are all the words coming back to you now?
A. They never really left. There's a word 'gnarly' I'll say. So if something's gnarly, well, it's gnarly. If something's radical, it's radical. My wife will still say 'heeeyyy duuude' and poke fun at it, though.
Q. You dropped out of high school, didn't you?
A. And then I got my GED two months after dropping out. For years I was never at home, always out volunteering or working, doing something. I went to Central America in '87 because I wanted to help but didn't know any Spanish. I learned some and went back in '88 for six months and did photographs for an exhibit.
Q. What exhibit?
A. I was doing photography of war orphans. I had a grant from the Painted Bride for an exhibit of drawings by children in Nicaragua, Guatemala and Honduras. The show mixed the children's illustrations we collected with the photography. The exhibit was successful and ended up being donated to the Madre project in New York. It toured the country in community centers, education projects and schools. Plus, six months in Central America helped me blaze through my Spanish proficiencies.
When I got back from the trip I really wanted to do something, help out in Central America. I went into the Peace Corps office and they basically laughed me out the door. No degree, no skills, no fluency in a second language. It didn't matter that I had passion. So I had to go to college. I was going to settle for Temple when someone suggested I try Penn. I applied and was accepted on a provisional level. They gave me a chance to prove myself and I did. After about a year's worth of courses I got my job at Wharton to take advantage of the tuition break.
I received my psychology degree through CGS, which may have given me the edge in the interview process because I was familiar with the rigors of being an adult student over six and a half long years.
Q. Why psychology instead of design?
A. Because it was broad-based. I was interested and thought I could use it to help people. Because of the road I've traveled I thought I could use it to help some teenage kids with their problems. But it makes more sense to follow my passion, and my art has always been a refuge.
Originally published on April 29, 1999