Chicago’s Skate Roots with Josh Kalis and Mike Blabac

A retrospective.

Photos by Mike Blabac

Shopping online is great for toilet paper or dog food, but if you think of yourself as anything more than just a consumer then you already know the value, care, and community independently owned shops can provide.

For the past 20 years, Uprise skate shop has been the kind of shop that never let its shoe wall overshadow its deck wall, immortalized its local team to biblical proportions (approx. 8 x 32”) by way of “pro model” designs adorning their likeness, and legends like Josh Kalis flock there whenever they get the chance.

Josh Kalis outside Uprise, 2017.

Probably known best for placing Philly on the proverbial map—if you ask any skater from the 90s—Josh has made more friends in more cities than possibly any other skateboarder in history, and his influence is measured not only with the recent resurgence of big pants and athletic footwear. From Dallas to New York, to Barcelona and LA, Kalis has always had a way of turning up in the right place at the most critical moments in skateboarding.

It was in San Francisco, during EMB’s heyday and long before they were both synonymous with DC Shoes, that a hopeful photographer from Michigan stumbled upon the familiar cocked brim of Josh Kalis’ hat.

“I was getting off my shift, folding t-shirts for five hours at The Gap when I walked outside and saw Josh sitting there with his board, and I couldn’t believe it,” DC photographer Mike Blabac remembers. He hadn’t seen him since Josh lived in Grand Rapids, an hour or so from Blabac’s hometown.

“I live here now,” Josh replied. And they made plans to link and go shoot.

When you really dig into it, the question remains: LOVE Park, MACBA, J-Kwon, Muni… what were these legendary skate plazas before Josh Kalis? Over the last three decades, he has played a pivotal part in so many different staples of street skating that it gets one wondering if it’s not the man himself who the attention follows.

28 years since Blabac shot his first photo of Josh, we met the duo in Chicago, Illinois, the closest metropolitan city to their roots, and where they would frequently meet up to shoot photos together for various projects throughout the late ’90s and early ’00s.

“Chicago’s always been one of my favourite cities in the world for skating because of all the plazas, but also because it’s just got such a good scene here,” Josh explained while palming a shot of espresso pulled from the back of Uprise skateshop by manager, Ken Keistler. “Uprise was always the place where everyone could meet up, watch the newest video that came out and then head into the city to skate all day and into the night,” Kalis adds. “I just liked the scene here so much that I ended up getting a room in the loft above the old shop and skating here whenever I could.”

Kalis at the loft, circa 2007

In 2006, Uprise released Chicago’s Finest Vol. 2, featuring (much to the skate world’s surprise) a full part from Kalis, arguably at the height of his career and with countless other obligations. It was important to Josh that he keep his Chicago footage, in Chicago.

 “I wasn’t about to blow out their spots, you know. There’s a code you need to respect.”

In true skate shop tradition, the code of the street is passed down to all who have skateboarding running through their veins. And in Chi-town, Uprise continues to be at the heart of it.

It seems like so much has changed since the years Josh held mattress space in the loft above the original Uprise location in south Chi-town; a neighbourhood now overrun with “nitro” cold brew and bougie brunch hideouts. But you can’t gentrify that which cannot be touched. And the intangible “code” continues to run thick in true street skaters to this day, thanks to temples such as Uprise—maintaining hope that generations ahead won’t fall into the vapid abyss of #trending park clips and corporate leeches.

Josh Kalis, crooked grind, Chicago, IL c.2017—as seen in issue 57 (Blabac)

Today Josh lives back in Grand Rapids, Michigan, taking to the road to skate Chicago with the homies whenever he gets the chance. Uprise recently celebrated 20 years serving Chicago and the party continues this coming Friday, Dec. 8, with a special video screening, Mike Blabac photo exhibition, and more.

Event details:

Celebrating 20 years of Chicago Skateboarding,

Featuring an exhibition with work from Mike Blabac, Frank Verges, Sergio Roca, Kevin Kuczkowski and Justin Edwards.

Friday Dec 8th, 1620 W Chicago Ave.

Head here for more details.




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