Here’s the deal: If you’re a skateboarder and not following the Cult of Tom Instagram account, you’re doing it wrong.
This treasured fan account – over 22,500 followers and counting – is dedicated to celebrating the unique skateboarding talents of pro rider Tom Penny from Oxford, England. For die-hard fans, Cult of Tom is a long-awaited answer. Pretty much what social media was invented for in the first place.
Previously unseen footage, hard-to-find video clips and best-of montages are piecing together the legacy of the enigmatic skateboarder who came to America in 1995 and shut down every spot in his path with next-level technical finesse, impeccable trick selection and the most nonchalant, hands-down style in history.
Add to that a sense of mystery – How can anyone go so big without visible effort? Is he hacking the Matrix? Why did he disappear for several years at the height of his fame? – following Tom Penny to this very day. Plus, as opposed to other pros of his era, Penny never cared if anyone filmed his stunts, or where the footage ended up and who saw it.
So it’s no coincidence that hardly any other living skateboarder commands a cult following as large as the reclusive Flip Skateboards and SUPRA Footwear pro. (If you’re new to the Cult of Tom Penny, check out Mackenzie Eisenhour’s excellent perspective in TransWorld Skateboarding.)
And since we ourselves have honestly become hooked on all the epic new pieces to the Tom Penny puzzle streaming straight into our synapses via Instagram, we reached out to the man behind the account. ILLUMINATED PAPER talks to American skateboarder Will Howe about hunting down lost footage, his partners in crime, selling Penny-themed tees and hoodies, and the enduring appeal of Sir Tom Penny. Light ’em if you got ’em.
Thanks for taking the time to tell us about Cult of Tom. Please briefly introduce yourself and your background in skateboarding.
Hey Dirk! What’s up man, my name is Will. I work here in town delivering food at the moment, and Instagram a bit. I first started skating in the mid-nineties in Oxnard and Ventura, California. So I kinda quit playing all sports and turned to skating for all of high school and have been following skating since.
The mid-1990s were the best. I’m glad we have that in common. I’m from Germany and we knew about Penny quite early on, because the Flip Skateboards team would travel to Hamburg a lot to skate the indoor park, around 1992 and 1993. So we had seen Tom, Geoff Rowley and Rune Glifberg skate on a whole different level. When did your fascination with Tom Penny start, exactly?
I would say summer of 1995 is when I first took notice of Penny and skateboarding in general, really. My buddy had some tapes like etnies Hi-5, Life In The Fast Lane, and Transworld Uno. He kind of introduced me to skating and the videos got me sold on skating.
Many skateboarders, especially from the mid-1990s, share your fascination. How do you explain Tom Penny’s special allure and mystery?
Man this is a tough one. I’ll just speak for myself on this one as there is a lot to like (laughs). When I watch Penny I get this really curious feeling. Like the way he moves and does his tricks is so much different and better than what I expect to see. Some type of body symmetry or something. I haven’t quite figured it out… But yeah, for me it’s just that his skating is so good I can’t get enough.
When I watch Penny I get this really curious feeling. Like the way he moves and does his tricks is so much different and better than what I expect to see. Some type of body symmetry or something. I haven’t quite figured it out…
Creating the Cult of Tom
What made you decide to create an Instagram dedicated to Tom Penny? And when did you start?
When I started the account, I had been way back into skating for about a year. I had a lot of free time and was looking for something to put my energy into, so I started really studying all the pros. I found myself watching “The Legend of Tom Penny” and some other clips on YouTube repeatedly, day and night. For a good year before messing around with Instagram I would just watch and think about Tom Penny’s skating obsessively. I got the idea in my mind late 2015 to put these clips on Insta, seemed like a good idea.
It’s like exactly what social media was invented for. What has been the response and how has your following developed over time?
Immediately everyone was hyped on the account. Real love, too. DMs and messages from all over the world of people wanting more and more. So yeah, from basically the first few posts, until now the response has been the same. Mad love and positive energy. Tom Penny is the shit for real. Thank you, Tom!!
One thing about Penny is that some of his most epic tricks were never filmed, like that 360 kickflip from the éS Footwear ad (also read Transworld’s eye witness account as told by Mackenzie Eisenhour). Other tricks were only captured by amateur filmers. Where on earth do you find some of these rare gems, like obscure skate park clips from the early 1990s? Do you have any main contributors to shout out?
There are a few regular contributors. Shout out to Ciaran and Matt for helping keep the content fresh. The rarest stuff gets sent in from those who filmed it themselves, which is always exciting! It’s definitely a community affair. As any cult should be, right? (laughs)
What are some of the most magical clips you have unearthed over the years? That backside 5-0 shove-it that’s not a shove-it definitely blew my mind. Do you have a top 3?
Oh man there are a few. I’d say the demo footage from Southside Skatepark in Texas with the 360 kickflip over the pyramid, and heelflip run over that same pyramid is my favorite so far. His part in Memorabilia Obscura is insane, I post it a lot. There are a few mini ramp sessions from South America that are amazing as well. It’s all so good!! I can just watch and watch it again and never get tired of it. So excited for what else we can find.
The rarest stuff gets sent in from those who filmed it themselves, which is always exciting! It’s definitely a community affair. As any cult should be, right?
The Legend Continues
It’s so cool you have built a network of people who share their footage of these rare moments. Do you have any personal Tom Penny stories and has he responded to your Insta?
I don’t have any legendary skate stories unfortunately (laughs)! But yeah, I got the opportunity to talk to Tom on the phone about a year ago and it was a special experience. Thanks Tom, your clips are the most magical!!
For the young guns, if someone was to dive into the awesomeness of Tom Penny, what is a good video part(s) or other media to get started? And what is your word of advice to them?
I’d say this to anyone that wants to dive into the awesomeness of skating, period, young or old. Watch all of the clips on Cult of Tom as many times as you can. Also check out TSA’s Life In The Fast Lane, etnies Hi-5, and Transworld Uno. Keep in mind it was all first try. That’s it. The skating is so good that just watching the clips alone can get you hooked. Brainwash yourselves!
And finally, where can people buy Cult of Tom merchandise and what are some upcoming pieces in the line-up?
We’ve got some pieces that we recently sold that I was pretty into. We have some new stuff coming, we’ll put anything on cultoftom.org. I wanna put some other functionality on the site too, we’ll see!
Good luck with that. Thanks for the interview, Will. Please keep doing what you’re doing.
I got the opportunity to talk to Tom on the phone about a year ago and it was a special experience. Thanks Tom, your clips are the most magical!!