Images by Richie Hopson.
Whilst most vert riders look similar with their sweaty pads and sticker spammed helmets, Lee Blackwell looks like a Lord off a Death Metal clip – Long black hair, tattoos covering every visible part of his body, and a hellbent ferociousness when he rides a ramp.
Despite the ungodly appearance that could only appeal to the teenie goths that lurk around skateparks, the man you wouldn’t dare cross let alone snake, is actually a well-spoken lad with a big heart and is always up for a session for fun but pushed to the limits wherever he goes. In fact, we caught up with Lee just as he was going through his washing! Even a hard man needs a bit of softner in his life…
Hi Lee! What’s up? Are you busy?
Nah, I’m just about to hang up my washing. (Laughs)
How’s life been treating you?
Alright, I just got back from town where I had a nice coffee at the old Starbucks.
Oh… You must get a few stares in there, don’t you?
All the time!
Has there been an increase in fans since the release of Escape from Boredom?
Yeah, definitely! At least I know that my MySpace friends list has gone up quite a bit.
Does that create any competition between the team, like squabbling over fan mail and stuff..?
Nah! We’re all a bunch of misfits anyway!
Which premieres were you at? What was it like?
Yeah, I went to a couple- one in my hometown, Ipswich, and the other one in Harrow. The one at Harrow was pretty crazy just for the simple fact that half way through Nic’s (Zorlac) section we started off a mosh pit. From there on it just got messy…
Did you here about the one that went off in Australia? Schooner got kicked out several times!
No… I haven’t read about it, but I know it went down well.
Have you met up with any of the new Australian Death riders?
Yeah, last year when we did the Squadrophenia tour, Richie Jackson and the others flew over. But, I didn’t really see them skate because they were either too flued up, too lazy or Richie had an ingrown toenail giving him grief….
It must be those hippy sandals he’s been wearing..?
Oh! Hippie ain’t the word!
Dude looks like he’s on some drugs or something. Did you see how fast his section blew up and got spread all over the web?
It was ridiculous to see him skating like that because, like I said earlier, when he came over he hardly did a thing. Then I saw the section and I was like, “What the fuck?!? Where have you been hiding all that footage???”
Well he’ll definitely blow up, and I think the whole of Death will blow up now because of EFB.
Yeah, I hope so! (Laughs)
Have you ever made it out to Australia?
Nah! They keep telling me to get out there and stay with them, but I’ve been busy with other stuff. I went to India, Goa, last year.
Yeah, how was that? It must have been mental!
Unbelievable! To think that a place like that exists on this planet is an absolute joke! It was beautiful, the heat was amazing, the women were amazing… Skateboarding in the middle of a jungle was a joke! We’re going back there this year, hopefully in the next few weeks!
The whole Death Team on holiday again?
Well, most of us: Me. Mark (Munson), (Nic) Zorlac… At the moment it’s just a case of getting away from this weather, and Goa is the place to be.
I saw some footage from out there and it looks amazing. Is the park finished or are they going to keep pouring concrete and building ?
They’ve added to the street course now: where the stairs go down they’ve put a couple of handrails and ledges in. They’ve finished the mini ramp off totally, the pools there, and there’s another bit of land next to it as well where they have plans to build a concrete vert bowl type thing. Hopefully that’ll get done soon…
Damn! It must be mad though, because there can’t be that big a scene in Goa…
There is no skateboarding in India! Skateboarding does not exist over there. That’s what makes it insane! If you break a board or something, you had best hope you brought a spare or something along with you…
Just grab a machete and go chop one out of a tree!
(Laughs) Yeah, you will! You’ll have some little tribesman trying to carve you one out of a log or something!
Has skateboarding sent you anywhere else in the world?
At the moment, the main place has been India, but I’ve ended up going all around Europe and that which was pretty cool. I’ve been skating in Holland, Amsterdam, Poland, Germany, France, Spain, all those sort of places.
Have any of those places had scenes that remind of the British skate scene or mentality?
To tell you the truth, I actually found that in Europe skateboarding is pretty laid back, except Germany perhaps which is a bit more like the English attitude. You have to be ‘down’ with what the British scene represents otherwise you’re a ‘nobody’. I personally think British skating is up its own arse more than any other country. Elsewhere skating is more chilled and laid back, but over here it’s all about fashion like street skating, baggy pants, New Eras etc… It’s bollocks really.
Well, how much would it cost to get you dressed up like Chris Gentry?
(Laughs) *Hesitates*…I actually used to look like that! I used to be into my Hip-Hop, and I still listen to a lot of it. But, at the end of the day when I got found skating Southend, I was really into my older stuff like Flip, Acme, Anti-Hero all that… But! There came a point where skating turned all Hip-Hop and I wanted to get out of Southend. So, I thought , “Right, I’ve been offered a shop sponsor up in Ipswich…”, and I had changed into this Hip-hop thing, but then I’m like, “I’ll move away and then I can get back to the original me like tight jeans and everything again!”
You’re from Essex, right?
Do you get a lot of stick for that, like people rating you as a real Essex boy?
Yeah, all the time! And the funny thing was it was always from the people in Essex! (Laughs) I was fully fucked because of them when I was a kid! It turned me into the arsehole I am now. Guys were always pushing me to hurt myself, like beating me and shit…
What would you have become if you hadn’t discovered skateboarding?
I’d probably still be hanging around the sea front, stealing cars and stuff like that… Or in prison.
Oh my god… Who got you into skating?
Well, I used to ride around loads on my BMX, and even got stuff flowed to me at one point. The local hood kids were into BMX-ing and we all used to jump off the ramps and race through the streets. Then a couple of people moved out that way, like a kid called Paris who used to get stuff from Vision, and my friend Andy Cooper was always out skating… So, we all started to pick up boards gradually. I was still on my bike and he suggested I have a go at it because we always hung around together, and it took off from there.
Just to visualize how things were, what period was this? What was going on in skateboarding at the moment in time?
About 1992, I was 12 years old when I decided to start skating seriously.
1992 was a slight peak and then skateboarding bomb-dropped.
Yeah, it disappeared! (Laughs) It was the time when they introduced those tiny wheels and stuff… I had Leigh-on-sea skatepark on my doorstep, which I thought was the best skatepark in Europe back then, so that was my home where I learnt to skate. But it was like a bomb was dropped when everything went to thinner boards, real tiny wheels… It killed skateboarding, skateboarding killed itself.
It’s harder to call now that you’re professional, but do you think it would be a good thing if skateboarding took another dive like that? Or perhaps not so harsh… I mean, do you think kids have any idea how hard it was back then?
I don’t think they have a clue! They don’t even know what bonelesses, or no-complies are. Shifties and shuffles… You do an old-skool trick in front of the kids and they’re like, “What the hell was that??? That’s rubbish!” Then they have a go at trying it and can’t do it! It’s also one of the reasons as to why loads of these tech bods got taken out in the Es game of SKATE- people were doing 360 no-complies! It’s the same with a pressure flip- ask a kid to do a pressure flip and he can’t. He might be able to do a switch tre-flip, but not a pressure flip…
Yeah, but you don’t need to take it that far. Nobody needs to see pressure flips again!
(Laughs) Pressure flips are good! If they’re done right, they’re good! It’s like a good hardflip…
Hardflips, pressure flips..? I don’t know, man. Some people were getting away with scandalous stuff back then…
Oh yeah definitely! (Laughs) That was a sketchy era back then. I guess that was another good thing about it: People worry too much about looking good nowadays, instead of having fun.
That’s cool. Whilst you were on the Big Push tour, what were you doing when everyone was skating Milton Keynes at 4 am? No transition in sight.
I was skating there! I had my tech trick in there: Ollie up nose manual around the block 180 off! To tell you the truth though, I spent most of the time complaining. I started the tour off pretty badly, and I probably ended it pretty badly as well. Just pissed off after a while…
How did you hook up with Death?
I was riding for Hoax skateshop, but I was up for doing something a bit different and pushing my skating a little further. So, I started hanging around with the Hardcore Hobbies Crew, which was Dom and Jay, and decided to ride for them because it was lot more laid back than the whole Hoax thing at that time. Dom started talking about Nic Zorlac from Death, and I was like, “Yeah, I know him” because we used to skate together a bit down at Leigh-on-Sea.
Dom offered to try and get me in with them again, so we arranged a day to try and go skating down in Harlow. I didn’t really know that the reason we were going was so Nic could watch me skate and see about hooking me up on Death. I had no idea, I just we were meeting up because we hadn’t seen one another in ages..?
That’s kind of cool then because you couldn’t have been too stressed..?
Nah- I was just skating, and Nic was just standing there by the ramp looking at me…
What, like a dirty pervert?
(Laughs) Yeah! I think he was just eyeing me up to take me home or something…
Ahh… Dirty Nic! There aren’t any dodgy initiation rites over at Death are there?
Nah! People probably think there are when they see us all together out on the piss having a laugh. There’s no initiations, it’s just a case of what happens happens…
Fun is a definite feeling Death puts across through your videos and overall attitude. Are you really having that much fun together, or is it just a scam? When the camera turns off do you all hate each other?
Nah! We are all really good friends! We drive off one another’s energy all the time. It’s a real good buzz when we all skate together, even hanging out afterwards and stuff… We’re always having fun. We’re always having a laugh. It’s like a constant party sort of thing!
I heard Cates was doing the rounds on a speed dating circuit- what’s up with him? Is he a ladies man in disguise?
(Laughs) He is! And like everyone says: he tries to deny it! Dan does love women. The way he gets around it is he just turns around and says something like, “Al women are slags!” He treats them like shit, but in the back of his mind he’s thinking how fit they are and how he could get a piece of the action. I think he’s getting to that midlife crisis section now where he’s feeling left out and wants a lady in his life…
Do you ever find yourself being chased down by any of these teenie goth chicks that lurk around skateparks and spots?
(Laughs) All the time! All the time… It’s pretty funny, but I don’t mind it.
Is it lonely being a vert skater?
(Laughs) Uhhh… Yeah, kinda… I do skate a little bit more street nowadays, and the local kids are always taking the piss because we aren’t tech enough.
I know vert skating is a lot harder than it looks. How would you convince a kid to take it up?
I’d totally tell him to get into it! The thing with vert is people get worried by the size of the ramp, but I ask why? It’s no different than a mini ramp really? You can have a lot more fun on a vert ramp because you’ve got the time to set up between tricks, and think about whether you’re gonna land a trick or not. You can get away with a lot more because it’s like a big slide, whereas skating a mini ramp once you fall off its “Whack!”- you’re hitting the flat bottom! You know it! But, I’ll always try and push kids to give vert a go.
Are there any other perks to vert skating, like having a whole ramp to yourself instead of taking a ticket and waiting in line for one go at a block..?
I think the best thing about skating vert is be able to fly! That’s it! There is no other feeling like vert skating. You just block out what everyone else thinks, and you know there’s more of a friendly atmosphere on top of the vert ramp. There’s a lot more drive in everyone: dudes are banging their boards, shouting at you to do stuff… On street it’s a little bit more… I don’t know? It’s not the done thing, it’s not fashionable, there isn’t the same drive when it comes to pushing one another like that. With street skating, someone tries something down some stairs and you’ve got to wait… On vert everyone joins in and that’s what’s good about it.
Have you ever scared yourself whilst riding a vert ramp?
Yeah, all the time! Whenever you slam on vert, you know about it! (Laughs) You can come across lucky, but your heart always falls out. I mean you can save yourself with a knee slide, but every time you walk up those steps to drop in again your head is full of ‘what ifs?’.
Which vert rider needs to put down the pads?
Argh! None of them! I don’t think any of them deserve to quit, just for the fact that I’ve seen skaters from back in the Powell days at Download festivals and they are all still killing it! I don’t think anyone needs to put down their pads, and I hope no-one will be saying that about me when I’m 40. You have just got to keep going as long as your legs can hold you…
Who should pick some pads up and get on a ramp?
Ummm…? That’s a hard question actually. (Laughs) I’d say there is this little kid who just got on the ramp called Adam Howe. He’s probably the best tech street skater in England, and now he comes to skate vert with us. He’s so tech, like a proper robot, but the first time he skates vert with us he’s doing frontside 5-0s, frontside airs, backside ollies… and it makes you think, “You’ve never touched a vert ramp in your life??” He’s an absolute natural. Otherwise, a kid that everyone needs to look out for at the moment is Ben Raemers!
Yeah! I saw him at the Crossfire Xmas Jam, and he was going off- it was sick!
Yeah, a lot of the older guys need to pull their fingers out their arses because when kids like Ben come around, everyone’s in trouble!
Has anyone ever shouted “Chris Livingston!” at you while you were riding a ramp?
Not really, but yeah, once some guy shouted it at me because I kinda look like him or skate like him..? That was in Germany. (Laughs)
It’s the long black flowing hair Lee… But that’s where the similarities stop. Have you ever had anything else weird shouted at you?
“Get off!” “Do something new!” (Laughs) Mainly, when it comes to demos like when we were on the Eastpak tour set up in the middle of the highstreet, there are usually chavs shouting abuse at you. While I’ve been on a ramp, I’ve had kids throw stones and sweets at me! Me and (Marc) Churchill were skating Bay66 years ago, when I first met him, and there were kids behind the barriers throwing rocks at us! You get it all… (Laughs)
Shit… What do you do when kids scream, “Do a 900!”?
I try and blank it out! (Laughs)
Ummm? I have written here- Who has a bigger make-up case: Twisted Sister or Kiss?
(Laughs) Twisted Sister , definitely! I reckon Dee Snyder has gota bigger make-up case the all of Kiss put together!
Who’s in your CD player at the moment?
Actually, it’s Twisted Sister! (Laughs)
Is there anything in your music collection, that most people wouldn’t expect to find from a metal head like yourself?
Yeah, probably… I’ve got things like the Lost Boys which is hip-hop. LL Cool J..? Alkaholics, Mobb Deep, Ludacris… Because of (Dan) Cates, I went and bought a 50-Cent album! (Laughs)
I know you’re pretty tattooed up, but what do you draw the line at in so much as tattoo ideas?
Probably anything to do with Swastikas and racism style tattoos. It’s not my thing. People probably look at me and think I like it because I’m into the whole rock metal biker thing, but I’m definitely not for it. I’m really against any form of racism.
Do you own a motorbike?
Nah, but I’m gonna hopefully look into building one this summer. We’ll have to see what happens…
Have you ever spotted any kids with Death logos tattooed on their bodies?
I haven’t seen many kids with tattoos, but I have spotted a couple of Death ones on people. You know, they’ve gone and spent £30 on them and the tattoos look like little smudges! (Laughs) The main thing I notice is that kids do follow you and try and be like you. It’s strange…
After turning pro and travelling around doing demos and stuff, has it changed you perception in regards the kids that look up to you now?
Yeah, it did in a way. I started paying more attention, and you don’t just think about the fact that you’re pro. You can’t really have a bad attitude in regards the kids because not only is a company helping you out, but you have a responsibility to help that company by promoting it. When it comes to the way you look at kids and treat kids, it all changes.
Alright Lee, it’s time to run off your sponsors and hand out the thanks…
I’d just like to thank anyone that supported me and pushed me over these years. My sponsors, Death Skateboards and Urethane, Eastpak, Duffs Shoes, Rush Bearings, Lee Denim, Randoms Hardware, Protec and Independent Trucks, Nic Zorlac, Mark Munson, Adam at I-Five, Shiner, Nick Street, Dave Allen, and sorry to anyone I missed out!
What are you going to do now?
I think I’m going to finish my washing… (Laughs) Lots of black shirts!
Don’t forget your pads!
Yeah, they’re next on the list to go in!