Wow. This is a heavy edit from a man who just put himself on the map in the best way possible. Take in Cole Wilson‘s incredible ability to shred rails most would go nowhere near. Savage skateboarding, epic part. Skate Edit of the Week. Thanks Foundation.
Simon Bernacki frontside wallrides the TBS DIY. Photo: Tim Smith.
For skateboarders in the Northern Hemisphere, the start of the year can feel like the end of the world. An existential and meteorological downward spiral, deepened if you spent last summer somewhere markedly better. But then trips are excitedly planned across chaotically duplicate social media platforms through April and May; a glut of adventure from June to early September; then the stomach-tightening disappointment as nights lengthen and tarmac dampens. The cyclical woe ramped right up in 2016. Brexit’s ‘fuck you, footloose citizen of the world’ followed by the fever dream turned reality of President Donald J Trump make escape more necessary than desirable.
What if, in 2017, we took something back from our travels, improving our hometown environments, the rest of our active lives and the lives of younger generations? Last summer, my friends and I visited Copenhagen and Malmö for the third time. This year, it would be nice to reduce the contrast between away and home. Fortunately, the relatively small Swedish city provides a lodestar for UK skate scenes demoralised by generational churn and municipal hostility. Most impressively, Malmö’s skaters have demonstrated what we already know to be true: skateboarding is an incredible tool for creating and maintaining active and engaging public spaces, a free spectacle for participants and bystanders, encouraging a sense of shared-ownership over the city and its public realm. Politicians in the UK invest millions trying to ‘engage’ young people, to encourage a sense of community, to increase physical activity, and to bridge the generational divide – skateboarding does all this for free.
Zombie Stu getting some at Steppeside DIY. Photo: Simon Bernacki.
Malmö is a modern skateboarding phenomenon. The 2016 final of the Vans Pro Skatepark Series was not hosted in sun-kissed California, but in a frequently rainy upper corner of northern Europe. The city features in videos from sportswear giants, ordinary Joe’s and several documentaries (with a school within the indoor skatepark attracting particular interest) and is, of course, headquarters to Polar Skateboards. Copenhagen, over the bridge, attracts attention for similar reasons: huge, well-designed public skateparks, indoor parks and global events; flourishing DIY scenes; rippers attracting the biggest of sponsors; and energetic cadres of long-time skaters who have convinced their local authority of the wider benefits of all of this.
Malmö is a more unlikely story than the Danish capital. It’s much smaller – similar in size to Nottingham. It also experienced the sharp-end of de-industrialisation and the fragility of neo-liberal redevelopment. Just as Nottingham lost thousands of skilled blue collar jobs with the fall of textiles and heavy industry in the 1970s and 1980s, Malmö’s largest employer, shipbuilding, went into free fall. Both cities looked to the financial and business services for a ‘knowledge led’ recovery. This proved just as vulnerable to global headwinds, as Malmö was particularly hard hit by the Swedish Financial Crisis of the early 1990s. A visitor from the North of England in the mid-1990s would have observed familiar symptoms of urban blight.
Now, five years after the Occupy Movement and nine years after the Global Financial Crisis, Malmö is an optimist’s poster child for intelligent and inclusive regeneration. And, would you believe it, skateboarding has played an important role. Malmö’s development (aided by small things like building a university and a bridge to Copenhagen) is due to more than skateboarding, but when investment ran in, the local skaters were already at a sprinting start. With nowhere in winter other than an indoor carpark, they formed a club. As membership grew, the City took notice and provided an abandoned school for a mini-ramp, and then the much larger former brewery site for an indoor park, and the non-profit Bryggeriet was born. Competitions built capacity such that, when the Council agreed to support a ‘destination’ skatepark to spearhead the regeneration of the old ship-building area, Bryggeriet worked with a team from Portland to ensure user expertise nibbled into the marrow of the project. The result was the incredible Stapelbäddsparken, which drew Quicksilver to relocate the Bowlriders European Cup in 2006. By this time, Pontus Alv had released his first video, ‘Strongest of the Strange’, broadcasting to the world that parks and events were the tip of an iceberg that encased a street and DIY scene, which in turn helped kickstart the global proliferation of the ‘crete-and-hope’ ethos, as well as the verb “to charge”.
The wonderful Stappelbadsparken park shot by Andrew Cullen.
When Quicksilver withdrew from skateboarding, Bryggeriet together with the City took over. Malmö’s annual Ultrabowl was given a budget to: “put Malmö on the map, and help develop a relationship with the skaters for other projects.” Even more incredibly, the Council considers skateboarding within its strategy to ensure public spaces are well used, and co-brands Skate Malmö with the skaters. Among other things, Skate Malmö officially encourages skateboarders to visit the city, something that eluded Philadelphia in Love Park’s heyday as a global skate magnet.
Forensic skate archivists will trace much of the above to Phil Evans’ ‘Coping Mechanism’ and recent interviews with Gustav Edén, one time Unabomber rider and now Skateboard Coordinator for the City of Malmö. Gustav was generous with his scarce time and responded to our questions, exploring factors that may enable British skaters to have the confidence and sense of agency to act on Malmö’s inspiration.
The foremost questions are: can lessons from Malmö be applied in the UK? Is hard work and a can-do attitude more important than the serendipity of living in progressive Sweden? Malmö City did not always regard skateboarding so favourably, once seeing it in similar terms to many UK Local Authorities: a ‘nuisance’; young men making noise and wasting time. Gustav argues that Malmö’s skaters’ attitude and ambition were as important in changing perceptions as the successful hosting of global events: “the City supported the development of the skate-organisation and helped it grow. The City gave skaters a chance. That’s half the story. Perhaps more crucial… is that the skaters here realised they had to be a good partner to the City. They realised they had to give the city value for their investment.”
Our experience in the UK is often characterised by Local Government hostility (in Kettering, Norwich, Birmingham, Sheffield and other towns and cities where bans have existed for years or have recently been implemented). However, we have to be honest and admit to often choosing a passive role. We lobby councils to pay for skateparks; we launch online petitions to fight bylaws and save skatespots. Rarely do we tell the town hall what we will do in return… and then go out and deliver it. Though successful skater-led UK campaigns often argue that skateparks may reduce anti-social behaviour, or increase physical activity – little is usually done to ensure that “may” becomes “will.” There are many brilliant exceptions, such as Frontside Gardens, the work of John Cattle and Wight Trash, Ash Hall and Sheffield’s Skateboard School, and, of course, Long Live Southbank.
I’m generalising, but the point stands and Gustav concurs: “Skate organisations often (not always) forget to shift the focus to what they can do for the city and how this can help them grow, rather than just thinking about what the city can do for them. The skaters in Malmö have been a strong, driven partner for the city. For a community development department, this is a godsend. Someone wanting to do something and actually being able to deliver. That is a crucial part of the Malmö story.”
A common fear is that officialdom inevitably ruins the cool of skating, wrecking the credibility of skaters amongst their own communities. We are currently struggling with this trade-off in Nottingham. I found myself farcically misquoted in our local newspaper, “jump up” instead of “kicker”, alongside the depressing old chestnut placing street skating within the gamut of anti-social behaviour – when skateboarding is the most supportively ‘social’ thing in most of our lives. In skateparks we socialise with people exactly like us, rather than negotiating space with other users of the city. If 2016’s tale of political and social upset is one of old against young and the educated against the left-behind, actually sharing space and interacting with different kinds of people is more important than it’s ever been.
Notts crew at Steppeside. Photo: Andrew Cullen.
Malmö’s skaters learned that hosting events ordinary people could appreciate and engaging with the public via skate schools actually benefited the core scene: “The idea from Bryggeriet has always been to deliver above the expectations of the City, as well as staying true to the skate scene.” Perhaps it’s the Scandinavian tendency to approach even the most casual thing with an enviable mix of extreme seriousness and whimsy, but the proof is in the pudding. Malmö has one of the corest, most aesthetically fucking cool scenes on earth – not just the best known company, Polar, but also Post, Hats, Details, Poetic Collective and the visual output of Bryggeriet and Skate Malmö themselves (helped by master-videographers-in-residence like Phil Evans). The skaters have managed to nurture a successful, expansive and civically-minded ‘skate destination’ and grow a cool-as-all-hell sub-culture. Gustav described global events like the Vans final as “the result, not the instigator” of this year-long scene.
This has wider impacts for the arts and youth culture. We spoke to Street Lab skateshop big-popper Rasmus Sjölin, who told us a little about the social buzz the Malmö skate scene produces. Even relatively little things like a DIY build at the famous TBS spot can end in a street party spilling from the bar round the corner from Street Lab, whilst local hotels, shops and venues all recognise the benefits visiting skaters bring. Gustav added that the type of person attracted to the characteristics of skating (not a team sport, unstructured, intergenerational) can have a genuinely life-changing experience that leads to connected interests and skills from “a network that permeates every walk of life in the city.” And for older people already sold hook-line-and-sinker, the rich skate scene attracts them and their families to move to the city – bringing their skills, interests and creative ideas. The OG street spot now on my ‘favourite on earth’ list after several afternoons this summer, known as ‘Svampen’ by the locals, is overlooked by Malmö Art Centre, directly illustrating these permeations.
Malmö Harbour. Photo: Simon Bernacki.
As a counter-balance to encroaching ‘sportification’ from the Olympics and the sportswear brands, Malmö’s skaters have ensured that their events emphasise the cultural crossovers of skating, with Ultrabowl and the Vans championship being closer to city-wide music or art festivals, rather than singularly big corporate events. The Malmö scene has also helped pioneer the greatest antidote to dumb-ass, alpha males: as many women and girls are encouraged to skate as possible, and then those who get good are supported – just as you would with male skaters. Recent upstart brand Poetic Collective proudly support Sarah Meurle front and centre in their team: in the UK only Lovenskate have the guts to strongly back (fellow Kalis obsessive) Lucy Adams. And power to them: it’s (early) 2017 people – the 1950s live on only in Trump’s inner circle of porcine Breitbart comb-overs.
We’ve so far skirted around the biggest of big things: Malmö’s advocacy of the positive role of street skating. This provides a real-life example to accompany the theory that street skating uses public space in an engaging and inclusive way, contributing to a town or city’s “collective symbolic capital”: the things that make it unique and attractive. Visitors aren’t drawn to the ten-a-penny high-street (unsurprisingly in terminal decline), where the design (and merging) of public and commercial space explicitly steers them towards either retail or work in Iain Borden’s analysis, but to imaginative, lively spaces created by the people who live there.
TBS DIY in all its post-industrial glory. Photo: Simon Bernacki.
Ocean Howell demonstrated this in the tragi-comic story of Philadelphia in the early 2000s, whilst warning that skaters could become the unwitting foot soldiers of gentrification, useful in reclaiming unutilised space but ultimately expendable when the fruits of their labour raises the real estate value. A more sustainable situation, where skaters are neither vilified or exploited – where they are “good partners” to the city – is the long game Malmö seems to have nailed. From recent news that Hull aims to be the UK’s first genuinely skate friendly city (designing street skating into, rather than out of, new public space), it is perfectly possible in our hometowns too. But Kettering shows that the reverse can still happen. A punitive townhall seals the generational divide in law: not only does skateboarding in Kettering carry a £1,000 fine, being younger than 18 during certain times is similarly punished. Hull, European City of Culture in 2017, says to its residents: “this city is yours, activate it.” Kettering instead opted for inevitable population ageing and the calcification of civic space.
This isn’t just about skating, it’s about positive micro-action. The unspeakable horror of Big Politics in 2016 may continue all the way into 2017 if Marine Le Pen’s resurgent National Front aren’t stopped at the ballot box. The urban theorist David Harper, in calling for a new fight for our collective ‘right to the city’, remarks that, “while big fights might seem unwinnable, small victories can lead to bigger ones.” In Gustav’s view, skating’s success in Malmö has been part of the city’s wider success as a place to live, be young and grow older. If we want our hometowns to benefit us economically and socially, we need to stop seeing skateboarding in separation. In times of tight local budgets, our cities need us as much as we need them.
Fos uploaded the full Heroin Skateboards’ video, Everything’s Going To Be Alright overnight for your viewing pleasure. Crossfire premiered it back in 2002 at the Subterania Club next door to then Playstation Skatepark for 600 people. The rest is history but the the memories between the hangover make it feel like it was yesterday.
A new London event to put in your diary this month is Paving Space, an unconventional encounter between maths, art and skateboarding.
This exhibition presents film, sculpture and photography, documenting a series of performances, at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, Institute of Contemporary Art of Singapore and Sainte-Croix Museum in Poitiers.
The project originated with Carhartt WIP approaching Isle Skateboards to work on a collaborative collection. Isle, which started in 2013, has always prided itself on artist-led, conceptually driven ideas.
Carhartt WIP and Isle could think of no one better than artist and fellow skateboarder, Raphaël Zarka.
When they approached Zarka, he had been researching the work of 19th Century mathematician Arthur Moritz Schoenflies. Schoenflies – a master of geometry and crystallography – had developed his own three dimensional models that specifically captivated Zarka’s attention, inspired with their sculptural potential.
The exhibition invites you to view Zarka’s large scale reconstructions of Schoenflies’ models re-appropriated in a way never imagined before.
Date: Thursday, November 17th at 6pm-10pm. Address: Protein Studios, 31 New Inn Yard, EC2A 3EY London, United Kingdom
Brian Anderson’s decision to come out has been met with support and affection across that slice of internet lacquered thick with skateboarding. In addition, joining Antihero, that most manly, broken-toothed, gun shootin’, hill bombin’, beer sluggin’, say-it-like-it-is and shut-up-and-skate of all teams, couldn’t be more perfect. Surely the homophobia that has lingered in skateboarding like a drug-resistant superbug can’t survive in this environment.
The idea that things were once worse and now, perhaps, are better has been explored in brilliant pieces for Jenkem and Huck (the latter written by Patrick Welch, who five years earlier highlighted the injustice suffered by 1990s Birdhouse am Tim Von Werne, whose career finished before it started after being told not to speak about his sexuality to Skateboarder magazine). But when Toy Machine’s Welcome to Hell was brand new and BA frontside bluntslid into stardom, this would likely have all met with significant amounts of homophobic dumbfuckery.
To spell it out to the few today who miss the point to the tune of “who cares?”, a skateboarder being gay shouldn’t matter but clearly does. If someone possessed of such enormous capital (Skater of the Year, World Cup winner, a big giant of a man respected by salty ol’ peers and board-purchasing kids) still had to go through years of anxiously guarded privacy, what messages has skateboarding been transmitting more widely?
When we asked Marie Dabaddie, a skater, photographer and founder of genderqueer skatezine Xem Skaters, Marie felt that, “skateboarding has never been welcoming for gay people in general.” With everything skateboarding purports to be – non-conformist, creative, better than narrow-minded squares in the ordinary world – the idea that gay people are either dissuaded from skateboarding or that gay skaters feel less able to come out is deeply disappointing. For Marie, BA’s announcement means “people are going to talk about it, and it might help gay people feel more confident to come out in the skateboard community, or even to start skateboarding…I just think that being gay shouldn’t be such a big thing anymore but I guess it still is.”
And of course everything is not now suddenly OK in our little world. As Patrick Welch puts it, skateboarding shouldn’t let itself ‘off the hook’ for decades of excusing prejudice (including violent prejudice). At a micro level, listening to the self-admonishment and motivational abuse that carries thickly and loudly across skateparks and street spots shows that homophobia and misogyny remain stubbornly sealed into our everyday ‘vernacular’. Ordinary skaters have little power over Californian skate moguls closing ranks to protect stars such as D Way or the late Jay Adams (RIP) from serious scrutiny into their roles in potentially homophobic, fatal assaults (Way was never charged for his alleged involvement in the death of a gay man for which his friend, Josh Swindell, served 19 years, whilst Adams served six months for felony assault after starting a fight with a gay couple, one of whom was beaten to death). We do, however, have power over the language we use.
This leads to several tricky questions. Are older skaters projecting how they once talked onto the young – to whom this no longer appliers, what with 20 years of progress n’ all? If ‘gay’, ‘fag’, ‘pussy’, etcetera are still habitually used to signify ‘weak’ or ‘bad’, do the small minority who think deeply, write and tweet about such things (and we are firmly within this group, ‘checking our privilege’ as we go) risk over-earnestly policing language that has been long separated from its original cruel intent?
Sources like the British Social Attitudes Survey indicate that the population as a whole has become much more tolerant of difference in sexual orientation. But there is a difference between stated and revealed prejudice: how we describe ourselves versus what we then say and do. Tour bus chatter made BA fear how peers would react if they knew he was gay. Presumably those individuals would never have viewed themselves as prejudiced. The use of such language may be thoughtless, but the consequence is to ‘other’ people who differ from the ‘heteronormative’, male-centric assumptions of skateboarding.
What the skate-o-sphere has got absolutely right is that this is bigger than skateboarding. Derogatory slang is used throughout our school and teenage years, generation after generation, its origins stretching from Chaucer to Orwell to Chris fucking Moyles. We may not be any worse than wider society, but we are surely no better. Paraphrasing Kyle Beachy, each chauvinistic cuss cumulatively results in an “act of violence” to anyone who is not a heterosexual male.
BA put the harm done by the habitual use of the word ‘faggot’ into historical context for Kevin Wilkins at The Good Problem: “It’s a really horrible word. I think a lot of older gay people really think nobody should ever say it…kids just don’t know how hurtful it really is. It’s a term these kids all use, but they didn’t grow up in the times of the 60s and 70s when being gay was illegal and when gay bars were being raided. They didn’t live through the 80s and the AIDS epidemic, where some people were losing a friend a week. Just think about what you’re really saying.”
As well as projecting hostility to gay men, this language sends a very similar message to women and girls. BA may be the first openly gay male top tier pro, but many gay female professionals have been out from the start. In this case, skate culture has much in common with the wider world of sport, where sponsors and pundits evaluate male athletes against masculine clichés of strength and power and female athletes according to the sexualised male gaze. Female participation in skateboarding has grown considerably, but a strange consequence of the particularly hyper-masculine nature of skating is that, for women who skate, being gay isn’t actually a big deal: quite the opposite, it’s sometimes assumed by other skaters. Any woman or girl skater is already ‘other’, exactly because she is doing something than projects itself as exclusively male. Skate comps backed by major ‘action sports’ sponsors remind us of this skewed hierarchy by accompanying male prize winners with scantily clad hostesses whilst often failing to include female competitors.
On this counter-intuitive jumble of attitudes towards gender and sexual orientation, Marie observes that: “Female skaters have always been suspected of being gay somehow. If you’re a skater and a girl, you might as well be gay because you’re skating and ‘skating is for men’ so ‘you’re playing the man’. It’s a stupid cliché that probably made it easier for women who are homosexual to live in skateboarding. Not that it’s easy at all, it’s just not such ‘A Thing’ anymore.”
With reference to the mainstream sports stars who came out some time ago, articles on BA have posited that skateboarding lags behind even the retrograde world of ‘proper sports’. But these are exceptional cases: even in mass participation sports, there are far fewer out gay athletes than the proportion of LGBTQ people in wider society would lead one to expect. The UK’s ‘national sport’ of football presents one of the saddest stories. Justin Fashanu came out in 1990 in a tabloid interview after lengthy press speculation and abuse from fans. No club would subsequently offer him a full-time contract. He took his own life in 1998, following an allegation of sexual assault in the US State of Maryland (where homosexual acts were at that time illegal). His suicide note expressed his doubts that he’d receive a fair trial because of his sexuality. He remains the only English premiere league player to have come out whilst still playing professional football.
Systemic prejudice harms men and women of all sexual orientations and gender identities, which Marie describes as part of a damaging and “ceaseless genderisation”. The journalist Owen Jones relates the mental health crisis facing young people to these deeply entrenched forces: “A rigid and unreconstructed form of masculinity is enforced, sometimes brutally, in the playground. Boys deemed to be insufficiently manly face being abused as ‘girls’ or ‘gays’. Speaking about mental distress is certainly not seen as ‘manly’ – it is ‘weak’.” This is linked to the terrible fact that suicide is the main killer of men under 45 in the UK. For women, equally rigid assumptions of femininity play out particularly in pressures to conform to unobtainable body images and expectations of total male agency over sexual gratification – shockingly revealed amongst a supposedly more enlightened younger generation in the current spike in sexual assault and harassment on university campuses in both the UK and US.
Skateboarding can make small differences to this bigger picture. In case you haven’t noticed, it is so hot right now. Palace’s inventive mashing of cockney and Jamaican rudeboy patois with nostalgic stoner wit, expressed through their web-catalogue and Insta account, is enthusiastically adopted by upper-middle class teenagers who’ve never even stepped on a skateboard. In a large British university, you’ll do yourself a neck mischief looking round every time you hear a Lev-ism. Ubiquitous street slang, strained through the colander of skate culture, contains plenty of ‘gay-meaning-weak’ for every ‘trill’ or ‘’pon the…’. The least we can do is to delete those terms whilst our little sub-culture is currently niche leader rather than mass follower.
The danger is that we are lecturing those who are as yet unprogressed through the informal education skateboarding brings. Rather than letting essentially good kids grow out of prejudiced language, we might provoke a digging of foxholes. The depressing popularity of anti-feminist and, in particular, transphobic memes suggests that expressions of identity politics can make some young men, lacking social and historical context, feel they are being unjustly criticised. With the organised misogynists wallowing beneath the internet’s grotty bridges (and labouring to help install one of their own as POTUS), there is plenty of energy to recruit those who feel that liberal activists have ‘over-played their hands’ (which Alt-Right Troll King Milo Yiannopoulos cites as justification for his behaviour).
Skateboarding’s secret weapon is that it is genuinely inter-generational. It is unique in creating a non-creepy space where 40 year olds treat 18 year olds as human beings, and vice versa. This enables older and/or wiser skaters to exercise the weird privilege of ‘unofficial life mentor’ as one inevitably takes on the role of group skate mum/dad simply through not quitting skateboarding. You don’t have to scold bros in your crew for frequent utterance of ‘gay-meaning-weak’, simply don’t use that language yourself – micro-actions are increasingly proving to be world changing, for good and ill. We’re already seeing the benefits of skateboarding becoming more diverse. Parameters of critical appreciation expand at an exponential rate, encompassing a late 40s Gonz, super cool female skaters like Sarah Meurle, and Frenchmen who can perform body varials when popping waist high tricks – all successfully counterbalancing the jockish claptrap spouted by the likes of Nyjah.
For those with that peculiarly Anglo-Saxon aversion to ‘political correctness’ (i.e. basic human kindness and tolerance) dampening skateboarding’s outlaw spirit – it may be that greater diversity holds the key to resisting homogenising commercialisation. As Marie also said to us, opening more “paths for individual identity building within skateboarding” will not only make it more “welcoming to everyone and anyone” but will lead to more genuine expression of identity and a lot less “copy-paste from the magazines and massive brands.”
If you’ve seen Figgy‘s end part in the new Emerica Made2 video then you will understand the pain that went into making his part. Here’s some raw footage from the making of it that is well worthy of a watch. Get those teas on.
Within just a few few days of the skate scene taking in the the tragic news of Dylan Rieder‘s unfortunate battle with leukemia, it seems that opportunists were photo-shopping images, not belonging to them, and selling them online for profit on tribute t-shirts.
It’s a very cold and bizarre choice to make considering those close to Dylan, who own the photographs used in the designs, are still in absolute shock and mourning a dear friend, but this paints a bizarre picture of the distasteful lengths people will go to be wealthier from tragic circumstances in 2016.
Various shirt designs were posted online last week that included photography not cleared for use on the website Red Bubble who have allegedly previously ripped off other designs for profit featuring skate legend Tim Brauch (RIP) and illustrations owned by from Fos from Heroin Skateboards, but it was Bryce Kanights’ lens work that was one of the photographs exploited on a shirt this weekend, who posted this response on Facebook after seeing it online:
“That sickening feeling when you discover an opportunist selling your photograph on a tee shirt with a friend who’s recently passed. My fingers are hitting the keyboard to shut this down right now. Ugh!”
This particular design below (and many others) have now been taken down from the website following direct complaints but that will not change the overall feeling of disgust from most who read this, especially within the same week where absolutely nothing should have been promoted in skateboarding out of respect for one of the greatest skaters, with respectable morals, to ever grace our scene.
May the people behind this deplorable idea be shamed for their actions. May Dylan Rieder rest in peace. Our thoughts go out to all of his family and friends.