What a year Alex Hallford has had so far – a solid Lovenskate ATV shredder whose game seems to get better and better in time.
The autumnal weather patterns in the UK force us all to hit local indoor parks so enjoy this edit, filmed by the Baghead crew, of Hallford sessioning Nottingham’s Flo Skatepark in his own nonchalent style.
You knew this was coming when Evan Smith was announced in the final eight SOTY nominations and he has a damn good chance of claiming that prize. Get stuck into his War and Peace part for Element’s new video series. He’s another that is held together with super glue and can rock up to any spot and shut it down.
Been while since we’ve since fresh footage from Kyron and now you know why. Enjoy his latest footage for Numbers, put together by Will Miles, that kicks off in our local district of Kensington to St Paul’s, to Crystal Palace and beyond.
Real Skateboards’ jewel in the crown is pushing for that SOTY award hard this year! Surely he has to be in the mix for consistency and all round annihilation of any spot, whether it’s tranny or street.
Congrats, this is a mindblowing edit, Zion Wright!
Every sub-culture believes their people are better than the bozos on the outside. Skateboarders have a notable tendency towards exceptionalism. We collectively fail to distinguish between good and terrible skate art. We believe authority should leave us be, whether we are respectful or pig ignorant towards other users of public space. If we see the world differently, with unique expectations of life, work and the city – is this potentiality ever realised? If it isn’t, we may as well be any other group of beer-chugging jocks.
Almost half-way through 2017 and the world is still chain-barfing 2016’s dirty pint, exhausted by elections that serve only the politicians who call for them. If we engage (and you should engage… please vote), it is more out of habit or forlorn hope than genuine belief that things can change for the better. Optimists see hope in the millions galvanised to protest, choking up airports to make Islamophobic travel bans unenforceable, filling town squares to hear a man that looks a bit like Obi-Wan Kenobi speak of good, old-fashioned socialism. But we’ve been here before. Although hyper-capitalism has failed in its pledge that each new generation will be better off than their parents, its Randian high priests still sit at the very top of the hill. The sadly departed cultural critic Mark Fisher, known by his blog moniker K-punk, noted: “From the G20 protests, to the millions marching against the Iraq war, to the Arab Spring, to the short-lived student campaign against fees in the UK – the narrative of evental politics since the late 1990s has been reliably repetitious. Euphoric outbursts of dissent are followed by depressive collapse.” Big acts of resistance fail because we cannot imagine any serious alternative to the current way of things.
Illustration: Jason Lennox.
I was too busy failing to broaden my flip repertoire through the early 2000s to pick up on the radical thinkers that clustered around Fisher, and am now reading their ideas on ‘hauntology’ with neophyte zeal. This describes a state in which, with no impetus to create anything genuinely new, we are haunted by past visions of the future. Nagging memories of how things should have been are whispered by the ghosts of the 1960s, when man dreamed of space travel and the vast, imposing architecture that brought the modern to the everyday. In contrast, today’s pop culture, politics and economics recycle the past in ever more rapid loops. Baggy-as-hell, light-ass-denims are back, y’all. We are detached spectators, ironically curating, rather than actively reshaping our lives.
Skateboarders are avid consumers and hoarders. We commodify nostalgia’s warm snuggle. But skating is also all about practice over theory: playfulness and participation, which has the potential to be radical (in both senses of the word). We inhabit the city and the everyday with piss and vinegar, and yet, in the most urbanised century in humanity’s existence, still wait to have politics done to us – buffeted along by the story instead of framing the narrative. Long Live Southbank helped change this, doing what Surfers Against Sewage did for surfing in the early 90s: taking responsibility for our environment with an infectious energy and globe-spanning visual language.
I hate Trump, May, Farage and their ilk more than the generation of failed ‘moderates’ (read neoliberal ideologues) they usurped, and am truly terrified for the future. Although most big fights feel lost, despite what the entrail reading of recent UK election polling may suggest – now is exactly the time for little, local and everyday actions that can help push humanity’s stalled jalopy back onto the Enlightenment’s journey towards new and better. Skateboarders can do, and are doing, more to be part of the resistance: these are four things to start with.
SKATE THE STREETS, ALWAYS
Skateboarding imbues the city and our leisure time with purposes beyond consuming or spectating. On Swedish radio, Sidewalk’s Ben Powell and Skate Malmö’s Gustav Svanborg Edén declared skateboarding “inherently political”, which made me want to high-5 the pair of them. Street skating claims our ‘right to the city’ in an age of privatised space and demonstrates, in public, what the human body is capable of in an age of sedentary work and leisure. We know this to be true since the opening frames of ‘Welcome to Hell’, and know in our bones when we are 17 years old, but forget by 35. In an interview with Sidewalk, one of the coolest fucking things I’ve read came from Andy Wood, the owner of Endemic, Huddersfield’s skateshop. In his 40s with a young family, he skates fast, pops over handrails and describes skating the streets as a responsibility for older skaters: how can we complain that the kids, with their abundant and accelerating skillsets, never leave the park if scene elders don’t set an example? By continuing to street skate alongside real-life responsibilities, we change what it means to be an ‘adult’ – and no diggity it needs changing.
In the EU Referendum and US Presidential election a generational chasm opened to leave poor Wile E. Coyote flailing in the air. The media characterised those who voted to turn the clock back as old, white and resentful of an unknowable future, whilst the young, who by and large voted differently, were smug, consumerist, over-educated ‘metropolitan elites’ (who simultaneously can’t afford to pay rent). Mainstream sport is little help, separating coaches from sullenly obedient players and audiences from participants. In skateboarding, kids shred with salty seadogs old enough to be their parents. Ordinary sports, or Britain’s inefficient and hierarchical businesses (where senior managers fail to say “hi” to lowly co-workers), remind you just how potentially powerful our little world can be.
If you want to see the sort of respectful negotiation of space no longer valued in the UK after 40 years of “there’s no such thing as society” (Thatcher) or, if society does exist, it’s “broken” and we are somehow to blame (Cameron), go skate a Scandinavian city or read our article on the scene in Malmö. Street skateboarding produces authentic, inclusive and active urban spaces, which we must negotiate with people of totally different ages, occupations and interests (in contrast to being penned in skateparks with people just like us). Every time you disprove the prejudices of a pedestrian, you win a small victory that reverses the erosion of our collective social capital. If we’ve given up on education being primarily to “make a man ethical” as Hegel believed, we can bring a small part of his ideal classroom to the sidewalk: by not being dickheads, and not ever quitting.
SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL
Thousands of words have been written on the role of skateshops as youth clubs, first and last sponsors, community hubs and cottage production lines transforming civilians into skateboarders. We can all agree on their importance, but have no idea how to save them.
If Lost Art can run aground, the challenges facing the Skater-Owned-Shop look insurmountable. Liverpool One (a new generation of sinisterly clever neoliberal shopping centres, erasing the line between high street and private property) forced independent retailers from the centre. Then rents soared as the rest of the city gentrified and the fickle patronage of Nike turned to Janoski-stacked JD Sports and Sizes. Mackey sees future survival in terms of fundamentally re-thinking what a skateshop is for: back to hardgood basics and building links with other local independents – bars, tattoo parlours, book and print stores. Similarly, legendary Athens ripper Vassilis Aramvoglou has kept Color Skates running amidst Greece’s recession and sovereign debt crisis, focusing on similar fundamentals and building a relationship with a local bicycle courier to provide their sole means of goods delivery, sacking off tech utopians like Deliveroo (blinkered to the misery they bring to a precarious labour market) and keeping scarce wealth circulating between firms that genuinely support their city.
But this is still less than half the solution. We punters need to earn our mates’ rates: organise events, art and photo shows and video nights, think how your business, employer or townhall can work with your local SOS. In Huddersfield (again), an assortment of tweakers self-publish Achezine, drawing on skills and facilities from the town’s higher and further education establishments, working on an exhibition, a bespoke ‘no-comply’ lager brewed by the independent next door, and a film premiere in Huddersfield’s lovely Victorian shopping arcade: locating Endemic within the heart of its community. Or Boston’s Orchard, who worked with like-minded social enterprises to keep a free-to-use skatepark running through the harsh Massachusetts winter. Once upon a time, in proud industrial towns, customers, workers and owners came together as cooperatives. With never-ending austerity promised by an Old Etonian from a golden chair, our cities are not going to be regenerated beyond the fire-sale of social housing and green spaces and token ‘creative quarters’ that are often anything but (see Southampton). Shop staffers and lurkers who moan about their scene, as the till rusts shut, need to stop seeing themselves as ‘just’ a shop or ‘just’ customers.
The West worships the entrepreneur: on TV and in the Whitehouse. Skateboarders have marvelled at Rocco’s saga for 20 years. But while the wider world reveres modern day robber barons as ‘job creators’, the only jobs skateboarding creates in any volume are in retail or yet more sponsored skateboarders. The production of skateboards – luxury items which are predominantly purchased in the world’s richest countries – survives not through differentiation, but on the lowest possible marginal costs. Economists warn that competing on price alone results in a ‘race to the bottom’, jobs hemorrhaged to low cost countries that tolerate shittier labour conditions (a practice that is in turn threatened by Trump’s protectionism, to the benefit of no one except perhaps the Chinese or Mexican workers who may end up in less stupid industries).
As in decades past, the indie start-up has changed and enriched the face of skating. Soccer-mom friendly logo boards are a minority amid weird, cool and beautiful offerings from Polar, Magenta, Hopps, Scumco, Welcome, Weekend, Evisen, Blast, etc. etc. But we’re still failing to visualise how this can benefit actual skateboarders. Some who’ve recently disrupted the market, like Bronze’s Peter Sidlauskas, counsel others to “just work the job you hate.” I can sympathise with wanting to pull up the drawbridge, but this is terrible advice. It assumes markets are fixed in size (think of the ubiquity of Palace, trading to kids with no prior exposure to skating), illustrating what economists call the ‘fallacy of the lump of labour’. The number of jobs is not finite: a newly employed person spends money, creating the need for more jobs, and so on (btw this is also the best way to shut down your racist uncle midway through his seasonal “coming over here, taking our jobs” rant). More urgently, such thinking keeps late capitalism dependent on bullshit, low pay, debt-subsidised jobs in a bloated service sector. If you have an idea, for pity’s sake run with it, for the good of us all. The internet enables you to launch from your bedroom, with minimal risk, whilst keeping up the 9 to 5. In the face of permanent global depression, skaters taking a punt at something new will provide them job satisfaction (and skills acquisition) and help kill pointless, precarious work.
Most importantly, your thing doesn’t have to be a board brand or Instagram-driven streetwear bollocks. Surely this is not the limit of our imaginations. Collect boards, do you? Think about what Deckaid has done, exhibiting skate geeks’ collections to aid youth-based charities. Have a massive magazine stash? Rent them out to your local shop. Think you and your mates have skills, enthusiasm and patience? Look what Ash Hall, or John Cattle, or Paul Regan have done with different iterations of socially-entrepreneurial skate schools. Know some artists/are one yourself/know a distributor? Check out these dudes and their ‘refugees welcome’ board project.
All this can be linked together and scaled up. There’s a good chance funders will listen, but they need something tangible to listen to. For that, my friends, you need to organise. If you go to their skatepark consultation, their ‘active in the city’ event, you’re reacting. We can set the agenda. A rabble of voices gets drowned out: but a lean, focused machine that can access and direct resources is hard to ignore. Bryggeriet/Skate Malmö as well as LLSB show us that this doesn’t have to equal endless committee meetings and ‘county council rrrradical’ faux-graffiti branding. They can be super cool, inclusive, and get things done. If you want to link and grow your projects, protect your DIY or streetspot, get a new park built, access charitable and public funding, and eventually employ other skaters in meaningful work, organising is key, and skateboarders tend to be terrible at it.
In the UK, you can get free advice from your local Community and Voluntary Service. Then you have several choices. You can stay small (limited to £5,000 per year) but start tomorrow with a Small Charity Constitution. To do bigger things (including holding premises and employing people), you can become a Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO) or a Community Interest Company (CIC). A CIO is more attractive to funders, but must be approved by the Charity Commission, who will then monitor you closely. A CIC can be created rapidly and is lighter on the paperwork, but may be less attractive to big funders like the National Lottery. And when you start something, and it grows: remember why you did it. Even if you can earn a living purely selling boards and t-shirts, you can still be more than ‘just’ a board brand – take Real skateboard’s projects with Humidity and Uprise shops in support of the American Civil Liberties Union.
MAKE WORLDWIDE CONNECTIONS
Magenta say it, and they mean it. Who would have thought Bordeaux, with its cobbley-ass streets, would be a destination? The end game for all the above – filling in forms, busting your ass skating and filming – is to put your city on the map, boost your scene and making the world a better place. The biggest of big pictures is that this helps roll back the creeping nativism stoked by right-wing demagogues and the tabloid media across the world. Sixty-five percent of the French electorate can’t hold the line on their own. If big politics tells us that internationalism is a thing of the past – what of all of us brought up to think globally? Prime Minister Theresa May told those who “believe you’re a citizen of the world” were instead “citizens of nowhere”. Let that sink in for a moment: millions of us, the first in our families to stay on in education post-16, who went on school trips and took GCSE French, who were told by careers advisers to imagine working anywhere on earth, who have quite literally done what we’ve been told, are now “citizens of nowhere.” Fuck right off, Theresa May: a sense of internationalism is one of the few things neoliberalism gets right.
Luckily, nationalism and skateboarding are not productive bedfellows – and we can do more to unlock the power of this. Skater-led NGOs have brought skateboarding’s unique ability to engage young people to Afghanistan, Palestine, South Africa and Myanmar, alongside projects building or repairing skateparks in quake hit Australia and Native American reservations. And doing something closer to home doesn’t mean limiting your international horizons. Bruce Springstein, proud son of New Jersey and global traveller, says, “My localism is something I want to use as a strength, rather than something to get away from.” A great example is the Rios crew, putting Budapest on the map by skating and filming in a distinctive way, all whilst xenophobic, nativist strongman, Viktor Orbán, increasingly locks Hungary into an imagined past where everyone looked and felt the same.
Without trying to, the Rios guys have delivered one of the clearest rejections of everything Orbán, and May, and Trump, and Le Pen, stand for – and skaters the world over journey to Budapest to share this with them.
Wow, time flies. BAYSIXTY6 Skate Park are celebrating 20 years in the game today and reminiscing on two decades of scene support, events and sessions since opening their doors for the very first time on the morning of Saturday, 24th of May 1997.
As most of you who have followed Crossfire over the last 16 years know, we hold a special relationship with this park following the events we hosted there and assisting with sponsorship and funding. It was a honour to have been there from the beginning too, as a skater, rolling on the initial layers of tarmac when only a couple of quarter pipes were sat in the middle of the now-known street course. It’s gone through so many changes and they have fought so hard to keep it alive and won. Owner, Paul McDermott and the many characters behind the scenes should be applauded for their commitment. We asked Paul this week what he thought on this achievement:
“What an amazing 20 years. 21 if you include the year of preparation before we opened. We’ve endured struggle, mistakes, a fire, hard work and fights for survival but it’s all been worth it! An enormous amount of incredible characters have passed through these gates, several generations of great skaters have come through here too. It’s been a great opportunity for British skaters to see most of the very best skaters in the world at one time or another, not to mention that it’s been a second home for many of London’s skaters, a place of constant mentoring for young people and a kind of super youth club where youth from all backgrounds come together on equal terms here in Ladbroke Grove.”
To celebrate this feat the park will host a special Wednesday night session, known as a legendary night at this park for so many years, on the evening of Wednesday 28th June where many of the heads that have graced this special spot will reunite for a night of reminiscing. On the walls will be a Xerox gallery show of your memories, so send photos for inclusion via email to 20Years@BAYSIXTY6.com or post your photos and footage on social media with the hashtag #20YearsatBAYSIXTY6
We will see you there but until then, spread the good word by sending this post to friends who have skated the park and enjoy these old images from when it all first started. Congrats to everyone involved!
BAYSIXTY6 Skate Park can be found after 20 years of service still at its same address:
Bay 66, Acklam Rd, Ladbroke Grove, London, W10 5YU. Telephone 020 8969 4669.
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.