Interview and photos by Chris Johnson
Portrait by Rob Galpin
Nicolson has been on Death pretty much from the start, that’s over 10 years. Skateboarding has always been his number one priority in life. He is shredding harder now than ever, and his original yet methodical approach to how he skates as well has how he edits has been a pleasure to behold for many years.
Both his skating and editing skills are frequently overlooked but Mark has done some seriously innovative skating and made on a LOT of really sick vids and edits over the years. Just some of his work includes all the Big Worms/Motel 6 videos, Dan Cates Day in the Life for UKVM, Death adverts for Viewfinder etc, some of the Death ‘Day in the City’s, Squadrophenia, all the Death Big Push sections, and ‘Better Than Life’.
So many people must have laughed out loud, or got psyched to skate whilst watching footage that Mark has sprinkled his magic on. So raise your glasses to Mark Nicolson. 100% Skateboarder. Thanks for capturing all the good times and memories so that they will live forever.’
So Mark, first things first, you’ve been riding for Death Skateboards for ten years now. How did you first get on and how have your views of sponsorship changed now that you’re a seasoned Pro?
At the time I was approaching 17, living at my parents house in Hoddesdon and due to some flukey St Albans and Radlands comp placings I got hooked up by Big Worms shop in Harlow and local a company called Crafty Clothing (R.I.P.). After being on a flow deal through Big Worms for a while, Nick called me one day and straight up asked me to be on the full team! I am sure Cates had something to do with it as we had just returned from a contest in Cork, Ireland and I’d managed to do all right there.
I wouldn’t describe myself as a ‘Seasoned Pro’, maybe a seasoned skateboarder! (18 years skating this summer), but being a ‘Pro’ has always been just a bit fun. Don’t get me wrong, I am truly grateful that Nick thinks I deserve a board with my name on it and I try as best I can to skate good, get coverage and represent the company, but there’s no way I think of myself as much of a Pro as Koston or someone!
As Death has grown as a company, it has diversified and now has a full international team consisting of American and Australian pros as well as a cross section of British talent. How different is this from the early days and do you ever get a bit Star struck when the big international Death names come over?
The early days were crazy because no one had any expectations of what we were doing. Nick was running the company purely for fun and the team riders were being selected on how much of a laugh they were to go skating with, their sense of humour, how much they loved skateboarding. Look at Adam Moss and Rob Smith for example, those guys were sending sponsor tapes to us and no other companies! They wanted to ride for Death or nothing! Robs sponsor tape is on the Escape from Boredom DVD. I remember Nick saying, “This kid is a nutcase, we better send him some stuff!”
Adam was sending us a new disc every couple of weeks! The first few were pretty good, but nothing too crazy. As time went by we just couldn’t ignore it anymore! Especially when Nick noticed that in one of the clips he was wearing a Devo t-shirt. I think that was the final ingredient that Nick was looking for! Look at him now!
Nowadays those values still stand as strong as ever! But of course when Nick is giving you boards that are paid for straight from his own pocket, you gotta give something back. People don’t take 5 boards a month and sell most of them or something; we take only what we need. Having Richie and Melcher on the team is great as they have done a lot for us and definitely have love for Death. They could both get on some other companies with more pay if they wanted, but they are repping harder than ever and its a humbling feeling to know that they feel the same way we do about things.
After a bit of a coverage hiatus due to a heavy amount of filming and editing duties based around Better Than Life and the Big Pushes over the last few years, it seems that you have been trying to clock up the air miles with four trips within a year to such places as Turkey, Berlin, Cyprus and Madrid. Was it a welcomed change and be able to concentrate fully actually skateboarding without have the role of Filmer round your neck??
I have always battled with the skateboarder/filmer thing, and the coverage hiatus was kind of self-induced. I wanted the whole video (Better Than Life) to be as good as possible and if that meant sacrificing some personal skate time to show the world how good the guys are then that’s what I had to do. Don’t get me wrong, I was skating whenever I got a spare 5 minutes if something was rendering, but at times like that, sacrifices need to be made and the company as a whole is more important than me!
I have always handled most Death related video stuff because I always had an interest in videos and editing, and there isn’t really anyone else who wants to do it. I still really enjoy the editing side of things but nowadays I’m just not that into sitting at the bottom of some stairs holding a camera all day!
We have officially started working on the next DVD, which I can reveal is going to be called Ordinary Madness. I’m so psyched on it and have been trying to get as much footage as possible with filming/photo trips to other countries now my top priority. I’m so excited about this new video; we’ve got Jake Martinelli aka Jake Shunt from Harlow in charge of filming duties. He came on his first trip with us a few months ago to Madrid and I got so much footage cos I skated all day every day!
Above-Ollie out to 5-0 Bash-Cyprus.
Over the last few years you have become a solid member of the Harlow Massive and from what I can gather, pretty much live at the new TF. How did the move come about and how has the new park changed the scene for the better?
I have been skating in Harlow since about 1996 and have always got on with those guys. We all know skaters come and go, some give up, or move away, some end up on hard drugs some just fade into obscurity…I’m sure most skaters over 20 have similar stories of friends that peaked a bit too soon. Nowadays I’m am the oldest guy at the park! It’s funny cos up until about 5 years I was the youngest!! Last year I moved into my girlfriends house about 5 minutes drive from the new park and it’s so sick that a lot of the youngsters are already getting really good!
Below-Noseslide to Crook to Manny Backside Revert-Turkey.
Like many other member of the British Pro ranks, you can’t rely on skateboarding alone to pay the rent. What else do you do in order to get by and is it hard to juggle the two?
I avoided getting a proper job for so long. Living at my parents house and struggling to get by on sponsors alone. I actually believed that I would never be able to handle proper work! Nowadays I work part time at the Motel 6 warehouse, which is hilarious. I pack the EBay shoes so if you buy any and get sent the wrong ones it’s probably because I am hung over or something. Standing up for hours on end packing shoes gives you time to think about tricks, spots you wanna hit etc, so by the time I get finished I’m super psyched to skate and make the most of my free time rather than sitting about bored.
What’s been the most enjoyable and which has been the most stressful video to make?
I have found that pretty much every video I have ever made has been stressful. Better Than Life was gnarly because there were so many parts to do! The entire time Cates was telling me “it’s not going to be finished in time, what are we gonna do?” – he had no faith in me at all! Just about got it done though, with about 5 hours to spare before the premiere (seriously).
Every one of the Big Pushes were tough too, literally 4 hours sleep a night for 3 weeks. I was living at the Death house and would be still up editing pissed as a fart from the night before when it was daylight and everyone was going to work. Squadrophenia was by far the most enjoyable but equally as stressful. Having never made anything remotely ‘documentary’ style, we kind of made it up as we went along, watching Dogtown and the Z-Boys every couple of days to make sure we were on the right track!
What has been your favourite Death board so far?
The one I skate now for sure! It’s a basic skull team board but its 8.4 inches wide, its perfect! Boots rides them too. I thought about going slightly bigger, maybe 8.6ish but I don’t think they make Fury’s wide enough!
What’s your favourite photo that you’ve ever had run in a mag?
Is it lame to say a sequence? Probably the coffin grind in Milton Keynes from my Haunts many moons ago, it was a Wig Worland sequence (On film, before digital!), we were kind of out of light but he said if we shot it anyway he could process it a certain way and make it OK. It turned out cool!
If it’s gotta be a still then probably the switch flip down the ice rink gap which was also in MK. Leo Sharp shot it and it’s probably the best thing I’ve ever done. It was definitely not fun trying it as I never skate drops, and was convinced that it wasn’t gonna happen. I was psyched Leo had come out and I felt obliged to keep trying until I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t skate for nearly 2 weeks afterwards! I would like to thank Leo for his patience on that one!
What are your plans for the future? Continue working within the Skate industry or move over into more mainstream and more financially viable form of film making?
I think I would get bored editing something other than skating. I’ve seen many people turn hobbies into their jobs only to get burnt out on it in the first year; so I honestly think I’m gonna stick to skate only stuff. These days I’m just focusing on my skateboarding and trying to do as little editing as possible. I consider myself to be a skateboarder and the video editing is just a necessity because if I didn’t do it then no one else would! Actually, I have no qualifications in video stuff so I don’t think I could do it even if I wanted to!
So Mark, time for the obligatory thanks, props and high 5’s!
First and foremost a massive shout out to the captain of the ship Mr. Zorlac for all his help over the last ten years! Cates and the rest of the Death riders, they’re like a family and we all keep ourselves going through the rough times. Pete Turvey and everyone at Sole Tech for all the help with Etnies. Hemming, Dibble, Monk and all the Harlow massive! All the filmers, photographers and other media massive for your time and patience over the years, my girlfriend and family and to everyone out there for supporting us!
Check out some tricks shot for this interview at the Harlow park above and also Mark’s section from the latest Death DVD release ‘Better Than Life‘ below. Here’s a tribute from fellow UK film maker Andy Evans too:
Mark Nicolson has made some of my favourite UK skate videos. His ability to bring across an exciting and fun skate atmosphere while incorporating elements of the oddness that is in abundance in the UK skate scene is unrivaled but is often underestimated. He’s a timely reminder that there’s so much more to making a video than having all the top gear and an elitist attitude.