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10 YEARS OF BRITISH SKATING

This is the text of a magazine article which was originally published in 1990. It's a subjective over-view of the history of British skating in the eighties -- a period which included the dark-ages after the late seventies craze, as well as the next boom which peaked in 1989. So this piece was written while skateboarding was poised on a cusp, about to change direction again: the beginnings of the street revolution can already be seen here although the names and events which dominate the story are those of the ramp era. It's about Britain in particular but similar things were happening world-wide -- you can probably recognise echoes of your own scene. The text is pretty much as it originally appeared. Some sections have been moved about a bit to suit this method of presentation. At least one mistake has been corrected, but there are still plenty in there.

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GOODBYE TO ALL THAT

'Ignore the present, turn your back firmly on the future and look forward to a comfortable past.'

At the beginning of the eighties there was a group of people in Britain who were having a wild old time. It was like they'd gone to a party in 1976, really got into things and not bothered to go home when the party came to an end on Boxing Day 1977. Who can blame them? They were doing all the wicked wild things that everybody's been doing since time began, laughing, shouting, dancing and wasting -- and one thing more, one thing that nobody had done before. They skated. This is the story of that party. Like all stories about yesterday's parties, it's not very interesting unless you were there. But it's worth knowing that it was going on: this was the thing today's commercial rave was based on. The echoes of it are still around. It was about having fun, not just about doing tricks, and nobody had to buy anything to get in.

80 - 81 Skate With The Undead

The eighties dawned, just like the nineties, with the media churning out reviews of the last ten years. That gave skateboarding one last glimmer of mass coverage: most of those surveys included skateboarding as the definitive example of a flash-in- the-pan craze of the seventies. And that was it: for the next five years skateboarding retreated into its own underground world - skateboarding in Britain was officially 'dead'.

But most skaters were too busy to notice. The world of the skating undead was like a secret society, hidden from the eyes of the pedestrian public, identified by secret signs like the shoes (if you saw a stranger in Vans he was a skater and he was your brother) and found only at the remaining skateparks and the occasional ramp. But their preoccupations were the same. The first 1980 issue of the Alpine newsletter ran 'Harrow to Reopen?' as the lead story. The parent management team from Rolling Thunder were negotiating to take over the Solid Surf park. Ten years later someone is still trying to convince the council to let them open the place again --this time it's the local shop, New Deal.

Other stories from that issue might surprise you. How about a report on a competition at the indoor pool at Colne in Lancashire? Shane Rouse won beating Andy Lomas, Steff Harkon and Gary Lee! On the park front, as well as reports from Colne, there was news of the skater-built park in Andover, a story about Mad Dog Bowl re-opening in London and hints about something astonishing about to happen near Edinburgh.

Yes, the skatepark emphasis of the time is very noticeable now. There were still a surprising number of concrete skate-places left around this country, but ramps were almost unheard of and nobody had thought of making a fuss about just skateboarding around the streets.

At the beginning of the eighties the competitive scene was still a throwback to the seventies, organised for skaters by parents and other non-skater types. The vestiges of the 'all-rounder' approach of the seventies survived with high jump and long jump events, senior and junior age groups -- even if the ESA's proficiency award scheme was already dead through lack of interest.

But substitute non-skate commercial promoters for do-gooding parents and big money hype for the competitive spirit, as the targets for attack and this 'is skateboarding really about big comps' piece could have been written yesterday, not ten years ago. Has anything changed?

"Has it ever struck you that all those reports in Skateboarder magazine are a waste of time as far as you are concerned? Do you flip through those pages, maybe noticing the banners in the background bearing the proud names of the sponsoring manufacturers, and perhaps even vaguely aware of the semi-rad moves in the foreground? Perhaps the perceptive or the perverse have also noticed that a lot of these pix are in black and white because the colour pages are reserved for the best photos of the latest manoeuvres performed by the current front-line skaters?

Yes? Well, I noticed it too; but I didn't think anything of it --it had always been that way. Anyway (I thought) we're even worse in this country: we can't even organise a decent skate contest, let alone give it decent coverage. I've been to quite a few, I've even tried to take photographs of them and realised that it didn't work. But I never bothered to ask myself why. I suppose I was just about aware that the standard of skating was not up to what you'd expect of a hot session, but I didn't think too much about that either.

Competitions don't work in skateboarding. Organisers have always tried to push skateboarders into competitive events to give skateboarding a status which it does not necessarily want. The mags like competitions too: they give them something neat to hang themselves around.

I'm fully aware that this will upset a lot of people who have put a lot of time into creating skateboarding as a fully accepted conventional sport for the kids, but I'm convinced now that they are wasting their time.

93% of the skaters who answered the London Association of Skateboarders' survey indicated that they were not personally interested in entering competitions. Questions about other interests revealed that most were not interested in competitive sports at school either. Skateboarding seems to come down to having fun combined with heavy doses of posing and ego gratification. Everybody's a star until they wipe.

The LAS ran a party at Rolling Thunder to check out this theory in practice, and I went along to see what happened. I haven't seen so many skaters at Thunder in a long time and I have never, repeat never, seen so many taking part in any form of organised event. Forget the usual competition routine of sitting round watching someone who you've seen skate every week for the last two years do his stuff, waiting for the judges and then finally getting to do your own cobbled-together routine in a few, brief, damning moments. That's if you're one of the keen ones who's been organised into taking part and not somebody who just came down to the park to skate.

THIS WAS COMPLETELY DIFFERENT

The events were weird: roller-ball, chases, roller-rugby and so on. It was full of madness. The roller-rugby used the whole park as a pitch and the result was mayhem. This was truly a spectator sport --by which I mean that most of the spectators joined in. Printz dashed around blowing a whistle and tring to organise scrums and line-outs in the middle of the channel, but the whole game was out of control. There were no rules (and nobody got hurt either, ROSPA) and the whole park was full of skaters going crazy. That is an increasingly rare and wonderful sight in skateboarding. If you want me to tell you more about the games, forget it: that's not the point. It doesn't matter what you play, just as it doesn't matter what prizes you get for your next competition: skateboarding will either thrive or it will suffocate. The choice is yours. No, the choice has already been made. The organisers of the conventional competitive mini-circuit are expressing depressing thoughts. Perhaps they are fighting a losing battle? There is a future and it's yours. Persuade those organisers (they're probably your parents after all) to experiment, to forego the delights of competition (my son's better than your son because he has more fun??? And what of your daughter, while we're at it??). Get it together to skate and enjoy skating for whatever reason......"

And what happened? The skaters grew older, replaced their parents and dithered about doing the same thing. The money moved in and the competitions became promotional tools focussing all attention on a tiny elite. And the rest of the skaters? They carried on regardless, thank you very much.

Symbolic event of the period?

It has to be the opening of Livingston skatepark, the last and best product of the skatepark building age, with so much potential for the future.

82 - 84: If Only, If Only

By the mid eighties the British scene had bottomed out. It was a bleak time: there were only a few hundred people skating regularly --but that had its advantages. Everybody knew everybody else and, as they grew older and more independent, started travelling around skating different places, skating with their new friends. The same thing was happening all over Europe: this was the time when the international brotherhood which dominates skateboarding came into existence. The Swedish and then the French training camps, the international competitions like the Eurocana Open and the first of the Munster events helped it all happen. So did the Sports Council: one good reason for taking part in ESA competitions in those days was that you might end up on the English team --and the team trips to foreign competitions were subsidised by the Sports Council.

The ultimate team trip was the one to California in 84. A bunch of England's finest hit the home of the skate industry like a plague of locusts. They came, they saw, they scammed.

But back home all was not that happy. Like any small family, the skate scene frequently squabbled. In fact this was probably the bitchiest period in British skating. 1981 had seen the debut of the first British skate zine, "Action News", by Mark Abbott and Don Brider. That soon evolved into "Jammer" and then into "Rip'n'Tear" and was joined by Steve Douglas' "Go For It", Michael O'Brien's "Skateroo" (or something like that), Mac'n'Dave's "Gutterslut", Shane Rouse's "Whiplash", the anonymous "Sketchy" and a host of others. These provided a vicious alternative to the straight version of events presented by the ESA's "Skate News". Prime targets were Derry Thompson and Kev Moxom of the ESA, Ian Cocking and Davross. The skate heros of the day were far from exempt: Dan Webster and Sean Goff were the subject of scurrilous attacks.

Apart from the slagging, the zines mostly covered the contests which took place regularly at places like Farnborough, Palace, Kidderminster, Bradpipe and Horncastle. But the attitude to competitions then was very different from now. There was a competitive element there: at the top end skaters like Webster, Goff, the Abrooks, Gary Lee, Lee Bryan and so on were competing seriously most of the time. But the competitions were really more social occasions then: an excuse to get together, party and skate. It was quite normal to enter just for the hell of it: people turned up and skated rather than just going along to watch the elite skate. The only prizes were either pathetic trophies or whatever gear the organisers could scam off the few suppliers around at the time --there was certainly no hint of cash.

Compared to the period before or after, these competitions were by skaters for skaters. They were more like mass party skate sessions than sporting events. Their function was to keep everyone amused, not really promote skateboarding to outsiders. They were a laugh.

The other great theme of the time was the desire for recognition and respect. The word 'skateboard' had become, like the dinosaur, a popular example of something most definitely dead. This was the age of the BMX --something, which we were constantly being told, would never die out 'like skateboards'. How the skaters of the time longed for publicity and their chance to tell their truth.

Then in 1984 it began to happen. Ever quick to spot a trend, I-d magazine ran a skate fashion feature shot on a wet day in Farnborough. Here was the coverage we all craved. It was about the shorts... The alarm bells started ringing.

Symbolic event of the time?

The Cherry Willingham fun contest/ nightmare --for want of any less vulnerable target the hordes descended on Lee Bryan's house and totally trashed it. One form of skate brotherhood was noisily forgotten as another was formed courtesy of transatlantic phone lines.

85-90: Is This It?

Then it began: the steady resurgence of skateboarding fuelled by pirate copies of Californian videos, exposure in BMX magazines and (after Back to the Future) "Well, guess what?" pieces in the general media.

Suddenly (Palace 85) crowds started turning up to watch competitions. And they made a noise then: it was all exciting and new then and it still hadn't occurred to anyone to ask for an autograph. They just yelled because they thought it was rad. Yes, it was definitely happening: new people were getting into skating and new places to skate started to appear. The first and most important of those was the indoor ramp at the Empire Skate Building in Warrington which opened early in '86.

Warrington played a vital role in skating during the late eighties: it was indoors and therefore a safe venue for contests of every kind. Most years there were several competitions some were big events like the first King Kong Klassic and the '86 European championships others more like parties with a comp thrown in. Those competitions also showed the way skating changed during the last few years. At the first ones everyone was still totally stoked that all these people turned up to watch and scream --it was so different from the dark ages. The recognition was there. But that was just the beginning.

The competition scene got bigger and bigger with more and more prize money. The same thing was happening all over Europe. Everyone ended up dashing from country to country, to bigger and yet bigger events. With so much money on the line it was worth travelling from America to take part, so the European skate competition scene became truly international. And a serious with it. The crowds still made a noise (after all there might be 11,000 of them) but they might as well have been at a concert waiting for that final moment when the stars actually appeared beneath the lights on that distant stage.

Pro ramp skating was becoming so unlike most people's everyday skate experience that some started to look at that 'other' form of skating in it's own right as a different, more accessible form. First the spotlight fell on 'street' skating and then on 'mini-ramps'. You see, every time the 'organised-skating' bandwaggon lumbers off in the direction of Olympic city most skaters jump off and go and do their own thing. Looks like we're at that point now [1990]. The big hype contests dominate the magazines and the minds of sponsors but the real energy has moved elsewhere: to the streets, the mini-ramps and the skaters with video cameras.

Symbolic event of the period?

The real ones took place outside Britain (Vancouver 86 and Munster 89), fitting skating's new international status. Within Britain I'd pick the Wind and Surf show at Alexandra Palace in 1987. They brought in skateboarding as a side-show to promote clothing but got more than they bargained for: we totally took over the show. Appropriate.

1990 - What Now?

Now? Now is the time to say good-bye to all that. Learn from it if you can, but stop worrying about it. Get rid of the ghost which haunts British skating. The past was not a radder place, they just did things differently there. Your time has come: just skate. Let that be the symbol.

Time Line

80

Lots of Andover sessions, including the occasion when a coach-load of Scottish skaters seriously thought they could dine and dash without anyone guessing where to find them. ESA couldn't get it together to stage a UK Championships and got into heavy trouble with the SSA again. They staged an event at Knebworth instead (Bottlehead won). Also competitions at Kiddy, Romford and Andover.

81

Livingston skatepark opened --that was the best thing to happen in 81. Usual crop of contests like an indoor slalom contest at Edinburgh's Meadowbank stadium (honest), Steve Douglas' first appearance at a competition (Romford in the juniors, Danzie won senior bowl).

82

Major event of the year? The nightmarish European cup event at Crystal Palace. The first time a ramp event was included in a Euro comp. Claus Grabke won. Usual round of other comps, including Livingston and Barnstaple (report in ESA news from Jeremy Fox, ESA southern rep of the period). Raddest event of the year Mike McGill and Steve Caballero's mini tour organised by the SSA --we hadn't seen any American skaters in years.

83

Started weird with skateboarders being auditioned for what turned out to be Starlight Express. Lots more foreign visitors started to appear like Hans Jacobson and Tony Janson from Sweden and Neil Blender, Billy Ruff and Rodney Mullen from America. This was also the year of the rowdiest scenes at a competition at Cherry Willingham and the first riot at an awards bash at Stevenage. Dobie organised the first Meanwhile II competition. Unfortunately this was also the year Iain Urquhart (Livi) died.

84

The competitions were really getting down home at venues like Bramley and Sean Goff's place. Chris Harris got hold of the old Arrow ramp and started talking to Birmingham Wheels. Things were getting bigger: Farnborough comp included skaters from France and also Keith Stephenson and Brad Bowman from America. Ramp final was in jam format. ESA lig of the year was a trip to California for the team. Skating appeared in I-d and sales of gear in Kensington started to soar. Here we go.

85

At the Horncastle contest skaters were checking into hotels (unheard of before). Everyone fully aware that skating's back and lining up their scams in some cases. Chris Harris still working away at Wheels. BMX shops starting to stock skate gear and BMX magazines covering skating. Bod Boyle starting to get noticed at competitions like Palace. ESA's skate news briefly flourishes in the hands of Mark Abbott and Don B before the money runs out. Street comps starting to happen. Mon's ramp fully happening.

86

A new indoor commercial ramp opens (Warrington). Dan Webster appears on Pebble Mill at One, a networked lunch-time TV show. Then at the Edge's Swansea competition all the non Welsh skaters are freaked out by the hundreds of kids swarming round the ramp. Nobody had ever seen that many people turn up to watch a contest. A total stoke. Even bigger contests at Warrington (King Kong, then Euros). HUGE international contest in Canada at the Vancouver Expo plus total skate free festival type antics at Mons'. UK skaters start to turn pro (Webster, then Goff).

87

Full steam ahead. Year began with total skate domination of the Wind and Surf show (they had to close the doors). Everybody is skating everywhere. You start to see skaters in the streets and places like Meanwhile II and South Bank are packed. More non-ESA type event starting to happen like Smell of Death at Meanwhile and Latimer (big new ramp) Road. Mon's festival turns sour with radios nicked from cars. All these people... And finally Holeshot: Ruffell tries to tack skating onto a BMX event and hits trouble with a bunch of bemused then pissed off American pros. But they still tore that dodgy old ramp apart.

88

Death of the South Bank announced. Competition season (for that's what it has become) opens with a mellow, old-style, no-hype contest in Madrid. But other than that it's full on frenzy: new skaters, new shops and even things like ramps in the Limelight. Skating is dead trendy. Bones Brigade did the first of the 'big organised tour' things. Ramp building's getting under way with another big ramp at Swansea, but progress is still slow.

89

Explosion. The Planetary Skatepark in Glasgow opens up with it's ramps in a church. The long hot summer goes on for ever with people skating everywhere and mini-ramps popping up in every other town. Wave after wave of visiting skaters sweep through Britain doing their European tours. People carry on skating. New shops start to open as fast as mini-ramps. The party is getting rowdy, but nobody's called the cops yet.

LOCAL VERSION

SCOTLAND

Scotland entered the eighties with a select few skate places like Kelvingrove in Glasgow and Fraserburgh. Unlike England, they managed to add a couple during the early eighties as well, small ones like the one at Hellenslea park in Glasgow and one major one: the famous park at Livingston. Only Livingston survives. Kelvingrove lingered on, dug out in bits, until 83 but like nearly everywhere else it eventually fell to the bulldozers. In between people like Chris Lonnergan, Davie Philip, Graham Stanners, Mark Hamilton and Algo kept skating vert at Livi. There was the Callendar guys skating their ramp there and there was a little ramp in Grangemouth that lasted until 83 or 84. Apart from that there was so little going on: all the Scots ended up in London around 86 time. And there was the Del Mar scene: people started going out there in 83 --Stan, Algo and Cheese. Stan stayed and Cheese stayed, and they're still there. There's always been a scene in the West End of Glasgow, echoes of Kelvingrove, and they crossed over into surfing at one stage. There's always been a strong force for skating there. They started on the project which ended up as the Church in 87. Then there was the big European competition in 88.. Then the main force of Scottish skateboarding started to revive itself late 86, early 87. Stuart Duncan built a big indoor ramp in Aberdeen 24' wide with 18' of flat bottom, a channel and everything; it was financed by Eagle Homes. The Church project finally reached skateable status after a false start in the dockyards, the AES competition scene came to Kelvin Hall and Scotland never looked back.

WALES

The South Wales scene has traditionally been strong because of its surfing connections but at the beginning of the eighties the only remaining parks in the country were up on the north coast at Rhyl and Llandudno. The most prominent action remained in the South though: notably war of attrition which finally produced the ramps in the Morfa Stadium in Swansea. The South Wales skaters fought hard for those ramps in a campaign that lasted for years. There's long been a tradition of ramp building in the area, as witness the ancient Cardiff private ramp, and the Welsh skaters had one of the first big transition ramps in Britain at Mumbles. That was the scene for one of the first 'big' contests of the eighties: skating had taken off again in South Wales earlier than the rest of Britain so this was the first time most English and Scottish skaters came across crowds of kids screaming for stickers. That breakthrough ramp fell victim to neighbour troubles. So did the next one at West Cross. But that didn't stop Skin and co. Like the Brighton scene, the Welsh one has always been very independent and resourceful, so they kept fighting away until they had one of the very best ramps in Britain. And still the rest of the country virtually ignores it, unless there's a competition on. Madness. The Welsh scene carries on regardless.

IRELAND

79 had given Northern Ireland Kilkeel and the Northern Ireland Skate Association, and ten years later that's basically what they've still got. But there have been a few highlights in between, like the trip to the UK Championships at Kelvingrove where the Northern Ireland team actually got their first and only placing in any competition. Or the Knebworth competition where everyone bottled out of entering except Davie Anderson who amazed the crowds with his bowl drain grinds. After years of bank skating, ramps came to Ulster in 85 and eventually found a home in Bangor only to be burnt down. It is only this year that Steve (Bronson) Barrow's antics in Antrim have signalled any obvious resurgence. Otherwise Northern Ireland has spent a decade with the odd comp in proud isolation.

NOTES

ALPINE NEWSLETTER

The seventies craze supported several British magazines. The main one was "Skateboard!" but there was also "Skateboard Scene" and a newspaper "Skateboard Special". The last to close was "Skateboard!", in 78, after 19 issues. (It was re-launched in the eighties.) During the period when skating couldn't support a proper magazine, one of the two remaining shops produced a free news-sheet which they mailed out to their customers. Later the ESA also started to produce a newsletter for their members. RETURN TO MAIN TEXT.

ESA

The English Skateboard Association -- set up in the late seventies and funded by the Sports Council. Unfortunately most of the funding was designed for things like training and administration. They couldn't do anything about the main concern of the time: facilities. Survived the transition from being run by professional-organiser types to a skater-run organisiation (just) but fizzled out during the eighties. RETURN TO MAIN TEXT

NEW DEAL

Two points: New Deal did get a lease on the park and are gradually sorting the place out. And, for the "not many people know that" brigade, "New Deal" the shop in Harrow pre-dated "New Deal" the American skate company. Steve Douglas liked the name, and is the common link between the two companies. RETURN TO MAIN TEXT.

SHANE ROUSE

The significance of this is that Shane Rouse was known as Britain's leading freestyle skater of the era. It would have come as a surprise to people to realise that he used to skate vert -- or that skaters tended to be less specialised in those early days. BACK TO MAIN TEXT.

VIDEO

One glaring omission from this feature is consideration of the impact of video technology on skating. High production value videos, typified by Peralta's work with Powell, had helped create the boom of the eighties. But, with their long production schedules, they had only acted as a "better" version of the traditional magazines. At the end of the eighties a revolution was taking place, spearheaded by the late Mike Ternansky. They abandonned the elaborate approach, armed team members with relatively cheap camcorders and switched the emphasis to getting the sickest tricks ever onto tape and out onto the streets in rough-cut form as fast as possible.

Suddenly these "new" companies appeared to leap way ahead of everyone else in terms of new tricks, and there followed a period of explosive development in street skating. And this new stuff reached skaters all over the world within weeks rather than months. A new method of communication helped develop a new form of skating and shifted the balance of power away from traditional figures within skateboarding. Which is an interesting point, when you consider how you're accessing this document... RETURN TO MAIN TEXT.

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Originally published in 1990. This version created 08/04/94 by Tim Leighton-Boyce (tim_lb@c21pub.demon.co.uk) for the benefit of Dansworld skateboard web site. If you want to use it somewhere else, please contact me.