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
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.
Return to DansWORLD
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
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
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
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 . 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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.