Ben Rowley Crooks at Daveside, Bristol. Photo: Rob Salmon.
With skateboarding destined for inclusion in the 2020 Olympics and big brand sports shoe company’s involvement in our pastime at an all-time high, even more talk than ever is being bandied around regarding skateboarding’s status as a home for outsiders and those with a healthy mistrust of authority. The buzzword ‘core’ is discussed with varying degrees of intended satire and you can bet that the market research department arms of non-skater-owned companies are throwing everything and the kitchen sink at whatever means they can make a brand seem ‘legitimate’.
Skateboarding is currently caught between its idea of itself as countercultural and the undeniable fact that it is once again being dragged into what is termed ‘the mainstream’. As such, the focal points of our insurgency are becoming ever more important to the culture as a whole. This runs the gamut from skater owned shops, to small run zines (and even print magazines in an era where print is declared ‘dead’ – think about how many times skating has been declared the same and laugh), to that embodiment of skating’s self-sufficient spirit, the DIY skate spot. DIY spots, with all the spirit of the builders imbued in their curves, are automatically more challenging and interesting than many professionally built parks. They are also a reclamation of otherwise abandoned urban and rural spaces, taking dead land and giving it purpose and vibrancy; along the way often clearing the area of humankind’s go to uses for hidden spaces, shitting, sex and heroin.
These guerrilla builds take place as and when a seemingly unused space is found, as such regularly finding themselves in conflict with the land’s owner. These owners seem to be more often than not a supermarket chain, many of which have a tactic of buying up land with no plans of using it but to stop rival supermarkets getting their hands on it. This manoeuvring has meant the death of many a budding piece of concrete. Even land owned by the council often falls foul of a bureaucracy disconnected from its constituency, with the death knell shout of ‘what about insurance?’ ringing out over another gang of hired goons with jackhammers.
Joe Howard, Wallride Stalefish at Needleside, Leeds. Photo: Paul Graham
For every success story like the The Spot in London and New Bird in Liverpool, there are twenty DIY parks which have been knocked down without a second thought. The last six months alone have seen Needleside, the Dust Bowl, Notts DIY, Mozzieland and probably more than I’m not aware of bite the dust. This isn’t just down to supermarket wars or opposing councils, of course – it is as much a reaction to the temerity of the DIY build, the implied idea that members of the public can just go in and take something, not just make it their own but open it to public use once again. In very broad terms it’s a Robin Hood story, shit which is not supposed to fly in these doldrums of late 20th century capitalism. If nothing else, it highlights the fact that whoever actually owns that space is literally letting it go to waste. Ocean Howell posited a similar idea with relation to how skateboarders can affect views of public space through street skating;
“It is by virtue of its status as a misuse of these spaces—and because it is a symptom of defensive design—that skateboarding is exceptionally good at drawing attention to the quietly exclusionary nature of the new public space. Ultimately, skateboarding affords an observer glimpses of the larger processes of surveillance and simulation by which public space, both physical and cultural, is produced.” (Ocean Howell, 2001).
This is an idea which can be extended to the DIY spot and undoubtedly one which plays a part in how short a life span it tends to have. If we are to retain the spirit which attracted us to four wheels and a plank of wood in the first space, the above reasons are a solid argument for going out and building. No sitting around moaning about your local skatepark or the skatestoppers on the ledges in town, go out and build something. Fuck, even going out and knocking those skatestoppers off is an act of DIY as much as it is one of defiance. Take matters into your own hands, and not just in the field of working with concrete or wood – make a zine and print it, start a band and write songs about frontside grinds, become involved in skateboarding’s rich cultural tapestry. Without that, we’re only a few global sporting events away from matching leotards and set trick books from which we pick our routines…
Jono Coote, Backside Boneless. Photo: Ashley Fletcher.