Skating’s having a massive cultural impact in London right now. Marianne Eloise kick-pushes her way to meet seven skaters from across the scene. Portraits Andy Parsons
Wherever you find yourself in London this weekend, you’ll see skateboarders. Skating is such a part of this city right now that you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d gone back to the ’90s. But it’s not just teen (male) slackers hitting their boards today.
In 2018 the scene is booming across all social backgrounds, ages and genders.
Just a few years ago, the iconic Southbank Undercroft was at risk of closure. Now campaigns like Long Live Southbank are preserving skating as part of our culture. Skateparks are popping up across the city – from Crystal Palace to Deptford, Charlton to Acton – and spaces such as House of Vans are championing the skating scene.
So, why the boom? For one, events like Girls Night at House of Vans and Old Man Nite at BaySixty6 are opening the sport up to people who might have felt it wasn’t for them, while lone skaters are connecting via WhatsApp and Instagram. Londoners don’t face the same pressure to behave like ‘grown-ups’ these days: thirtysomethings (and older) are skating. And while parents might have once thought of skateboarding as practically a gateway drug, they’re now getting their kids to have lessons (it’s a bonafide sport in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, after all).
Most of all, as our living costs and stress levels, soar, skating is a cheap and sociable way to get outside. We spoke to skaters from across the spectrum: amateurs, instructors, teens and pros, all of whom share a love for celebrating and expanding the scene. Here’s a snapshot of London’s skate community.
University student, skate instructor and YouTube video maker
‘When I was growing up in London, I used to go to my local skate shop and buy skate videos on DVD. I remember getting “Horizons” by Landscape Skateboards, which was shot at parks across the city. Now there’s lots of YouTube channels, but most of them are American.
‘I’ve been making skate videos for a few years. My recent ones are filmed in Charlton skatepark, but we go everywhere. I do it to showcase everyone’s talent. I get people coming up to me asking, “When’s the next video coming out?”
‘There is rivalry between different skate groups in London. Because there are so many skateparks being built here, most of us stick to our local. When we go to other parks everyone is in their own group. You make cool friends.
‘My favourite memory is going to a premiere of a film by south London skatewear company Yardsale. It was held in a cinema and there were like 300 skaters there for it. The atmosphere was amazing, everyone getting hyped over every single trick.’
Pro skater and owner of Salon Skateboards
Finsbury Park Skatepark
I got into skateboarding, after surfing, when I was a kid. One season, a hotel I was working at in Cornwall hosted a mini ramp jam with Vans. The people involved in it were so much fun and I really wanted to be involved too.
‘Now I’m sponsored by Vans for skateboarding and I collaborate with other brands on social media content for Instagram. I also have a skate brand of my own called Salon. It sells customised grip tape, T-shirts and boards. They’re stocked in a shop called Brixton’s Baddest. It’s a really community-focused shop and a great place to feel a part of the scene.
‘I think the London skate scene is a reflection of London itself: it’s gritty and fast-paced with lots of events and so many different people. However, there’s a sense of community in skateboarding wherever you go. I help out with the girls’ night at House of Vans and that session used to be really quiet when I started coming to London. The last time I was there, there were 300 people and it was one-in, one-out! It was really great to see how skateboarding has become something that women feel they can be a part of and I am really happy to be involved in that.’
Year 8 student
‘My mum bought me rollerskates when I was six, but I got bored with them so I started riding my brother’s “Ben 10” skateboard. I broke it because it had plastic wheels. I got into skating from there.
‘My favourite places to skate are probably here at Cantelowes Concrete Bowl and Victoria Park. They have a massive skatepark there and the bowl is really deep. Once I have learned a trick, it’s not really that scary any more. The hardest one to learn in the bowl was probably a backside 360 nose grab [a trick where you grab the front of your board while doing a complete rotation].
‘You meet loads of people in skateparks if you’re doing the same tricks. For my birthday, a group of us went from here to skatepark BaySixty6 in Ladbroke Grove. On the way we stopped at three different skateparks. We went in the morning and didn’t come back until the night.
‘My top tip for someone who’s starting to skate is to get a decent board. If you get a bad one, you get more frustrated because you can’t do as many things with it. Then you start thinking that you’re not very good at it, but it could be the board.’
Lib Dem councillor for Kingston and owner of Banquet Records
‘When people meet me, they have a preconceived idea that I’m some stoner skater who’s anti-everything. Now, as a portfolio holder, I can’t be those things. But when meeting council officers for the first time, I always see the point where the penny drops that I’m not an idiot after all. I like it – they’re lulled into a false sense of security.
‘Political opponents have also made the mistake of mocking me for the fact I skate. Like I’m not a real grown-up. Actually, I often think I’m the only one who’s grown-up enough to know that life is exactly about having fun while also meeting your responsibilities. I recently got thrown out of a Kingston car park I was skating in one evening. The guy said, “You should know better: you’re a councillor.” I couldn’t really argue with that, but he did give me one last try and I did make the trick.
‘The Long Live Southbank campaign was my route into politics. The idea that skaters could say “we will not accept this” was inspiring. The South Bank wasn’t designed for skateboarders, but we made it our own. A generation later it’s one of the world’s most famous skate spots. It’s amazing.’
Music video producer and founder of Girls Can’t Skate crew
‘I was the only girl skater in London for a long time but I didn’t let that bother me. My home life was abusive and I didn’t fit in anywhere until I found skateboarding. I didn’t think anything could stop me from doing it, but I fell out of it when I was 23. I got into an abusive relationship with a man who cut me off from everything. I had my daughter, True, and managed to run away. I felt ashamed and I knew if I went back to the scene after two years everyone would ask me questions, so I tried to forget about skating. Eventually, I married, and history repeated itself. By this time I had been out of skating for 12 years. I decided to reach out to some of my old crew; it was the best thing I have ever done.
‘Skating in London is better than ever before. There are more skaters than ever, especially girls. It’s changing the dynamic of the culture. Sometimes the girls will outnumber the boys at skateparks. I wanted to bring as many girls together as I could, so I created a WhatsApp group where girls could post about events and invite others to skate spots. The group has become more than an information source, it’s a support network.’
Skateboard instructor at BaySixty6
‘I was originally teaching with another company, but a few of my friends worked at BaySixty6, and I would visit them on my days off to skate and catch up. Paul, the owner, had heard I was teaching and offered me a job.
‘The highlight of the job is seeing young people discover something they are very passionate about and getting to witness their progress. I see their faces light up once they get the hang of it. My favourite memory is when my student Matteo made me a card to thank me for helping him out.
‘From my perspective, skating in London is thriving. From working at BaySixty6 I can see that the numbers of people skating are increasing year by year. When I first started skateboarding, it was mainly for the kids who didn’t fit in – the weirdos who didn’t enjoy team sports. Now it’s gaining popularity and parents are actively supporting their children skating. In the past, it had associations with drugs, alcohol and graffiti, which tended to put some people off. Now people who wouldn’t have ever considered skateboarding are getting involved.’
Beginner skater from Essex
‘I’m from Essex, but I come into London to skate. I feel like the London scene is far more exciting and there are a lot more girl skaters around, which is something that you don't see so much where I live. I normally skate alone. I sometimes feel quite left out of the scene as I'm not very good, and I've never really had anybody take the time to teach me. I always feel awkward when I'd go to busy parks. That said, in London it's super inclusive. I’ve made some really cool friends from being around people that skate in London. It's nice to find a place where you can just mess around with a group of new people and not have to worry about how you look or how they'll perceive you.’