Skateboarding Is Not A Crime

Words: Ash Dilks
Monday 01 August 2005
reading time: min, words

Skateboarding competitions with huge prizes are broadcast to millions, but skateboarding is still perceived as an immature hobby...


It was a Sunday evening in the summer of 1996, or maybe 1997… in fact it might even have been 1995 but it’s relatively unimportant. I was skating with a good friend of mine. As we rolled past an old English pub (the one next to The Tales of Robin Hood) two men stumbled out, covered in tattoos and sovereign rings both with shaved heads and bellies the size of their mums. One of them looked directly at Ben, pointed and said in an incoherent manner: “Why don’t you get a bleeding job?”

I still remember it vividly today because it is a brilliant example of how all the hype, sponsorship and money haven’t really changed the fact that skateboarders are looked down on by most people. At that time Ben was the editor for Sidewalk Surfer, regarded as Britain’s only respectable skateboarding magazine, which was available throughout Europe. Personally I count that as not only having a job, but also having a bleeding good one too.

Although international skateboarding competitions with huge prize money are broadcast to millions and skaters like Tony Hawk’s have even gained celebrity status, skateboarding is still perceived as an immature hobby practiced by kids seeking an avenue for rebellion.

So I would like to clear a few things up here; skateboarding is a healthy sport and a valid art form. It carries with it a philosophy, a code of conduct and a strong mutual respect between its participants (and it definitely kept me from getting involved in slightly less wholesome pursuits). I have met countless people through skateboarding, the majority of whom have been artistic, intelligent and very amicable. Through their perspectives on life I have learnt many valuable. If you think I’m being far too sentimental about an activity, which involves throwing yourself down steps then you just don’t get. One of the greatest things about skateboarding is there are no real winners or losers. There are just people who get it and people who don’t.

The greatest thing about the scene back in those heady days of the nineties was the solidarity of the entire skateboarding population. The market square would be teeming with skaters ranging from sponsored pros (Craig Smedley, Scott Underdown, Harry, Gaz Jenkins and the Rushbrooke brothers to name a few) to little kids who could hardly make it up a curb. But when they did make it, their elation would flow through everyone. The feeling was no different to the feeling that a good skater gets from 360 flipping a huge set of steps. It goes beyond a feeling of personal achievement because it is not merely scoring a goal or gaining more points than your opposition, it’s a feeling that’s individual to you but that you love sharing.

The skateboarding community in Nottingham was an entity that moved through the city, a dynamic and flowing unit of energy that could fragment and regroup as it pleased. This doesn’t just apply to Nottingham, you can rock up to any city in the UK (or the world for that matter) with your board and instantly have a massive group of friends, all keeping an eye out for each other and united by the love of skateboarding.

Skaters perceive the city in a completely unique way. We see it as a blank canvas begging to become a work of art. We have a mental knowledge composed of highly detailed local knowledge about dispersed places, micro-architectures and accessible times. Walls, benches, ledges, railings and banks present an opportunity for not only tricks but flow. Flow is about style. It’s about riding from spot to spot, at high speed, during rush hour. On a good day, when the traffic lights work in your favour, you feel like you’ve figured out your place is in our fucked-up world. This lasts for a short time, then the feeling disappears and you’re lost again. You develop the “skater’s eye”, constantly on the look out for new angles or approaches to use what most people see as an object or form within the city.

So next time you see a skater and he doesn’t land a trick, don’t assume that he’s not very good, assume instead that he’s trying to perfect a new stroke with his brush. If you hear a skater coming down the street behind you at high speed don’t change your path because he has a plan of how to get around you and if you step in his way your more likely to mess up the flow.

Skateboarding got outlawed in the city centre in 2001 (thank you very much Nottingham City Council). More recently, what amused me was when the City Council cancelled a two day skateboarding event in the Market Square, including music, body art and breakdancing, because they feared that boards may be used as the primary means of travel to the event and upset the precious shoppers. Well I wonder which genius council worker came up with that groundbreaking revelation..!

The main impact of the new law was that it took away the central meeting point (the Market Square) but was anyone really surprised? We used to tear that place apart all weekend! It is irritating that they banned it (especially when, as the first person caught skateboarding in town after the ban, I had to pay an £80 fine), but I haven’t got any time for people who whinge about it. You can still get away with skating popular spots especially on a Sunday night and it should encourage you to branch out a little and explore your local area and hook up with local skaters. Or do what my mate Nick did and move to Leeds (bit drastic though).

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