Watch our new film starring Ben here.
You just got back from Russia. Tell us about the trip.
We got taken out there by the Russian Skateboarding Federation. They wanted some international skateboarders for this competition called The Bowl and they ended up with Manhead (Josh Young) and I. The comp lasted one day, then we got taken around Moscow by the Vans Russia crew. Our host Kirill (Korobkov) was very nice.
You won the competition, right?
Yes. I don’t know, I was just skating.
How was the standard of bowl skating over there?
It’s funny you ask that because lots of Russians asked what we thought of their level. It was almost as if there was a thought towards the Olympics. From what I’ve heard, tranny skating isn’t as big in Russia, but there were still a few rad skaters. The bowl was kind of weird – it was hard to keep speed – but there was this rad, whippy, bowled-out half-pipe where the session kicked off at the end with all the skaters who weren’t in the main competition .
How do you feel about the Olympics and the Vans Park Series? It’s looking likely that the Park Series will be an official qualifier for the Olympics.
I don’t oppose skateboarding in the Olympics, but at the same time I’m not stoked on it. There will always be competitions and stuff and with skateboarding growing more popular, it makes sense for it to be there. The first Park Series comp in Huntington Beach was so sick. I guess it was called the Van Doren Invitational then. I still watch the highlights as skate hype. When Raney (Beres) does the big gap at the end… Now if I watch the comps, I can’t really relate to the level. Obviously there are still heads in there you look up to, but it’s just ridiculous the sort of stuff that happens. Everyone can do a 540 in the middle of a run. These days I’ll watch a clip on Instagram, but I’m not going to sit though it all. I don’t think people have the attention span to watch an entire competition any more.
Caveman nosegrind, West.
(Martin) Kennelly told me that you lived in Russia as a child.
Yes, my dad worked for the British Embassy. I moved to Moscow when I was one and lived there for thee years. I remember lots of snow and everything being grey, but I haven’t really got any concrete memories. Russian was my first language while I was there.
How is your Russian now?
Not so good. I took a beginner’s class during my last year at uni to get some basics back, but I didn’t really keep it up. It was sick being in Moscow recently and trying to remember bits and bobs.
I heard you cut your hand quite badly over there?
Yes, we were skating a bank-to-ledge and I sliced it right open. It was pretty deep – I couldn’t really look at it. I was pretty sketched out at the hospital, but managed to ask the doctor: “Is it bad?” in Russian, and he reassured me. They stitched it up pretty good.
Would you like to spend more time there?
It’s a bit of a ball ache getting a visa, but yes, I’d love to.
You live in Sheffield, but you’re from London.
I was born in London, lived in Moscow until I was four, moved back to London, then I lived in Bulgaria aged nine-11. Then I was back in London until I went to university. I lived in a place called Southfields, really close to Clockwork Orange banks.
What brought you to Sheffield?
University. I considered a few places, but I felt that Sheffield had the best skate scene.
What keeps you there?
I have made so many friends here and it’s just a really rad place to be. Everyone is really friendly. Skating The House skatepark every day is sick. The bowl there is rad. After living in London, Sheffield feels pretty mellow and you’re never far from the countryside. You can go on little adventures in the Peaks, swim in reservoirs…
How’s the skate scene?
It’s good. There isn’t a massive tranny scene, but I skate with Dead Dave and Moggins – we get hesh. Everyone hangs out together though. We’ve got Dev Green, which is pretty crusty and old now, but people always go there. Slugger is right around the corner and City Hall is pretty close too. You currently work for Slugger. Tell us about that. I work in the distribution side. That involves sales – emailing shops and pumping the stuff we’ve got – packing orders, a bit of everything really. It’s cool seeing all the new products before they hit the shops. We do all the Baker Boys brands, Black Label, Hard Luck…
Kennelly suggested that I ask about your radio show, Bad Boi Cru Radio.
Dead Dave and I did about 13 episodes two or three years ago. We played tunes mainly from skate sections and just chatted shit really. There was a lot of nonsense. I tried to bring it back – I did two shows recently – but Dave works funny hours now and it’s summer, so it’s easier to skate in my free time. I’ve got so many things I want to do with it. I’ve got two show’s worth of tunes backed up and topics and segments in my mind.
Where did you skate in London before you moved to Sheffield?
I started skating at this little skatepark called Kimber in Wandsworth. They redid it recently, but when I skated there it was just a mini ramp, so that was what I skated every day. Then I skated Meanwhile Gardens bowl a bit later, usually after skating Bay (Sixty Six). When I was 16 and it wasn’t cheap to use the tube any more, I started getting the bus to Stockwell and that became my scene. It’s got all you need, the people are rad, there is always someone there to talk to and you don’t even have to do any tricks;
you can just roll around and have lots of fun. Stockwell is my favourite skatepark ever.
What about outside the UK?
Sibbarp in Malmö is amazing: lines for days, a lot of crunchy coping and great concrete. Nothing is too big or scary. It’s just very skateable. It’s definitely up there.
Are there any parks you’d like to visit, but haven’t made it to yet?
I’d love to go to San Francisco and skate Potrero. Just being in the city would be amazing. Or Oregon. Insert pretty much any skatepark in Oregon.
You studied classical music at university. Tell us about that.
It was a classical music degree, but there was scope to study all sorts of different realms of music. I did a few modules in world music, a bit of production and some jazz, but I ended up focusing on performance. The clarinet is my main instrument. I did some ensemble work where I played in a clarinet quartet, I was part of a recorder ensemble and I did one module on Tudor music. The university had this collection of instruments from that period, the fifteenth century I think, so I ended up playing this ancestor of the bassoon, which looked like a massive pepper shaker. We were opened up to a lot of different types of music.
Did you enjoy your degree?
Yes I did, but I was always skating too. I think I overdid music. I focused on it so much and it became very serious, so since completing my degree I’ve hardly touched on it. It’s not that I don’t ever want to play music again, but when you finish studying and start working, there are only so many hours in the day. Now I just like to skate.
What led you to study music at degree level?
My parents got me playing from a very young age. I was playing the piano when I was four and I started playing the clarinet when I was seven or eight. When it came to doing A-levels, music was just a no-brainer and then when it came to going to uni, it just seemed like the most interesting option. I wasn’t interested in studying anything that I didn’t enjoy, and music was really interesting to me.
Will you return to it?
I feel like I will always be able to return to it, as long as my lungs work and I can see.
Would you like to perform music as a career?
I don’t know about that, but I’d perform on a leisurely level for sure. The option of teaching is there, but it’s not the most exciting prospect. I’d be happy to do other things. I want to keep my options open.
Sirus (Gahan) told me to ask about your final recital at uni.
I played four pieces. The brief was 40-45 minutes but mine ended up being around 50. The recital was the basis for my final year – instead of doing a dissertation I did a recital. I spent many, many hours practicing those four pieces. I played Artie Shaw’s clarinet concerto and the final note of the piece is the highest note available on the clarinet. I’d never reached it before, but I managed to hit it in the recital. It felt a bit like a mic drop. I was like: “Right, that’s me done”. I finished on a literal high.
Did you compose music as part of your course?
I did during the first couple of years. I went to university with the intention of becoming a film composer, but my first year put me off composing. We were pushed towards composing in a contemporary style, without all the boundaries and guidelines of the classical form, which is fine and really interesting, but other students were taking it to serious abstract contemporary levels. There were these weird concept pieces, for example using the numbers from your birthday to decide which notes to play… In my head this was backed up with spiel, rather than having any genuine musical thought behind it. I saw people getting good marks for what I thought was just a bit of nothing, which kind of put me off composing.
Can you name your favourite piece of music?
In terms of classical music, Igor Stravinsky is my favourite composer. I’ve always really loved Russian twentieth century music and his Rite of Spring is one of my favourites. I think the second part was used in the dinosaur scene in that Disney film Fantasia. It’s pretty epic. It was written for the French ballet about a pagan ritual where this woman basically dances herself to death. It’s pretty gnarly.
What do you think about pairing classical music with skating?
The types of music used to accompany skating has broadened a lot over the past decade or so, but you almost never see classical. I can’t recall seeing too many parts using classical. The term classical music is so broad – it spans 1000 years – so there is a lot of it. I think there is definitely stuff that could be used. It would just have to be done right.
Would you like to skate to classical music?
Yes and no. I like the idea of it, but I wouldn’t want to be pigeon-holed as that guy. If I ever skate listening to music, it’s never classical. There was a time when I had classical music on my Ipod and if it came on, I’d just leave it. Sometimes it does work. Some bits of Stravinsky and Shostakovich can be pretty good.
You are a bit of an anomaly – a hesh bowl skater who studied classical music and who is very polite, mild-mannered and not really a party guy, from what I can tell. What are your thoughts on this?
I guess I like the act of skateboarding. I love it and I put a lot of myself into it. I like to express myself. I’m down for partying every once in a while, but I don’t want to feel hungover. I like waking up early. I like doing things. I like skating with a clear mind. 90 per cent of the videos I watch to get hyped feature hesh dudes, people who are getting gnarly and hectic and that’s sick, but I don’t feel any pressure to do that. I’ve always just done my own thing. I just stay quiet and do me. Skateboarders pulling shapes and doing sick shit inspire me, but not necessarily what they do outside of skateboarding.
Your skating often references a different era. Who are some people who inspire you from back in the day?
Anyone who pulls shapes and flies high. I guess the ’80s was all about that. Jeff Kendall has got some pretty sick shapes. His Reason for Living section – the first lien air is so pulled back, his front invert is just pointed. I like watching the old Santa Cruz videos, but the early ’90s were also sick, when tranny skating started getting a bit weird. Rob Mertz is one of my favourites.
His section in Zorlac’s Zero Hero where he does every double grab combination, all these different fast plants… I enjoy watching that kind of shit.
What about today? Whose skating inspires you now?
I think it’s cool that so many skaters now are looking back to previous eras. I can’t talk about favourite skaters without talking about Tony Trujillo. He is my all-time favourite, style-wise. He just thrashes about and makes it look effortless, but he’s so loose at the same time. At the moment I’m also really into the Scram Skates dudes from Seattle: Jesse Lindloff and Nolan Johnson and all those guys. Erick Winkowski is another one – he’s amazing. It seems like he can do anything and he makes it look effortless. Another one of my favourites is Ben Schroeder. I guess he’s from another era but he’s still around now. He’s pretty aggressive and slamming is one of his tricks. If he can’t think of something to do, he’ll just take a good slam.
Do you plan to stay in Sheffield for the foreseeable future?
I’m unsure. I quite like the idea of moving somewhere else and switching it up a little bit. Me and my girlfriend have toyed with the idea of moving somewhere else in Europe, we just haven’t decided where yet.
What are your plans for the rest of the summer? Do you have any trips planned?
I haven’t got many concrete plans. Maybe I’ll go to Marseille for the Bowlriders comp. There are also a couple of festivals. I’m going to go to NASS and there is also a little one near Birmingham called Lunar where Bob Sanderson and the Third Foot guys are going to have a ramp. I think I’m going to go along and help them out with that – let the kids have a go, show them what’s what.
What are your longer-term plans for the future?
Just finding a way to skate for as long as I can. I don’t like to think about the future too much. I really just like to float about and see what happens.