You and Chris Oliver, who also has an interview in this issue, are both turning 40 around the same time the magazine will arrive in shops. How do you feel about that?
I guess I feel like I’m getting old. It feels like a significant number but at the same time it’s not bothering me too much. Being asked that makes me think about how happy and thankful I am to be able to do all the things that I do, like skateboarding and making art and hanging out with friends and stuff like that, because I know other people that are a similar age to me that maybe don’t have as much freedom. Getting older, your friends have kids and commitments. Work and things like that can get very all-consuming and getting to this age you see a lot of changes happen, so I suppose it does just make me feel thankful for the lifestyle that I have and the things that I get to do.
How is your body holding up?
It’s struggling a bit at the moment, as you know. There are a few things I have to work on. I do a lot of yoga and have done that for a really long time and generally I would say I have been quite fit and pretty healthy with food and everything. I think I’m in pretty good shape. The worst ongoing injury actually came from a charity cycle trip that I did through the Alps about three years ago. I really messed up the tendons in my Achilles by cycling with the wrong sized bike. And rather than trying to change the bike I just took ibuprofen and pushed through it. It took a long time to get it back to normal and that has been a reoccurring thing. Achilles tendonitis it’s called. Skateboarding puts loads of pressure on your back foot – the one you push with and the one you pop with. Apart from that I’ve only really taken one major slam since I got back into it at the beginning of the first lockdown, which was trying to shoot that photo with you. The nosebonk on the tree stump. That really took me out.
A lot of people reading this won’t remember your stint as a sponsored skater back in the early ’00s, riding for Landscape and Ipath. You stopped skating for a long time before picking it up again last year. Talk us through why you stopped and why you came back to it.
That might be quite a long one (laughs). I guess when I was skating back then I was really enjoying it and really stoked and everything. Being able to live in London and ride for Landscape felt really great. The sort of thing I really wanted to happen happened. I went on some cool trips and really enjoyed that time. I guess that all happened at the same time as me being at art school and getting quite into being creative in other ways and I suppose I felt like I had to make a decision about whether I was going to really pursue the skate path or pursue other directions in life, and I chose to try to make art and films. I never stopped loving skateboarding or being obsessed with it. I’ve always watched videos. Whenever I have any downtime or want to not think about anything it’s just been skate videos. When I grew up it was VHS tapes and we had five that I’d watch on repeat, then in the last 20 years or so with the internet there’s been this wealth of skate videos. So that became my thing that kept me connected to it and I had little periods of doing it for a month or two.
Periods when you skated?
Yes. There was a bowl that we skated on Quaker Street, just off Brick Lane and it felt really accessible. It was just me and some mates and it felt like there was a little community around it. It wasn’t until that first lockdown (spring 2020) with the (Hackney) Bumps and having friends nearby that I felt like I was part of something again. I could say a lot more about it like in some ways living in London is incredible because you’ve got this wealth of street spots and possibilities, but the actual connecting with people… Maybe it’s because I’m from a tiny city in Norfolk, but I think it’s quite important for me to have that connection with people. Maybe I lost some of that when it all got really big, travelling around loads. It’s a different context when you are sponsored – there’s a bit more pressure on you to do it.
Was there a moment when you decided: “I’m not going to skate any more,” or did you drift away from it gradually?
I told all the people I was sponsored by that I didn’t want to be sponsored by them any more and I told them why. I kept skating and hanging out with people but I stepped back a bit and then drifted out of it.
How long did you stop skating?
You mentioned the Bumps playing a big part in you getting back into skating. Can you talk more about that?
I met with my friend Greg King and Nick Tombs about three years ago and they asked me to help them with some graphic design for promoting what they wanted to do down here. They said they wanted to get it resurfaced and everything and I just thought they were absolutely mental. I was just like: “This isn’t going to happen,” and kind of forgot about it. I went out skating during the first lockdown and came and saw what they were doing and that got me pretty inspired. I couldn’t believe that they were actually doing it. The first time I came here was about 15 years ago when it was a very different place, or it felt like a very different place. I thought it looked incredible back then and I quite like flowy parks that are quite organic. Just seeing so many people down here and it feeling like a really welcoming vibe really made me want to come down loads. Skating ticks loads of boxes for what we had to deal with during the lockdowns – it’s social, it keeps you fit, it’s creative. Being able to come down here reignited my passion for it.
Do you skate differently now? Have you learnt new tricks?
I’ve learnt how to do more things on transition. I feel like I try less to learn new things and more just try to piece things together and keep a flow going. I feel like I’ve got a certain amount of balance or control that I didn’t used to have or a confidence around that, but that probably only comes with a long period of time.
Sorry for the broad question, but how do you feel about skateboarding and the community now compared to how it was when you were skating before?
I feel really positive about it. I feel quite excited about the future of it and where it’s all going to go. I’m really stoked that there’re more women doing it and there’s more awareness around gender and race and it being an accepting sport or community. It feels like a tricky thing to talk about. You have to have a certain amount of privilege to be able to do it in the first place. I really like the fact that I can skate with loads of different types of people. I think that’s important because it keeps you open-minded and it gives you new perspectives on things and it’s a way of connecting with people that feels quite positive. One of the things I found a bit frustrating about it when I was doing it a long time ago was that it was just blokes. Not that I think there’s anything wrong with that – that loads of guys would do something together – but I suppose it has more potential for toxic masculinity and laddy kind of behaviour.
A lot of people our age have a lot of nostalgia for those days but It sounds you were aware of these issues back then.
Yes I think I was aware of it. Maybe that comes with being a sensitive, slightly introverted person as well. I’m more likely to pick up on things like that and I think I probably found it a bit overwhelming back in the day. I am really nostalgic about it. I’ve got so many friends and people I connected with back in the day. I think back to all the things we did and I’m so thankful and happy about it, but I’m also aware there were times where it felt like people were being misogynistic or taking the piss out of each other so much that it felt like: “Why are you taking it this far?” I mean I think that people should have fun and be able to joke each other about but… And there’s also this whole thing about being critical about skateboarding, the level people are at. I don’t want to take away from any of that, I think there’s space for everything. There’s space for people to excel and be incredible at it and really push the boundaries, but I think there’s space for people to approach it in a more open way and I would hope that ideally all these different things… I feel like there are more and more different smaller communities within skating now and I hope they can all exist and all flourish without one saying the other shouldn’t exist. It’s fine if loads of guys want to go and hang out and do their thing and really push each other, but it’s also fine if loads of people that aren’t obsessed with doing the best trick want to hang out and create their own little scene. I think it will be interesting to see where it all goes and how these things can mix together.
You recently spent some time skating in your home town of Norwich. How is the scene there these days?
There’s definitely stuff happening. The shop Drug Store is making a video – well they’ve made quite a few videos, but the recent one they’re making is just going to be shot in Norwich and nowhere else. There have been some really sick skaters to come out of Norfolk as well.
You recently started riding for Drug Store.
Yes they’re sponsoring me, which is really cool because I really like what Sam (Avery) is doing. I really want to help promote them if I can because he’s been committed to it for a really long time. Anyone who knows anything about the skate industry knows it’s really hard to make money out of it and for independent shops it’s more of a commitment to the community and the scene that they’re based in. He’s super passionate and just wants to see people, kids getting into it.
How did you riding for the shop come about?
I think probably from me just putting loads of stuff on Instagram of me skating and him (Sam) seeing it and being really stoked on it. Actually quite a few people have made me feel really welcome and have been really encouraging.
You have a part in Henry Edwards-Wood’s new Hold Tight London video The Fate of Empires, which premiered at SB Skate Shop in May. How did you two end up working together?
He was making a documentary about the Bumps (Bumps and Grind). I saw him down here one day and started chatting to him and we kept in touch. Then I told him I had this line I wanted to film and… it’s a bit geeky but I sent him pictures of the different tricks in the line and annotated them, where I was going to do the tricks. He’s really into annotation and symbols around skateboarding, so I think that got him really stoked. We’ve been out filming loads actually and I really enjoy filming with him because he’s one of the best skate filmers I’ve ever met and he’s 100 per cent committed to it. He makes you feel like he’s not going to miss the trick. I almost feel like I have more confidence when I’m filming with him because I know he’s going to do a really good job with filming it. I feel like it pushes me to do more than I would do if I wasn’t filming with him.
Who do you skate with regularly?
All of the Bumps crew, anybody that’s down there. In lockdown I’ve been skating a lot of transition with my friend Rich Maskey and another friend called Graham Callam who’s from Norfolk. And then during the winter I was out with Harry Wilson and Joe Walker and lots of people at the DIY spot in Hackney Wick. And then I’ve been going out a lot with you obviously shooting photos and Tristan Tutak filming. One of the people I like to skate with the most is Dave Eggleton. There are so many more and I hope I haven’t not said anyone who would feel I’ve missed them out.
Who are your favourites to watch?
The Bumps crew, everyone that goes down there really, because everyone just has so much fun. My friend Kaitlene (Koranteng) that I’ve been filming – I filmed with her a bit for the City Mill Skate video (City Mill Skate Dots and Lockdown). Just seeing her progress has been really cool. I’m looking at Instagram a lot and seeing all of these incredible skaters from all over the world, of all different ages, so there are a lot of people. I quite enjoy seeing Shaun Currie’s Instagram because he’s really sick at skating. He’s got the best style and he really enjoys it. He’s always smiling and he has this approach to doing tricks where he makes the trick look really good and he’s really in the moment. And then _palice I think she’s called? Alice Smith. I really enjoy seeing her Instagram because she’s also really flowy. She’s got something quite unique going on I think.
Do you want to talk about your art? Our mutual friend Dave (Eggleton) told me that the author Octavia Butler was an important influence on your work. Is that a good starting point?
Yes. I’ve read a lot of science fiction and that has inspired me quite a lot in terms of making work because I’m quite interested in otherworldly ideas. I really like having a lens through which to think about difficult things and people like Octavia Butler and Ursula K Le Guin have helped me to understand some more complex things that are going on. They deal with a lot of issues around race and gender and assimilation, different groups coexisting with one another – lots of things that people are talking about these days. I’ve made work inspired by their writings. I made a video installation and I’ve made a lot of drawings and paintings that I wouldn’t say were directly inspired by them, but they’ve definitely fed into me going down that avenue of having confidence in what I’m doing. There’s a particular Octavia Butler book that has these alien characters in it that are covered in tentacles. I started trying to draw them at one point and that turned into me drawing lots of… it fed into lots of other types of images that came from that process of trying to draw these wavy organic forms. Now I’ve explored that loads and it’s become quite a meditative process, which I’m also trying to retain because I feel like with everything I have to try and get a balance between having to survive and make money but also keeping it fun and interesting and exciting. That feels like quite an important thing for me, getting that balance of making work but also not getting to a point where I’m not really enjoying it any more, which also connects with what you were asking me about earlier with skateboarding and when I was sponsored. I maybe took it too seriously or maybe didn’t keep enough of a balance with that kind of thing.
Our friend Tristan (Tutak) mentioned that you had drawn something very similar to the Bumps before you started going there.
Yes I did a drawing of these really wavy bumps, hill-type shapes, and I wasn’t really thinking about the Bumps at all. I didn’t even know that the place was being fixed up. In retrospect if felt like it could have been a premonition (laughs), but I’m not really big into that kind of stuff – psychic behaviour.
You’ve been filming skating recently. Do you see this as related to your video art?
I am starting to more and more. It is a creative platform. Since having a go at filming myself I have developed a new kind of respect for people that do film skating and take photos. And hearing the stories behind what it’s like to do that if you want to make a career out of it… I was pretty blown away by the amount of work and passion people put in. I do want to do more with it. I want to explore how I can make films and be creative. A lot of skate videos are. I definitely see some and I think: “This is just not really that creative,” or it just feels like it’s very much technical. But I really enjoy watching skate videos that have space and moments where you can breathe and where people have thought about how they’re going to film it. I think people like Henry (Edwards-Wood) and Kevin Parrott think about what they’re going to shoot and how they’ll edit it together. They won’t just film the actual trick, they’ll film things around the trick and build up these little sequences that really make you feel that you’re getting more of an experience of the actual moment. I think there’s so much potential of what you could do with it.
Has watching skate videos influenced your video art?
Yes I think so. There’s a lot of stuff to do with rhythm and timing and music that are all really important things to explore and use if you’re making films, and skate films work with those things really well. So yes it’s probably had an effect on how I am creative now. I don’t know if it’s also worth saying that I think the actual act of doing skateboarding and then being able to do some art or go and work on a film work really well together in terms of an all round practice, or if you want to look at it as a lifestyle. I think for me they really compliment each another because those sorts of pursuits – sitting in front of a computer or in front of a canvas or something – can be quite lonely and solitary, then doing something like skateboarding where you’re moving around a lot and you’re interacting with people… I think they work really well together and inspire each other a lot.