As far back as I can remember, I have always wanted to be a skateboarder... This is how the story could start but it just doesn't. I have been on a skateboard for a long time and the activity as well as the people around have long been a source of fascination for me. In 1995, I began sketching a series which I would eventually paint in 2000. In 2006 I wrote a text destined to help my partner understand how it all came about. These are reproduced below.
The Skateboarders #1, #2, #3 and #4 - Acrylic on clay tile - 2000 (concept 1995)
Children of Brighton; skaters of the world. When kids get into something, naively, most assume that it is of their own free will. Children are children, they engage in given activities solely because that is what children do. Children play, children learn and through play, teenagers challenge what they have learned. Skateboarding is, and has been for the past two decades, a ready-made challenge; it was not always the case.
Skateboarding today is one-dimensional and has lost - at least in appearance - many of its original disciplines. Downhill, slalom and freestyle, the leading activities of the skateboarder of the early 70's have given way to the oh-so-spectacular half-pipe. The (re-) emergence of skateboard in the mid 90's happened on the back of the commercial successes of MTV's X-Games and the likes and, the half-pipe, spectacular and photogenic, was always going to be a winner with TV educated children. Money has entered the equation and there is no stopping it. Those who dare and succeed are now handsomely remunerated by those who don't. Money and fame...
Hold it. What is that all about? What do I know about kids today and the way they relate to skateboards, skateboarding and skateboarders, that is, the full spectrum of the skateboard culture? When I began skating; well, actually, I did not begin skating, I just happened to have a skateboard, just as one has a bike or a set of Lego. One does not become a rider, one rides a bike; similarly one doesn't become a Legoer. In that sense, I was never a skateboarder; I only had a skateboard. At least, I was not a skateboarder immediately.
I never knew of any skateboarding culture until I turned eleven and moved from suburbia to city centre. Even there, the culture was very underground and was only represented by one specialised shop. There, I saw for the first time skateboard decks being sold separately from trucks and wheels. I saw skateboard shoes, skateboard clothes and skateboard stickers. A brave new world that I sadly could never afford to enter.
It is only then that I became aware of my position as a skater. I had no skateboard shoes and my board was not branded. Could I ever be a skateboarder in these conditions? Well, I could ride; I had gone down the vertical side of a homemade ramp and my holies were beginning to get off the ground. On the down side, skateboarders were becoming the target of systematic discrimination in town and soon, the spots we rode became increasingly difficult to use. Diligent law abiding shopkeepers and the development of a new kind of street furniture guaranteed the closure of most of our spots.
Other aspects of my life were becoming more important and I soon stopped riding altogether. It was a few years before I went back to it. By then, I had discovered surfboarding and snowboarding, and skateboards had dramatically transformed. The boards were longer, thinner and completely symmetrical and the wheels were very small and hard - conker like - while the techniques and tricks had also evolved. The common thing for towns and cities at the time had become to acknowledge skateboarders and their activities but to confine the lot to dedicated areas. I was lucky enough to live in Marseilles, which had what was long regarded as the best bowl in the world. Surrounded by grass verges, tucked between Mediterranean hills and sea, it was - and still proudly is - an intricate composition of steps, mini ramps and snakes that culminates in the deep bowl itself: a scary drop, even for the most accomplished. Designed by a truly talented local architecture student, it has since inspired many other such places around the world.
There, I tediously got back to my apprenticeship. My holies were now clean, high and steady but I was always keener on skating around town and jumping down sets of steps than hanging by the bowl. The crowd there, mostly made up of testosterone fuelled teenage boys, always bored me. I'm a purist; I'd rather ride than sit around and on top of it, I am an intellectual. Nobody likes a smart ass, and skateboarders are no different.
From my early twenties onwards, skateboarding had become a mean of transport - a poor one admittedly - and holies, a simple trick of the trade, destined to overcome naturally occurring obstacles. This pragmatic approach was never going to sustain itself - especially as I moved to England where road surfaces and pavements are unfriendly to the long distance rider - and soon my board was, again, taking the dust.
It is only in the spring of 2006, some twenty odd years after my first rides, that I got back to skateboarding. This time I am doing something very different from what I have done in the past, yet very close to how it all started. I now slalom weekly with a bunch of people whose experience has been similar to mine, even if the timescale is not always the same. Slalom is a sophisticated practice. It is yet to regain its former glory but in the meanwhile Brighton provides, for a few enthusiasts, the ideal playground. Away from the crowds of the skate parks, kids look at us in disbelief.
This brings us back top our initial concerns. What do Brighton kids do? And more importantly, how do they feel about it? Kids do what they want; to some extent. Some skate because that's all they know. Some skate because everyone they know does so. Some are good and if they keep on going, they will make something out of it. Yet, for most, it will all be the same. Skateboards are toys, for the young ones and for the old ones. They may come with a cultural luggage, they will remain toys and kids will play with them only so long as they find them amusing; three minutes, a summer or a lifetime. It is up to them to find out.
"I have traditionally been drawn to the counter-culture of skate. It is a meditation, subversion and dance."
(Curt, Skateboarder, 45)