Habitat Gets Medieval
Freddy Gall, Stefan Janoski, Ed Selego, and Silas Baxter-Neal bring twenty-first-century skateboarding to fourteenth-century spots.
Six-hundred years ago, in civil-war-ravaged England, lived a fearless outlaw named Robin Hood. Legend tells that Robin and his band of merry men lived a life of dangerous adventure, heavily affiliated with illegal witchcraft and stealing from the rich to give to the poor. Finding refuge in Sherwood Forest, then a 100,000-acre-thick maze of oak trees and undergrowth, Robin was on the run from the tyranny of Prince John of England, The Sheriff of Nottingham, and Sir Guy of Gisborne, whom he eventually publicly beheaded.
Today things have changed a little, and the forest occupies little more than 450 acres, although it still attracts around 750,000 visitors every year.
Traveling 8,000 miles to visit the stomping grounds of an ancient outlaw Kevin Costner played in a film with an annoying soundtrack is not exactly the normal motivation for a skateboard trip, but for the Habitat team, the idea of visiting the Major Oak, the 23-ton, ten-meter-girthed tree where Robin held council, was more than enough. From England to Scotland and back again in a massive bus-van, they knew this one was going to be a good one-so long as rain didn’t stop play.
The UK has a reputation for being wet year-round, and it’s a reputation based on consistent performance-you can always rely on the heavens to open, even in the middle of the summer. We only lost three or four days to rain in two weeks-not too bad considering how oxymoronic the name “English summer” is. To say that Freddy is possessed to skate would be an underskatement-first out of the van to skate and the last one to get in. Fred loves to hit the roughest, trifest spots that you can find for him, and he has absolutely no problem skating in the rain or ollieing into wet, mossy landings in pitch-black darkness with no generator. With all of Freddy’s other character traits, he’s probably more British than half the people living there.
For all the wisdom in “taking the rough with the smooth,” there wasn’t much yin for all the yang for Raymond Molinar. There was rough followed by more rough. Ray flew in late and got hit harder than anyone by jet lag, which left him crashed out during the day and wide awake all night dealing with pollen allergies. When he did hit the streets, his wheel would continually fall off at the most perilous moments possible. Wheel madness was forgotten when, three days deep, he fell into the facing wall of a flat bank transfer, taking himself out for the rest of the trip. The standard guitar carry-on luggage became a lifeline for Raymond and a continual acoustic road-trip soundtrack for the rest of us.
Every country in the world has a mecca of skate-lore, and for Scotland there is nary a spot with as rich a history as Livingston skatepark. Opened in 1981, the park has hosted the Bones Brigade at its peak, was listed in Cardiel’s top-five concrete parks of all time, and has spawned more underground talent than logically possible. The rawest talent that Livingston has given birth to is, without a doubt, Stu Graham, who surely has one of the best Indy tats of all time. Watching him skate the park is incredible. I would tell you to keep your eyes peeled for him in the future, but if he comes your way, you’ll definitely know about it. Everyone was excited to skate this legendary park, except Raymond who was on day one of the injured list and chose to serenade Livi from guitar land on the mount overlooking the park.
If the majority of skaters out there are street skaters and all the videos and magazines are predominantly street biased, why all the six-foot quarterpipes in skateparks? There’s no need to argue the importance of transition skills, but why have there been so few skatepark antidotes to the shrinking amount of street spots? Well, enter the skate plaza.
In Dayton, Ohio, it’s t Rob Dyrdek Skate Plaza; in Milton Keynes, it’s Rob Selley’s. The plaza here is actually an extension to an old skate spot at the city’s bus station. The configurations are pretty simple with the park’s marble ledges and manual pads, but the place is incredible-so incredible that we drove eight hours straight from Scotland to skate it at 6:00 a.m.-the night before the demo in London.
Silas Baxter-Neal and Will Ainley were brothers from different mothers, even if one spoke rainbow trout whilst the other was talking brown trout. Where there was a Will, there was a Silas. Will is Habitat’s UK rider; he showed us around his hometown of Bristol, led Silas into battle when it was time for them to experience the nightlife, or over to a refrigerator for a spontaneous graffiti session. Will was the most Robin Hood-like of the crew, especially for having spent the night before tour poaching fish from a country estate with his dad. The closest city to Sherwood Forest, Nottingham, is still producing more than its fair share of outlaws. It is rare that a group of mid-twenties males with skateboards could be so intimidated by a mixed-sex group of teenagers half our size, but it definitely happened in Nottingham. Street crime is becoming a serious affliction in the UK, and we were “lucky” enough to experience a couple of fairly high-caliber fights during our trip. One day in London, we watched six or so tracksuit raggas on mountain bikes drive-by pellet gun two graffiti kids, and a few hours later saw a guy who’d just had his teeth smashed out chasing the perpetrator with an iron bar. Times have changed since Bill Hick’s “Hooligans.”
The London Underground, or the “Tube,” is an electric railway public-transport network that runs both above and below ground throughout the greater London area. The Tube is the world’s oldest underground system and has been operating since 1863, transporting three-million people every weekday. It rests at the core of London with the red double-decker buses and is part of every Londoner, along with the “fish, chips, cup o’ tea, bad food, worse weather, and Mary f-king Poppins.” There are many good spots to be found by journey along the network, and in some cases, such as the bank to ledge featured on this page, the station itself can be the spot.
On July 7, the week after we left London, four bombs were detonated by Al Qaeda in central London: three on the Tube, and one on a bus. We were lucky not to have been on a train at the time, but on a less dramatic level, we were lucky to have skated a lot of the spots that we did-the Southwalk Tube bank to ledge included, London has been living under a heavier banner of security ever since. Terrorism has a heavy cost, and the skaters of London are paying more dearly than most. Remember to vote sensibly next time you get the chance; the effects of national elections can come a lot closer to home than you think.
For every tour, there are people behind the scenes making things happen and cracking whips on other people to make more things happen. As the famous phrase goes, “Behind every great team, there is a major sadomasochist.” Habitat has Joe Castrucci cracking the whip, making sure that the filmers have the necessary pectoral strength and offering low-level bribery in return for footage toll. Thanks, Joe. Now would also be a good time to throw out a Stevie Williams-esque “major shout-out” to Snowy and the Southbank Crew, Seth Curtis, Percy Dean, and Fifty-Fifty Skateshop for helping things run smoothly. Once everyone made it home safe and sound, and when it was time to put pen to paper, further research uncovered a deception; it appears that the “Major Oak” that has been drawing so many people to Sherwood Forest for so many years may not be 800 years old at all. It might in fact be two relatively youthful 300-year-old oak trees that have grown together and created the illusion of one massive tree. Robin would have been long dead, buried, and decomposed before the things were even seeded. Now, people in Yorkshire are claiming that Robin actually lived in a forest 100 miles north near Sheffield and have gone as far as to name the airport “Robin Hood Airport.” We should have known the whole thing was a sham when we saw the Maid Marian’s Lingerie store in the forest parking lot. Well, everything else about the tour was definitely real; keep your eyes and ears open for future broadcasts from the House of Habitat.
d decomposed before the things were even seeded. Now, people in Yorkshire are claiming that Robin actually lived in a forest 100 miles north near Sheffield and have gone as far as to name the airport “Robin Hood Airport.” We should have known the whole thing was a sham when we saw the Maid Marian’s Lingerie store in the forest parking lot. Well, everything else about the tour was definitely real; keep your eyes and ears open for future broadcasts from the House of Habitat.