Anarchy Boom Mike Manzoori tells us about misconceptions, skateboarding history, and skating today in the U.K.

Misconceptions At first I was surprised, but I’m very used to it now. It’s as if I have an automatic response. Without thought, my mouth reels off a string of words, almost a sentence, but more like a monotone chunk of information. “No, it’s not that bit by Australia. It’s the two islands off the northwest edge of Europe!” This is responded to with a confused expression. “Err, you know, the Northern Hemisphere, to the right of the Atlantic?” Anyway, misconceptions about these islands are abundant. Some are funnier than others, like, “Do they speak English in England?” A classic quote.

The subject of this article is an island smaller than California. It shares its northern area with Scotland and Wales sticking out the middle of the west coast, England takes up the rest. Then there’s Ireland next to that, who’s northern area is debatably British. Together these two islands are the U.K.; and England, Scotland, and Wales are Great Britain. Get it? Neither do I. It’s no wonder no one has an accurate perspective on the place. Nevertheless, it’s one of the most well-known parts of the world. I suppose it has something to do with the old British Empire clocking up colonies in all directions. Within the last couple-hundred years, they decided to invade countries and bombard native cultures with very civil British morals and traditions. Then of course, there’s the number-one seller in our tourist trade–the royal family. Their popularity seems to spread everywhere except the countries they represent.

Skateboarding

The U.K. is a prominent member of western civilization; in other words, it pays homage to consumer gods like McD’s, Coke, MTV, and anything else marketable to unsuspecting civilians. This move toward adopting Americanisms, while maintaining a stiff upper lip or wearing Union Jack boxer shorts, has been creeping into all areas of UK lifestyles. This naturally included skateboarding–from the first signs in the 70s of a marketing possibility “that could sweep the nation.” Skateboarding in the U.K. has, in the past, been a slightly distorted mirror of the California forefront.

There was also a cosmic delay effect brought about by the vast Atlantic, which separates the U.S. from the U.K. In the second half of the 70s, the potential of the wacky fad was realized by people with money who invested in skateparks up and down the country hoping to cash in. Also, local councils poured a lot of cement providing public parks. There were a few imitations of U.S. parks and countless other “bright ideas” of what the kids might find fun to skate. When this interest proved nonprofitable at the end of the 70s, most parks were shut down and skating went underground. Luckily, there isn’t the same insurance risks as in the U.S.–where people live in fear of ruthless lawsuits–so many public parks were left to be. Presumably, they didn’t want to pay to remove that which they had just paid to install. Today, twenty years later, there’re still many cement treasures dotted about. They’re usually weathered and cracked but endless fun.

In the mid 80s, Tim Leighton Boyce and his merry few at the old R.A.D. Read and Destroy magazine helped bring the UK scene through its second wave of popularity.

The skate-video phenomenon began in the early 90s, and countries outside of America really started to catch up to world class standards. Magazines can only show so much. Videos began to show the latest tricks within a couple months of invention with the bonus of slo-mo. There has continued to be at least one good UK magazine devoted to skating. This means the community’s activities and achievements are acknowledged and represented nationwide–keeping the movement growing with momentum behind it.

These days, the scene has developed even further. Skateboarding is at another peak in popularity: neww parks keep opening, there are many events, Sidewalk Surfer and other document magazines, U.K.-based board companies, and pro teams are signs of skateboarding’s growth. Along with these has come interest from the mainstream. Skating and its image are portrayed in advertising, music, fashion, and TV. There’s even a TV show on Saturday afternoons that heavily features skating.

Even though the attention from the mainstream is often cheery and miles from the soulful element of skating, at least it’s opening eyes to its existence and often encouraging kids to indulge. This increased awareness brings both good and evil. The average geezer with a couple pints of courage in him might think twice before hurling abuse or a bottle as you skate past. But the mass media’s misrepresentation of what a skater believes in can twist the truth. What “they” think “you” think is cool is usually very different, yet too subtle for the constrained eye to see.

Skateboarding in the U.K. is becoming self-contained. Ten years ago, if any U.S. pro came over to skate here on a tour, there would have been a lot of interest. These days, most kids blow off an indoor demo if it looks like nice weather for street skating. Every big town and city has a scene and usually a few really talented skaters. Kids are making their own videos that are being watched by skaters around the country. I don’t think that its a conscious attitude of “Stuff yu! We’re Brits!” But probably the result of a lot of semi-anarchic energy on a quaint little island.