Monday 15 October 2012

Skate Mates and Good Times

One of the best things about learning to skateboard has been the new people it has brought into my life. Since I started skating over 7 months ago I have met people from all over the world, from different backgrounds and of all ages; from young kids to people in their forties. We've all connected via our love of skateboarding and I've made some good friends in the process. I really think this is something unique about skateboarding. Other sports are generally organised according to age or ability and in particular with team sports, locality. This often means you don't get to meet people outside your particular group. When you go to a skatepark you never know who you are going to meet. Yes, the core group of skaters are usually teenage boys, but there is more of a mix then you might expect.

In the first few weeks I skated I went to skateparks with my then work colleagues Wayne (a semi-pro skater) and Carlos (who had started skating again after a 7 year break). I ended up going to watch a skate contest in Sofd with Wayne in April. The skatepark was teeming with kids and teenagers, all boys, and I began to feel really out of place. I had brought my camera with me, so I could use 'taking photos' as my excuse for being there. I had brought my skateboard too, but that was staying in the car as far as I was concerned. I planned on staying for only an hour or so and then heading off, that was until I noticed there was woman dropping in on the mini-ramp. I was really surprised, this was the first woman I'd actually seen skating! We got chatting and it turned out Marie started skating 6 years ago when she was a teenager. She managed to convince me to get my skateboard out and go for a roll and, my whole day turned around. Since then myself and Marie have continued to meet up regularly to skate together. Like most things in life, having somebody to go skateboarding with makes all the difference, and I'm convinced that if I hadn't bumped into Marie that day, I might have given up skateboarding after a few weeks.
I met my 'skate mate' Marie at a contest in Sofd
When I went for my skate lesson with Lucy Adams in May, she recommended going to the Girl Skate Jam in St Albans and after I got back from London I told Marie all about it and we planned a trip over. It turned out to be a great weekend of all girl skate madness, and seeing and meeting so many other girl skaters, was inspiring. When I was in London in August I met up with Jenna Selby, (organiser of the Girl Skate Jam) again and we went for a few skates together. I also continue to skate with my ex-colleague Carlos, and along with Marie we try and head off on regular skate trips. More recently when replying to something, that had nothing to do with skateboarding, on a social networking site I noticed that the woman's profile had skateboarding down as an interest. This prompted me to get in touch with her and we've since met up and gone on several great skate trips. I've now set up a facebook group called Girls Skate Dublin to try and get more girls involved in skateboarding and to maybe organise Ireland's first Girl Skate Jam? Who would have thought that a little wooden board with four wheels on it would have such a positive influence on my life...

Wednesday 3 October 2012

New Wheels: My purple wonders

Although I initially decided to keep my wheels from my original set-up, I was beginning to think that a new set of wheels might worth getting after all. When I was at the Girl Skate Jam in St. Albans I noticed that the very rad skater Anita Almonte had a nice set of wide orange wheels to fly around the park on. I began to hanker after some wider wheels. My decision to get new wheels was cemented when I spoke to Mike Keane at Sofd about the wheels I had.  I felt like they where skidding a lot on the wood and weren't offering much grip. Mike suggested I look at Bones or Spitfire as these two companies specialise in skateboard wheels. Some online searching confirmed this, with skaters seeming to be evenly split as to whether they preferred Bones or Spitfires. I thought about going for Bones Park Formula but then I began to be swayed by what Spitfire had to offer. Their wheels were slightly softer than the Bones and I also preferred the designs. I began looking in different skate shops to see what they had but they never seemed to have the right/size colour combination that I liked. I had decided to stick with 54mm as this size was giving me enough speed and was big enough for park skating. After a few weeks of failing to find the kind of wheels I wanted, I put it to the back of mind. Then when I was at the Kings of Concrete contest, held this year along the side the Tall Ships Festival in Dublin's Docklands, I spotted the wheels I was after at the Wreckless stall. Spitfire 54mm purple Trujillo F1 Parkburners. I bought them there and then.

It took me another couple of weeks to actually put them on my skateboard, as I wanted to clean my bearings first. The prospect of cleaning my bearings didn't really appeal, it looked tricky and fiddly. I was also concerned that I was going to do it wrong and wreck my bearings. However after getting some advice from my skater friends and watching some helpful YouTube videos on the subject, I finally took them out and cleaned them. With that sorted I could finally put my new wheels on. This proved trickier than I thought, I found it really difficult to get the bearings in properly just using the axle of my trucks. I got most of them on this way, but made a trip out to Sofd to use their Bearing Press to make sure the wheels were on right and finish off the job properly. My purple wonders were ready to role. I've taken them out for a few rolls in the skateparks since, and so far so good. They grip better and are more stable. Roll on!

Wednesday 22 August 2012

Skateboarding at the Olympics

The other week I was over in London soaking up the amazing atmosphere at the 2012 Olympics. I took my skateboard with me as I also wanted to skate some of the skateparks I had scouted out on previous visits. Jenna Selby from Rogue Skateboards, who I met when over at the Girl Skate Jam in June, had kindly offered to come to London to skate with me.  We met up at Finsbury Park Skatepark on a lovely sunny Wednesday. I was looking forward to finally skating here, as I lived only 5 minutes away from the park when I lived in London. However that was in my pre-skateboarding days so I had never skated there. I had been struggling with my skateboarding the last couple of weeks. I had hit a bit of a wall in terms of pushing myself to try new things. I was still trying to master my kickturns at speed but had completely lost the nerve to try rolling off bigger ramps or roll-ins. I was getting frustrated with myself and once more questioning my ability to get to grips with skateboarding at my age. This session with Jenna started of in much the same vain. I wasn't really able to do much. I was even struggling with some basic kickturning. I managed to stick with it and shortly after Jenna left, I finally managed to get some proper kickturns and a little bit of carving done.

Jenna and me at Finsbury Park Skatepark

On the Friday I decided to head down to Clapham Common Skatepark. This was the skatepark I had had my lesson in with Lucy Adams back at the beginning of May and I was keen to skate there again to see how I had improved. It was a really hot day and the park wasn't too busy. Clapham is a great park for beginners, it has lots of smaller ramps and its open plan layout gives you lots of room to manoeuvre. I could quickly feel how much I had improved since that lesson. Things that I struggled with back then I didn't even have to think about doing now. This gave me come confidence. I finally managed to push through the fear and roll down some bigger ramps. These ramps weren't particularly high but they looked steep. When I finally took the plunge and rolled down one, it didn't feel scary at all and I began to wonder why I had been so worried. With those ramps out of the way my confidence improved dramatically and I began to feel more at ease on the skateboard.
On the Saturday morning I went back to Finsbury Park with Jenna and managed to roll in on the side of the small bowl and carve around the other end (well when I say 'carve' I mean managed to get around without stopping, the style isn't quite there yet!). I was pretty thrilled with this development. After weeks of not being able to push myself, something finally seemed to have clicked and I was able to let go. After Jenna left I headed down to nearby Clissold Park to have a quick go in the smaller bowl there. As the bowls are fairly new the concrete is still nice and smooth and I was able to practise some kickturns. I didn't stay too long as I had to leave to head to the airport to fly back to Dublin. Those couple of sessions in London did my confidence the world of good. It was well worth the extra luggage charges to bring my deck over!

Gettin' my carve on in Finsbury Park. Photo by Jenna Selby

Tuesday 24 July 2012

A blast from my skateboarding past: My first ever skateboard

After a week of trawling through a box of old photos I finally managed to locate a photo of my very first skateboard, a 'Turbo II'. The photo confirms that it was every bit as cheap and nasty as I remember! Purchased some time around 1990, as far as I can remember it was from the Irish supermarket chain Quinnsworth's (now owned by Tesco) toy department. I don't recall it being bought for my birthday or any other particular occasion, so I must have used enough 'pester power' on my Mum to get it for me.  As you can see from the photo it had plastic trucks (!!) and terrible hard plastic wheels that took some effort to roll on. Even at that young age and without any skater friends I was acutely aware of the limitations of such a board and used to spend hours pouring over fancy 'proper' skateboards in magazines and in my local skateshop in Monkstown Wind & Wave (sadly long since gone, this shop mainly sold windsurfing gear, hence the name. It also stocked some fancy skateboarding gear). My weekly pocket money didn't stretch to buying anything better, so instead I saved up £10 to get some decent bearings put into my wheels. This was under the mistaken believe that it would make my rubbish wheels roll better. I seriously doubt it made much difference. For all it's faults, I still loved that skateboard and kept it for many years after I stopped skating. I think my mother finally threw it out in one of her cleanouts, otherwise I'm sure I'd still have it...

Sunday 8 July 2012

Girl Skate Jam UK

I spent last weekend in St Albans, England at an all girls skate jam. Lucy Adams had gushed about how wonderful the Jam was when I had my lesson with her. When I mentioned it to my skate buddy Marie, she was really excited about the prospect of seeing and skating with women that could actually skate (instead of having to watch me attempt a kickturn for the twentieth time!). Before I knew it, we had booked our flights to Luton (nearest airport to St Albans) and sorted out some accommodation in the town centre. I skated as much as I could leading up the jam weekend as I wanted to try and get the most out of my time there. I had also discovered that the massive indoor XC Skatepark was only 30 minutes for St Albans by bus, so we penciled in a trip there on the Friday.

On Friday morning we headed of on the bus to Hemel Hempstead. The XC was just as big and impressive as it looked in the photos. Two of the girls taking part in the Jam were already there skating; Emily Russell and Emma Richardson and later on we were joined by Lucy who had decided to come up for part of the afternoon session. As often happens when I visit a new skatepark I was feeling a little nervous. Although all the ramps were wood the floor was concrete, and due to the rainy conditions outside had some very slippy patches (I managed to slip out just pushing off in one spot). I had also lost the ability to kickturn at any sort of speed, something that I have recently been learning and practicing. I did however roll down some fairly large ramps, building up plenty of speed in the process, which gave me a bit more confidence. The most impressive features in the park were the bowl and the pool, the only indoor concrete bowl and pool complex in the UK. However the highly polished concrete and steep drop looked far too slippy for me and I decided instead to watch Lucy show me how it's done!
Me & Marie at the XC Skatepark
After the XC we all headed back to St Albans to skate in the Pioneer skatepark, which was being opened especially for a girls only session. Pioneer is one of the UK's oldest indoor skateparks and it is here that photographer and skateboarder Jenna Selby, has been organising the Girl Skate Jam for a very impressive 11 years! She also runs her own skateboard company Rogue, which has a team of female riders.  Pioneer has a large indoor section with wooden ramps and a concrete floor and an outdoor section with a large mini ramp and a midi ramp. Some of the other riders were there and I was particular impressed by Anita Almonte an Italian rider who was shredding the ramps to bits. Again the concrete floor, this time a little cracked and uneven, made me nervous. I was a bit frustrated with myself as I desperately wanted to get to get as much as possible out of the sessions in the new parks. However with skateboarding, as with most other activities, sometimes you just have off days. Still it was great to have such a large space to skate in and even better that it was full of women ripping the place up.
Pioneer Skatepark
The Skate Jam was the next day and myself and Marie headed over to the park just before 12pm. The jam didn't get going for a couple of hours so this gave me a chance to have a little roll around the ramps. Marie decided to feel the fear and signed up to skate in her first ever skateboard competition, the over 18's jam. I was just happy to watch... The comp was split into an under 18's jam, an over 18's jam,  a sponsored jam, and a mini ramp contest. The day was was really chilled and it great to hang out and watch some fantastic women skateboarders. Lucy Adams cleared up in the sponsored jam and mini ramp contest, while Anita Almonte took the over 18's, and Rogue rider Claire Thompson claimed the under 18's prize. There was also a special Best Newcomer to the GSJ award for 8 year old ripper Tamsin Bunce, who impressed everyone with her skills on the mini ramp. Check out a full break down of the results here. That evening most of us headed to the Beehive pub in St Albans for a few well earned drinks and a good laugh.
Mini ramp at Pioneer skatepark
Girl Skate Jam 2012
The whole weekend was really inspirational and further confirmation that taking up skateboarding is making my life more interesting! The skaters were one of the nicest groups of women I've ever met, everybody was really chilled and genuinely friendly. They made myself and Maire feel very welcome and we are going to keep in touch with some of the skaters we met. I can't wait to get back over to England for some more shredding!

Tuesday 26 June 2012

Time for a new setup

Before I started skating, I used to simply divide deck sizes into 'old school' wide and narrower street style ones. It wasn't until I got my first proper deck that I realised that there are dozens of size and style configurations to get your head around. I decided to skate the 7.75" width deck and 54mm wheel setup I had until I had a better idea of what I wanted. In a few months I've become a bit of an expert on deck widths, truck hanger sizes, and wheel durometers. As I was feeling a bit unstable on the 7.75" I decided that something wider would be better. However I was almost overwhelmed by choice. How wide should I go? Was 8" too narrow? Should I just go all out and buy an 'old school' 10" deck? I sought the advice of several skaters and skateboard shop owners, but that brought its own problems as everyone gave me different advice as to what sort of deck would be best. I spoke to Clive in Skate City and he almost had me convinced to go wide, 8.5" or bigger. Clive has been skating since the seventies and is firmly in the old school camp. Mike in SofD scoffed this idea, saying that an 8.5" would be too difficult for me to control properly and that an 8" would be fine. When I had my lesson with Lucy Adams she brought an 8" setup for me to try. I felt a lot more comfortable on this and after discussing the 'width issue' with her, and seeing how big an 8.5" deck really was, I decided to get an 8". I think I had convinced myself that by going really wide I'd suddenly lose 'the fear' and turn into a fantastic skateboarder overnight. Unfortunately this isn't quiet how it works...

After deciding what size I wanted, I had to choose which manufacturer and design to go with. This was to prove another headache. As an ethically minded consumer I wanted to choose a brand that supports women skaters. Turns out not many companies do. Despite there being an ever increasing number of pro and sponsored female skaters, not one of them currently has their own deck. This is of course a total disgrace, but mirrors the wider issues that professional sports women face in the industry. Instead I had a look at companies that sponsor female skaters and went from there. I had narrowed it down to several brands but couldn't find a design I was happy with. I just couldn't find the perfect deck in the local skateshops and getting one over the Internet was going to be too expensive due to shipping charges. I was thinking about it far too much, so in the end I decided to get one of SofD's own branded decks. This way I would at least be supporting a local business, plus it was a lot cheaper than the major brands. Mike gripped it up for me and I decided to get him to cut a little arrow into the grip tape so I could quickly identify nose from tail while skating.
As I had gone up to a 8" I also needed to get some new trucks. What size trucks you need is directly related to the size of the deck and my previous ones were already on the narrow side. Thankfully deciding what ones to get was a far simpler decision then the deck. Independent Trucks (Indys) are considered by many pro skaters to be the best, and that was a good enough endorsement for me! For an 8" deck I needed to get '139' Indys and Mike had the prefect pair. Trucks come in three different heights; low, mid (standard), and high. Low are best for street tricks and kick flips and highs are better for carving those bowls. My Indys are standard 'mid' which means they are good for different types of skating. When Mike set up the trucks on my new deck, I noticed the height difference immediately, so my previous trucks must have been 'lows' (I didn't even know).  I kept my original wheels, as at 54mm they were still the right size for the new setup.

Friday 8 June 2012

A blast from my skateboarding past: A letter from Essjay

I still can't locate a photo of my original skateboard I had when I was a kid, and am beginning to fear that one may not exist. I did however come across a letter I got from Essjay's skateshop in Truro, Cornwall, from February 1990 (When I was 12 years old). I remember there had been talk of a family holiday to Cornwall that summer and I decided to do some research and find out where I could skate while I was there. At this stage in Ireland there was absolutely no public skateparks and I'd never even seen a real life half pipe. I remember being excited at the prospect of seeing, and skating, in a real skatepark. In the pre-internet days I was a prolific letter writer (and I've kept all the replies!) and I can only imagine that I got the address for Essjay's out of a copy of Trasher magazine. God knows what I wrote, but I remember being thrilled to get a reply and an Airwalk sticker (which I still have intact!!) off the man himself along with a letter telling me that they stocked lots of skate stuff and that there was a nice ramp in Perranporth... a free bowl at St Newlyn East... and a bowl at Holywell bay. Unfortunately that family holiday to Cornwall never happened and I never got to visit Essjay's or skate the bowl at Holywell Bay.  Who knows how my skating might have developed if I had, instead by the following summer I think I had given up on the skateboarding. Coincidentally in my recent job with Podium Distribution I ended up working with the UK sales rep who covers Cornwall and guess what? Essjay's shop, now called SJ Skate Store, is still there! I still haven't been to Cornwall, so now that I've started skating again, 22 years later, it might be a good time to drop in on Essjay and have a chat!