Skateboarding, academia & public space: a conversation with Ocean Howell

Javier Sarmiento, Switch kickflip, Barcelona. Ph. Gerard Riera

When discussing the topic of skateboarding in academia one would be remiss not to mention Ocean Howell. Most skaters will recognise Ocean’s name from old H-Street and Birdhouse videos, the 2005 iPath promo or maybe from tales of the infamous Howard House in San Francisco. But after gracefully bowing out of professional skateboarding years ago, Ocean immersed himself into academia. Many degrees, journal articles, a book and two kids later, Ocean is now teaching history at the University of Oregon. But somewhere along the way to his newly tenured status as a professor Ocean wrote some pretty important academic papers about skateboarding. I say pretty important as Ocean’s work has been cited in dozens of academic journals, quoted in books and newspapers, heard on radio programmes, and used as an academic reference for many skaters lobbying town councils for a place to skate.
After visiting London for Pushing Boarders, Ocean decided to stay on for a few extra days. Arthur and myself met up with him one evening for a quick skate at Stockwell and then we retired to the Marquis of Lorne for some pints and conversation. The following is what transpired. – Will Harmon

Arthur Derrien: What are your feelings about the whole Pushing Boarders event? Was it what you expected?
Ocean Howell: It was better than I expected to be honest. I mean it’s different. I expected it to be just really narrowly focused on skate academics because it was organised by people like Iain Borden and his graduate students. So I expected it to be a little smaller and I guess, what people are saying makes sense, is that once Long Live Southbank got involved, it got little skate-ier and a little larger and a little more publicity…
I think that was really cool. It was also nice to see academics talking to planners, talking to organisers, talking… And then just a bunch of skaters and they’re all listening to that.

Will Harmon: Yeah there were some great discussions.
I think it’s good for everyone just to be talking to each other and not be siloed off. I care a lot about skateboarding obviously and about advocacy, but I’m not an active organiser myself. If I have to talk to people who are saying complete bullshit: I can’t stand it. I have to go to research. There are a lot of people who are really patient and good at persuading: I think that’s great. I think everyone needs everyone else in order to try to get a good outcome for skateboard culture and to promote it.
In general, the thing that was most interesting to me, and I think is most encouraging, is the idea that skateboarders really are in the position to make cities more egalitarian places. I really believe that. But I’m nervous people are going to start congratulating themselves too much. I think they have to be really careful about it and be aware of the potential pitfalls… Potential ways that what they are doing can get appropriated or, you know, just used as a mechanism to boost property values and to…

AD: …be used for gentrification.
Exactly, which happens, it definitely happens. Look, skateboarders shouldn’t be expected to solve every problem. You know when you get yourself in the position of pitting homeless people against small business owners, against skateboarders and all that… You know that tells you that there are larger structural problems that skateboarding can’t solve on its own… But skateboarders can be aware of the landscape and think about where there are opportunities and where there’s potential. And I think they should say no to some opportunities. Now that the cities are actually listening to us, I think it’s important to be selective and not to just agree to anything. I’ll use an exaggerated example to make the point: what if there was a site that was like a woman’s health clinic, or like an orphanage or a homeless shelter, and they’re like, ‘we’re going to level all this stuff, we’re not providing any replacement services or anything but build a beautiful skatepark,’ I think they should say no to that.

WH: If skaters want to be considered, they have to consider others.
Exactly that’s a perfect way to put it. But I think there’s a lot of potential. Something from a personal perspective: for my generation of skaters, it’s insane to think about collaborating with city councils and governments because the whole idea was ‘fuck you’. But things have changed, so there’s something just strange about seeing the whole thing.

WH: So you said that skateboarding lead you into academia, which is quite unusual I would say.
Yeah that’s not a typical path…

WH: How can skateboarding benefit from academia?
Well actually this was really nice (and surprising): a lot of people came up to me this weekend and told me that when they’re dealing with city councils or contractors who are building parks or even with parents: they point to my work, they point to Iain Borden’s work and it legitimises it. That’s amazing to hear. The book I wrote is about urban planning in the Mission District, and it’s a very academic book, I’m very proud of it, it’s a very heady piece of work with ten years of research. But I don’t think it has had as much immediate and obvious impact on the world as the handful of essays I’ve written about skateboarding. Just because people use them and it’s a live issue. It’s a set of debates that are happening right now and involve how the city is going to be designed and where money is going to go. Those are very important issues and academics can at the very least provide a patina of respectability. In the most basic sense ‘hey look, it’s legitimate because the university cares about it’ – that’s the first layer. But then also provide objective research to back things up. To back up why? Because this way when you’re presenting arguments to a city council you can say ‘look here’s actual research that demonstrates this…’ I think that’s very important and this is where I see my real role. I’m very happy to serve this function of being a public intellectual in these kinds of places and kind of just be a cheerleader for it to a certain extent. But I view my most important role as just providing objective research. I’m so glad a lot of people have reacted so positively to the things I’ve written that were critical. The stuff that people have always been most interested in, and this weekend for sure, was you know the observation that skaters are swept out of some places and they are used as a broom.

AD: That was something I was going to ask you to explain…
I mean but that’s a very critical thing. You can imagine a scenario in which skaters wouldn’t want to hear it, but it’s the truth. So my job is to tell the truth whether I like it or I don’t. It doesn’t matter if I like what I find. One of the guys who trained me at Berkeley used to say: ‘If my facts don’t conform to my politics, I don’t change my facts, I change my politics’. Like I say, the act of skateboarding is pure in my mind. But if people went in a different direction with it, I’d be like, ‘I’m not having anything to do with it anymore but I still have my skateboard. Fuck all of you, I’m going to go skateboard because I love skateboarding. This can be your thing and I’m going to do my thing.’ An academic’s role is to tell the truth. And it’s very important that someone like me, or Iain Borden, remain objective about it because then that’s the only way that it will retain its authority. Otherwise, if I slip into the mode of advocacy… I mean I’m happy to put on a different hat and be an advocate in this room…

AD: Seems dangerous…
I know and it’s always a bit uncomfortable for me. And you know, I’m a fucking skate rat, I still am. I obviously want to see a certain set of outcomes. But my role at the end of the day, the most important role I can serve is to provide objective analysis about how skateboarding interacts with city governments, how the city is designed, all that kind of stuff.

AD: You just touched on it briefly, but can you properly explain your analogy of the skaters being swept out of some places and being used as a broom in others.
Part of the Broken Windows policy in the US in the eighties was these police sweeps… Will did you ever get caught up in sweeps in Union Square?

WH: Well I escaped, I ran out…
Yeah I did too… I never got caught but I got caught up in them. They would drive into the square. It was really nasty and the idea was, ‘you’re a sign of disorder’ so they’re going to sweep you out. But then in a lot of other places where they started building a lot of skateparks… The one I was thinking about was Burnside: that’s a classic one. So they started pouring concrete up to the pillars underneath the bridge and then the city (the Oregon Department of Transportation more precisely) comes and says: ‘what the fuck are you guys doing? We’re knocking this down. This is unauthorised.’ And all the surrounding property owners said, ‘don’t you dare! This was an open-air drug market and a big problem. These guys are scrounging, drinking beers and shouting but they’re fine.’ People’s cars aren’t getting broken into, it’s less threatening on the streets because you know the lower rung of people who are really hard up and so therefore commit actual crimes, they’ve been scared out. So that was the rationale by which they allowed Burnside to remain. Not because they were trying to support youth. I mean that was a supplementary benefit.

WH: You think their PR people tried to spin it like: ‘yeah we’re going to help the kids’?
No, it’s to help property value. And that is a tool in the tool kit of urban planners in the United States now. And they know; if you get one alone in a room they’ll be perfectly frank about it. Why do they site parks under bridges? Because that’s always where you get a rung below you, on the social scale… Right? And I mean there’s a good case to be made for doing that though… It’s very complicated because you know what skate culture is like and especially at a park… It’s a supportive community for kids who might otherwise end up in that situation. In Portland there was other places where they were proposing to put parks and the homeless advocates didn’t want it because they knew that that meant moving out their clients. They knew that was a tactic.

WH: It’s a tricky situation.
There you have it: homeless advocates versus skateboarders… Fuck that. So that was the whole rationale of Love Park… The people who were supportive of allowing skaters in Love Park were saying ‘oh there was just drug dealers and homeless people there before’. Well there were homeless people there before because of fucking Reagan closing all the mental hospitals.

AD: Which is a different problem…
Right, and one that they’re not addressing.

WH: Skateboarders are being used as the broom.
‘We’ll just sweep ‘em out and under the rug’ you know? That’s a good metaphor because they’re not doing anything for those people, they’re just trying to fucking get rid of them.

WH: And once the property values go up, we’ll sweep the skateboarders out and make a Starbucks.
The other term I use is the ‘shock troops of gentrification’ because the exact same thing happens to skaters. They’re the next… You know, ‘get rid of the lowest rung, skateboarders are good for that.’ And they’re like the higher rung up… And then when the Frappuccino crowd shows up… Sweep the skaters away. So that’s a perfect example of a thing that skateboarders, I think need to be very aware and conscious of. And I don’t think skaters are here to solve all these problems. But there’s certainly, I’m sure it’s happened already somewhere, a place where it’s just really obvious that you’re being instrumentalised in order to fuck another group up. And I think we need to just be conscious about that.

WH: So speaking about just that, ‘defensive design’, obviously it’s only aimed at a certain category of the public: skateboarders, homeless people, people who do graffiti… So how do you think the Frappuccino’s and free Wi-Fi crowd aka a lot of the white middle class users perceive it? Is it working?
They don’t see it! OK so here’s a story I tell in one of my pieces. You know the bay blocks (in San Francisco)? Where they put all the really nasty skate-stoppers on? I interviewed the architect who designed those exact ones. She called them pig ears. I went through the letters to the editor for a bunch of newspapers. That’s always a good place to look if it’s hard to figure out how people are thinking. It’s always hard to know what the public is actually thinking unless you go out and do surveys. You have to get like human subjects and all that… But you can get a sense of stuff from letters to the editor. So I went through a bunch of those and there was a lot in there, a lot of people were talking about it and I don’t think I saw a single thing that was supportive of it. I think everyone was pissed. There was one that I remember really well… ‘I’m a person who should hate skateboarders; I’m a middle-aged lady with a bad leg, but this is so mean-spirited. It’s uglier than the damage that the skateboarders make.’

Oscar Candon, noseslide, Marseille. Ph. Felix Schaper

WH: I don’t know if you’ve been to San Francisco Arthur, but it’s literally like a mile long and all skate-stopped.
AD: Must have cost so much fucking money.
Just in steel alone for those things… But so the answer is, in so far if it’s visible, no. And that’s actually why I really wanted to point it out to people that this is happening, so people understand. I mean I’ve never had the experience of someone saying ‘oh yeah they should do that.’ I think people are sometimes… They don’t know what to think about it. But no one is like ‘oh yeah those fuckers.’ I mean I’m sure those people wouldn’t talk to me to begin with; I’m sure there are people that think that…

WH: But what makes the bay blocks unique is that there are not so many businesses around there. I understand what Gustav (Eden) was saying about making the noise, danger to pedestrians and the damage… OK fair enough. But at the bay blocks it is just people jogging, riding their bikes, walking… There are no businesses where the noise would make any type of difference.
I know but it’s just those stunning views of the Bay Bridge and Angel Island…

WH: Why can’t skateboarders enjoy that too?
That’s exactly what I’m saying… They don’t want that on a postcard of San Francisco. It’s part of the tourist’s vision.

AD: The thing is they exist. Who picks this tourist vision? I guess it’s not fair.
I know, I know.

WH: Think about how many different generations of skateboarders have travelled to San Francisco for skateboarding.
I know but that’s not the kind of tourism they want either – especially in a place like that. I mean some places like Barcelona are interesting though because when they had, I’m sure they don’t have a phone book anymore, but the last time I was there in 2005 I think, they had a phone book still. And they had a picture of a skateboarder at MACBA. And they were like, ‘this is a vibrant place.’ San Francisco doesn’t market itself like that, it goes for ‘this is beautiful and exclusive.’
There was one more thing I wanted to say about that. The thing about whether it works for people. We saw those things on the way over here when we were by the station in Brixton, Stockwell station right? The new spot with the anti-skate stuff… People don’t see that; they don’t know what that is. And insofar as the design has got more sophisticated, because you could just throw those clips up, skate-stoppers that are on everything… But people don’t like them. Average people don’t like them. They look like shit and they look mean-spirited.

WH: Well they are not comfortable to sit on either.
They’re not comfortable to sit on and also you can just tell that they’re there… It’s like spikes. No one likes seeing spikes even if it’s for pigeons. When people see spikes in a place and they know it’s to keep homeless people off… People are uncomfortable with that. They don’t want to be confronted with that fact, the fact that the city is built for a certain public. When we’re talking about public you’re never talking about everyone. The city is designed in such a way as to selectively filter its users. Planners don’t talk about the public; they talk about users. And they have to. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re bad or stupid. You have to design things for certain things and not for other things. But you know when people are confronted with the fact that you’re not designing for people who are in a worst possible position, also just like young people who are skateboarding, they don’t want to be faced with that. They don’t want to have to think about that. So in so far as the design, it has become more sophisticated in becoming invisible as defensive, then it is working. And I think it’s important for us to continually point it out. ‘Do you know why they designed it like this?’

WH: Yes, right!
There was actually… I was really psyched, I don’t know if you guys would have seen this but the Guardian quoted me a lot. There was a guy Alex Andreou, he was an actor who went through some hard times and ended up sleeping rough for a while in London, and he read my stuff and wrote a couple really nice essays about his experience and cited me in it a bunch. So what he was doing was pointing it out and he used me to point it out. So I think all of us need to be continually pointing that out to people like, ‘do you know why they’re doing that?’

WH: You’re right so many people don’t even realise…
They don’t know. And it’s designed so as to be invisible. I also think that in some places it probably makes sense to have them. You know like out the front of a cancer ward and there’s some sick ledges that you might know… Some 14-year-old that’s going to get too excited and run into someone… So you know there’s probably some places where… And especially when we’re getting to the point that they are actually designing some places for us… We do have to make some concessions I think. Not ‘like we need to hold on to every little thing because we know it’s going to go away’… Like maybe it won’t.

Ben Raemers, Wallie frontside tweak, Barcelona. Ph. Gerard Riera

AD: So there have been cases when architects have been super-supportive of skateboarding and they’ve designed benches with metal edges. But then the city or the building owners put skate stoppers over the already metal-edged ledges. So the architect has one vision, and then I guess it’s just ruining the architect’s work…
That happened at the new federal building in San Francisco. I went to a talk with the architect Tom Mann: he was pissed. He was really pissed. He was like ‘no this is for the public! No, I wanted people to skate it’.

AD: Is there anything architects can do to prevent that from happening to their work?
Well you know it’s like anything else, you put it out in the world and then you don’t get to control it anymore. I mean that is a tough one. I don’t know, I’m not a designer. I’m a historian who is around that culture a little bit. I mean the person you want to ask that question to, and I think you should, was the other guy who was on that panel: David Knight. Someone asked him a question, maybe it wasn’t directly that, but it lead into this discussion pretty quickly. He was saying that when you do the renders, there’s some kind of notes that you can put in.

AD: That’s the thing I mean. Is there a way for them to…
When you think about it people imagine that architects are out there creating the spaces that we all live in. And there’s a sense in which that’s true, but there’s also the sense in which architects are just contractors. You know what I mean?

WH: You make a building then someone else is going to manage it.
You know like I get in a guy to do the mud on my wall. Mud my walls and then I can do what the fuck I want with it after he’s finished and left. I mean so that’s a hard one because you know they’re just contractors and they are scrapping with each other, they are competing with each other to get commissions…

AD: So it’s always going to be on a policy level then?
Well, no it is on an implementation level. I think it often bypasses policy. Because there’s like a policy level where people decide that these are the kinds of things that we should be doing. But then it comes down to the administrators who are actually like, like the city councillors aren’t thinking about looking at ledges. You know what I mean? They’re on to the next thing. ‘I got the money for this… I got the money organise for this… This is gonna work, OK… I’m on to the next thing and then you guys work this all out…’ And then it’s the administrators, like the mid-level administrators, who are making these decisions. You know so I think it’s like mid-level city planners… You really need to talk to those people.

AD: So apart from having the Gustavs (Editor’s note: Gustav Eden is Skateboarding Coordinator for the city of Malmö, employed by the Streets and Parks Department) and people like that, you just can’t avoid that from happening?
No, well I think there are things you can do. I think especially the more notoriety you have as an architect… You do have some weight to throw around…

AD: OK so if you’re like a massive deal you can be like ‘this was for this, look what’s happening…’
Right exactly so, it’s partly about convincing… Talking to architects and trying to convince them to exert whatever influence they do have. Their influence isn’t determinative, but it’s still influence. The mid-level planners, they need to be educated too.

AD: During the Pushing Boarders talk about public space David Knight said: ‘The single biggest enemy of good public space, is the will to iron out conflict.’ And how the most successful spaces are the ones that are in conflict (he used Trafalgar Square as an example). Can you explain what he meant by that? Is it a statement you agree with?
Yeah I was going to say I worry a little bit about that… I think I do agree with him as long as he meant it in a certain way… I think he did… It’s not conflict in so far as, people throwing bottles at each other… ‘We’re going to design this space for Antifa and neo-Nazis’…

AD: It’s everyone wanting the space basically.
Yeah exactly and not open conflict in the sense of like literally fighting or a 14 year old running over someone in front of a cancer ward. I doubt that’s what he meant. But OK so think about space like MACBA, have you ever spent time at MACBA?

AD: I’ve spent a lot of time at MACBA.
Yeah so do you notice how certain groups of people come at certain times of the day and just kind of claim space? It can get a little testy at times but when I was there I only ever saw a couple of things go down. There’s real value to groups of people claiming a space. There’s a whole immigrant community that lives right there… And they come in and they start kicking a ball around, and then the skaters are there…

AD: That’s what makes a place vibrant, this mix of groups. Then just like a family coming out of the museum like, ‘oops sorry’ to the skater. Then the kids are watching the skaters… And then the guy that’s selling you a beer starts having a go on the skateboard…
And then there’s like rich tourists there who are used to having everything designed exactly for their comfort. They have to come through into this major cultural institution… You know a world famous museum, a glowing Richard Meier building, and then they have to see skaters and North African immigrants…

WH: People kicking a football full speed towards you…

AD: They’re forced to sit down stop and have a look and take it in…
And then usually everyone’s like, ‘heya!’

WH: Most people enjoy it.
Yeah exactly, and I assume that’s what he meant by that in which case I support it 100%.

AD: Yeah. As opposed to to a space only being for one type of person.
Yeah exactly, exactly… So there’s like this complex negotiation of space. Who gets to sit where and all that kind of little micro stuff that goes on. That’s what the public is. That’s how everyone understands… And that’s what a good public space is like. And that’s why I love European cities, because there’s so much of that. There’s so little of it in US cities.
So yeah and so far as public spaces hosting conflict, in that sense, I’m all for it.

WH: It teaches people from different backgrounds how to interact with each other.
So, as you haven’t written much about skateboarding recently, but you said you’d like to again soon: after what you heard this weekend, how would you steer your future research and writing? Are there some things you heard this weekend that made you think, ‘wow I’d really like to look into that’?
I guess all the organising that’s going on… That might be worth looking at. I am interested in that: all the stuff that’s happening here (London), and in Copenhagen, and Malmö. So I mean maybe that… I don’t know I’ve got this other project on my plate right now that I’m trying to wrap up. So it all depends… I mean the one thing that’s always really, really interested me and I wanted to study is the thing I mentioned in the first panel which is, the fact that skateboarding kind of chases waves of economic development, chases global capital basically. Because global capital produces certain sorts of actual physical spaces… So China, I don’t know where’s the next… There’s some stuff in Tel Aviv… People are starting to skate Dubai.

Heitor Da Silva, 50-50 grind, Philadelphia. Ph. Zander Taketomo.

WH: Taiwan is getting big now.
Right and then it will be Uzbekistan… Well it won’t be as Uzbekistan because it’s fucked, but whoever is next for a big wave of modernisation, a big influx of global capital. Unless it’s like Singapore or something, where they have a crazy policing scheme. And eventually what will happen I think is that… Because you know how in certain places, anti-skate design they’re savvy to it now. They know how to do it. Eventually, it doesn’t seem like it’s happened yet, but that’s eventually going to get integrated into international architectural knowledge, design knowledge. I don’t know when it’s going to be.

AD: Not if we beat them in that race to modernisation… If skating manages to get ahead…
As the way you make a good city.

AD: That’s more modern than having a cap/knob.
The way that you make a modern and good city is by welcoming it.

AD: It’s unlikely, but imagine…
OK when Alexis (Sablone) was talking about her experience at Love Park, getting kicked out of the spot by undercover cops with longboards… Imagine how far that is from what most of us experience in Europe. As Gustav was joking, kids being force-fed marble in Malmö… How does it get to the point where there’s such a huge gap between America and Europe in the way skateboarding is perceived? It started in America, America’s made so much money from it…
I have a lot of shit to say about that actually. Generally, it’s a culture of conservatism that we’ve been in the throes of for a very long time now. It’s a broad based shift, starting in 1970s. A reaction against what happened in the 1960s – that’s why. The riots… The riots that happened in the late 60s, the cities fucking burned. They really did.

WH: So the powers that be completely changed how they thought about public space. I never thought about it like that…
That’s exactly why. Not exactly, I mean there’s a bunch of shit that happened after that. But that’s the seed of it right? There was a youth culture, and then poor people of colour, who rose up against the Vietnam War and for free speech issues or civil rights… The Civil Rights Movement… All of that shit, so when people see young people, even if they’re white, and brown people and black people out damaging things, like taking up space, there’s a fucking instinct in there to get out a baton. You could talk about the mess in Berkeley when (Ronald) Reagan was the governor of California… Then all of the civil rights stuff… Which, we too often only associate with the South. I mean that shit… The Black Panthers in Oakland… Stuff was going on everywhere, and so we are still living through this backlash against the 1960s. I think that’s really the roots of it.
OK here’s another important thing… Did you read the thing I wrote about skateboard parks? I wrote a thing about skateboard parks; it was actually the first thing I published in a peer review journal. It was about progressive era playgrounds. I published it in the Journal of Urban History…

WH: OK I don’t think I’ve seen that, but I’d love to…
It was about progressive era playgrounds. Why did we first get playgrounds? It’s a really interesting story. What I say there is, it’s all about property value, it wasn’t about the ideology that people had. And what I wrote about skateboard parks is the same, it’s sort of following that up for the present era, ‘Public Skateboard Parks are the Neo Liberal Playground’ that was the title of my piece. Which again was a critical thing I think might have pissed skaters off, but people really responded positively to it. I was like great yeah… But it’s all about property values. That’s another reason in the American context. And here (in the UK), for one thing, it’s harder to own anywhere… It’s much more of a socialised economy. It’s all about private property there. So that has an absolutely material literal expression where, ‘you’re on my piece of property’ like, ‘you cross that line you’re now on my piece of property’, but it also has a mind-set. When people are in public spaces or people are walking through public space… They conceive it as a kind of as a private property. Do you understand what I mean? So it’s like, ‘this is for this… Look there’s a bench here and it’s clearly meant for people who have shopped in that store to come here and eat this kind of fucking sandwich’… They have a certain kind of possessive sense of everything. Even when things are actually public, their conception of publicness is a very privatised version of it I think. So yeah all of that big fucking frothy mix of stuff contributes to the fact that people look at skateboarding that way in the US as opposed to here. And you’re right, that’s gross and it’s maddening. Like that’s where it fucking came from.

WH: It’s interesting, I never thought about it like that.
OK so Malmö is a very forward thinking city and that’s helped skateboarding thrive there, at the same time as Daphne (Greca) said in the talk yesterday… Athens is quite a chaotic city with lots of problems plus a very anarchic attitude, and that has also benefited the skateboard scene. But I feel like most cities are somewhere in between that. They aren’t as forward thinking as Malmö, but not complete chaos like Athens..In your opinion, what are some of the best things an average skater can do to convince his or her city council that skateboarding benefits public spaces and city life?
Well, I mean that’s really a question for Gustav… Also it depends on the context. Talking to Eugene, Oregon is not the same as talking to Malmö, not the same as talking to Athens, not the same as talking to London. Actually I really appreciate all the stuff Stu (Maclure) was saying… Learn your local council, learn their language, learn who the people are, learn their concerns… I’m just saying because they are all incredibly different.
So the main thing I would have to say is understand where you are, understand what the local politics are, understand who’s involved. And learn about it. Again I’m so impressed with European cities. Like dirt bag skaters, who are just fucking pounding beers and smoking blunts show up and go, ‘OK there’s an issue that I think is important’, and then they fucking get it together go to the city council.

AD: That was definitely the case for the Long Live Southbank campaign.
WH: It’s incredible.
You’re like ‘these fucking dudes?’

AD: Fucking heroes man, it was unbelievable.
WH: You’re like ‘ok there’s a 10% chance that they can make a change.’ And they did it. They saved Southbank. To me that is incredible. It brought people together.
I mean that’s it… Understand the local scene and organise. And learn to speak that other language. And I appreciated some of the stuff that Gustav was saying, you know, ‘when you’re young and you’re super into your culture, it’s really easy to dismiss everything else and to feel like you’re selling out when you’re doing this stuff’. But you’re not. ‘Oh, you’re doing property damage… No, I’m activating this space’. And it’s not learning how to bullshit: it’s telling the truth. People speak different languages, and there’s nothing wrong with being able to speak in different registers, you know what I mean? You don’t curse in front of your mum…

WH: It’s the way you talk to people that confront you as well. That’s another thing you can do. ’I’m not trying to damage this; I’m trying to use this dead space.’
Right, so learn to speak in the appropriate registers. You know, you speak a different way at work than you do when you’re with your friends drinking beers… or with your wife, or with your kids… My god I have kids now, boy do I have to speak in a different way than I’m inclined to… And my students… And the older you get and the more responsibilities and worlds you move into, the more you learn to speak different languages and the more you realise that’s fine. Young people tend to have an issue with that. They think that they’re not being true to themselves.

WH: Selling out or something.
Selling out yeah, just by learning what a city council is. You know what I mean? Learning the basic stuff. That’s not true. You live in this world and you have obligations to it.

AD: And you’re doing yourself a favour.
You’re doing yourself a favour… Exactly. Learn to speak in different registers. And you’re not being untrue to yourself; you’re just broadening your world. Trying to convince skaters of that I think is important.

Dakota Servold, backside tailslide, Barcelona. Ph. Gerard Riera.