Dom Henry Interview
I first met Dom in New Zealand, which is fucking weird considering that we both come from the same area in Berkshire, are into (and constantly quote) exactly the same comedies and obsess over the same verses from 90s rap songs. Oh, and we both ride a skateboard. We recently worked out that it was in fact my parents breaking up many years ago, and in turn my dad moving to NZ, that was the catalyst for more than ten Berkshire skaters travelling halfway across the world to check out this obscure little country. Although Dom was a bit younger than the rest of us, tales of an easy life, good weather and new skate spots filtered down, and voila, he came out… to New Zealand.
Dom is a listener, he listens. That’s what first attracted me to him. I mean, let’s not get it twisted, give him a sip of beer and he is the exact opposite – retelling the same three Tom Penny stories over and over, coming out to completely unfazed friends for the hundredth time, and continuing to speed drink pints with astonishing Gazza guzzling gusto, but yeah, as a rule – he listens, he thinks about what you have said, he’s inquisitive, he questions things, he gets stuff, and he cares. I know that doesn’t sound like much, but in this fucking self-absorbed Me-Me-Me-Me-Me era, it is indeed a rare treat.
In addition to all this stuff, which is of course all the most important shit, there is the small matter of skateboarding, and the fact that Dom is ridiculously good at it… to the point where it seems to be almost embarrassing and awkward for him at times. We’ve all experienced it – make a trick, get too many overzealous ‘yeahs’ and whilst obviously appreciative of their appreciation, end up having no idea where to look, or how to respond. With Dom though, this unfortunately happens much more frequently than with most people – due to his extensive trick repertoire (U.S.S.R), and his PLO style. Sometimes, I think that he wishes he could be thrown out the car, and ran over – by the Method Man Jeep just to get out of such situations. Anyway, while most skaters like to skate with people that are better than them so that they can improve, I think Dom enjoys it as it means that there is less attention on him and his own fancy footwork. Add to this the fact that he recently turned pro, and the skate anxieties only run deeper (especially when I deliberately amplify them by turning up at a spot he is at and loudly exclaiming to strangers about his new-found professional status), but this is all just the price you have to pay for being a committed, gifted, obsessive skate lunatic. Sorry, Dom.
In reality though, I have no idea why he even slightly agonises over these things, shit, if I had his abilities I would be erratically waving my arms in the air like Mako Urabe mid comp run to tell the judges I was skating switch, and insisting on having a hundred kids chase me after every trick like Muska’s ender in Guilty.
Dom, stop thinking, you deserve everything you have got and more, I mean, fuck, of course you do – you’ve paid your debts for mad years.
Love you, mate.
Dom Henry: Did you work at Kingpin when Tom Penny had his interview where he said nothing?
Arthur: No?! Ha ha… I don’t even remember it.
It was just 12 photos and no text. He’s probably the only man that’s ever been allowed to not say anything in a skate mag, ha ha. Why can’t anyone else do that? I guess it’s Penny, he can do what he wants.
Wow you sound super excited about this…
Sorry it’s fine; let’s do this.
Maybe start by explaining how you ended up living in New Zealand?
I’m originally from Reading, that’s where I grew up skating with guys like Laurence Keefe
and Eugene Ocheing and for some reason a lot of the older guys had this connection with Auckland.
After my A-levels I worked in a call centre for eight months, which was stinking, but I saved up a bunch of money and went on a massive around the world trip.
Where did you go?
A bunch of places! Tokyo, Melbourne, Fiji for some reason, ha ha, and yeah New Zealand, where I’d planned to stay for three weeks. I was 19. At the time I didn’t actually enjoy Auckland as much so I ended up going down to Wellington, that I loved immediately. I made loads of friends straight away and those three weeks turned into five months. What’s crazy is that I had zero connections in Wellington but from the moment I arrived to the moment I left, I didn’t pay rent once.
What made you stay?
I don’t know… The skate scene was sick and nobody really seemed to know about it… I loved the city: you’ve got the sea, you’ve got mountains right next to it… It’s like a small SF with loads of hills and wooden houses. Plus it’s small enough for you not to have to get transport around.
Sorry just to make sure I’ve got the timeline right: the Clown Skateboards/DC UK days came before all this right?
Yeah exactly. I was already going on some DC UK trips, which is were I met Tony Da Silva, who is the reason I ended up living in Manchester much later on.
What were those trips like? I seem to remember you mentioning a quite funny interaction with one of the DC guys that came on one of them.
The Ryan Smith one maybe? Ha ha. One night when we were in Edinburgh Ryan Smith took out like 400 pounds or some ridiculous amount like that and was walking around with all the cash in his hand at like 1am. So I tried to tell him, ‘hey maybe it would be better to put that away, it’s probably not a good idea to have that on show right now’ and he shouted into my eyes, like mouth shouting directly into the eyes: ‘If you see anyone try to take my fucking loot man, I’ll eat their fucking eye balls, man!’ I was like 17, ha ha.
‘Uh okay… Soz man’ ha ha.
Ok aside over. What happened after those five months in Wellington then?
I went home as I was supposed to go to Uni in Manchester but I kind of already knew that all I wanted was to go back to NZ so I started saving up again and this time went there for three and a half years.
You went to Uni out there right?
Yeah I studied English literature. I also worked all sorts of weird jobs… I worked for the earthquake commission right after the first Christchurch earthquake. They’ve got a government insurance scheme where if there’s a natural disaster you can claim compensation. So I was opening photos of the damage caused to people’s houses all day.
Sounds really bleak…
It was but also you’d have people trying to blag it, which was always quite entertaining. Like they’d have a kid looking super sad posing in front of a TV that had fallen over ha ha. Luckily I didn’t have to decide if they were worthy of compensation or not, I just had to log.
I also worked in this roller rink… It was originally a really good place to skate as it was wooden floor and they had ramps and ledges you could move around, but for some reason around the time I started working there they covered it in this jigsaw of absorbent plastic making it really dangerous; like slidey but soft at the same time ha ha. And they’d of course still make people pay to skate there. The main clientele was whole families that were into roller hockey though, and a lot of the time it would be just me working there with a gnarly roller hockey tournament going down inside. And I knew close to nothing about first aid… It was a pretty sketchy situation; especially because most of the time when stuff was going on, I’d go to the manager’s office, close the door and go to sleep.
Ha ha. I’m guessing the DC thing kind of ended when you went out there?
Oh yeah. I’ve reset my sponsors so many times. I managed to convince DC to give me some shoes out there for a bit but that didn’t last long.
You were still skating loads when you were out there though right?
Oh yeah, I was there for skating. I mean, I was on LRG ha ha.
Ha ha. To give you some context, the distributor that was hooking me up would send me t-shirts that not only were samples but had a big ‘sample’ written inside of them in black marker. Needless to say they were pretty sketchy ha ha. Anyway after repping the marker pen samples for a while, when the actual LRG team came to New Zealand I was invited to go on a trip with them. Only what happened was I was placed into a hostage situation. I thought I was invited on an LRG tour but the distributor hadn’t actually cleared it with the American LRG team that his New Zealand team would be trailing their van. So I was put in this awkward position where I was just following Adelmo and Karl Watson, getting out at demos that they were supposed to do and they’d be like: ‘What the fuck? Who are these guys?’ At night we’d be parked in a tiny camper van sleeping directly outside the hotel where they were staying ha ha. It was so cringe… And to make matters worse, the distributor also did Red Dragon and Ezekiel, and saw fit to bring everyone who skated for those brands along as well. Imagine being Karl Watson and seeing someone wearing a big Red Dragon shirt jumping out to skate the demo with you. They were all just really confused.
Sounds ridiculous ha ha.
The whole trip was ridiculous. Me and one of my friends from over there are obsessed with this quote… I remember trying to make conversation with one of the Americans, asking if they were
going to the South Island as well and they were like: ‘Oh right… There are two Islands?’ ha ha. I also remember overhearing Kelly Hart say: ‘Dude, I just wanna go back to Laguna’, which I’m not sure why, always really amused me…
The fact that it’s ‘Laguna’ definitely makes that one extra nice.
The whole thing was insane now that I think about it… Even after the trip had ended for me, (I left a day early) mad stuff kept happening. Like the next morning I got this phone call:
‘Hey Dom, it’s Karl…’
‘Uh… Karl Watson?’
‘Yeah, Royce said you had something for us… Can you bring it to our hotel, we’re leaving at ten.’
‘I’m really sorry Karl but I have no idea what you’re talking about…’ (I hadn’t ever given Karl Watson my number or anything.)
This Royce dude was a pretty shady character who sold this and that and it turned out that after the last demo he’d followed them to their hotel and in exchange for loads of LRG product, promised them an ounce of weed that wouldn’t be available until the following day, and that of course I’d be delivering to them ha ha.
Yeah, hopefully he doesn’t think that I’m the one that ripped him off. When I contacted Royce about this weed his answer was vague and he didn’t really come through with anything. But later that day after I’d told people the story at the skatepark I then got a call from Royce saying: ‘Henry you little cunt! Because of you nobody at the skatepark will even look at me! I’m coming over now and I’m going to smash you into the ground, pick you up and smash you into the ground again!’ ha ha. Keep in mind that this dude was a gnarly bowl skater and a bit of a crackhead… And of course really hench. Oh and he drove. So yeah the conclusion of all this was that I had to leave straight away and go stay at a friends’ house for a few days, ha ha.
Did you meet Max Couling and that whole crew in New Zealand then? Or was that from visiting Melbourne?
I’m not sure exactly when I met Max but it was in NZ yeah. Ah man Max is one of the funniest men…He’s a slang professor. Although he has been caught passing off some slang that I’ve invented as his…
He tried to claim ‘spinal destination’.
How did you get to that one?
It’s from when Mike Tyson breaks his back and says it’s ‘spinal’… It’s just the worst place you could be at that moment I guess; like if you suddenly find yourself at MACBA on a super busy day or something.
Favourite Max quote?
‘It’s better to be a little feared than open the floodgates.’ I think that kind of sums him up ha ha.
Or at least how he goes about organising a session ha ha. I can see why you like that one… It goes nicely with ‘sometimes nice isn’t enough’.
That one’s great too, so applicable ha ha.
What triggered the move back to the UK?
My visa ran out… And I guess I’d kind of been away for long enough, I felt like it was time to come back. And you’re also kind of isolated there in the middle of the sea. Like unless you make loads of money the only place you can really afford to travel to is Australia, so if you’re there for a while, you start to get this feeling that you really are miles away from everyone.
I’d regularly Skype Tony Da Silva and when I told him I was planning on coming back but didn’t really want to be in Reading, he told me to come live on his couch… So I did and ended up staying in Manchester for six years.
Did you have any kind of plan at that point?
No not at all… All I really wanted to do was skate. That probably sounds lame but it’s true… And that’s what I did.
The first years over there were pretty golden. The sense of humour was quite similar to New Zealand’s, funny slang for everything; everyone’s taking the piss out of everyone… And yeah just vibe seeking. We’d cycle to the shittiest things we could find, skate metal skateparks… It was great.
It feels like you’ve had so many lives.
Yeah definitely… It’s embarrassing how many different shoe sponsors I’ve had because of this. I got on adidas right at the end of being in New Zealand and that got reset as soon as I moved away… And then when I got back I couldn’t get a shoe sponsor for a really long time, it was like my British citizenship had been revoked because I’d been gone for almost four years. I’d used my ticket. I’d met Ryan Smith, that was my chance ha ha.
What were you doing for money in Manchester, working at Note?
Yeah pretty soon after I arrived I started doing that.
Any good stories from working in the shop?
Ah man there’s too many… I remember (Ben) Grove coming to the shop to film two different ‘day in the life’s in one week without mentioning to anyone that he would. Not that he should ask for permission or anything, but I don’t know, we always thought that was quite funny.
Just Grove I guess, every time he’d come in it would just be really entertaining.
One of the most memorable lurkers was this sandwich delivery guy called ‘Sound as’. He was this Welsh (or eastern European, his accent kept changing so we couldn’t figure it) hippie that would just keep repeating ‘sound as’ all the time. He was so confident it was hilarious… He’d just ball in, tripping and say to Jed: ‘What’s this record mate? Do me a favour mate: kill it,’ and then would try to sell you sandwiches ha ha. Needless to say he didn’t get the best reception.
Also when I started I was working with Tony Da Silva and Joe Gavin and they are absolute jokers…
I know you’ve always really looked up to those two.
Big time, they’ve done so much for skateboarding in the North. Spending time at Urbis with them has had a huge impact on me. Even just Urbis in general, I feel so lucky to have experienced a plaza like that…
Especially in the UK.
Yeah. Being there just felt so cool… Like I felt tougher than I actually was when I was at Urbis. I remember once chest bumping this drunk guy that was shouting at me or whatever, giving me grief.
I’d love to have seen that ha ha.
It was just because I was pushing around the plaza switch mongo… Suddenly I thought I was hard. And yeah basically gave this guy the Biebel chest bump but hadn’t consulted him.
‘I’m really sorry about that, I’ll just pick up my glasses now…’
What pushed you to move to London and reset yet again then?
I’d always wanted to try living here but was put off by how expensive it was and the idea of having to find a job on arrival. But then at the end of 2016 I got a job doing the marketing at Keen Distribution, which I could do from home, so I decided to give it a shot.
Funny that the London reset came with you skating for a Bristol based board company (Café).
I guess I’ve always loved skating with Korahn (Gayle). He’s an absolute nerd about technique, kind of like Tom Knox you know? Like he has quite a mechanical way of thinking about tricks and breaking down how to learn them, I love that. Plus he brings the best out of me in terms of skating and obviously he’s really funny. Also when I got on, Rich (Smith, who runs Café) was based in London so it made sense, I could film for Café with him rather than having to beg filmers to film me VX for Politic for free. Of course then I went away for a couple of months and when I came back Rich had moved to Bristol ha ha. But still, it feels super close and I love Bristol… I actually considered moving there at one point last summer.
At the same time, where have you not considered moving?
There you go… It’s true; I’ve just been resetting my whole life. Fuck this stuff’s like deep therapy…
And you know exactly where this is going too ha ha.
I’ve known you are gay for a long time now and I’m not sure why but I wasn’t really expecting you to come out publicly on social media like that… Is it something you’d been thinking about doing for a while?
I mean I spent my whole twenties telling people every time I was drunk anyway… Actually maybe I don’t want to go down that road for this. Hmm…
Basically I’d kind of clocked that loads of people knew, more than I’d told, in the UK at least, and I realised that I didn’t mind that they knew.
But initially I thought, why mention it then? What’s it got to do with skateboarding? There’s no reason to bring it up… And that’s what I thought for a long time.
Then I guess a few things have happened in the past year that affected me: people passing away, there being way more talk about mental health in skating… Fuck this is hard. I really don’t want to make it sound like I’m a hero. Like I don’t go out of my way to be a leader… I don’t even tell my friends when it’s my birthday and stuff…
Anyway I guess with all this in mind I was just at a pub with my friend Cookie playing pool and it came up. He pointed out the classic: ‘Well what if some skater you really looked up to when you were 15 had done that, it might have made you feel better, it might have reduced your anxiety to see someone do that.’ So I thought ‘why not, it’s just a thing I can do for free’… Not that I have a massive following or anything like that, but even if it affects one person… It doesn’t really affect me so I might as well. So I kind of just did it on a whim on the train home from the pub.
Yeah, I hadn’t really thought about it that much until that day. Also a big part of it was wanting to tell people that I know they know; and that it’s fine. If that makes sense? Like say if I think this friend of a friend knows… Well I wanted them to realise that it’s okay for them to know and that they can talk about it.
Did it unexpectedly change anything for you? Since you just said your reasoning was: ‘it doesn’t really affect me so I might as well do it.’
I feel like the answer should be ‘yeah it’s been amazing’ but… I guess I was blown away by how positive the response was, but the truth is I’m still quite a shy and anxious person. It hasn’t revolutionised my social life, I’m still just a skate geek. I’ve certainly never felt like I’m any kind of role model for gay people… It probably kind of made a mess of my life actually.
In what way?
For some reason I tried to hide it at first, until my early twenties, and I think that’s part of what made me a very anxious person and I’m still trying to undo that… I think it made me shyer.
When I was younger I didn’t really have any gay friends so I sort of ignored it. It was just a stress at the back of my head I didn’t know what to do about, so I just kept skating. It’s probably what made me good at skating ha ha. Just trying to be good at something, that’s how I’d block it out… By going to Red Bull Manny Mania, ha ha.
Ah the old skateboarding as a coping mechanism…
I’ve just coped my way out of doing anything else, ha ha.
Looking back on it all now, do you think that almost only surrounding yourself with skaters may have in any way actually made it harder for you?
Possibly… It’s hard to untangle. Like when I was skating in Wellington I didn’t know anyone that was gay and everyone would just call shit gay… So it all just reinforced the idea that I should just shut up about this. To the point where I found myself thinking, ‘maybe I should just worry about this after skating’. It’s not just because of who I was around in skating though, it has to do with so many things… My upbringing… The fact that I’d just never really interacted with anyone from that world. I could have if I’d gone to a different school and met people there or something… A lot of it is probably just bad luck.
But yeah for so long I just felt like it wasn’t at all applicable to the conversations I was having and what I was doing with all of my time.
I feel like recently it’s been a lot easier for you to talk about some of this stuff though… Is there anything that has helped?
I think meeting Quentin (Editor’s note: Quentin Guthrie, who filmed NEXT that Dom has a part in) and him being so comfortable and openly out has helped me a lot. Whilst I was playing catch up with everyone already knowing, he was just out: so him becoming one of my best friends and one of my favourite people to skate with made me feel a lot better about it all.