Tom Knox: the friends and family interview
My earliest memory of Tom Knox is from one of the first times we went skating together. It was cold out, December I think, and I was going to link with Jake Harris to try and film. When I arrived to meet Jake at Pimlico station, Tom was there too with his brother Sparrow. As I recall it was one of the first times Sparrow got to go out skating in the city with just his older brother. We skated down to the stair spot and Tom immediately starts to switch ollie down these certain stairs of the spot I’d never seen anyone skate before due to the short run-up. It wasn’t the standard 3-up-6-down that everyone usually skates, Tom had found a new set of stairs making it a 6-down-3-down. As Jake filmed, Tom knocked out the switch ollie down the 6-stair and a quick fakie tre down the 3-stair within about 5-6 goes. The footage eventually ended up in Blueprint’s Make Friends video, the board company that was flowing him at the time. I was amazed at his quick feet at such a young age and struck by his creative approach to a common spot. As we headed to another spot I commented on Tom’s jacket and how torn up it was on the right side. ‘A slam?’ I asked… ‘It’s just from carrying my board.’ he said. I schooled him on the carrying your board griptape out technique and he thanked me. He was young after all, a teenager, but I could tell he had a bright future ahead of him.
Years later I had the pleasure of interviewing Tom after his breakthrough Eleventh Hour part he’d made with Jacob Harris. At that time in his life he was just moving out of his parent’s home and into a skate house with his mates. Then, a few years on, I got to interview Tom again, post Vase video part (which really made him a household name) and after he had just become a new dad; his daughter Rosie was just a few weeks old. So it was thrilling to catch up with Tom again this week, years later, after a slew of pro NB# colourways, a successful Atlantic Drift video series, three more kids and several more unforgettable video parts with Jake Harris under his belt. I feel like I’ve seen Tom grow up right in front of my eyes, and with everything he’s accomplished I can really say I’m proud of him. Don’t you just love it when good things happen to good people? For this interview we’ve tried something a little different: all the questions are from his friends, family and teammates. Have a butchers…
Photography in London by Sam Ashley (unless stated)
Interview by Will Harmon
The first question is from Tiago Lemos, he asks: ‘What’s your favourite place to skate, and why?’
I mean, through my whole life I’ve skated in London, so I would have to say London in general is my favourite place. Because I’ve spent so much of my time here, I can kind of do what I want to do within skateboarding in London, because it gives me the time to figure out the spot, the trick… I can go skate Mile End (skatepark) and then I can go find a spot, figure it out, train up a trick at Mile if it’s something that I want to do and then go do it. So I’d have to say London is my favourite place to skate, but there’s a lot of difficulties with skating here, which are a nightmare. And apart from that, I mean, honestly the best city I’ve gone to skate is Athens, because everything grinds… Like spots in London take a lot more work whereas I find some of these other older European cities are designed by architects who have chosen better materials for skating. I actually love skating in Athens. It also helps that the food and red wine is lovely and cheap so it makes it a really nice trip. That has to be my favourite foreign city in recent years, but ultimately I would have to say London; I actually love it here.
OK your brother Sparrow asks: ‘You used to skate transition regs and street goofy way back in the day. Do you think this had any impact on the skater we see today?’
I would say it has. It’s a weird one because when I first started skating, like when I dropped in a ramp first I did it regular-footed, but then I would only be able to ollie and push goofy. So I never had to switch to different kinds of pushing. I know a few other people that happened to but after like a year of skating, I remember some people kind of almost calling me out at the skatepark, like, ‘that’s fucking weird!’ When I was learning how to do ollie fakies on ramp, I dropped in a halfpipe regular, I’d do a nose stall or whatever you call it, then I’d come back in goofy and then I do an ollie, because I couldn’t do it regular. So I couldn’t ollie regular, but I was learning how to kickflip goofy, so I tried to learn everything on ramps goofy. It took me years to learn how to skate switch, as in do a switch heelflip or do a proper switch ollie. But I would say what it has done is that I feel like I can roll down and can take hill bombs and big banks switch still with confidence, although it’s been years since I dropped in a big ramp switch. Now, when I skate switch, I’m looking backwards and it’s not intentional. It just happened that way, you know?
Yeah… OK this next one is from Dave Mackey: ’Having already filmed so many incredible clips and parts, what keeps you pushing? Where does that motivation come from? I know you’re someone who really cares about the end product and how it looks. Do you still find time to search for spots yourself? What’s the thought process when setting out? ‘I could do this here’ or ‘I never filmed that’? Finding time for skateboarding as a parent with four young kids can be hard enough but the time needed to work out a trick for a spot can be just as time consuming.’
I guess what kept me going is that the people I did it with as a kid, and people I filmed with as a kid, like Jake (Harris), are still doing it. That definitely helps me out a lot because I still have that kind of feeling when I go out skating with them. I can still have that feeling inside of excitement; it still kind of does feel the same. I think that’s what kept me going. And in terms of say looking for spots, I never really looked for spots, I just found them on my way. You know, London’s a diverse city, it’s got so many backstreets. I’m not very good at directions myself, so I’m always getting lost. I wind up actually stumbling across something, or I’ll pass something 1000 times as a kid and then now I’d be looking at it like, ‘oh shit, maybe you could do this here,’ and then I’ll go to it. It’s just the brain constantly seeing things in different ways as you get older. Recently, even for this stuff I’ve been shooting for you guys, I’ve been going back to spots I skated when I was a kid, you know? It feels quite nice going back to those spots and actually realising the stuff I did as a kid was pretty hard. I’m like, ‘maybe I could go do something a bit different, a bit better.’ But when I get there I’m like, ‘shit. I was pretty good when I was 17!’ I’m struggling to one up myself, which is a nice feeling though.
Yeah, I remember when you back 50ed that big rail against the wall, right by the St. Paul’s 3-stair, you remember that one? That was amazing man. You must have been a teenager then.
Yeah, I mean, that was where we’d skate every weekend. That’s where I met everyone, Jake and Dan (Clarke) and all that crew would meet at that 3-stair every weekend and we did that for years and one time I looked at that rail. And I’d never grinded a rail before; I was so scared to grind a rail, but I was kinda like, ‘if there’s a wall beside it, it feels kind of safer.’ So that’s the one I decided to grind first. But it’s like what I said, it’s years and years of it just being there and then finally your eyes open to something like, ‘I think it’s possible to try and do that.’ And that’s still the case to this day in London… There’re so many spots I used to skate, and if I went there now, I’d have a different perspective on it and be able to come up with something there and have fun at that spot again in a different way. What did Mackey ask about the kids?
Finding time to skate as a parent with four young kids can be hard enough but the time needed to work out a trick for a spot can be just as time consuming…
I mean a lot of that comes down to my wife being super down to have the kids when I go skate.
And it comes down to my friends, especially Jake, finding stuff for me, hitting me up… He gets inspired himself once we work on a project and he really helps me out. And he’s not really going out spot searching, he’s on a bus too or like he tries to meet up with his missus for a pint or something and he finds something on the way and he’ll text it to me and then we’ll figure it out and go there. So it definitely helps with other people…
Yeah for sure. OK this one is from Chris Jones: ‘Do you have any funny stories from your times at Isle? Nick Jensen stories?’
I mean, there’s so many different Jensen stories. I was speaking to Jake about this recently because I’ve been spending time with Nick lately. And like, Nick is such an amazing individual character, it’s hard to explain in words. Working on anything with him was incredible, because he’s such an artistic brain. Sometimes in the end production it would definitely be him trying to spin a statue with a screwdriver and you’d have a big ball of string trying to hold up a board… It was just a big mess, a lovely big mess. But working with him on that stuff was just hilarious. It was so great, but it was like, pretty sketchy at points, but you know he always pulled it off in the end, with help from Jake they always did their thing. And I think artistically, like what they did visually with that stuff was always amazing.
Yeah I agree. Kyron Davis asks: ‘Do you have any quotes or sayings you heard from your mum and dad that have stuck with you?’
As a parent, I start saying stuff to my kids and I realise how much of an impact my parents had on me.
I think once you start having kids it kind of gives you a different perspective on your own parents. One thing I definitely say to my kids that my dad always said to me is just everything in moderation. He always said, ‘too much of anything is bad for you.’ And I really feel that’s true. Too much of anything, even if it’s a good thing, too much of it, nah, you need moderation. You need to do different stuff in life. You need to be with different people and be doing different stuff and switch it up. Just too much of anything is bad, that’s definitely something that stuck with me.
OK the next one is from Dan Magee: ‘You grew up in a zone which is heavily referenced in many songs by The Kinks, as Ray & Dave Davies grew up in Fortis Green. It also seems to be an area that’s also under the radar slightly in terms of London skateboarding. Can you share any stories of growing up in the area and spots you associate with this zone? How has living there affected your outlook on skateboarding?’
Yeah, I think some of those brothers grew up in Muswell Hill; I lived there as a kid for a few years. And then the studio they owned was at the top of my road from my main family home where I grew up. It was just weird though, when I was growing up, it was kind of being gentrified then, so my parents would have moved there when the housing market was cheap. So growing up, just like suddenly you’d realise there were a lot of artists and art around and all that stuff, which is strange because now, as an adult, trying to buy a house you realise how fucked up it is now and how easy they had it. Thirty years ago you could just buy a place in a nice area of London for like no money; they were just giving out mortgages. And in terms of skateboarding in that area… It’s a weird thing in London as you know. Everyone in London skateboarding wise is pretty much east and south. So west and north kind of get looked over, which is good, because I’ve skated a lot of spots north that I knew as a kid. It’s definitely under the radar, but where I grew up in north London was an absolute treat for skateboarding. It almost felt like a suburb, almost not part of London, even though I lived next to Finsbury Park train station. It’s like two stops from King’s Cross on the Victoria line. It’s not like I live far out but we have such a kind of close unit of loads of skateboarders and we just have all these local spots near us, we’d wax all these curbs up… It’s a massive scene that really inspired me. And also, we’ve got some of the best hill bombs in London where I’m from. I grew up on top of one of the hills.
That must have really helped you in skating hills…
What it did for me actually, a big part of skating for me, still, to this day, is going to meet people. That’s a big part of skating, it’s the skate on the way to meet everyone. Sometimes you go skating and you just end up talking shit with your mates and you maybe try and film a trick or whatever, but sometimes the best part of the day in terms of being on your skateboard, is weaving through traffic down a hill, and you get that adrenaline and you just feel alive. And I really… I still love that to this day. I never get a bus; I skate to the station every day. And you know, I got a 10,15, 20-minute skate depending on what station I choose. And in a way I feel like that is the essence: just pushing to the station… Not fucking getting out of the station and skating the skatepark.
Yeah you’re right. And there’s another part to Magee’s question, he says: ‘It’s been done to death, but from where you grew up, you’re probably the true heir to having a Kinks song in your video part rather than many American pros. Which track would you have and why?’
Well, I’ve actually had a part I did with Jake, a part for SML Wheels I did years ago, that had a Kinks song. It had ‘This Strange Effect’, which is lovely and one of my favourite Kinks songs.
Well you’ve schooled the skate nerd, ha ha! All right, the next one is from your dear friend Jake (Harris), and he’s asking: ‘What’s your favourite thing we’ve ever filmed together?’
I mean, I’ve filmed so much with that guy… I really love this thing we got to film together years ago. It was in Vauxhall by the boat ledges, and I do a line starting at the boat ledges, then I do a wallride, then I turn a corner and I start skating another spot. And the second spot is something we would skate all the time as kids…
The manual pad…
Yeah exactly, the manual pad and this was the time I was just kind of figuring out manuals. And this was in the time that Jake was going to university, I wasn’t in uni, so I’d just go to my local park in the day, smoke a lot of weed and skate the manny pad. I remember learning switch flip nose manuals. I remember doing one on that manny pad and I was like, ‘fuck, maybe I could do the wallride and then go around and do that…’ But then I was like, ‘oh wait, there’s a ledge before, oh shit there’s another ledge before that one! Maybe I could link the whole thing together.’ Like we’ve linked lines together before like that, but that was one of the first ones where it really felt like we were doing two separate lines in one line. And the best thing about that was, it was freezing cold. I remember it was in December sometime. No one was coming to skate with us so we’d have to find a spot to hide our bags in. So we’d get there, hide our bags and just start trying and we’d go for hours and if we didn’t do it we’d just have to come back. I remember being like, ‘all right, it can just be me and you (Jake) and we can still figure it out. If there’s no one there we can stash the bags somewhere and we’ll deal with it.’ And I remember that being like a really nice feeling just being there, both breaking a sweat in December, freezing cold… It’s pretty hard doing that kind of line for an hour, but I was stoked. So yeah, that was definitely one of my favourite things. It was the first time I was like, ‘shit you can do this! You can figure out a spot and actually look behind, turn your head, find something else, and try to do the whole thing.’
Jake also asks, what’s your least favourite thing you’ve ever filmed with him?
I mean, that’s a hard question because I guess if you film something and land the trick it’s always good. I’m sure there’s lots of things that I’ve filmed, which have been terrible, because we didn’t get it. But in terms of doing it, I mean, my last trick I had in Atlantic Drift was like an ollie, ollie, then bigspin down these stairs, which I kind of wanted to do to slightly reference an ender I’d had in the past. I also wanted to do it just because I thought it’d be a good trick. But that was in lockdown, and the trains weren’t on. I live like an hour cycle into town. So I was like cycling into town, getting there trying to do it… My legs were fucked. I’d be like, ‘ah so I can’t do it today, whatever…’ I’d snap my board trying it, legs are gone, then I’d have that hour cycle back home. And I mean, that was hard. That was really hard for me, because it was just so fucking all-consuming in my brain and like physically it was just tough to go home. Having those jelly legs and jumping all day and not getting a trick… So that was probably one of the worst things I had to film just because there were no trains because the fucking weird situation with COVID. But saying that, because of COVID it meant that the spot was empty enough. So we did end up getting it and then when I got it, it was one of the best tricks I’ve filmed. That was one of the best moments I’ve had rolling away from it. But I’d say that was one of the toughest ones, definitely.
And Jake has one more question… He says: ‘If everyone from Atlantic Drift was shipwrecked on an island, who would be the last man standing?’
Ha ha! Ah probably Casper as he’d eat everyone.
The giant baby’s gotta eat! Ha ha!
OK so next is a question from Flo Mirtain: ‘Atlantic Drift is unfortunately not going to be a board company… Have you found a new home yet?’
Yeah, I mean Drift, I guess it’s not really for me to talk about, because I was obviously very excited and on board with that happening. Atlantic Drift was very much Jake’s thing, but also from the beginning it was off the back of like me and him making parts, so we kind of got it going. Jake said himself publicly that he got long COVID, and he was finding everything pretty challenging and just thought it was not a good time mentally to start a company. And honestly, I completely respect that, and at this point I’m actually happy for him, because I feel like where his head was at, it would have been too stressful. So yeah, so he decided not to do it. We know enough people who run brands; it’s fucking tough out there. It’s hard to be able to do it; it’s so time consuming. You guys see doing the mag! Running anything, you constantly have to be going into production.
Yeah, it’s full time, it’s time consuming, and then also on top of that, he has to make videos all the time, and then promote it, you know? So big respect to anyone doing a brand out there nowadays! I’ve seen firsthand; it’s really hard. But you know, that’s what happened with that. We were all super… Obviously bummed out, but your friend’s health obviously has to come first. And I’m hyped for him that he made that decision, for him.
Yeah… And then the other part of the question: have you found a new home yet?
Yeah, I think I have… I’m gonna keep that on the low for now though.
All right, I respect that. The next question is from Shane O’Neill: ‘What I want to know is when will the next big Tom Knox x Jacob Harris masterpiece be out? That’s what we are all wanting and waiting for!’
Ah that’s very nice of him to say. It’s hard, these parts I’ve filmed with Jake in the past, they’re incredibly time-consuming and they’re not off the back of a brand wanting to do something with us. It’s off the back of us wanting to do it ourselves. It’s kind of like a personal project. So who knows… At the moment, obviously, like, I’m on brands that are filming videos, I have to do that too. But sometimes with those things it doesn’t come off the same way as you having a couple of years to do your own stuff. But you know what, hopefully they’ll come again soon. I’m still in London, I’m filming with Jake all the time, so we’ve got a couple of parts lined up in the next year.
OK last question, this is from your oldest daughter Rosie (aged 6): ‘Why do you like skateboarding so much?’
Oh wow, OK, why do I like skateboarding so much… That’s the toughest question so far! I’m stumped. How would I say this to Rosie is what I’m thinking… I like skateboarding so much because you get to be with your friends, it’s good exercise, you learn new things, you learn new skills and have fun, that’s it. And that’s what I try to tell them all the time: just do stuff, if it feels fun, keep doing it. And I try to tell them this all the time when they’re swimming or doing ballet or all that stuff. I’m like, ‘if you’re having fun, just keep doing it.’ And that’s why I like skateboarding; it gets me excited still.