Skateboarding the City (Part II): Yeah, Yeah, Industrial Estate

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In the second part of his essay (see the first here), Dave Beven sees the urban landscape of Nottingham through the eyes of a skateboarder.

Photo by Eibx
(c) Eibx/Flickr

Get off the Ind. Est. / Get off the Ind. Est./ Yeah, yeah, industrial estate / And the crap in the air will fuck up your face / Yeah, yeah, industrial estate / Yeah, yeah, industrial estate.
‘Industrial Estate’ by The Fall

The outer boroughs are stirring.

The forgotten strips of industry and neglect, the wastelands which lie between the bustle of the inner city, the sterility of the suburbs and the ever-shrinking brown-belt borderlands.

Breaker’s yards, metal workshops, smoking chimneys, mounting landfills, interconnected by dark, desolate alleyways and underpasses — the perfect backdrop for crime and debauchery to run amok.

Areas fashioned from the smouldering fallout of the industrial revolution, hubs of commerce and mass production tucked safely away behind high walls, bordered by railways and canals. This is where society’s ugly, stinking detrius is broken down, out of sight of the housing estates to keep the prices high, out of the thoughts of that self-same society, who don’t want to be reminded just how much waste their lives create.

But amongst this backdrop of anonymity, waste and wantonness, a new kind of life is quietly stirring.

Scattered across the industrial estates and urban wastelands the whole world over, groups of like-minded individuals who speak the common language of skateboarding are reclaiming lost scraps of land and building their own skate-spots.

They drag “liberated” bags of builders sand and cement, kerbstones ruptured from their original resting places and stacks of breeze-blocks across the night and the urban sprawl. They set up shop under bridge supports, among the buddleias and cracking cement of abandoned car lots. They turn piles of rubble into skateable lumps and bumps, sculpt crumbling walls into banks and ramps, use scrap metal and the bounty of fly-tipping to make grindable coping, rideable walls, and things to jump upon and off, making something out of nothing.

The gang-lords and pimps, the hookers and rent boys, the drug dealers and the drug-addled lurk around these neglected places to keep away from the prying eye of the public and the law. At the same time, these groups of renegade skatepark architects stalk the dead-ends and back streets, without thought of commercial gain. They’re after a whole different set of kicks to those of the junkie.

Their only aim is to create a place for the simple purpose of riding of skateboards. It’s somewhere for them, made by them — free from authority, security guards, advertisements and consumerism. The only rule and regulation is the right of other skateboarders to be there. (Or, more accurately, the lack of right to be there: usually these D.I.Y. parks are renegade ventures, the results of passion and desire rather than contracts and legal agreements.)

A covert inhabitant of the industrial wasteland, there to shoot pigeons rather than to skate.
A covert inhabitant of the industrial wasteland, there to shoot pigeons rather than to skate.

Publicly funded skateboard arenas, paid for by councils and built by skateboarder-owned construction companies, are more popular than ever. This is a huge step forward from the days when local councils would spend thousands of pounds on poorly consulted, considered and constructed parks, usually unskateable for serious skateboarders.

So, why should skateboarders be pouring an ever-increasing amount of their own time and (sometimes) money into creating D.I.Y. spots of their own, away from the bright lights and big budgets of the new breed of council-run facilities? Is it because skateboarders are, by and large, ungrateful runts, ignorant of the positive changes in the way the wider society perceives them, and the way skate-culture has been adopted by the mainstream? Or too stupid to know a good thing when it’s handed them on a plate? Too cynical to think it’s going to last? Or just inherently too punk to accept handouts from “the Man”?

I’m not sure it’s any of the above. The new skate parks are packed to the rafters, day and night, with hordes of fresh-faced kids being turned on to the wonders of flying around on four small wheels. There are also a healthy number of old timers being lured out of their self-imposed exiles from skateboarding by these concrete wonderlands appearing in their local parks, seemingly over night.

It’s a raging success story for youth inclusion, social engagement and council-provided leisure and recreation services. With the advent of hugely successful skateboarding computer games and the ever-changing winds of fashion blowing favourably on all things “street-culture”, it certainly seems that, for now, skateboarding’s place in the mainstream is secure, no matter what the older folks who grew up with skating’s early punk ideals may think about that.

No, I think these renegade parks spring from something more abstract, individual and reckless that is inherent to the act of riding a skateboard. There’s a self-discipline required to repeatedly hurl yourself onto the unforgiving concrete, time after time, day after day, year after year, in the quest for that perfect carve, fastest hill or roughest grind. It springs from a quest for movement, for speed, for exploration, and for reinterpreting the physical world around you, finding things there not readily available to the everyman or women.

Skateboarding is about looking for, and being able to see, all the possible angles of every space and situation, and trying to carve out a little bit of room to call your very own. If that means getting your hands mucky and building some new angles to help keep things moving, then all the better. Back to the industrial estates.

Dave Bevan

Dave Bevan

Dave Bevan is 29 years old. He digs holes and cuts trees to earn a wage, and writes, skateboards, falls off motorbikes, and day-dreams the rest of the time.

Dave Bevan is 29 years old. He digs holes and cuts trees to earn a wage, and writes, skateboards, falls off motorbikes, and day-dreams the rest of the time.

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