To the world at large, we are known as the éS Team, some of the best skateboarders on this revolving rock today. But, on this trip, we have been reborn, reconfigured, reconstituted and remixed as a skateboarding version of The A Team, starring Eric Koston as Hannibal, the sound reasonable one; Rick McCrank as Murdock, the energetic comedian; and Paul Rodriguez as BA Barrakas. Actually, Paul looks nothing like BA, nor sounds like him, but his skating is the toughest out of anyone, so he gets to be BA.
Our mission is to conquer England's most popular skateparks in eight days by van. Our only known enemies are the cramped, five-hour daily car rides, Lance Dawes' chain smoking habit and bad, greasy, fried foods.
[ 12:42 pm ]
Stepping off the plane from a 10-hour flight, our senses weary and still trying to wake, Eric Koston, Paul Rodriguez, éS Team Manager Tony Evjenth, Slap magazine's Lance Dawes and filmer Mike Manzoori arrive at England's customs department. Such fine, friendly people make up the staff, I must say. In fact, one of the friendliest I've experienced. We don't even have to worry about the usual cavity searches, such as those the LAX staff enjoy doling out so much.
Awaiting our arrival is our tour guide, Mark, plus Andy Scott (yes, THE Andy Scott from Flip Skateboards) and Woody, who skates for éS England. We pick up Rick McCrank at his arriving flight, load up his luggage (well, one backpack, actually) and get into the van. Lance lights up a cigarette. We meet Sam from Document magazine and Leo from Sidewalk magazine, as well as filmer Chaz, who is going to document the entire trip on video. I'm glad he had a lot of film!
Our tour guide, Mark, initiates game plan #1: Drive five hours to the first demo! A loud "Oh my god!" emanates from someone in our group as a look of disbelief spreads over our faces. What the hell did he just say? An always-energetic Rick McCrank looks at our group, smiling. "Let's do this. It's all for the kids, right?" I look at Paul Rodriguez and he says, "I'd like to skate, so let's go. Let's do this." Skate?
BA Barrakas would have said no. BA would have had to be drugged to get on that plane to begin with, and definitely wouldn't be skateboarding after it. "Quit being a bunch of prima donnas over here and get in the van!" Rick announces again. So that's it. We get in the van. Lance has another cigarette.
[ 4:38 pm ]
Our first pit stop! Luckily, the pit stops in England are like mini-malls on the motorway, which is very convenient. Clean toilets, friendly staff, a video camera in every corner. Lance has another cigarette. Talk about being watched.
The pit stops usually involve Burger King or some kind of fast food restaurant that feature soy burgers. Seems vegetarianism is on the rise in England ever since that mad cow craze a few months back. I think they're all being pussies. I say eat the meat, but what do I know? We are informed that the area we are driving through was a big mad cow quarantine area. I keep my eyes peeled, but there are no mad cows to be seen anywhere, only mad skateboarders.
[ 6:50 pm ]
The first demo is at Mount Hawke, population 600. Not surprisingly, about 500 of the Mount Hawkians are at the demo. After scanning through the crowd of kids impaling themselves on, in and under our van, we try to drive into the skatepark. Lance has another cigarette.
Holy crap, there are a lot of kids here--seriously like 500 or more. The only problem is they won't back away from the van and let us drive four feet into the skatepark. I feel as if we are on display in some kind of miniature mobile zoo and that these kids will do anything to get into the van to pet us. I've often wondered what a monkey feels like at a zoo. I think I now know.
Once the kids let us drive into the skatepark, the show is on. Eric, Rick and Paul conquer the Mount Hawke' downward sloped skatepark. Andy Scott and Woody keep it going strong, as well. Paul sets a new standard in ledge / rail accuracy with his frontside slides and nollie heelflip nose slides down the 15 foot ledge.
Rick McCrank and Eric Koston are skating like mad cows, too, with Rick's fluid ability to ride anything from vert to street. In fact, Rick killed everything in sight. Not a bad recovery after a 10-hour flight and a five-hour drive.
Then there are the local terrors. A kid nicknamed Flatspot helps froth the crowd into a rage. He is the shiznit! Wearing only his rave world Junco jeans with stripes down the side and no shirt, Flatspot earns every cheer (or heckle) the crowd offers him.
He pushes mongo with his own-patented style, lifting the front of the board up off the ground every time he pushes. He even sports a sticker on his chest with his nickname emblazoned across it. Flatspot is truly the local hero and probably my favorite skater at the demo. Next up is the autograph signing and giveaways. The crowd goes nuts, as kids rip shirts out of each others' hands and tear stickers apart!
[ 11:20 pm ]
We are lost in a small town called Nequey, which is filled with one-way streets and closed restaurants and pubs. Ding! Now we figure out that everything closes early in England. After managing to drive up and down the same roads for over a half an hour, we rejoice at a random sighting of a skateboarder cruising down the hill toward us.
We wave him over. He's wearing a Fourstar T-shirt and a pair of the Koston 1. What luck! We ask him where the hell our hotel is. He knows and tries to give Mark directions, but they make no sense. Rick tells him to climb aboard, so Lance Dawes pulls him in.
The kid's face really lights up when he sees who we are. There in the back of the van is Eric, Rick and Paul. Rick asks his name. "Tom," he says, still staring in disbelief. "Tom, where are we?" someone else asks. "Nequey, which is basically nowhere." Tom leads us to the hotel and we hook him up with good stuff. Thanks to Tom, we actually find our way around this place and get some much needed rest. Lance has another cigarette.
[ 10:30 am ]
"Get up and get dressed. We've got another demo to go, people!" After packing our gear and loading into the van, we're off. Off to Swansea, a town about three hours from here. Ding! In England, you have to add two to three hours to your arrival time. "It'll take two hours to get there," actually means it'll take you four or five. Lance has a cigarette.
[ 3:00 pm ]
We arrive at Swansea skatepark. There are many kids there waiting for us, most of whom are drunk and smoking. Ding! In England, the legal drinking age is 18, and to buy smokes you have to show ID proving you are 16. Most of the kids can't believe we're actually there. Some of then smash beer cans against their heads to prove they aren't dreaming. Others smash beer cans against our van to prove we are real.
Swansea is a bit rough on the terrain. It must have been an old car garage or something. The wood is nice and moist from humidity and the locals are getting drunker by the minute.
A local kid wearing some phat-ass cord jeans tries to show up the riders by attempting a kickflip over the box, but, never makes it past the lip. Instead, he trips over his big pants and lands onto his chest on the other side, where he remains for remainder of the demo. Ding! Remember, when it comes to fashion, England is a bit behind in skateboard attire, where rave pants, crooked hats and Muska pants are dope as fuck.
With the demo done, autographs and giveaways lead to total chaos. We make our way back to the van. After yesterday's demo, and the swarms of kids who defiled our van, I expect more kids to ask for free shit upon our exit. Indeed, the van door is opened up to let Paul in, and we hear the usual "Give me a shirt!" or "Give me a sticker!" or "Give me your shoes!"
But also emanating from the crowd comes a cry of "Give me a beer!" from a kid that looks no older than 16. So, we give him one. It is all we have left to give out, and besides, he is the only one not asking for stickers or t-shirts or even our shoes.
[ 12:10 am ]
We arrive at our hotel in Birmingham just in time to sleep. Boom! We're done!
[ 10:40 am ]
After getting packed up for our next demo, we get back in the van and hit the road again. Lance has a cigarette, and, no, he doesn't always wait to smoke outside the van before getting in. He waits for the prime time in the van and then smokes, just to get all us non-smokers smelling like cigarettes. I love that smell. I might as well have started to smoke with Lance considering all the smoke that poured off my body and into my lungs. I'm a puss.
[ 4:20 pm ] (really, no shit)
Bolton skatepark is the first demo we're early to. So early, in fact, that we actually have time to skate the park before the demo begins. Amazing! We actually have warm-up time! Bolton, by far, is the best skatepark we have experienced so far. The entire park is indoors, floor made of masonite, with perfect ledges, launch ramps, banks, mini-ramps and bowls. It's a dream! Once the kids flow in, there is still enough space to skate in more than one area!
After the demo officially begins, Paul takes to one side, the ledge and handrail side of the course, and Eric and Rick take to the other side with the big fun box, launch, mini ramps, vert ramp and vert wall transfers. Kids are amazed.
Paul fascinates the crowd with his extensive flat rail tricks, including switch flip frontside slides and switch crooks. One trick after another, after another, after another. Eric and Rick are taking turns kickflipping the massive launch box, transferring from the vert wall to the six-foot quarter pipes and so on. So good! All 400 kids there have a good view, as the park is wide open. The demo ends in usual form with autograph signings and giveaways.
[ 9:40 pm ]
We arrive at our hotel in Manchester, right across the street from an opera house and some really good handrails and brick banks. We unload the van while trying to stay dry from the downpour of rain, and pack into the hotel. We have to make the unfortunate call to cancel our Scotland demo the next day due to extremely bad weather. We decide to stay the extra days in Manchester and relax. Three-hour demos and five to seven hour drives daily are starting to catch up to us.
[ 11:00 am ]
Paul is up and awake. I hear rustling in the room as he is trying to set-up a new board. "What are you doing?" I ask. "Gonna shoot some photos with Lance, Sam and Neil across the street at the handrails," Paul answers. This should be good. I get up and go.
The rail he is skating is a 10-stair, angled perfectly in the middle of a straightforward approach. This is good. Although if you are regular and want to slide the rail, chances of your board going into a six foot deep moat 12 feet away from your landing are pretty dang good.
Ding! Remember, when it comes to street skating in England, there is nothing to skate that doesn't have some fucked-up approach, or isn't made out of rough brick and chipped cobblestone. Being goofy foot, Paul has the advantage with a brick wall 12 feet into his landing. If I had a choice, I'd take the wall before the moat, too.
The only thing that had been previously pulled over that rail was a kickflip by John Rattray. Paul looks at the rail for a second and then approaches it. He kickflips it. Sam, Neil, Lance, Chaz and Mike Manzoori stand and stare in awe.
Paul approaches it again. 360 flip. He approaches it another time. Switch flip. Again. Switch 360 flip. Then the rain comes and sweeps us under the bridge as fast as you can say, "Paul broke this rail off in 10 minutes, more than any local skater has all frickin' year!"
[ 11:00 am ]
Although I don't want to get up, we decide to take a day out in the city of Manchester for sightseeing. I see trains, old buildings and overpriced CDs. Ding! England is one of the highest priced countries in existence. The average price for a CD is, like, $23.00. Our dollar is like 60 cents to them. Don't go to England if you are a bargain shopper!.
[ 9:30 am ]
Packed up and ready to roll, we are off to Redcar, the beautiful oceanside town where steel mills rule the beaches, lining the bays with hundreds of feet of pipes that drain into the ocean. Oh, there's some really good surf, too.
[ 2:37 pm ]
When we get to Redcar, the kids are actually respectable and courteous. It must be something in the water. The park is really good, as well, and was recently freshly replied to suit the needs of our riders. The Redcar facilities have free food and drinks for the pros also, complete with a barbeque truck. We are living like kings! After the demo is done, the riders enjoy an interview with the local MTV station, and get some great shots of some random girl's pink underwear.
Now we are off to Sheffield. Only two more demos to go, but about nine more hours of driving.
[ 5:15 pm ]
We arrive at Sumo skateshop, where 100 kids waiting to get into the shop for an autograph signing greet us. Sure, it seems a little outrageous, but we have the help of a bodyguard by the name of Eric there to help escort us into the demo, out of the demo and away from any unruly kids along the way. Eric is not one to mess with.
The Sheffield park is an outdoor concrete park. The 500+ kids that watch our demo cover most of the park. Every once in a while, an obstacle is cleared out for Eric, Rick or Paul to hit. Like the big three steps that Paul has been dying to skate since we arrived here. The are comprised of three big stairs that total a six-foot drop maybe eight feet long. That's pretty good-sized.
I try to go up and clear the runway from some kids that stand in the way, but it doesn't work. As soon as one kid moves off, another steps in his place. Suddenly, I see our body guard, Eric. That is all I need. He comes up on the top step and yells, "Get the fuck off this runway, or I'll throw you off!" That is all we need. In 5.5 seconds flat, the kids are off the runway and Paul is making his approach.
Paul kills the ledge drop. He starts off with an Ollie, then a nollie, then a kickflip, then a switch flip, then a switch backside 180 flip, then a switch tré flip and so on. He's pretty much schooling the locals who are having some troubles with their Ollies. Paul, mark my words, you're going to be a superstar soon!
[ 1:40 pm ]
Everyone loves a good autograph signing. So, in the morning, we have one at Legends, a trendy surf / skate shop in London. The kids are cool and sit patiently, waiting for an opportunity to meet their favorite pros in the flesh. Eric and Rick draw pictures on the kids' posters again. They love drawing. It really is more interesting than signing their name over and over again.
[ 4:30 pm ]
The crowd is anxious at PlayStation, as there are over 800 kids there. The size of the park is massive, so big that it has a full-sized vert ramp, two mini-ramps, a huge launch box complete with wooden runway and ledge boxes, handrails, vert walls, spines and more launches. Basically, everything you need to make a skatepark successful.
Trying to get out of this place is absolute hell. The entire team gets swamped heading out to the van. Damn! We run into the building across the street, but all the kids follow. They surround Eric and Paul. Rick never makes it outside of the park. He is swarmed like bees on honey. I try to pull reconnaissance to search out the riders, but they are split up into three different parts of the street. Eric is by the van, Paul is trying to make his way outside to the van and Rick is still stuck up on this quarterpipe inside.
I act fast. "MOVE! MOVE! MOVE!" I yell out. The kids finally subside and we get all the riders in the van. The skatepark owner asks if we want to stay and skate a private session, so we do. He kicks out all the kids and gives us the park for a few hours. Nice!
[ 2:00 pm ]
We're finally awake. We stayed out until 5:00 a.m. skating with Paul. Ding! in England, it get's dark at 9:45 p.m. and light at 4:30 a.m., so you have a tendency to skate all night, literally. For the last two nights, Paul killed the spots of England. Now we are on our way home to America again.
I don't care what anyone has to say about our spots here in California. After experiencing some of the not-so-good selection of street spots in England, I am happy to be kicked out of some really good spots in America. God bless this country!