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Blackpool Skateboard Stories: Curb Culture

If you follow BSC on Instagram, you may have seen @curb.culture pop up a couple of times. The profile is full of vibrant images caught on 35mm film and video clips showing a variety of skaters honing and showing off their skills, but more importantly having an awesome time doing it.

Continuing BSC’s skate season, I had a virtual meet-up with Adam Hopkin, skater, journalist, photographer and founder of Curb Culture: A zine that highlights independent skate culture.

How did Curb Culture come about?  

Despite being in Blackpool for so long I’ve never had any contact with any of the creative circles here, partly because a lot of my work over here has been very corporate. Things changed when I started working for Discovered magazine, which had a more creative demographic. I interviewed a band called Gouge Away and they introduced me to zines. It seemed like there was this wave of bands that were steering away from traditional merchandise and putting out more introspective and intimate things that often came in the form of photo booklets or zines.

You can go to Kerrang or Metal Hammer, any of those publications and see photos of live shows and as much as I love stuff like that, we’ve seen it all before. It’s kind of lost its shine. What these guys were doing was taking pictures of themselves when they were between shows, filling for gas, getting changed before going on stage. I loved that fresh perspective. I’ve always wanted to explore fringe cultures and I think this is the perfect way in. It was a chance to go out there and document things a bit differently with complete creative freedom.

Curb Culture magazine
“There’s been a great international reception, we’ve had orders in France, Australia and quite a few in California.
It’s strange to see these amazing places that are like spiritual homes of skating, putting in orders.”

I met this fellow called Alex at this festival in Holland that we were doing press for. He had been in quite a few hardcore bands over there and made a bit of a name for himself in the music scene. He was also immersed in his local skate scene in Groningen. Two months later I went back and I’ve never met such a receptive group of people. Especially considering I was just some random guy that you’ve known for three days, coming over to your town and asking to take photos of you.

You’ll notice the fellow with his hair in long locks on quite a few prints. None of us knew him, apart from Alex, but he literally just skated past us in the street and that was it. The next two times I went over, they were all best friends, That’s testament to how accepting they are, but it’s telling of the whole skating culture as a whole. I just happened to go when the scene was about to spike and grow. I’m grateful for capturing that because apparently at that time, Alex had a group chat with all the skaters in the city, about 30 people, now it’s close to 150.

What’s the response to the Zine been like?

Very mixed, partly because I’ve mainly marketed it through Instagram and it’s strange measuring the reception. I didn’t want it to be corporate, I didn’t want it to be a hard sell – real recognises real and that’s essential in that culture. Bigger brands try and imitate it; they take larger social movements and get behind it for sales. I didn’t want this thing that I intended to be so pure to be tainted with that.

I’m not only seeing the Zine grow, but the people I produced it with – their exposure is growing too. There’s been a great international reception, we’ve had orders in France, Australia and quite a few in California. It’s strange to see these amazing places that are like spiritual homes of skating, putting in orders. To be able to give Alex, Vertigo Flowers and the people that make Groningen’s skate identity, that kind of showcase is what gives me the greatest pleasure.

What are your design influences?

I’d never actually done photography before. That’s something I attribute to Discovered magazine. I got on very well with the editor and assisted her on some photo shoots, she was an avid photographer, who’d worked at the photo desk at Kerrang. I picked up a lot just by watching her.

I love the way that film looks, it isn’t clinical, it’s not clean, it’s got blemishes, graininess and a rawness to it. The reception and recognition that some of the shots have got is really cool because I don’t count myself as a photographer.

In terms of influences, there was this really cool article in Thrasher magazine where they’d given a load of skaters these disposable cameras, then said, ‘You’ve got 24 hours to make an entire zine and shoot it’. Some of the ones that did were absolutely incredible, with limited resources as well. There’s one where some guy just put a sheet over himself, so this Halloween ghost just skates around San Francisco, but then they have this proper spooky aesthetic illustrated throughout, it looks awesome.

Design wise, my original intent was a 1980s Memphis-style design, lots of bold colours and shapes and unfortunately it just didn’t work. I ended up doing what felt cool and didn’t try and over-design it. I just kind of did what felt right, and I’m glad it’s paid off.

Starry Eyed & Sleep Deprived By Dane Ichimura, Chris Jameson & Ryan Grady

What’s next?

I’ve been lucky enough to get a bit of a reception in the Blackpool area. I’m starting again because I now have to infiltrate a scene that I’ve never had any contact with. It’s so hard but my mentality is if I’m able to go to a random place where I know literally one person and produce that Zine, then I’ve got no excuses for doing it on my own doorstep. I’ve made sure that I’ve reached out to people I think are doing some interesting work.

I need to go out to peripheral cities and towns to give better representation. I’ve spoken to a couple of people in Preston and some guys in Barrow in Furness; the skate crowd there have done some amazing work. So the next zine is going to be more regional.

I don’t want to put a time constraint on it, as with the last one I’m going for the same natural process where I turned up and hung out with the skaters and they put the word out. That’s what I’m going for here, but if pressed, I want to say I’ll have another zine by about June.

Are you open to folks getting in touch with you if they’re interested in becoming involved?

Definitely. There’s a lot of people and material out there – people doing the hardest tricks, the heaviest things; but It’s more about personality than technical skill for me. When I went to Groningen, everyone had such unique personalities and backgrounds and I want Curb Culture to explore how these diverse people come together through skating. If you were to pass them in the street, you might look at someone and guess things about their personality: that guy likes rap or he looks outgoing. But with skating, that’s completely null and void because they’re all there for this common pursuit of skill and primarily fun. 

Ramp City Jan 2020 - CJ Griffiths Photo

You came to skating late in the day. Did you start in Blackpool?

Oh, god, it’s a shameful story, I think any skater would shake their head. I got my first deck when I was 17. The people I – and I use the term loosely – skated with would just kind of cruise from A to B. None of us really possessed the technical skill and none of us were bothered about that, it was just for fun. Then I had an injury. I used to live just behind Norbreck Castle there and there’s the big slope that goes from the higher prom to the lower one. It was my second day on a board and I went down there and broke my wrist. I got up, not realising what had happened, just a white hot pain. I went to put a hat on and my right hand worked but my left hand just kind of flopped against my face. The guy with me made it down just fine, which is great. It was pretty bad, I’ve still got the scar – it didn’t put me off though.

Later through Alex, I got into watching the Nine Club, which led me to understand and respect the larger spectrum of the culture. I thought, wow, this is this is exactly like hardcore (music), you know, super accepting, no one cares where you’re from, what you’re about. They just want to see what your style is.

I started going to Ramp City every Sunday, just to practice. I go on my own and meet the other guys around this community, which also helps Curb Culture. I mean, I can’t do shit compared to them, but it’s an absolute pleasure going through the learning experience with those people and I love it. I don’t care that I’m terrible because I get to celebrate people who aren’t terrible. When you get into these circles, you have these expectations of calibre and prowess and you might feel like you have to earn their respect.  There’s no doubt about the fact that I suck, but they recognise the enthusiasm and the drive. They realise what I’m there to do and the intent behind it, and I think they respect that.

Are there any locations in Blackpool and nearby that are personal favourites?

That’s kind of partly what I want to discover, I’ve not been in the scene. Recently a guy from Preston was one of the first to reach out to me in the UK and that unintentionally led to the first shoot I’ve taken for issue two. Through him, I’ve discovered my first street spot in Blackpool: the car park under the old police station. They utilise that space in such a cool way. They had a full manual box setup with rails on – where the hell did you pull that up from? The boot of his car was full of broken boards and he just pulled one out randomly, stuck in a sewer grid and then everyone started pole-jamming it. It’s so creative. He didn’t have to do that, he doesn’t owe it to anyone, it’s cool and reflects the wider culture.

I did an NME piece like a year ago about the music scene in Blackpool about a period of stagnancy. That’s how I felt with skating in Blackpool, because I barely ever saw a skater about. I vaguely knew about Ramp City, but I don’t feel like I heard about the Blackpool skating scene for a very long time. Now through Curb Culture and the people I meet when I skate it’s like this whole network of creative, really passionate, cool people is just revealing itself to me.

Shot from issue #1 of Curb Culture taken on 35mm - A Hopkin

In art I guess you’d be talking about ‘spatial interventions’, but there’s something really interesting about our relationship with spaces and making use of them in different ways. Do you have any thoughts on that?

I think that’s probably the most accessible part about skating, because even now when I watch a clip, by god, it literally hurts my eyes trying to understand what they’ve just done. The fundamental thing you have to appreciate is how they navigate the architecture in front of them. I think that’s definitely what kept me coming back again and again. Some of the internationally recognised spots have a massive draw, and I still find it crazy that it could just be like a random set of stairs and some random back alley. 99.9 per cent of people have no idea it’s there, they think it’s a loading bay, but put a skater there and they’ll worship it. There’s a huge amount of technical skill involved, but it goes beyond tricks. They have this way of making any space in front of them of their own. It’s part of the challenge and I don’t think a lot of people outside of the scene might appreciate that fully.

In Groningen, there were days where we wouldn’t do any skating, we’d just go to the middle of the city, walking about inspecting rails and spots and looking like absolute idiots. There was a tiny staircase with these triangular concrete slabs about three feet thick. One day we just spent 15 minutes just rubbing one of them with a board to see if it was smooth enough. I’m sure everyone in the cafe across the road was thinking, ‘What the hell are those guys doing?’ It’s something that doesn’t get the recognition that it should, it’s a real appreciation for our architecture. While some people might see it as vandalism or damage (and that can happen), it comes from a place of respect and almost like admiration for the creation of the obstacle, and it’s like showing this city some love by applying something that you hold so dear to something larger than yourself.

Groningen has a long street with a sequence of steps and you have to skate in a certain way to deal with that environment. Imagine kickflipping multiple sets of 10 steps; with that small run of steps you need incredibly fast feet to go over, land and reposition. It teaches you a fundamental skill that someone who can’t access that type of spot won’t necessarily have. Your style and ability would be completely different. Depending on your environment, you develop a ‘personal playbook’, a signature style. Variance is really celebrated, the architecture available informs people’s learning even if they don’t realise it.

Without the city, there would be no community. Blackpool’s is a great example of that because we’ve got Ramp City and that’s the only place that anyone really skates, because Stanley Park’s in a terrible state. Apparently there’s a bowl in Fleetwood, which shocks me – a proper classic, swimming pool-style skating bowl! It speaks for itself that we’re not short on parks and yet people are still drawn to street skating. I think that it’s because you have complete freedom, anything becomes an obstacle and it’s a way for people to really develop their own unique style of skating.

“…it’s a real appreciation for our architecture… it comes from a place of respect… it’s like showing this city some love by applying something that you hold so dear to something larger than yourself.”
Adam on street skating
Fleetwood Bowl by Hayden Dean

Having travelled and worked elsewhere. Do you feel that Blackpool offers a decent creative environment?

I don’t think there’s been a better time to be a creative in Blackpool. I previously thought it was easier to find creative people in Preston, but now the networks of creative people in Blackpool are much more visible to me. I was shocked to find out that a well-known music journalist who has written for Alt Press, Kerrang and Metal Hammer was living in Lytham!

Blackpool doesn’t get the recognition from big players in the creative industries, so if that’s what you want then you have to travel. If I wanted the most professional recognition, say to make contacts for distribution, I probably would go to Manchester… but I like the local fringe movements because they help you to see more creative stuff. It’s exciting because it doesn’t have the major support. That’s why I love it and that’s why I want to focus on these people; they have to be way more creative and try so much harder. I want to capture that because that’s pure, that’s raw, it’s a motive and a drive that we can all have.

Curb Culture website & store
Curb Culture on Instagram

Header image: Vertigo Flowers, Groningen – A Hopkin

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