I wanted to call it the « Bring Your Own Booze Tour » or « The Post-Brexit Pool Blitz ».
But as they say, you can joke about everything, but not with everyone. Anyway, the whole thing started when I ordered Mark « Trawler » Lawer’s superb book « Poolaroid ». The amount of pools available in Britain seemed huge, plus there was a detailed description of each one. The man has been writing about the British skate scene and its spots for ages. That, coupled with the punk music we boomers grew
up on, made the whole thing seem like a historical, in-search-for-the-promised-land type of thing. I doubt all UK citizens see their own country like that, though. Pools and punk rock. The ultimate in both skateboarding and music. The roots of what we old farts became four decades later: mediocre skateboarders in search for a laugh and some grinds.
To be honest, I didn’t actually think a UK pool tour road trip would ever materialize; It was probably to be something I would do on my own using my local connections. That was until I met Josh Sutton, who dropped by in my area one day and asked me to show him the local parks. A few months later, he offered to find the camper van, work out the schedule, itinerary and accommodation, I just had to find the right
people. It became pretty obvious I would be the only frog, as the only one who would have been a good candidate was skint. Then, my good buddy Magnus « Smonge » Olson from Sweden messaged me he was up for it. Great, another one brainwashed by 1977 punk and skate nostalgia. And when Americano Jeff Greenwood from California expressed the desire to join us, I knew this was going to be something
else. Jeff knows everything and everyone in skateboarding and runs the biggest skatepark database in the World, Concrete Disciples. He’s also a good photographer and documented everything, and you definitely need that on a skate trip. Since he was the youngest at 5, and the only one who could skate well, we had to compensate for that by never letting him forget where he came from, and how much he should be thankful for experiencing civilization.
What’s funny is that none of the guys knew each other, but they had several things in common:
1) They had all met me and skated my local park in Fuveau, Southern France.
2) They were open-minded enough to stray far from their comfort zone, and didn’t mind getting a little smelly.
3) And aside from always being up for skating, they were all up for a good laugh.
Once we had the crew ready, Josh simply took care of all the logistics: he rented the camper, drove on the wrong side like he’s used to, and basically let us behave like kids on a holiday bus. And like kids, Magnus and I had a little to learn about that kind of traveling. See, I had never had the opportunity to travel that way, and I had this romantic view of the road van being your home away from home, like on a sleeper train carriage. Here’s what I learned:
– Gaffer-tape the fridge door to prevent all your beer cans from rolling across the floor.
– Warning: never take a dump in the RV toilet or you’ll ruin the trip for everyone. (Jeff who’s experienced had the sense to tell us that before we took off)
– There’s surprisingly little space for luggage in the van, so spreading your stuff everywhere is a sure way of losing it. Lost both pajama trousers and a sweater.
(Josh simply told us to « throw all the shit in the back ». Decision-making is key on roadtrips)
– Anything that isn’t tightened down shakes, rattles, rolls and occasionally flies around. Now I understand why all the dishware was made of plastic.
– Always have your beer in your hand. Sudden use of brakes means soaked floor if you put your glass down, as Magnus quickly found out.
– Close the roof trap, or the rattling will drive you crazy.
I was the only one without any roadvan experience at all. Jeff was used to it, having been on a good number of skate trips. Josh had been a roadie for the band New Model Army. And Magnus had some experience as a punk rock musician on tour. I learned fast the hard way. As soon as we spent the first night in the van, I felt my inner gypsy come out, and I probably looked like one by day 3.
Day one : Saturday, LEEDS / WIGAN July 17th
I was the last one to land at Leeds airport. Jeff had been there for a few days checking out his English heritage, like Yanks do when they come over. Magnus had time to slam at the local park and get his shoulder to pop out of socket. It takes a lot of talent to get injured before the trip has even begun. Got picked up by the boys and off we went to a surprise spot in Wigan called Yoyo’s pool. This guy David Arnold owns a nice peanut-shaped, blue medium-sized bowl. The surrounding was really nice, complete with Skateboarder Magazine banners, outdoor kitchen and nice locals. We rode it for a couple hours, and then I listened to David tell me some good skate stories. He had known and hung out with Duane Peters and his bands for ages, which made for great entertainment. Then, Josh took off and I knew that I was going to sleep drenched in sweat that night. We hit the Welsh coast when it got dark and fell asleep after some beers and junk food. I was pretty amazed by the lack of restrictions on alcohol purchase in the UK. If you want to buy a bottle of wine in a gas station at 2AM, no problem. The French ones stop selling booze after 7PM or so. Unless you have cash…
Day 2: BANGOR / NEWPORT Sunday July 18th
Woke up first, as I would do for the rest of the trip. Checked out the beautiful coastal scenery, got some breakfast at a local gas station and a couple hours later we were in Bangor. It was the warmest week of the year in the UK, which didn’t phase me or Jeff as it was still below the usual Mediterranean heat we’re used to, and it made everything look better. But, you could tell the panic was spreading among the bacon skinned population, and it was great comedy reading the gutter press headlines:
« Britain’s burning », « Hellfire ! », etc.
The Bangor pool was painted pink with strawberries all over it. Looked like an ideal setting for an under-12 girl contest. It was just lying along the seafront in the grass, no skatepark or anything. Don’t think people even notice it. I went to get my board in the big locker and it hit me in the head. Another lesson learned. We rode it until we got our grinds, it was a good pool to start with. Medium size, solid vert, tight shallow.
By now, the heat was increasing, and so did our natural stench. We ended up in Newport after a few hours on the road. We let Jeff ride shotgun with Josh so he could see castles that weren’t made of plastic, while me and Magnus sat behind getting into extremely deep conversations. Jeff wanted to check out a full pipe he had located somewhere along the motorway. It was either that or the Hereford pool. Difficult choice, since you never know if you’ll be able to skate an illegal spot. Anyway, we found it, climbed over a couple fences and realized it had a small water stream at the bottom. Too bad. Posed for some
pictures and got back on the bus to Newport.
The Newport pool was scary, and we weren’t really in an all-out attack mode. About 10 feet deep, 6 feet shallow, kinks where you don’t expect them and missing coping. And quite rough. Perfect. There was a protruding skull underneath the coping that you were supposed to grind over. Anyway, did grind that one too but chickened out on carving the stairs. Jeff did, and it gave him the right to call me a pussy for the following days. After that, we hit a pub with a parking lot all for ourselves. Went to have some drinks and met three gentlemen who talked incredibly fast, and really wanted to show us how good the local cider was. Poor Magnus put up with some really violent snoring that night. Must have been that cider.
Day 3: Monday, July 19th Newquay / St. Ives
It can’t be said enough how well Josh handled everything. All you needed was to follow him and let the road do the rest. Every morning, we would get the traditional eggs and bangers, which would keep us in attack mode until the evening. The rest of us worked on being lazy and basically moved things around when he told us to. Most of the time, I wasn’t even aware of where we were headed, which prevented me from being given any responsibilities at all. I wanted him to act the arrogant Brit, asking him to sing « Land of Hope and Glory » from time to time, but my request was simply met with two words and two fingers. How disappointing. A few hours later down south we ended up in beautiful Cornwall, and found the recently built Concrete Waves, Newquay Skatepark. By now it was getting really warm, so even the scooter kids were out of the way. Rode the pool for a while and enjoyed it. As usual, we hit the spot at the wrong time, so the only hint of a local skate scene we noticed consisted of a bunch of guys in their twenties smoking behind some bushes. On to the next spot, which was one my favorites.
St. Ives was a perfectly built, state-of-the-art skatepark, with a good pool complete with tiles and a deathbox. I hit it and got it first try to impress Jeff. He wasn’t and kept calling me a pussy. This time we saw a couple rad and friendly locals. There was a funnel-like thing that got looped by a padless young beast.
Josh had planned to spend the next night in the lovely town of Penzance, where we were supposed to meet his friend Nigel, the design teacher who drank « like a fucking fish ». Anyway, we spent the evening at a beautiful house, had a good meal courtesy of Josh and yes, we drank a lot. Nigel was only getting started and carried on while we went to sleep, calling us « soft livers » while offering us hard liquor. This
was the intellectually challenging part of the trip, with discussions about Brexit and similar topics. Magnus and I are both teachers, so we proceeded to act like we knew it all. It gave Jeff ,the yank, the culture he so desperately needed, ha, ha, ha. A quiet night in the parking lot ended brutally with thunder and lightning the next morning. I had the sense to close the roof trap as we were seconds from being drenched in bed. Mind you, Magnus didn’t even wake up.
We were all invited to Nigel’s again for a great breakfast with perfectly cooked salmon and eggs. He offered us a bloody Mary like it was your usual orange juice. He usually has a couple, then carries on with wine and Grappa all day and ends with some harder stuff in the evening. Yes, he drinks professionally, but with style and creativity. We soft livers were recovering from last night, so we opted for the first showers in three days at his place. Wonderful. Everybody should try getting a little ripe for a few days once in a while, putting soap on your smelly skin again almost feels like you’re an addict getting his fix.
Since Josh was the only one of us capable of driving on the wrong side and knowing where to stop, he decided the next day was going to be a day off as we were in for a long, eastbound trip to Shoreham.
Day 4 ,Tuesday, July 20th, eastbound / Marlborough.
We also checked out a medical supply shop so we could get Magnus some kind of brace for his shoulder.
The lady actually asked us when we’re going to grow up. Made us feel young again. We must have been the first under-60 customers in quite a while. After that, we basically drove the entire day. We passed Stonehenge on the way, and Jeff and I went to have a look at the thing. We played the « Stonehenge » anthem from the Spinal Tap soundtrack repeatedly to absorb the energy. A few hours later, we ended up at a camper site in Marlborough where we relaxed and went to visit another one of Josh’s old buddies named Tank. Apparently, he had been a good tackler during his football days, and that’s how he got the fitting nickname. He was a gentleman and greeted us with Cuba libre, and took us to another great pub. No skating, but it didn’t hurt. Can’t even remember what we talked about, but it must have been extremely deep.
Day 5, Wednesday, July 21st, Shoreham by the Sea.
I was really looking forward to this one after seeing the description Trawler made in his book: « It really is a special place ». We managed to park the van just across the road from the park and found a big, beautiful and slightly intimidating clover pool. Apparently we had permission from the local store to use their parking lot. And the timing was perfect, as all the old locals came out, including the park head honcho, Mr. Paul Parsons a.k.a. « Jelly ». That was some session, mate. And the icing on the cake was hearing the Clash on Jelly’s boombox the whole evening. Pure bliss.
We hit the beach and relaxed in the waves, except for Jeff. Being Californian, of course he found it too cold. Weak. We followed that with the mandatory fish and chips dinner before we all ended up at the Duke of Wellington Pub. All the locals joined us for lots of beers and lots of stories. I asked the waitresses if they were able to spot the Frenchman out of us four. They did, and I’m still wondering how that was possible. I think they took a liking to Jeff, he might have been the first American in that pub since the war. Most of my sessions at home are spent alone, which made me appreciate it even more. Moments like this are priceless.
Day 6, Thursday, July 22nd, Folkestone
The scenery changed a bit as it became more urban while heading towards Folkestone 51 Skatepark. That place is pretty unique, it looks like a 4-story parking garage, with a different section on each floor. The ground floor has a bar, pro shop and showers. I spent most of my time on the pool floor trying to get used to what could have been something comparable to the Vans Combi-pool in Huntington Beach, CA. Alas, half of it is made up weird waterfalls and trannies that makes finding lines much harder than it should be. The highlight of the day was seeing Jeff slam in the flow bowl while we were filming him dying to show us his Tony-Hawk inspired sweeper. Haha, serves you right.
We ended the session on the fourth floor wooden landscape. Mini trannies everywhere and definitely a fun place. And having the bar and showers next to each other made us feel like rock stars. I think we slept on the side of the road in the countryside. The multi-talented Josh took his guitar and sang us to sleep.
Day 7, Friday July 22rd, Romford : Saffron Walden
This one had been a dream of mine to visit since 1978. The Romford Skatepark is big, burly, scary and pretty crazy. It is also the oldest running skatepark in the UK. We had basically driven around some of the nicest areas the UK had to offer, and now we were nearing London. Tower blocks, pollution, graffiti and the usual depressing scenery made a sharp contrast to the rural areas and clear blue skies of the past days.
While many of the other skateparks had palm trees or some nice surroundings next to them, Romford park had a car dump, a gas station and what looked liked a squatter village made out of old doors, with stray dogs running around. There was also a flag high on a pole which said « Trump 2024 ». I found the whole scene completely hilarious, but Magnus sort of froze. I think he thought he was in the movie « Deliverance », and was going to get shot and fed to the local pitbulls. See, places like that don’t exist in Sweden, or get bulldozed quickly. What looked like an old wooden shed was the office, and we saw a toothless character come out, telling us « it’s five quids ». There was also an old man, who was the original manager since its opening 45 years ago. The surface is so rough that they lend you boards with 85A soft wheels, there’s no point in trying to ride the bowls otherwise. The pool was the only place where you could keep your park wheels, it took me half an hour to get a decent grind in it. Everything in the park is big and scary. I will be back for sure. We left after the rain came, much to Magnus ’s relief. Yes, he actually relieved himself in the nearby woods, stress does that to people. They had to drag me from the place as I really started to get a feel for it, must have been my inner gypsy again.
We continued to Saffron-Walden where we found a huge park built by legendary US company Dreamland Skateparks. It was at a sport center, and unfortunately full of bored kids. The pool had « no scooters » stenciled on it. I proceeded to skate it as much as I could. Meanwhile, Jeff told off some fat piece of shit kid that he shouldn’t throw bottles of coke in the bowls. After that, the snotty monsters tried fucking with us for the next two hours. I was completely oblivious to it, but poor Magnus had his second meltdown of the day. There’s a reason why smart teachers like him work in High School, while the mediocre ones like myself remain teaching secondary level. They usually want to make sure they’ll never, ever will have to deal with moronic pre-pubescent bullshit. Even though he was padded up, he had a mental block preventing him from dropping in. He calmed down by drinking his beers instead. I think Jeff was pretty busy insulting them, so he didn’t really skate either. Josh told us he was glad we met British kids.
Finally, we left, hit Lidl for high quality groceries and beer, and Josh drove out to a nice campsite in Oxford, where we relaxed as it was our last night in the van. For some reason we were surrounded by French people everywhere. I knew by then that the road was now my home, as I hung all kinds of filthy pads and laundry to dry on the van’s windshield wipers and side mirrors. It looked so repulsive that the others disposed of it while I went for a piss. We celebrated so much that I got lost on my way back from the showers to the van. Yes, the second one since the beginning of the trip. Magnus finally relaxed upon watching the Swedish female football team win.
Saturday, July 23rd. Leeds.
We ended up where we started after a long drive. Magnus and I had the bed in the back so we cured our hangovers for a few hours while Josh was driving home to his family house. We had planned to end the trip with a session at the local park, but the rain put an end to that. I left my mates to let them deal with various issues: poor Magnus had to stay an extra day as his flight was cancelled, and Jeff felt sick. We
eventually learned he had caught Covid.
I wanted this to go on and on. But how much can a 57-year old man take? Gotta do it again to find out.
A big thanks to my traveling companions who made this one of the greatest experiences ever.