Featured rider: Sam Gordon

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Awesome chat with Sam of the UKSSA about the history of UK skating, Slalom, the upcoming Hog Hill event and OJ Simpson.

Hey Sam, where are you from?
Originally from the romantic-sounding town of East Grinstead, but have lived in London since the early nineties.

When did you start skating?
In the second phase of skateboarding, around 1977. It was a crazy hot Summer, everyone and their wife had a skateboard. We were kids at school and it was the one pursuit that everyone could do at break-time in the Underground Gym. It was regarded as a clean, fresh activity with a Californian vibe. Star Wars was big at the time and this was about as close to a Landspeeder that you could get. Jaws was big then too. Still is. Big fish. USA style was popular back then because of the heat.

What was it like skating in London back then?
Being from the provinces, London seemed like the epicentre of UK skating, with places like Rolling Thunder, Crystal Palace and The Rom always appearing in the magazines. John Sablosky and the Benjyboard boys ( Jeremy /henderson, Kadir Guirey etc) seemed to have the bowl-riding down and produced fantastic aerials that made skating look dangerous and exciting. Back down in EG we’d have a large pallet against a wall and try to do similar versions of the same. But it wasn’t. I’d never dare venture up to London because the skill margin seemed so wide. It was also mainly due to transport logistics, but the wish was there. Perhaps more to visit Alpine Sports and look at all of the fantastic gear, rather than to skate the bowls themselves.

Have you kept it up since then?
Like the rest of the planet, I stopped skating in 1979. The weather changed, it rained all the time (much like now) and the impetus went out of skating. We realized that we were living in Britain and not California, and that it was not one Long Crazy Summer with Farrah Fawcett on the doorstep.
 With swift interludes for more skating around Kingston Polytechnic after the release of Back to the Future in 1986, I then went off to University in Aberystwyth, down on the Welsh coast. I used to bomb Penglais Hill on a cheap beach-shop bought board that kept the speed at a manageable level. Perhaps this was due to stiff trucks and tiny wheels too. It’s a big bugger of a hill!
After college I had a break from skating, but returned with the advent of the internet around 1999. Suddenly folks were posting on NCDSA (North California Downhill Skateboarding Association) about longboarding and slalom. It covered the styles that we had done back in the seventies and did not require a pair of ill-fitting trousers, key-chain and bucket of pubescent attitude. We had re-learned that something with wheels doesn’t need seventeen attempts to make it go upwards. Forwards is plenty.

Who were you skating with those days?
At the turn of the millennium there was a whole bunch of Londoners who came out of the woodwork, driven by the UK forum on NCDSA. Paul Keleher, Michael Stride, Niall Horton-Stephens, Ian Stone, Luke Baxter, Graham Driver, Paul Price, Jim Slater, Clingfilm, Nutsac(great name), Mog, See Jim and some other folks with regular names. David O’Connor up north, Paul Taylor-Crush out east and Gavin Randall out West.

In the seventies? School kids. Julian Perring had pro-style boards as did Robert Dick. The latter spent all of his holidays surfing down in Cornwall. It was bizarre to go around his house and see a surfboard there. We were a long way from the coast. Couldn’t understand why he never cleaned that surfboard. Now I know that it’s the wax build-up, so important for grip. Did I have an expensive skateboard? Hell no. I was on a Super Skuda, although my folks did spec it up at later stages with ACS 580 trucks and Pipeline 2 wheels. These looked a bit like OJs. Orange fantastic!

OJ’s aren’t related to the infamous American football player are they?
Very much so. He was a famous skater before he took up football, but was very protective about his branded gear. Once he heard that his wife had been sliding on his slalom wheels…
He also taught his son, Bart, how to skate.

How has skating in London different now compared to how it was in the 80’s?
This is really a question for the LSD skaters, rather than for a country boy to answer. Ed Brockman, Rob Ashby, Jim Slater, Martin Drayton, Paul Price, Floyd Reid, Michael Stride, Tim Panting, Dobie, Leon, Charalambous and so on. All the South Bank boys. The slalom guys would skate there too, but would travel by board all across the capital for sessions in Hyde Park, Meanwhile Gardens and wherever seemed good. Hyde Park was not so gravelled back then, so the whole place was open for skating. Kensington Gardens was popular, so it’s good to see that it has now been resurfaced to a fine skateable quality once again.

When did you move from Aberyswyth to London?
Around 1992. I’d spent a year working on a magazine called Thames Chronicle as general dogsbody down in Kingston. When I was told not to come in on Monday ‘cause there was no more money, London seemed the obvious direction.

Who did you skate with when you arrived here?
I’d set up cones by the Serpentine on my own. There were no other slalom skaters around and I thought I was the only slalom skater in the UK. Through the NCDSA website I found out about Paul Price and Martin Drayton going to the Worlds in Morro Bay, California, 2002. The website also pointed towards a UK meet up in Crystal Palace and an inaugural UKSSA pint and chat at the Punch and Judy pub in Covent Garden. Clingfilm (Chris Linford) and Stride were there, along with Mog and Jonathan from Brixton Cycles. From there we set up regular Thursday evening slalom sessions in Hyde Park and outlined how we would like to see the sport progress.

Where do you skate now?
Mainly Hyde Park, Crystal Palace and any suburb in Europe where a race is going down. We (the UKSSA) also hold a couple of events at Hog Hill each year that are designed to get skaters of all rolling genres together, including quad and blade, with the emphasis on including newbies and old hands alike. In other words, fun and pressure free, but still competitive. Or just plain burn-up freeride.

What do you ride these days?
The Super Skuda broke in two when I jumped onto it from the kitchen sideboard in 1986. Now I ride Pavel Racing decks (the Sehl and Pirnack models) made by the enigmatic Donald Campbell in his Dusseldorf lair. If you haven’t been to the Pavel factory bowl then it is certainly worth the trip.

These decks are laced up with Virage trucks, fantastically well-engineered CNC turning instruments, that turn on a thought. And are 100% British designed and made. I did have an input in the design, having been the chief lightweight tester, which included the recommendation of spherical bearings, built-in angles and spherical pivot point. We beat 161 Trucks to integrated angles by a couple of months. That’s the PR bit done!

As for wheels, for some reason I always end up with hard Seismics up front and softer Abec 11s at the back. No die-hard reason for this except that this setup works on the majority of courses with predictable performance. Cult wheels are nice too, just ask Louis and Bruno. They’re quite quick.

I use the cheapest bearings known to man and replace when creaky. I’ve wasted too long an evening carefully cleaning bearings, popping them in a warm oven and tenderly lubing them up for gentle insertion, only to find the buggers eat each other alive like a bulldog chewing a bag of spanners having caught its dick on a thistle and nuts in a pepper grinder. Fresh is best.

The above is the funniest chapter we have had on our website

Are those your sponsors?
Certainly are! I’m on the Pavel Flow team and seem to be the only remaining rider of that bunch still taking part in competitions. This means that my decks are strongly discounted rather than handouts. I’m very happy with this arrangement and appreciate Donald’s ethic of ‘Bros and Pros.’

I am also sponsored by Virage Trucks and by extension Octane Sport, run by Michael Stride. Octane have been a long term supporter of the UKSSA. Without his knowledge and backing there would have been very little slalom product in the UK over the last decade. Octane also provide start ramps and timing systems for all UK slalom events. Invaluable!

When did you start racing slalom?
I used to race ski slalom in the eighties, however the Sheffield indoor slalom was my first skate race, back in 2002. I had never ridden a ramp before and was worried that I would not make the drop in. It seemed bloody high! I went to the mini ramp for a bit of rapid training, but even that looked impossible.  It was only the words of a small kid next to me, who said ‘I’m scared too, mister,’ that made me give it a go; as I watched him jet off across the park. Turned out that I wasn’t the only ramp novice that day. Paul Keleher was having similar problems, but braved the main ramp at a jaunty angle and took out the prize table beside the course.

What is the UKSSA?
A paper shredding association.

I thought the SS stood for Sushi Sharing!
Ha! What we found was that if we wanted to run an event at any location, the first question would be ‘what organisation are you from?’ If we needed insurance, then same question again. Bank account? Same.
The UKSSA (UK Slalom Skateboarding Association) is the simplest way to inform and unite like-minded skaters and to get events and race activities off the ground in a legitimate way. Be seen doing this for a few years and then sponsors might be interested, or sports funding available. They have to know that there is a legitimate organisation behind an activity for the longterm, with the racer’s interest at it’s heart.

Are there any other skateboarding associations in the UK?
Squillions! But each looks after its own main interest and focus. In other words, none that covered slalom in particular or even had it on the radar. The UKGSA (gravity sports) is a close ally and good bunch with whom we have worked on previous occasions.

I did not know there was a UKGSA, do they get involved with the longboarders?
They cover many of the gravity sports and are the UK chapter of the IGSA.
Soapbox, streetluge, downhill, buttboarding and gravity bike racing all come under their remit. I guess that includes longboarding if you want to race a bit of DH.

What’s your role in the UKSSA?
I’m the Treasurer and chief bookings bod. The diplomatic Rob Ashby is Secretary and PR person. The reasonable face of the UKSSA, if you like.

What events does the UKSSA organise?
This year we have two events at Hog Hill lined up so far. These are ‘Open Season 2012’ in May and ‘2012 Razorback Games’ at the end of June.That latter is the closest booking that we could get to the Olympics and is being run as a demo event to show London what they could have for millions less. Unlike the Olympics, viewing is free and if you prefer, then you can take part  for a gestural fee. Brilliant! Inclusive! A sporting Legacy! All made possible by the kind folks at Octane Sport and Newton’s Shred. Hogtoberfest might be back on the calendar this year too.

We also have two other cracking locations. Brands Hatch on the 8th July has one of the best GS hills in the UK and will also host a freeride and sliding comp. Cyclopark on the A2 is a very new venue who have kindly invited us to take part in their opening celebrations. We’ll be running a dual hybrid slalom and possibly using their skatepark also. This has yet to be negotiated. It’s an exciting place because not only is their tarmac very smooth, but covers gently rolling hills and much of the track is floodlit. Night racing is a real possibility.

Why is it called Hog Hill?
Good question, especially when it goes under the official title of Redbridge Cycle Centre.
A brief history:
Way back before the circuit existed, the BCF (British Cycling Federation) were looking at two spots to replace the old Eastway Cycle Circuit, (now the Olympic Park). The first location was by a dual carriage way out further East. This was looking towards being awarded the contract, however there were concerns about carbon monoxide poisoning. At this stage the UKSSA were running small skate events at the Hillingdon cycle track; the Wasteland races. The slope and strong breeze at Hillingdon were less than perfect, so we had a strong interest in finding a new, steeper race site better suited to slalom racing.

The second location, preferred by the BCF because of reduced pollution, was at a geographical location called Hog Hill. It was nearer to the original Eastway track than the original proposed site. Hog Hill sounded like just the place we were after also. It had ‘Hill’ in the title! Unfortunately, there was difficulty in obtaining this site because there were newts at the bottom of the proposed area that were part of the natural surroundings and could not be moved. As a cyclist, I followed the ‘for’ and ‘against’ arguments for about a year through the magazine Cycling Weekly. Eventually the health of cyclists was put before that of newts and it was announced that the lizards would be moved ready for construction to begin. I contacted Redbridge Council and requested that the UKSSA might be their first booking. The replied that no site manager had been appointed, but that they would keep my request on record.
Around six months later, I had a call from Ian Coles completely out of the blue. ‘Is that Sam Gordon?’ he asked, ‘it’s Ian at Redbridge Council here.’ I nearly put the phone down thinking that I’d picked up a speeding or parking ticket. Fortunately I didn’t. Redbridge were very accommodating to skaters and have been ever since.
Still don’t know why it is called Hog Hill. perhaps the geographical rise looks like a hog’s back. What I do know is that if it were little bit further East then it would either be called Dog Kennel Hill or the Fox Burrow Road Centre.
I think we were lucky.

Nice! How can the rest of Europe get involved with this?
We arrange our races with the ISSA calendar so that there is no overlap. Rob is an ISSA regional co-ordinator, so has a hand in pointing events in the right direction. Last year at Hog Hill we ran a high status World Cup event at the British Open Slalom Championships, with racers from Brazil, Holland, Germany, France, Czech Republic and more. This year, because of the Olympics we are going a little more low key. It also means that there is more racing time and comp spot places for UK riders.

What are your plans for the rest of the season?
Beat Louis, Bruno, Stride, Price, Allison, Mmedo, Clingfilm and all comers. Harry Phelps whilst I still can. The UKSSA might be altruistic, but I’m not.

Choose 3 numbers between 1-26
666

try again
Are you having problems with an ATM machine?

7 – 5 – 23

Is this your pin number?
Yes. I just have to find the card for which it works.

7 – What is your favourite meal?
Ham, eggs, chips and beans. All the food groups, all the textures. Lots of beans.

5 – What is your favourite skate video?
Drop and Greener Pastures looked great; production values are getting so much better. Duane Peters’ Who Cares’ is astonishingly good. And anything with Olson’s dry reportage. I should add Rolling Through The Decades and Dogtown mullarkey too. Maybe Chlorine. But really I prefer the 70’s skate videos above all others because they have a good thin plot and a huge amount of varied skating.

23- Bacon/Chocolate?
Chocolate. Although bacon keeps in a warm pocket for longer. Might be good for the LDP boys. I’m not one. Yet. Gareth Roe has produced a beautiful carbon LDP deck just recently. If Paul Coupe gets one…

It has been a pleasure speaking to you Sam! See you at Hog hill!
Until then.

Any thank yous?
Yes; to sponsors and all those who help out at the races (and the website, Nigel!). The UKSSA is non profit/volunteer run, so we always need assistance.

Get racing!

Links
UKSSA: http://www.ukslalomskateboarding.com/
UKSSA on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/288903651967/?bookmark_t=group
ISSA: http://www.slalomskateboarder.com/

Pavel Skates: http://www.pavel-skates.com/cms/
Virage Trucks/ Octane Sport: http://www.octanesport.com/trucks/virage.html

Slalom pictures: http://www.flickr.com/photos/samg/collections/72157600469705831/

Discussion2 Comments

  1. Pingback: Hog hill spring session report » All Around Skate - The European Longboard Site

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