What you’re about to read contains some very profound observations on life, on death, on Nature, and on the meaning of skateboarding from somebody whose personal journey is above and beyond the level of average experience in every way.
Honestly, this is, without a shadow of a doubt, the most compelling interview we have ever had the honour to host in this magazine.
I am proud to call Jimmy my friend. His existence on this planet has enriched my own life in innumerable ways already, and this most current escapade of his has only served to reinforce the sheer power of his vision of the universe to me once again.
You are about to venture in the world of the Durham Apache…make sure you’re adequately prepared.
You’re a man with a lot of experience of the great outdoors and of being at one with Nature Jimmy – where did this interest come from originally?
I've always enjoyed being in Nature, especially with no man-made structures in sight, and I've always felt connected to a rad sense of ancient and new vibes inside whilst being close to the vast, desolate and barren terrain that’s never too far away: the mountains, the trees, and the ocean have always been my fix. I feel unstoppable going towards Nature when I need it. It's always remained a solid base in the sense that I can go there whenever I’m feeling low or happy or just lost...
Nature stokes me time and time again and it keeps my physical aligned and my mental hunger for more of this 'visuals in motion' and the desire for having new experiences within it.
Travelling, skateboarding, cycling and trekking in the hills go hand in hand in keeping a 'ravenous need’ fed for me.
My older brother Lee is a game keeper: hunter, falconer and taxidermist and I always use to wander with him into the wild from when I was around 8 or 9 years old. Mostly, I’d just be watching him because I remember at that time when he'd go out of the house, it seemed a lot more interesting and much more adventurous than being at home indoors, or even on the streets. So I’d go out with him in all seasons to be in the wild. It’s always been a magical place for me, compared to being indoors taking 'the easy way out of living life'.
I just feel more lifted and realigned from living life that way; like after I've been for a skate or long haul swimming or cycling and travelling and then getting a fire ignited amongst the trees is like the best, deepest, healing, happy heat. I'm stoked on it.
I'm addicted to it, I need it! I go insane being indoors for too long. Solo voyages into natural zones stimulate me deeper I’ve found, and I've grown used to it and trust that whenever the timing comes to just get out there, to not hesitate about getting involved with it. Each ‘next time’ I go to Nature is always the best for me…
You’ve climbed a bunch of different mountains over the years and explored loads of wild places - can you tell us a bit about some of the specifics of these journeys and how it began?
That all started after some mates and I grew tired of going to the pub and seeing/hearing the same old shit. One weekend we took to the hills with a quest of a better time in our hearts and beers in our rucksacks.
This soon became a regular thing and after trekking high up into the hills away from everyone and having a right old laugh, we all realised that we always came back down more stoked and with more memories of the time doing it than if we’d just carried on with the same old pub routine.
After that, I just kept returning to the Lake District solo. It was relatively near my home, and has so much scope for exploring, plus for me, the place has a feeling of ancient connection: especially visually.
I’ve always found that I looked forward to skating so much more when coming back home after being in the Lakes. The trekking and reaching the peaks and camping and having fires away from anybody seeing me, has always been something highly special.
I never use campgrounds. I also got into fell running for a while and even ran up to Helvellyn and Ben Nevis. (I ran up Ben Nevis up and down in 148 minutes, which was by far my best running stoke ever!)
What about climbing the pyramids in Giza, or getting trapped in a storm whilst climbing Mont Blanc on your own?
I headed out to Cairo to the Pyramids a few years back on a similar mission. On the first day I headed to Giza and waited till 2am and then sneaked through a local graveyard like a Ninja to make it up to the base of Cheops Pyramid (the tallest pyramid of the 3). It stands an epic 450 feet (135 meters) which I was ready to climb but was suddenly approached by 5 guards out of the darkness, all of whom where armed with guns. They grabbed me and were leading me away to god knows where, I was shitting it! Seconds later though, as I pulled out a wad of cash, they happily stopped and watched as I pointed to the top of the pyramid whilst saying, 'I just wanna climb this yeah?’ Luckily, we came to an arrangement after a lot of haggling and I ended up paying them £40 in total, despite the price starting out at £250.
I pleaded (truthfully) that I was poor and eventually one of the guards led me to the southwest corner of the Cheops Pyramid, which was the safest place to climb, and so after about 10 minutes of going up the high stepped staircase, moving fast like a wild grunting animal, jumping and striding from one block to the next, I finally reached the top. I watched the sun rise from up there, which was something else! Before the sun came up I remember the stoke and mystery of looking out in all directions and looking up to the sky and I started inscribing my mam and dad and brother’s names into a stone whilst waiting for the sun. That was an epic weird time...
Going higher in the mountain exploring experiences, I travelled to the south of France after Egypt and went to climb Mont Blanc solo. This ended up being my gnarliest mountain experience to date!
At 4,300 metres into the ascent (which was already 3 times higher than I had ever been), I got stuck for 18 hours in a gale-force wind ‘white-out’ with hardly any visibility. It took me at least 45 minutes to pitch my tent and then finally after only being in the tent for less than a hour my gas stove suddenly started coughing and not staying alight properly, so I gave it a shake whilst it was alight, (definitely the wrong action to take), which suddenly resulted in spewed flames putting a hole the size of a football inside the inner wall of my tent! Shit! This was gnarly, like potentially really gnarly, so to cut a wild story short, I got through the night until the storm stopped with its deafening powerful wind sounds by using my spare jacket to seal the hole in the tent from the fire. Luckily no more snow could come in because outside the snow was already 3 feet deep all the way around the f*cking tent! The next day after the storm had passed I happily, and with ease, reached the summit in much calmer weather conditions. I was so stoked on reaching the top. Then, coming back down I fell through a crevice but managed to survive that one as well, which is another wild story to tell another time…
Didn’t you cycle across India with Wig Worland once?
Nah, Wig and I did a journey from Tangiers to Casablanca, ending in Marrakech during Ramadan and then around the Atlas Mountains and back to Marrakech in Morocco. We loved it! We had a rad time and I filled a whole journal on that jaunt. Wig then went on to do a cycle journey with his friend across India. I've not seen him since but I look forward to hearing of his adventures and we have planned on doing something else hopefully sometime soon!
What possesses you to do this kind of stuff? Are you searching for some thing in particular?
It’s a feed I guess. I feel it in my blood: the need to keep having new experiences. Priceless vibes come from immediate action I find and I’ve learned to just trust it and go when the timing comes which is becoming more and more often, which I'm happy with.
I find the process sort of works like - having something on my mind once I've instigated the idea, then the desire kicks in for the adventure and then I’ve just gotta start it to silence the invasion of thoughts I get if I don’t activate it. I’m always just abiding to when I can set the ball rolling - by thinking about it and beginning to live one idea at a time, finding space to attain it and just going with what I feel I need to do to fuel it. Letting myself know that I am serious I guess…
I am definitely possessed to travel because of all the experiences I've already encountered and it is 100% addictive! I'm just stoked I'm doing what I love! I just know that I’m gonna have a sick time, so I’m going to keep putting the wood on the fire so to speak. It’s the motion I love, but the feel of doing it determines the radness. I guess that's why I've always lived by adopting the habit of doing exercises since the accident I had back in Cornwall. Stretching, swimming, riding the bike, going to hills and the wilds gives me confidence to get on it with everything I'm into. Skateboarding gets better with all this in the mix too: it's the best! I've done it for so long now that I can't live without doing it. I've had four knee surgeries but they've all been for the best to keep up with everything I'm into. I’ve swam just about every day for the last 20 years and will keep swimming and doing cycling journeys because of the confidence that comes from doing it. I seriously get withdrawn if I don't feed what I've got myself into…(laughing)…
There must’ve been times where the Romantic ideal of being out in the wilderness on your own, or cycling across foreign countries, has taken a turn for the worse though – has anything particularly sketchy ever happened to you?
The Mont Blanc episode was probably the gnarliest. Bill Hicks and Terrance McKenna helped me out a lot on that one. They were the only tapes I had with me playing in my Walkman whilst I was stuck in my tent for 18 hours continuously melting the snow with a sketchy stove and eating noodles and drinking pints of tea. That storm was hitting the tent in all directions, closing it in on me but I kept alive through boiling the snow. The original size of my tent was 4 feet wide by 8 feet long, but by the time the storm had stopped it had become 2 feet wide by 4 feet long, (laughing). My Alpine Bivi bag played a massive part keeping me dry and probably saved me on that one also.
Another time whilst I was cycling in Alaska with Geoff and Gabe Freidman - Geoff spotted our first Black Bear. We all jumped off our bikes and started following it into the wild before I suddenly remember realising 'wait a minute…we can’t see this massive wild bear anymore and we’re completely surrounded by trees - What the f*ck?’
It became clear that the bear was stalking us by that point, rather than the other way around so we quickly got the f*ck out of that situation and back to the bikes, although Geoff wanted to investigate the bear more, (laughs). I love his spirit and eager inquisitive madness.
Also whilst cycling around the coast of Britain I got thrown off the road by a lorry once. A van closed in on me between him and a parked car ahead, which trapped my handlebars and shattered the side mirror whilst I kept my arms straight to blast through it. I got out of that one and didn't stop to look back but did hammer on the van doors at the dumb f*ck who was driving it! Madness!
I don’t know whether it’s lame to ask you this or not but…did your near-death experience back in the early 90’s influence this love of freedom? Or were you already like that before the accident?
It’s quite alright you asking me this Ben. Before the accident I was for sure already into exploring new places and skating a lot but to be honest, around the time of my accident I knew that I was kind of ignoring the signs to venture further that were already in my head. At the time of the accident I’d moved to Cornwall from Liverpool and despite kind of staying in one place I was still having a good time learning to surf, as well as skating and partying down there. In time though I realised that the reason I had this gnarly experience of becoming a victim of a hit and run and being left for dead was probably because sometimes in life, it takes something bad happening to you for you to realise that if you continue ignoring the signs that are 'what you know you should be doing', then bad shit can and will happen....
So, after I did come around and back to life by coming off the life-support machine it was like having a second chance, which I realised was to never ignore the signs and in my case, this was including ignoring my signs in dreams, not just what I was feeling at the end of the day of living in a way that I felt I shouldn't.
I realised something very convincing 6 or 7 years after the accident when I stumbled across a dream journal that I had been keeping around the time of the accident. In this journal I had dreamed two dreams only two weeks before the accident and then another dream one week before the slam took place. The two dreams were of exactly where the accident took place. The detail in both dreams was pretty mind-blowing and shocking but it was confirmation to me that the signs I was having during these dreams were real and were a warning that I was living too fast in regard to how I was going about my life before the road slam.
But then there's that saying of 'you need to go through it to know it'- so I’m grateful that I got the chance to learn from it.
I’m so stoked I survived the near death experience I had, and that’s why I celebrate a second birthday from the day I came off that life-support machine I was on down in Cornwall, which is the 21.9.92.
Had I not had the lucid awareness whilst I was dreaming whilst in the coma then I may have never made it back. It’s 21 years since that shit happened - my second birthday!
For those who don’t know – what exactly happened to you back in Cornwall?
I was heading into Newquay on my motorbike travelling at about 50 mph around 1.30am, heading to a mate’s house where there was a bunch of mates I had been with that night. This was in Sept 1992. Suddenly a car turned into me without indicating and I rode straight into the side of the car as it was turning. I hit the windscreen and then was thrown down the road. I lay there and witnessed the car drive off. I picked myself up and remember shouting “Bastards!" I had a severe head injury, a broken ankle broken ribs and fingers, (even though I wasn’t aware of this until after I survived). I had to walk for what seemed like forever towards a light in the distance - it was a roundabout and when I reached it, a taxi driver who saw me stopped and began to help me.
I stepped into the ambulance when it arrived but then my heart stopped…
How conscious were you of what had happened? Had the adrenalin saved you from just dying at the site of the accident?
I knew it was bad even when I stepped into the ambulance - I remember saying to the guys that were handling me, “look after me, I'm in a really bad way". I remember saying that to them and then just as I lay down, my heart stopped. I wasn't expected to come off the life-support machine, as my family told me later - the doctors had already informed them that it was really bad. A priest was even on the scene after only a few days but my mother pleaded with the doctors and insisted they didn’t turn the machine off. She said that I was strong enough to come out of it but the doctors and surgeons were saying that I was too badly injured to wake up from it and that there were no signs or positive indications of me coming out of the coma, and that it was only the machine that was keeping me alive. My mother played a massive part in me returning for sure! But for me personally, I've felt that it was my awareness in the experience I was going through that kept me going and that got me out of it - as it did get to a point in the experience that was madly overwhelming: I knew it wasn't a dream anymore. What I mean is that I realised that this experience I was going through was the experience everyone goes through before the moments of physical death.
Were you just drifting around in another dimension without knowing where you were or why you were there?
I wasn't aware straight away but I knew at a certain point during my experience that I had the mental power and strength to somehow change the way it was all going by willing myself back into my body.
So I knew straightaway THAT IT WASN'T JUST A DREAM.
The concern at the time was overwhelming to me, with what lay in front of me, which was indeed death - almost approaching total death...
I was flying 200 feet up looking down, heading into the same direction as hundreds below me were heading in too. It felt at the time like a sinister death-like feeling coming from within and from all below and around me, which then made me realise that something major had happened and was now happening, putting me in this situation in my spiritual life that I was totally unaware of and that I had to get back to what it was that had started the experience and that I had the will to do it!
Years after this experience I realised, (and I'm sure that this is the truth) that hundreds of thousands of people are dying every second around the world and that what I was witnessing whilst in my coma was this exit and visual occurrence into the next level during the death period for people. People can think what the f*ck they want about my description of my experience here, but I'm just being truthful as to what was happening and what I was feeling whilst witnessing and being a part of all this going on at that time, and then realising further possible reasons for why it actually did occur for me...
I'm so stoked to be alive and there hasn't been a day since I returned that I don’t appreciate every second of being alive and kicking.
From the age of 16 I had been keeping a dream journal and I kept documenting them right up until this occurrence happened, so before this happened, I had already learned how to do a lot of things in dreams: like questioning dreams whilst dreaming, not running away from things in dreams and instead turning around and asking, “why are you chasing me?" sort of thing. I learned to fly in dreams after having a reoccurring dream for years of falling and then waking up in fright until one time when I had prepared myself to stay aware and to see what would happen and when I did this, I took off in flight! It was amazing!
Since that time I never had that reoccurring dream of falling any more and that's when I learned to fly! At this point, whilst in the coma, I had reached a point where it wasn't just a dream that I was having, but I was going through something much gnarlier whilst being completely unaware of what had happened with the road slam. I could describe this but it's pretty gnarly, but what I do know is that the time comes for everyone for death and it's a real time. For me, what I realised from becoming aware of dreams before my accident was that this awareness of them, for some reason, was helping me out and giving me a choice when I most needed it during this moment of near death experience...
Whoa…damn Jim: this is serious stuff…
This experience definitely had a massive impact on me - it was like I had to go through living life again from the very start another time!
Especially after finding my dream journal after recovering and knowing that I could’ve changed the way things went, had I just stopped and realised the potential of my dreams. Normally, because I was seeing all these signs in dreams before the slam, I would’ve got involved with it more deeply, like how I always did with dreams before but like I said; at that point in my life I was ignoring the signs, so I feel now that I had to go through it to really know what the f*ck was going on here and who I was and what I was dealing with…
From listening to you and Geoff talk about the adventures you get involved in, it sounds as if there’s a ‘spiritual aspect’ to it – for want of a better word – what do you think about that?
I do know for definite that the best thing in life is to just get out there and explore it if you have that strong feeling of needing to experience whatever it is that’s on your mind. Living it out, rather than just the talk of it and wearing out the idea without any action, is so, so much more valuable. I've seen so many people kill the idea of doing a mission because of talking it to death first. There's an amazing experience that lies within the desire of doing something that originally came to you! What you feel you must get on with - you should just get on with it! Regardless of what your mates think or any of that. Don't be disheartened! Through your own experience you will see so much more surprising and inspiring relevance to your self!
“Well Done Is Better Than Well Said" - that shit’s for sure!
Which brings us nicely on to your recent tee pee ‘happening’ Jim, how many boards did you use in the construction in total?
Just under 300…
Are they all yours or have you been collecting them from anywhere?
95% are mine. About 20 are my friend Eden's and about 20 are randoms thrown in from a few friends from Newcastle. There's also a few from Geoff in the mix with stories written on them like mad close encounters with sharks whilst doing 5050s above the ocean late at night, (laughing). The rest are all my own boards that I’ve been collecting for the last 25 years. My collection started from around 87 when Eden and I decided that it’d be rad to keep hold of all our boards for the stoke of how many we would gather over the future years - we seemed to know even back then that we would be skating for a long time.
There's a lot of Blueprint, Flip, Unabomber boards and some Santa Cruz, Powell, Brand X, Schmitt Stix, Dog Town, H-street, etc, etc.
It's amazing when I’m holding one and waiting for the memory to come from it…
I heard a story that your entire house was filled with old boards and that you were basically living in one room as the rest of the space was taken up with storing the boards – is that true?
Ha! Nah, there weren’t that many. If I had that amount of boards then I’d be making a Mega skate structure…
I also heard that another room in your house was covered (ceiling, walls and floors) with photos – is that true as well? Is it still there? What were the pictures of?
Yes this is true. Pictures of travel and everyone I've encountered along the way. I had a knee surgery once - one of four - and I had five weeks of being stuck in the house so I got thousands of photos printed up cheap.
I had this vision in my head, so I got on with it. Plus shit loads of blue-tac, (laughing). I wanted to create a sphere originally but settled for covering all four walls, the ceiling and the floor. It was the memory room and the only others things in there other than photos were a pillow and a sleeping bag.
I vaguely remember you building something resembling a tree from boards for that Moving Units art show a few years ago – was that your first voyage into the world of skateboard sculptures?
Ha! Yeah that was the first time I built anything out of boards.
I remember driving from London to Durham when I had the idea, after being inspired whilst watching Bobby Puleo display the broken windscreens that he'd found on the streets of New York, along with memo's and random leaflets discovered on the streets, and then seeing him putting them up on the wall of the art show at Side Effects of Urethane. I got inspired to do something myself other than just helping Pin, Toby and Badger build the ramps, so I drove to my mother’s and after 5 hours of driving, at 1am, I went up to the attic and brought them all out and drove straight back down to London without any sleep. Whilst I did that build that I can remember thinking to myself that one day I would build something bigger. So I'm stoked I’ve kept them all and even brought boards back from my travels when they've even been smashed into bits and broken instead of just binning them…
So talk us through the genesis of the tee-pee – where did the idea to do it come from originally? How long were you planning it for?
I had a structure of a sphere in my head at first a few years ago with it standing at the same height in nature amongst trees and to have the grip tape showing from the out side and the graphics inside.
When I arranged with my skate friend Peter Surtees (who lives on the farm where my brother Joe does his game-keeping and had already built a mini ramp), to get the permission to seek out an area to construct something - it was never a tee pee structure that I had in mind.
The tee pee just happened when I saw a standing oak tree with 2 by 3's lying only 50 feet away from the tree: 9 of them – the perfect number for this structure. I just found myself standing them against the tree and stood back and thought, “YES!!! This is it!!!" Actually, Appleyard was the first to name it a ‘tee pee’ after I had posted it on Instagram as for me, it was a Skateboard Pyramid or Sphere I was about to put together, just not a smooth tight one. I loved it more and more as it came together because of how it happened especially standing there against the Oak Power.
So the forest itself basically gave you the raw materials that you didn’t have? Are you that down with the soul of the forest? This is nuts…
I guess I am, (laughs). I hadn't been searching for a place for longer than 5 minutes honestly and yeah - the beams were just lying down right there near to the tree I was looking at! When I asked Peter’s dad Lawrence if I could use them he said “of course!" He was down for me doing it too. Things came good: I was so stoked! Where there's a need, there's always a way…
Is there a direct influence from Native American culture, or was it just the obvious form to go for?
It seemed the proper way to have the skateboards themselves all standing vertical, like they were praising the oak tree in a way and hailing it in thanks for the ride they've put me through…
I just knew I was going build to something rad, I could feel it! I just had to start!
How far away from your house was the site? How did you get them all there? Did you do it all alone?
It’s about 9 miles from my house. All of my boards fitted into my Corsa – every one! The motivation in starting it came from disappointment after being kicked out of my local car park by police 3 times in a row over a space of a week whilst I was trying to skate a line travelling down 3 levels of the car park, which I got so close to doing the night before I decided to seek out a space in the forest. So I just called Peter in the morning and arranged to come over to check out a space.
How far away from your house was the site? How did you get them all there? Did you do it all alone?
It's about 9 miles from my house. All of my boards fitted into my Corsa – every one! The motivation in starting it came from disappointment after being kicked out of my local car park by police 3 times in a row over a space of a week whilst I was trying to skate a line travelling down 3 levels of the car park, which I got so close to doing the night before I decided to seek out a space in the forest. So I just called Peter in the morning and arranged to come over to check out a space.
I’ve also heard that the whole thing is held together by string and cable-ties – is that right?
It is! Apart from 9 nails holding the beams into the oak. I've loved every minute of piecing it all together - just like my life is a jigsaw puzzle/skateboard wormhole of experiences and memories - all with an entrance and shelter. Ha!
You and your girlfriend have been sleeping in it too, I hear. What’s the tee pee vibe like?
It's better than how I imagined it to be honest. Dana and I stayed in it the first time. Candles all around the base of it inside looked amazing from the outside and the inside. You could easily fit 6 people in there all lying down around the oak inside. The sound effects of the creaking are amazing when you’re inside too! Visually it's a trip as the memories always come back to me when I’m inside it as well.
Have you performed any rituals, burning sage or doing anything mystical in there or is it just like a tent situation for you?
Sage has been burned for sure and meditation and self-gratitude of the coming together with 3 solo nights have gone down. Every time I see it from a distance or when I’m inside it I have the best feeling. I want it somewhere permanent for sure. I want to do a Mega Skateboard Pyramid one day.
I can say this: imagine what it's like for you as a skater if a collection of nearly all the boards you've ever used and collected over 25 years of your life come together like this. That should help you imagine what it feels like to be inside. I like to think of it as a wormhole of jigsaw skateboard pieces in a constant moving motion picture once immersed inside - of skateboarding and travel and fun times and memories all pointing to the stars, (laughing)…
Is it warm and comfortable? Obviously your answer is going to be relative given the fact that I once caught you sleeping in a tree – but say, how comfy is it in comparison to your normal tent set-up?
Ha! I've slept in many a tree and haven't fallen out yet. It’s comfortable in here for sure but I didn't fall asleep the first night! I couldn't close my eyes. Honestly. For me to think of how many times I've slept in a tent and for all those times leading up to this, it's something else to sleep inside this thing. This is by far the best! It’s definitely a better view than the visual ceiling of a tent, that’s for sure. The ground is flat and soft and comfortable although a sleeping bag and plenty of tea on the boil is a must this time of the year…
Have people seen it or did you deliberately build it somewhere away from prying eyes?
The only passing people have been farmers, cyclists, runners and shooters and they all smile and wave when they pass by it. Lawrence, the owner of the farm, has kindly let me have it there until the snow comes. I plan on staying in it again for sure!
You’ve been out recently planting trees – is this to offset the amount of wood you’ve used making the tee pee and through skating? Or is it a job?
(Laughs), it’s amazing how the timing of that came around. I told my friend Tom, (who runs ‘Durham Trees’) a few months back that if he ever needed a helping hand that he could contact me and just after finishing the skate structure he did. The timing was spot on. I'm travelling to Bulgaria soon (Jimmy is actually there as you read this - Ed) so the extra cash is appreciated - but to be honest, the pleasure I get from working with trees is by far better than the money I get for doing it.
So what’s the future for this thing as far as what happens next? Have you considered trying to get it classed as art, (which it clearly is) and moved to a gallery, or do you have your own plans for it?
I have permission to have it standing for a few months yet. I can't wait until it snows. Visually it's gonna look sick!
Would you sell it to a gallery or collector if you got an offer?
It's definitely worth having it in a permanent place somewhere but not for a few years to come yet; I want it to be twice as high with two levels inside before that happened. I wouldn't sell it: Too many good memories and priceless vibes.
If you had a choice of an ideal living scenario, what would it be? You don’t seem to be that concerned about the traditional bricks and mortar vision to be honest…
A mountain high with used skateboard living quarters, with like-minded tribesmen and tribeswomen, which could only be reached by Gyrocopter or extreme climbers…
Does the rule – “Keep your mind on that shit you want, and off that f*cking shit you don’t!" still apply?
Of course it does.
Attract magnetic jigsaw pieces of your own radness to come together into a moving picture forever!