‘Favourites’ takes a little rest this week, as we bring you the unedited Kenny Omond interview from the ‘Carved in Stone’ article from Sidewalk 84 (September 2003).
See the latest issue of the mag for more coverage from this years Livi Fun Day…
Photography by Silent William…
Comparatively, skateboarding is still in its infancy so its established elder statesmen are kind of few and far between to be honest. However, and with that said, they don’t come much more elder or respected than Mr Livingston himself, Kenny Omond. Rather than brow-beat you with limp tales off how gnarly we and our buddies were that weekend I decided to speak to Kenny about the genesis of the park, to find out where the whole Livingston phenomenon started. I invite you to do the same. A little bit of history never hurt anybody.
Can you give us a brief run down of your involvement with Livingston so far?
It really all kicked off back in ’76 when I went to California on a business trip. I’d seen that film ‘Skater Data’ a couple of years previous to that and I’d thought that skateboarding looked quite interesting. I picked up a Skateboarder magazine whilst I was over in the States which had a picture of Waldo Autry doing a carve on the vert of a swimming pool. My reaction was virtually cartoon style, you know eyeballs popping out of my head in excitement sort of thing. So I looked around and got myself a set of wheels and trucks and brought them back home and attached them to a piece of aluminium. That was my first skateboard, (laughs) and almost immediately I was hurtling along into my dear wife’s washing machine trying to get the hang of riding it. This was around the time of first big skateboard craze in the UK. The average age in Livingston around this time was 24 so there were a whole load of kids with not very much to do. Livingston was under a quango at the time, the ‘Livingston Development Corporation’, which was connected to the fact that Livi was a new town. They were very open-minded because of that and it was relatively easy to get funding for all kinds of outlandish things. So anyway, I approached them and asked whether they fancied being the first town in the UK to provide a full scale outdoor concrete skatepark and true to form their response was totally positive, you know ‘yeah, come in and talk to us about it’. Iain Urquart who was a prominent architect at the time with the LDC and he and his wife Dee just took the whole idea on board. They thought it was a fantastic opportunity for Livingston.
To cut a long story short we were trying to get the SSA (Scottish Skateboarding Association) up and running because there was just so much interest in skateboarding at that time.
So the LDC were totally in favour of the park from the very beginning then?
Absolutely, Iain Urquart just took it on board and things began to gather pace. There was a very serendipitous conjunction of various funding bodies that just made everything work. Iain, Dr Russel Tate, (who is now head of Artificial Intelligence at Edinburgh University) and I, were all pushing from different perspectives to get the park going. Without any of those players it’s possible that nothing would’ve happened but each of us contributed and played a part in going from planning to construction. The whole process took about 3 years and in that time the first few concrete parks in the UK were already appearing in Kelvingrove park in Glasgow and of course Skate City in Bromley, so there was already a precedent for large scale skateparks. Eventually the funding came together under the auspices of Iain and Dee Urquart with contributions from the Scottish Sports Council, the LDC and various other bodies. Ian became very obsessive about it, he and his wife travelled all around the UK and the States looking at parks and discussing the successes and mistakes that were being made with park design at the time. They became friendly with Tony Hawk, McGill, Caballero and Stacey Peralta and really did their homework. They came back and got everyone together and began bouncing ideas around regarding what should be built at Livi. I’d skated Marina Del Ray and a couple of other US parks at the time so I suggested ideas based on what I’d ridden.
Aren’t some aspects of Livi based on other (now long defunct) 70’s skateparks?
Yeah, most famously the ‘Andover bank’, which was based on a little bank in the old park in Andover where the Abrook brothers and various other future big names learned to skate. We all travelled down to Andover once to meet up with Tim Leighton-Boyes in a big hire bus on a beautiful summer weekend. Everyone was so impressed with the little Andover banks that we decided that we had to build one at Livi too. The double bowl was influenced by Marina Del Ray and this indoor pool that used to be at Colne in a factory, those were its roots. The half pipe was built to double up as a slalom course because at the time slalom was a huge thing. I was never that impressed by that idea to be honest, slalom was okay but I didn’t see why the design of a half pipe had to be compromised for it really. It’s funny actually because at the time we organised a delegation from the SSA to attend a meeting of the European Skateboard Federation in Brussels. They totally had their heads up their backsides in terms of what they were focusing on as being ‘proper skateboarding’. I was trying to discuss vert skating and park skating and at the time their attitude was that vert and park skating were the ‘trivial stuff’ of skateboarding. They were totally focusing on freestyle and slalom, you know ludicrous stuff – ‘how much cones could displaced without incurring penalty points’ or ‘what happens if one cone is displaced and hits another cone, do we restart the slalom?’, (laughing). You never know though, what goes around comes around, we might yet see another resurgence in slalom and freestyle skating.
So what was happening in skateboarding at the time when Livingston was finally completed?
The park was finished in 1980 just as things were dying, in terms of the craze anyway. Despite the media assertion that skateboarding was dead and that everyone was now riding BMX bikes, that very first year of Livi being there was amazing. Iain had persuaded Caballero and McGill to come over for the opening and everybody and anybody in UK skateboarding were there. It was really tight knit community at the time – the Abrooks, Rodga Harvey and all these scammers. They all came up for the opening it was a beautiful summer’s day just like this year. They all scammed and hooked up with Livi girls, (laughs) it created legends for years to come. It was an idyllic summer, a really good launch for the park. We organised a comp called ‘Skate 80’…
So was that first of the fun-days?
No, not really. The Livi fun-day as you all know it now only really kicked off in about ’84. Iain Urquart actually died in ’83 so he never got the opportunity to see the blooming of the legacy that he’d left behind him. Around that time there was an extremely strong, grass roots feeling to skateboarding, all the skaters in the UK travelled to every contest or event, we’d live in each other’s pockets. It sounds like a cliché but it really was just one big ‘skate brotherhood’.
Livingston still has that kind of vibe to it these days though don’t you think?
It definitely does have a community feel, even now. You can go down the park on any day of the week and everybody’s just sitting around having a really good time. The thing about Livingston is that it really is a second home for all the locals.
I noticed that the police were quite evident at this year’s fun-day and seemed particularly concerned about people drinking, what’s their general attitude towards the event?
In general they’re pretty OK about it because they know that these kids could be getting up to much worse in a place like Livingston. There has been talk about trying to get a little more organised, you know getting stewards together and whatnot. In a lot of ways we’re getting away with blue murder in comparison to other sporting events, (laughs).
Would it be correct to say that the Livingston fun-days are the longest established skateboarding tradition in Europe, if not the world?
I think that may well be right. The fun day started, (as I said) around 1984 when the council approached us to come up with an event for the Livingston festival, which was a big gala day thing. We put our usual competition on, although it was quite patchy compared to these days. To be perfectly honest the very first few fun-days consisted of little more than Ivan, myself and another guy skating the half pipe, (laughing) all to the edification of the many spectators. That was the bottom line really and as British skate culture grew in popularity so did the fun-day. It became a victim of it’s own success really and gradually the word spread and people would make regular visits.
Do you think that the epic scale of Livi still stands as relevant in these days of the smaller concrete parks that are appearing in Scotland?
I do yes, although I was worried for a while that Livi would lose its iconic status a little. I had originally intended to get involved in designing the new crop of parks popping up in Scotland but I just didn’t have enough time and the skaters/Clive Bowman seemed to be doing a pretty good job on their own, especially with Perth. The other thing was that in a modern skatepark you’re not going to get away with a 9ft bowl simply because there’s a much stronger street influence these days. Perth and Blantyre tend to have a certain blandness to them, not that they’re not good parks because they are but they just don’t have the same epic quality that Livi has. Just in terms of speed and possible lines I suppose. Saying that though, the Livi extension, which was built in 1992 and had its roots in the corporation wanting to shift some rocks, was based on a smaller scale design that’d be more usable for younger, less experienced skaters. I designed the extension myself and caught quite a lot of flack for it originally, as people didn’t understand why it was symmetrical. I was even threatened by a local skater at the time who decided after a fair bit of drink that I’d wasted 90 grand on a ‘mini ramp’, (laughs). He completely lost the plot with me, I just don’t think he understood what we were trying to do for the younger skaters. I just wanted to cater for skaters of all abilities and to incorporate the potential for progression into the design, rather than just building it for professional level skaters or just for beginners.
Can you tell us a little about the origins of ‘Skateline’ magazine? You were involved in that weren’t you?
Skateline was actually Iain and Dee Urquart’s idea I just did some cartoons and whatnot for it. It ended up turning into ‘Skaterats’, which went on to doing Skaterat posters, then ‘Deep Fried Skates’ zine and now my son Ivan has taken up the Livi zine baton with ‘Game Show Mafia’. Livi has a long tradition of self-publicising and DIY culture. I have the greatest admiration for skateboarders, they’re just such a creative bunch of people. It’s amazing. At the time of Skateline there wasn’t really a legitimate skateboard magazine in the UK (this is before RAD came about) but there were a ton of DIY zines. The guys from Newcastle did one. Dave Allen and friends did ‘Sketchy’ zine, that was really good, Skate Muties from the 5th Dimension from Bristol. You go back and look at them now and they’re still so well done, so funny. I have the distinction of being on the local Sports Council up here and it amazes me, there’s just nothing remotely resembling skateboarding for sheer creativity and love that comes from the participants. The energy and force in skateboarding is really out of this world, you really have to see it to believe it. The outside world really has no idea. Although, you do get people that can recognise the positive sides of a place like Livi. We had that TV documentary made on the park last year and all of a sudden local people who didn’t know anything about skateboarding were totally amazed, gob-smacked even, by the skaters and the scene and everything that goes with it. I think that a lot of the misrepresentation and distaste shown towards skateboarding is purely because ordinary people don’t have access to the scene, you find that once they actually take time to see what goes on down the park that they’re generally amazed.
Are there any plans to extend the park?
Actually there was a plan recently to take away the whole site, the park, the go-kart track, etc and build a huge civic centre there. Luckily one of our liaison officers on West Lothian council is a skater so he made sure that the architects were shown the park and were helped to understand why it was so important for it remain. In the end the architects themselves were so impressed that they decided that they wanted to expand the park and incorporate that into the re-development of the city. In some ways you can never trust officialdom, or rather it’s safer not to, (laughs). There are plans afoot to build a street section on some of the unused land on the park’s site. It’s a little bit up in the air right now but we’re in the process of organising it. I’m sure it’ll happen eventually.