Sidewalk Skateboarding Dom Henry - Interview - Sidewalk Skateboarding

Dom Henry – Interview Dom Henry – Interview

Some time ago whilst I was over in Manchester interviewing Tyrone O’Hanrahan, Dom foolishly remarked to me how dope it was to see people still doing face-to-face interviews, rather than relying on the notoriously impersonal and detached email method. Fast-forward a year later, and I call Dom to find out when he was free to sit down and put some words together for this, only to receive a less than enthusiastic response along the lines of, ‘What? Are we doing it in real life?’

Nervousness (on both sides of the Dictaphone) and amusement about the self-boyment aside, things worked out pretty well in the end, but as there’s plenty to read below, I’ll keep this intro short.

Reading born, one-time global-wanderer and current Manchester-resident Dominic Henry is one of my favourite people. His skateboarding is infused with a sharp eye for aesthetics, his technique is impeccable and his output would be unparalleled if he didn’t happen to live in the most productive skateboarding scene in the UK. Aside from that, Dom is also very funny and brutally sarcastic at times – traits that always make any time spent with him worthwhile, (well, unless he’s drunk but you can read more about that below), so it gives me great pleasure to present him, his skateboarding and his amusing lexicon of skate terminology to you all. Enjoy.

So Dom, we’re sitting here in Gio’s restaurant in Manchester and I’m trying to work out who’s the most nervous – you or me. This is the first time you’ve ever been ‘interviewed’ face-to-face, right?

That’s correct – this is my first analogue interview experience.

So on a scale from standard Dom Henry daily anxiety to pure terror, where are you right now?

Over-vert. Nah I’m fine, I’ll acclimatise.

The last time we talked you told me that you were looking for an app for your phone that would count your days of sobriety – did you find one?

Nah, I couldn’t find one so I just Google Image search the number every morning and then save it as my phone’s wallpaper for the day.

What number are you on today then?

28 days of no alcohol so far. To be clear, I’m not counting days because it’s some kind of daily struggle, it’s just a helpful reminder.

Is your life better?

Oh yeah, life is much better with less risk of extreme regret. Well, no risk really.

So this is self-enforced?

Yeah, completely self-enforced; to put it lightly, I think I’m allergic to alcohol. Or to put it a better way – I might as well be allergic to alcohol because when I drink it, anything can happen, and I mean that in a bad way. I knew we were going to talk about this but I don’t want to turn it into a massive thing. It’s not as gnarly as it sounds.

Yeah but there’s probably some value in discussing it – maybe people reading can learn from your mistakes…

I’m trying to think of what I ought to say. Basically drinking is good fun but I’ve had too many negative outcomes to keep doing it. It’s not logical for me to keep doing it.

Somewhat ironic given that you imported the term ‘crend’ into the UK from New Zealand as well…

(Laughing) This is true.

Has not drinking meant that you’ve missed out on anything socially?

So far it seems pretty easy. Let me be clear though – it’s not that I’m an alcoholic at all. I would never wake up in the morning and want to start drinking, it’s more that if I start drinking booze then quite often I will just continue to drink beers until something terrible happens. Like I’ll wake up in hospital, or lose everything, or whatever. I have no problem with other people drinking booze, or doing it when I’m there, I’m just not allowing myself to do it any more because I’m no good at it, basically.

Did you use a technique to stop drinking?

I had enough remorse about stuff that had happened and all the property that I’d lost through getting into those situations that it was actually pretty easy to be honest. It was quite a relief to know that I wouldn’t be creating more of those situations for myself. So the last time I drunk was 28 days ago…

‘28 Days Later’…

(Laughing) I went to the pub after work for a drink and then I woke up hours later without my phone, wallet or my glasses. Losing just one of those things is draining, so to lose all three at once was just the final straw. I think I’ve made a positive decision because I’m so shit at drinking that it’s better for everyone if I just don’t do it.

Dom channels Clyde Singleton and produces gold. Clyde-slide switch flip. DAMN! Seq CJ

Dom channels Clyde Singleton and produces gold. Clyde-slide switch flip. DAMN! Seq CJ

Is your anxious personality tied into this do you think?

Oh yeah, 100%. It tended to happen at big skate events, premieres and whatnot. I think it’s because at those events you’re in a big boiler room of meet and greet with everyone you’ve ever met in your life, and there’s free booze and it just goes on for hours. It’s just the wrong kind of fuel for me.

I always wonder whether your anxious personality has anything to do with the type of skateboarding that you enjoy doing. I mean, you love manual stuff, which is pretty much 100% concentration, isn’t it? Not to mention a genre of skating well known for bringing on meltdowns in people…

I know what you mean but I actually don’t feel like I stress out all that much skating these days.

Skating that way, technically, and especially manual skating, can be quite calming I think. It’s a peaceful place to be because you’re concentrating so much that you’re not able to think about anything else. Kinda Zen I guess. It is fun too, as frustrating as people might think manuals are, I derive a lot of pleasure from doing it. Even attempts where you don’t do the trick but you get into the manny for a bit, it’s enjoyable. That feeling of your muscles working in a certain way –it’s like achieving nirvana or something (laughing). Whether you land it or not, you still get a blast of endorphins. Well, I do anyway…

Why did you end up on that path in skating?

Possibly because there were no good ledges in Reading when I was growing up.  All we had were carparks, so most people from that scene were quite handy with mannys because of that so, to answer the question, I probably skate the way I do because of a lack of stuff to grind when I was growing up.

Reading has a good history of skaters who got very, very good at skating but weren’t really motivated by trying to get sponsored. The older generation would drive around a lot, in order to skate the best ledges in Milton Keynes or Bristol or wherever, and seemed very influenced by the 90’s era of World Industries brands and videos. It was definitely a ‘dope’ scene in that respect, and I tried to shoehorn some of that era into that ‘Pengdulum’ video I made, just raiding some of my friend’s hi-8 footage from back in the day to show people what was going on in Reading as I was growing up.

There were a lot of good skaters around – Simon Lewis, Tom Hawes, Nick Fone, Damean Richardson – there are loads more but all those guys really influenced me growing up. Perhaps the most influential aspect of their presence was that they made sure we knew what was wack and what wasn’t…

What, like regulating the younger skaters a bit?

Exactly, in a way that I didn’t always see coming from other towns nearby. You know, skateparks would get built in towns near to us without those places having a scene that preceded the construction of the park, so the people who got technically good at skating in those parks would just assume that they were sick but with no quality control whatsoever. I was lucky to grow up in a dope scene where there was that strong heritage so you got that positive influence without even realising.

What led to you being here in Manchester? Prior to moving here you’d travelled a lot and you don’t have any direct connection to this city, do you?

Tony da Silva is the reason I’m here. I became really good friends with him on a few DC tours that I went on with him as a teenager. Then a few years later, when I had to leave New Zealand and I had no idea where to go, Tony invited me to come and live with him and Mark Kendrick in Manchester. That was six years ago, and I’m still here. I had visited Tony before then so I had met some of the crew and knew Manchester had a sick skate scene…

You love Urbis though don’t you?

Oh yeah, if I’ve got a day off and I’m skating in Manchester then I’m usually very keen to go to Urbis. The main reason for that is that I work full time so my skating time is limited, and I know that I will always have a good time there. Your day can easily turn to shit if you leave Urbis; obviously sometimes it’ll work out, but I’m pretty much guaranteed a good time if I stay there. If I’ve been waiting to skate for four days, unless there’s some pressing reason not to, I’ll go to Urbis. It suits my type of skating; I like to think it’s got a bit of a Love Park vibe about it.  There are always people there – just everything about it is good.

It seems to be a little bit less ‘edgy’ there these days though – it was never particularly sketchy, but it does seem as if there are fewer junkies and strange lurkers hanging out there at the moment.

Most people are so Spiced out of their minds that they’re very lethargic and confused and are easy to avoid. Even if they wanted to start problems they can barely see, or they’re seeing you in 1D so you’re safe…

Fakie bigspin, balance and then backside flip out. A new star is born. Seq CJ

Fakie bigspin, balance and then backside flip out. A new star is born. Seq CJ

Is the legal-high scene still really bad in Manchester? Or did that Vice ‘Spice Boys’ documentary make it seem worse than it was?

Oh no, it’s definitely really bad. There’s no over-hyping it. You mentioned the visibility of the homelessness problem here in Manchester the other day as well, that is definitely connected to the legal-high epidemic. For the last three years we had the problem at Note where people would buy legal highs and sit on the steps that lead to the Tib Street store. Jed (Coldwell) talked about this in his Grey interview. They’d buy their Spice, sit on the stairs, then smoke it and just mong out within a minute and block the stairs. You couldn’t even speak to them or get them to move because they were so wasted on that shit. You’d go out and ask them to move and they wouldn’t even react. You’d give up eventually because, short of physically picking them up, there was nothing you could do. So we’d call the police and they wouldn’t show up because it was ‘legal’.

We put up with it for a year before we started ringing the police and we only did that because you’d get kids lying face down outside the shop every single day. They’d be awake one minute opening their little sachets of Spice, then a minute later they’re face down on the floor in the middle of the day outside the entrance of the shop.  Beached whales, face down for an hour, then they’d eventually wake up and stumble off somewhere else. There are so many homeless people out on the streets in Manchester now too; there were always people on the streets but over the last few years it has got so much more visible – homeless kids too. Kids who I’ve watched smoke Spice outside the shop and now they’ve just deleted their brains with that shit and turned their skin grey in only a couple of years. It’s gnarly.

But Spice is illegal now right? Has that had any effect?

There are less of the same crews around the shop but that’s probably because they’re not buying it from the newsagents around the corner any more. The guy would deny that he sold it but then we saw him on an iPlayer documentary openly selling it over the counter. This wasn’t a ‘head shop’ either – just a regular newsagents. Horrible.

Did you ever get people trying to rob stuff from the shop because of it?

We had sketchy people coming in there but rather than stealing, it was more a case of them being so confused because of the Spice that they’d just come in and stand there drooling. It was hard to get them to leave because they didn’t know where they were. They’d just stand there like zombies. It was distressing to see.

You’ve recently been over in the States – what was the story there?

I went on a road trip around Florida and then to Atlanta, Georgia in January/February. I got an email out of the blue last year, around the time that I first started getting boards from Politic, from one of the guys from Threads Idea Vacuum, which is a group of dudes that make videos and are based in Atlanta. They made a video called ‘Headcleaner’ last year and somehow Matt Creasy – one of the main guys – got hold of me and emailed to ask if I wanted to be in their next video. I was blown away because it was totally out of nowhere, I’d never met them or anything; he’d just seen some footage of me that had come out when I first started getting Politic stuff. Matt who emailed me had said that he’d been a fan of my skating for a while – he was probably just being nice – and had seen that little video part that Phat Jim and I had just done to sort of announce about me getting Politic stuff. I was very happy to be asked though.

It turned out that I was already going to New York with all the Manchester crew for three weeks, so I did that then hooked up with Matt Creasy’s friend who also lived in New York, who turned out to be a guy from Florida called Marshall Nicholson who the entire Manchester crew ended up becoming friends with too. He came out filming with us and we had a good couple of weeks filming for the Threads Idea Vacuum video. He turned out to be the best dude ever.

Anyway, Matt Creasy saw the stuff I’d filmed in New York, liked it and said it’d be sick if I could jump on another trip in the States to get more. I wanted to do another trip this year with Marshall so we decided to go to his home town Fort Myers which is where Elissa Steamer is from, and do a road trip around Florida along with Floridians James Coleman and Jimmy Lannon. We did that, and then Creasy invited me to Atlanta after that. There’s so much I could say here but the whole experience was sick.

So you were filming for two separate videos?

(Laughs) I’m actually filming for four separate videos at the same time: Threads with Creasy, the Politic video, (Sean) Lomax’s video and James Cruickshank’s video. They just seemed to creep up on me.

So you’re still going down the traditional skate media route of filming video parts then – rather than filming ‘virals’ and questing for Instagram fame? Isn’t that a lot of effort in today’s world?

I suppose so, but it’s fun to be a part of bigger projects with other people. Independent videos take a long time to make because usually nobody is being paid to film them and have other commitments, but that’s what makes them rad. I didn’t get myself into this situation thinking, “oh it’d be dope to try and film four video parts with a full-time job”. Previously I’ve always just gathered bits of footage and it’s gone to various different things, but now I have the opportunity to actually try and pull sections together for a few things that have crept up so I want to go in.

The deadline for the Politic video has come quite quickly after being asked to film for it so I won’t have a three minute section or anything, but I’m trying to get as much solid stuff together as I can thanks to people like Shank, Will Miles, Nano and you helping me out and coming out filming.

There’s a culture up here, especially in Manchester, of making independent videos and filming parts – it’s the norm here. There hasn’t been a point where I’ve not been filming for someone’s video since I’ve lived in Manchester. Snake Eyes Die, Pusherman, Shads, etc, etc – people are out doing sick shit all day and your mates are making the videos, so obviously you get involved.

It’s not easy to do when you work full time and you have to rely on the weather and everyone’s free time lining up, but that’s skateboarding up here I guess.

It’s a lot of effort though Dom.

Yeah it is, but why would you not want to get involved in these projects and have these little souvenirs of times in your life? Instagram and all that stuff is cool too, I really enjoy Instagram, but it’s not the same thing.

Anything with a pop up and a drop off becomes Dom Henry's pray. Switch heel nose manny at Ropeyside. Seq CJ

Anything with a pop up and a drop off becomes Dom Henry's prey. Switch heel nose manny at Ropeyside. Seq CJ

You can see why the younger generation might think it’s more effort than it’s worth though. I mean look at Mike (Arnold) – he was kickflip 50-50ing handrails three years ago in Leeds and maybe a few thousand people in the UK who saw the sequence in the mag cared. He does the noseslide 900 on Instagram a few years later and suddenly he’s all over every global skate media outlet.

Yes Mike! Yeah I can see what you’re saying but the thing is I’m not filming parts to ‘promote myself’ because I’m not expecting anything to change as regards getting paid to skate or anything. That’s not the motivation. It’s usually more a case of finishing what I’ve started. It’s more rewarding to me to film a part and for it to be in a video, but at the same time I fully sympathise with putting sick single tricks on Instagram because I hate footage sitting around for years. So, yeah I get it. I’m all for putting things out. I actually really like the new format that’s kind of the middle ground between a ‘proper’ video and a montage – stuff like what Johnny Wilson and Strobeck are doing now. It makes sense to me to adopt that kind of format. You still get a satisfying ‘video’ but you don’t have to wait five years for everyone in it to film a full section.

Who is putting stuff out that hypes you up these days? You’re pretty on it with video releases and the less obvious people.

A lot of good shit comes out of Melbourne in general. I like any footage of Karl Salah, any footage of Tiago Lemos. Tiago is probably the best skater in the world and he could go and ride for anyone but he’s honourable, he’s ‘pigeon to eagle’, so he stays on BLVD because they reached out to the favellas. That’s why I love the Brazilians; they’re the most loyal and honourable skaters in the game. TX is another one, he’s never slowed down, never not had a full part to rep his sponsors. Other people at his level will be happy to just have a couple of tricks but TX will drop another full part that’s just as good as the last one. They’re grateful when they make it and they’re honourable as fuck. Everyone just seems like a powerful G in Brazil, angrily switch mongo pushing at stuff and doing three-foot high switch heels on flat. The Brazilians and the Welsh are the most naturally talented skaters in the world.

It’s funny how “the 90’s” are so celebrated at the moment but the reality of the 90’s wasn’t really this kind of ‘easy trick renaissance’ – if you lived through that era then it was about dope garms but it was also about insanely hard and progressive tricks. What’s your take on that?

You mean like the dad jeans and whatnot? Yeah, it’s a confused re-imagining of that era. Like under the Hilfiger jacket there’ll be a cravat or something (laughing). Or they’ll run the baggy jeans and the dope windbreaker but still have the floodwaters above the shoes.

I think I used to have harsher opinions but skateboarding has become so bizarre these days that I just don’t care any more. Manchester’s core younger crew who would be the pinnacle target for all those weird tucked in shirts and keys trends weren’t really affected by it at all because they just liked dope shit already. I do think there’s more scope for getting further in terms of sponsorship without really doing much these days though. I should talk about ‘eagle to eagle’ here…

What’s that?

There was this hilarious DGK shirt that had ‘pigeon to eagle’ on it, like a pigeon transforming into an eagle as I guess a metaphor for ‘coming up’ and escaping the ghetto or whatever. So you get these Brazilian guys who start off as pigeons with no opportunities and work super hard to get to ‘eagle’ status. Whereas these days there seem to be more cases of ‘eagle to eagle’, like without the struggle (laughing).

Nobody really has to put up with having things thrown at them out of cars any more, or getting mugged, or getting chased for being a skater. The fear that used to come with going into town with a skateboard when I was a kid just doesn’t seem to be a part of it any more. I think because the social stigma has gone, more people stick with skating nowadays, for better or worse, who might perhaps have been filtered out by the pitfalls of growing up street skating. I’m not saying we were running from drive-by shootings or anything back when we were mooching around underground carparks in Reading, but it seemed like getting hassle was the natural order back then. These days where “it’s lit”, it seems like everyone rides a skateboard.

The other thing is that people get ‘The Bends’ these days…

‘The Bends’?

Yeah, you know how people come up too quickly without having had a proper section or having done much and all of a sudden they’re ‘the guy’? (Laughs) That’s what we refer to it as up here, like how divers get The Bends when they come up to the surface too quickly. Alternatively, I think you could apply it to those people who learn every trick in the world at their local park, but because they didn’t really skate street they can’t push and their style is stinking. I think that’s a variant of The Bends but my friends will probably disagree…

I can’t remember who came up with The Bends but it came from somebody who works in Note.

Give us some other funny bits of slang…

Well there’s ‘Ronald McSponno’d’ – that’s used to refer to somebody who thinks they’re sick because they’ve got something for free. Like, they’ve believed their own hype way too much and gone Ronald McSponno’d and now they think they’re ‘lit’, (laughing)…

What about ‘crend’? You basically imported that one into the UK.

Yeah but ‘crend’ has been diluted so much over here. It means ‘career-ender’ but because it’s a fun word to say, it has been used incorrectly a lot. It’s originally from Christchurch in New Zealand and in order to ‘crend’ in its truest meaning, you’d need to shit your pants or do something really bad. I hear people say, “oh are we crending tonight?” and I’ll think to myself, “I dunno, are we? Are you going to shit your pants? Because if you’re not, then we’re probably not crending.”

You can crend within skating too – you could film a line with a nollie 50-50 kickflip out and that could constitute crending as well. But the terminology needs to be treated with respect and retain a bit of gravity – you don’t want to flood the market.

What is it about New Zealand and their slang do you think?

I don’t know, but it is without a doubt one of the funniest places in the world within skateboarding. Particularly in the South Island, I made a lot of friends with people from there and I found that they had extremely ruthless quality control, pure hatred for certain tricks and names for everything. Maybe it’s because they’re surrounded by so much beautiful nature, but loads of flip tricks are named after fish over there: a tre flip is a ‘salmon’, a bigspin flip is a ‘rainbow trout’ and any switch trick is referred to as ‘smoked’. So you’ll get people saying shit like, ‘smoked rainbow trout’ (laughing). Basically when I first came back from living in New Zealand I was so opinionated because of being in their environment. People would call me out for talking shit on everything. The main mantra that I absorbed from being around that was something my friend Andrew Pope said: “I hate because I care”. That was the philosophy I took I guess. If you go around liking everything then nothing has any value.

Urbis had to make an appearance. Clean pop shove front crook popped back out. Seq Reece Leung

Urbis had to make an appearance. Clean pop shove front crook popped back out. Seq Reece Leung

Are you registered to vote in the referendum?

Of course I fucking am! Not just for this referendum, I always vote, you’ve got to. So many people I know don’t vote and it drives me mad. I understand that people have no faith in the system but you can still choose the lesser of the evils on offer. You can bet your arse that horrible bastards will vote but then loads of nicer people won’t because they don’t care or realise that it affects them. Then you get the worst possible outcome. It sucks.

A good few years ago you asked me “what am I doing wrong? I’m filming, I’m out shooting photos and getting coverage but nothing seems to be working out for me in skateboarding…” Do you still feel like that? Sponsorship has kind of worked out for you now, hasn’t it?

Well I’m very stoked to have an opportunity to have footage in the Politic video for sure, and to feel like those guys actually want me to be a part of what they’re doing. I’ve found myself involved with a sick, small US brand with amazing people riding for it. All I really care about is being able to contribute to something that I feel is dope and I guess I have a chance to be in the same video as Danny Renaud and Steve Durante and a bunch of other sick guys.

I also need to thank Jerome (Campbell) here too because the whole Converse thing has opened up a bunch of new opportunities that I’d never had previously. Help with travel and stuff. Ditto with Brixton: Taylor at Brixton has also helped me out that way. Cheers dudes! Oh and sorry about the sequence where I’m wearing DVS too, that one was shot a long time ago. Converse in general has been a sick thing to be a part of because they’re really proactive and they do things. That’s all I’ve been hoping for really, I’d be doing this stuff anyway but it’s great to have even the slightest bit of help to make ideas happen.

You did seem a little demoralized by sponsorship at the time when you asked me that question…

(Laughs) All I’ve ever tried to do is put out a decent amount of video parts and whatnot and do things ‘properly’ as far as I saw it, and for a while it sort of felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere. I mean look, I still work four days a week in a skateshop but in the last year or so the sponsorship side of things has started to feel a bit more legit. Some people seem to like what I do and I have sponsors now that want me to be involved in projects that they’re doing, which is definitely a rewarding feeling. Not to say that skating isn’t its own reward, but it gets me stoked to be asked to be involved with people’s larger projects too.

Yeah but just skating, and going out to document difficult, technical street skating, are two different things. That’s a lot of personal investment to put in…

I sometimes wonder what the point of filming so much over the last ten plus years was, but I kind of don’t know how to not do it now, if that makes sense. And plus it documents all these good times. I’ve formed a habit now, and I think it’s an alright habit to have. I don’t really want to quote Marc Johnson…

That’s a quote in itself…

(Laughing) I think he said something along the lines of “the stoke you get from doing a trick turns back in to a pumpkin at midnight” – as in, the satisfaction you get from landing something is so powerful but it doesn’t last a long time, so in order to have that same feeling you need to go out and do it again and again.

I’m quite a negative person at times so I try not to dwell on this kind of shit; the last thing I need to be doing is asking myself “why did you spend the majority of your life so far doing this?” Skating has been the main thing I’ve been able to concentrate on and is a great way to create value in the day to day, which is good enough for me. It’s a pretty satisfying thing to do. I guess the grass always seems greener but, in reality, the grass is just green. And after ten years it’s too late anyway, I’m deep in the ‘Spice Mine’ now; I can’t escape (laughing). I am thinking of going to University again or something to add another dimension to my existence though. We’ll see…

I’d like to thank:

Chris Johnson and Reece Leung for shooting this. Damon Vorce at Politic, Jerome Campbell at Converse, Taylor Lewis at Brixton, Alan Glass at Shiner for Bones and Independent, Splodge and all at Note. Jed @ Ganj Wax. Matt Creasy and the Threads Idea Vacuum crew. Marshall Nicholson, John Valenti, Sean Lomax, James Cruickshank, Will Miles and Ben Powell. Sam Culshaw. Wes and all the crew at Rock Solid. Cons UK boys. All the great people that put me up in the States earlier this year. Vibeseekers. My family and all my friends worldwide.