The British canal system has gone through a lot of facelifts and reboots of sorts since its initial appearance in Roman times, where the first known manmade waterways were primarily used for tasks such as land drainage and the irrigation of crops. (Yes, the intro is fairly Wikipedia-esque – bear with me…) Fast forward a few years and larger canals had started to appear that joined nearby rivers together for the sake of easy passage. During medieval times, influential figures in various emerging industries saw the potential in these narrow waterways and quickly started to appropriate them as a reliable and economically viable way to mass transport fragile goods and materials around the UK.
The onset of the Industrial Revolution in the mid-18th Century saw the increasing number of canals become the main method of product transportation, as a system of waterways emerged that near enough connected the whole country.
The canal system of Great Britain was, for all intents and purposes, booming.
Up until about 1830 anyway.
As the first UK rail networks became established through the 19th Century, the industrial use of canals in the UK declined in popularity, and with motor vehicles rapidly evolving through the early 20th Century, the speed and ease of road haulage virtually killed off any remaining trade that happened to be left on the canals.
Aside from the occasional bit of token traffic, by the time the 1960s rolled around, the once flourishing canal system was all but obsolete – a sprawling and archaic reminder of an industrial past that was outdone in almost every respect by every other mode of haulage that had emerged in the mere 250 years since its heyday.
Just as it looked like the canals were literally going to be left to go to proverbial shit, something remarkable happened that changed the course of the future for our once beloved waterways – the leisure industry took over.
Restoration of previously closed canals began, funding was acquired to help provide considerable facelifts, and over the following decades a substantial network of fully navigable canals re-emerged, providing those in favour of a much slower pace of life with a fresh leisure activity that was exceptionally British in both essence and appearance.
The waterways that were once busy with industrial fleets of boats were now overrun with lavishly decorated and cleanly kept narrow boats manned by families attempting to completely escape city and town life for a few weeks through the summer, and by elderly individuals spending their twilight years gently meandering around the countryside at speeds rarely exceeding 3mph.
It was into this quintessentially British setting that David Mackey decided to interject the recently established UK New Balance Numeric roster, with a couple of semi-bewildered European representatives also thrown into the mix for good measure.
For one week back in August, two barges could be seen navigating their way around the Leeds-Liverpool canal, housing the combined crew of Mark Baines, Jed Coldwell (who was still recovering from a severe ankle injury earlier in the summer), Cam Barr, Jeremy Jones, Republiqué mainstay Karl Salah, Toy Machine’s latest Belgium addition Axel Cruysberghs and Flo Mirtain, who, on his second UK trip in almost as many weeks, is surely in need of no introduction.
Tom Knox and Vaughan ‘VMFJ’ Jones were both unfortunately out of commission for the inaugural New Balance Numeric UK mission, and Andy ‘Evz’ Evans’ unrelenting work commitments saw him reluctantly don his chef’s attire after the first few days and head back to Liverpool, with flow rider Seb Batty joining us in Manchester to bring some fresh and undamaged legs to the crew.
With Southport OG Ash Wilson also on hand to help skipper the boats, we were just about set; as Vision said in 1989 ‘Barge At Will’. Though I’m not entirely convinced this was the same sort of ‘barging’ that they had in mind…
The first day technically involved collecting the boats from Barnoldswick and getting to grips with driving the things, operating the locks, general canal etiquette and all the rest, then day two was when the skating could begin. And begin it did, with Evz obviously, and this beyond rugged banked number located in an estate somewhere on the outskirts of Leeds.
If we had to start the trip in one of the most rinsed cities in the north of the country, we certainly weren’t going to be tramlining it.
Or hitting any warm-up spots.
After the smashed up shopping trolley and various other pieces of debris had been removed from the middle of this cobbled delight, a few people dropped in on the bank, a few people failed, some didn’t bother getting boards out of the van at all and played kerby around the corner, and Evz, in typical fashion, switch frontside 180’d over the bollard at the top and into the bank first try. The switch frontside flip was preceded by a few attempts at an aborted switch frontside heelflip, though the trick choice was quickly changed up and Andrew was riding away from this one in a mere handful of tries,
As usual, that’s a firm zero reading on Evz’ internal fucking-about-ometer.
Poor Flo; he’s literally spent more time in the north of the UK this year than anyone on the team (aside from Jed and Baines, obviously). Following on from his Dwindle Summer Tour appearance literally a fortnight before, Flo was back in familiar territory, only this time sleeping on a barge, not in a Travelodge.
A seasoned veteran of the professional skateboarding game, Flo got in there early and hammered out this crook fakie in the outskirts of Leeds right after Evz had handled the aforementioned switch frontside flip.
As pleasant as they come with an impressive wealth of skate trivia firmly rooted in his wise grey matter, Flo more than killed it across the entire week, despite the fact that the weather was, more often than not, terrible, and he was sleeping a handful of centimetres away from Cam Barr’s feet.
The call was made to spend the second day of skating in Manchester, stopping off in Stockport on the way to hit the plethora of bust free ledges conveniently located in the town centre. As it happened – and as you would expect with a crew such as this – we got stuck in Stockport for the entire day and didn’t make it into Manchester itself until 24 hours later. It was part way through this Stockport day that Jeremy Jones appeared fresh off the train from London, got accosted by CJ and Sirus and had two tricks and this ridiculous photo in the bag within the first hour of him being on the trip.
Sometimes it’s not what you do, it’s the way that you do it that’s important – this is, without a doubt, one of those cases.
We hired two boats for the trip which were quickly divided up as follows – the Adult Barge, where the over 30s (and Sirus) slept, along with all the camera equipment, laptops etc, and the juxtaposing Ganj Wax approved Ragga Barge, where the tunes never stopped, the Jelly Tots flowed freely, the Olympics were never not on the TV, and it was 4:20 all day long.
The sight of such a ramshackle gaggle of tracksuit clad lads sauntering up and down the canal in the smoky Gloucester boat certainly raised a few eyebrows across the week, such eyebrows would be raised even further as whoever happened to be driving the Ragga Barge would casually ram the thing into other boats, get it stuck on shelves or just scrape it around any and all slight bends in the canal. Honestly, it must’ve looked like an Irvine Welsh novel come to life to your average canal regular.
I’m not sure how that ties into this photo of Mark performing a timeless switch frontside noseslide in Stockport, but I will say that he followed this up with a two-hour battle with a line at the town centre ledges that resulted in a cracked and a snapped board. A true workhorse.
I’d been with Karl a few weeks prior to the trip in Paris. When parting company on our last night, Karl remarked, “I’ll see you on the New Balance trip anyway, see you in London!”
I can’t remember whether or not I corrected Karl as to where the trip was actually going, but the thought of Karl thinking he’d be skating Southbank for a week then actually finding him self sleeping on a boat in Skipton and getting harassed by inbred types in Heckmondwike was highly amusing to me. From that one statement, I think Karl’s projected expectations and the reality that ensued were about as far removed from each other as possible.
I don’t think losing his poche (that’s ‘pocket’ in French) that held all his ID’s and money somewhere in the West Yorkshire Bermuda Triangle of Gildersome-Birstall-Heckmondwike during the first day was the best possible start to the trip for Karl, but it didn’t stop him smashing it on the remaining dry days, taking his explosive Parisian technique on a tour of northern England and stopping all who bore witness dead in their tracks.
Granted, the Platt Fields road gaps aren’t to everybody’s liking, but for Flo and Karl they served as the perfect Mancunion warm up spot – not that this flawless switch backside heelflip by Karl could be described as ‘warm up’, nor could the preceding switch bigspin heelflip by Flo.
New Balance Numeric flow rider and ‘Hong Kong Wiganer’ (as Tez likes to refer to him…) Seb Batty wasn’t a full time member of the trip, but put in an appearance on the Manchester day and proceeded to leave his mark by bagging up a line and switch crooking this hench number in the city centre.
Crook bonk, crook pop over…whatever you want to call it, it doesn’t really matter; what matters is that Jeremy has some of the lightest feet I’ve ever come across. Part way through a security meltdown and en route to the Curry Mile, Jeremy repeatedly bounced his front truck off this backstreet find whilst everyone else entertained themselves chatting away to a security guard via the buildings intercom system.
“Can you please all leave, and…erm…go and do that somewhere else?”
“We need to go and ask the boss here, hold the line two minutes please.”
How long has Mark Baines been pro for now? By my estimation it must be somewhere in the region of 20 years, and he more than earns every single board that you see in your local shop that bears his name. He is, without a doubt, one of the most prolific skateboarders this country has ever produced; his work ethic is second to none, making the most of every available opportunity to get a clip or photo, regardless of how tired he is or how late in the day it may be.
Point in case – not content with filming two lines already this day and bouncing squarely off his lower back on the corner of a ledge in the process, Mark returned to Manchester University and took down this after-dark frontside nollie with ease, much to the approval of an on looking duo of security guards.
Mark left the trip early as well to run the final Camp WESC of the summer, but still managed to rack up the most amount of footage and tie with Axel on the photos – as I say, the Worksop work ethic is second to none. Youngsters, take note.
Axel joined the trip fresh from a weekend in Copenhagen where he had been busy royally smashing it at the annual CPH Open comp. Despite the fact the he should’ve been by and large rinsed out, he was in good spirits from the get go and was more than down to get stuck into whatever needed doing in order to make the barge trip work.
I’m pretty sure he was the only person to actually listen to how to operate the locks during the first day’s initial training, and was down to assist Ash with the driving of the boats regardless of the weather, which, for the record, started out amazing then naturally progressed to utter shit as the week wore on. He even made his first cup of tea during the week as well.
Anyway, we obviously weren’t meant to skate this dirt jump in Everton, but when are you ever meant to skate a dirt jump? Cam and Axel both spied this bump-to-bump gap but it was Axel who eventually floated Sirus’ filming board over the thing.
Cam is obsessed with this toy he has called a kendama. According to Google, it’s a traditional Japanese wooden toy comprised of a ball on a string, two cups and a spike. It’s basically a gnarly version of the old-fashioned cup and ball game that you’re probably familiar with.
Watching him toying with the thing is mental; it’s like watching a baked ninja piecing together lines. All day long he’ll be chucking it about, working out tech combinations or variations of routines he’s learned: reading that back to myself, I guess there are quite a few similarities between that and skateboarding.
Anyway, he’s set up an Instagram for his kendama obsession, under the guise of @kendamakidcam – he’s ramped up his output since he’s in rural Spain labouring until Christmas, go take a look if you want to see what utter boredom looks like.
This nosemanny to bank to drop in Everton has been eyed up by a few people over the years but conquered by no one. As it was the last day of the trip and the rain was looming, we forced the previously photo-less Cam to finally take it down. Apologies for the bullying Cam; was worth it in the end, eh?
“45% chance of rain? How can it only be a 45% chance of rain? I’m sat here right now and there’s a 100% of rain…it’s pissing it down!”
The Met Office might have been 65% off in their downpour estimations, but Mackey and his vast knowledge of untouched terrain in and around the Liverpool area were 100% on point, as per.
As the heavens opened, Axel stomped the final trick of the trip, hoisting a solid 180 over this previously untouched bump to bar in Birkenhead.