Essex has an incredible skating history, what are your first memories of the four-wheeled plank and how were you first introduced to the local skate scene?
Due to not knowing any of the skaters in Romford, my first year of skateboarding was actually spent going to Southbank, and through that, meeting people from all over and being instantly aware of a greater scene than just the local one that I’d somehow avoided when I first started.
Later on my brother started skating as well and I met Jon Hayward through work, John introduced me to Nigel Davies and in no time a new generation of Rom locals was born! I remember that changed everything for me as I suddenly had friends who skated locally. We then started traveling all over the place skating everything we could as a group. It was an amazing time of really intense progression for us all and I can honestly say that everyone in the group was on fire.
So this Distractions article takes a look at your carving work but you’ve been producing art work for a long time now – you mentioned that you started off with painting boards and doing etchings before moving into the field of relief carving. How did this process/practice evolve and where did you influences come from initially?
It all began after a trip to the jungles of southern Mexico in 1996 where I came into contact with Maya and Olmec architecture and art. I felt captivated by what I saw and knew that I had to have a go at carving something. I had done a few pieces before but never really appreciated the process until that trip.
I got bored with painting and started scratching away at the surface of some old Unabomber boards (which had great colours) and I really liked the contrast of the paint and bare wood that this produced. After doing a few experiments like that I started carving a little deeper into the wood and adding ink to the process. I quickly started to realise that I could go deeper into the wood and forget about the colour completely. I had never seen anyone do anything remotely like carving skateboards before at the time so it was an exciting process. It’s only been over the past 18 months that I’ve started to see other people doing it.
I’d not really thought about this prior to putting these questions together but I guess being a skateboarder organically gives you a real understanding of the properties of wood doesn’t it? I mean we might not even be conscious of that but riding around on boards for decades must impart some kind of awareness of how it works as a material – is this something you’d say informs your carving work?
Yes I guess it does help in so far as knowing that a board has good structural integrity when you’ve gone all the way through and start to have doubts about strength. Cheap boards are horrendous to carve! You can really see and feel the difference – I guess I could say that carving has made me appreciate the strength of quality skateboards in a new way.
Most of the photos we have for this involves you actually working on skateboards themselves – are you drawn to that particular medium for personal reasons, or is there something intrinsic about that shape/object that lends itself to this process?
I guess being so familiar with the form of skateboards has made an immense impression on me subconsciously. Most of my paintings from years ago tended to be similar dimensions to skateboards, and then actually painted onto skateboards so it wasn’t exactly a big leap to start carving them too.
I think it’s a tactile thing as well, I mean when you’re skating, it’s a tactile thing with your feet and when you’re carving it’s a tactile thing as well. When you’ve got a piece hanging on the wall it’s still a tactile thing as it draws you to touch it.
What is the process involved in creating a carving? How do you begin? Are these new boards, or used ones, or what?
Some pieces come from a really rough sketch although most don’t, as I like to strip a board and get stuck in as soon as possible, rather than meticulously plan every bit of the carving. I’m not a massive fan of using brand new boards for carving either; it’s more usual that I’ll grab used boards from friends to work on. I’m really into the fact that these pieces are made from boards that have been put through their paces by sponsored pros/ams and have a story to tell in their own right.
Do you have a set tool selection for each project, or does it vary?
I’ve got an old lino-cutter, a couple of fairly cheap chisels and a Dremel power tool. A pretty inexpensive setup really. The most important tool in the box though is a massive bucket of patience!
You have a degree in Fine Art, how much do you find yourself applying what you picked up there to your work now?
I think most of what you actually learn at uni is all about justifying your actions and defending your decision and obviously exploring/expanding your ideas and techniques. There are a lot of influences visible in the work you create – from things like Star Wars through to more esoteric stuff – Mayan carvings etc, etc.
Where do you draw these influences from and are you trying to contain any particular ‘messages’ in your work?
I read a lot of science fiction, Isaac Asimov and Phillip K Dick, Alistair Reynolds is getting the rinse at the moment! I was a fan of the Star Wars expanded universe amongst as you say the more esoteric stuff. I like to revisit a lot of the themes that play out in those amazing stories. I seem to have a running theme of organic verses mechanic or organic in harmony with mechanic. Doorways have been a recurring feature too, a symbol for progression or change I guess. with a lot of sci-fi writing there are obviously no real images other than what gets conjured up in your head. I like to use that to fuel a piece of work too.
What forms have the carvings taken other than the ones visible on these pages? You’ve made some decorative and interior design style pieces too, right? Is this something that runs as a business for you? Or is it predominantly pleasure?
To begin with it was always something I done for me. either as an experiment or an exercise. More recently I’ve hooked up with Baz from skateinteriors and done few things that are more useful than just straight carvings, for example standard and table lamps and a few coffee tables amongst other smaller items. I’ve been sitting on quite a large body of work for a while with not many people knowing what I’ve been up to so I’ve been a bit more active in the last year or so, done a couple of small exhibitions sorted out a website and feel it’s the right time to show people what I’ve been doing and maybe sell a few pieces.what started as pleasure may end up as business, time will tell. If people want to commission me for a piece or buy any existing work then that is just fine be me.
As a dad do you have time to branch out into other creative disciplines, or is the focus right now on carving and skating for you?
More than ever time is at a premium! I work all week then at the weekend Helen works and I look after the kids. We’ve both been super busy so I haven’t got too much time to venture off the beaten track! Although I’ve been preparing a steambox (to bend wood) and have been testing with pyrography with the idea of doing some work with ink, bleach and pyrography I can’t wait to get stuck in! but yeah time is tight so I do what I can, when I can.
You worked for Fearless Ramps years ago, and one of the photos in this article is taken at Kobwebs DIY bowl – do you still keep your hand in with park building?
There’s just not enough time in the world for that as well. Although I’d love to do some more park design work I don’t know how much I could fit in.
As an O.G. Rom local, you must be stoked on the park’s recent Heritage status – have you any thoughts on that? What does the place mean to you as an individual?
Yeah I’m stoked! Tesco can’t get their grubby hands on the land but other than that it doesn’t really change much. A barrel of money is not going to magically turn up to resurface the place. it’s still a good park and an amazing example of skatepark design. It’s hair raising just cruising around.
What are some of the gnarliest things you’ve seen go down at the park over the years?
Pretty much anything that Mattias Nylen done there was amazing, Cardiel, Burnquist. Watching Reamers grow up there was eye opening! That Thrasher trip last summer was mental!
You’re currently skating for Zombie Brand skateboards, can you tell us a bit about them?
After getting dropped by a couple of sponsors it was obvious to me that i wasn’t getting out and about enough and pursuing any kind of sponsorship deals was pretty pointless for all concerned. When the opportunity to ride for zombie came up I was fairly reluctant to do it but after a while I thought it’s small, local and there’s no real pressure to do anything. I just get stuff on a flow thing and the guys are cool with me having other commitments. There are some good guys on the team and the attitude is er, relaxed, shall we say.
Being a part of this also makes you a regular at the yearly ‘Lord of the Swords’ video comps, how have those been? They seem to grow bigger by the year.
Yeah lords is loads of fun. Essex skate scene really comes alive! It is a really good vehicle for Essex to come together, it works well!
Were you at Zombieland skatepark when the ‘celebrities’ from TOWIE showed up? That must’ve been amusing on some level…
Thankfully missed it in the flesh and on the screen!
It seems like recent years have seen an resurgence in the popularity of awkward, unusual looking spots, flowing lines and, for want of a better phrase, the ‘East Coast’ style skateboarding. As someone whose approach to skating, dedication to spot hunting and eye for an unexpected line are well known, what do you make of this current movement in skating?
I like it, it’s interesting to see other peoples ideas on skating. I think it was always going to happen, although not to the degree it has though. Tech skating has evolved into something so complex, gnarly tranny skating is really intense and consistent, street hammers are becoming superhuman, step up creative license! Anyone can sniff out a spot, it can take a bit of time and hunting it out might not be that exciting, but when it works out, its great.
What went into fixing up Skipp’s Ditch, and is the spot still skateable? I heard it was gone, that’s not true is it?
Kevin Parrott and I spent a good amount of time cutting back bushes painting ledges cementing up holes etc. It proved to be well worth it! Half the spot has been demolished but a fair length of the ledges are still there. The river still has other spots to offer though. They might need a bit of love, but it will be worth it! The river is such a photogenic place, it’s really good.
You’ve been involved in a fair few DIY projects over the years (with Nige and co I assume) what do you like about that whole process?
It’s something we’ve always done growing up. Finding a place where you know you won’t be bothered and adapting it to your needs. Everyone wants their own space to have a baz around!
Obviously with you being a parent, husband and home maker you decided to drop the whole sponsorship thing and concentrate on ‘real life’ so to speak – how did this affect your attitude to skating as a whole? Do you enjoy it in a different way now that your time/freedom to go skate is more limited?
Ha ha yeah I find myself messing around not taking things very seriously on a board, the phrase shaking the rust off come to mind as well. I don’t really get to go out looking for new stuff, just making the most of limited opportunities a couple of times a week. I really do intend on getting out to film a section for Yah Bru 3!
Do you have time to keep up with what’s going on in the skateboard universe in general these days? Are there any people or brands or videos or whatever that have particularly stood out to you recently?
I don’t have the time to keep up to be honest, it’s a massive overload for me.
As a certified OG – what’s your perspective on the direction skateboarding as a culture seems to be moving in?
I’m no too sure to be honest, the kids seem to want to learn about the historical aspects of our subculture not just the latest tricks. They seem to be more interested and aware of the whole spectrum of skate forms, not just the next big name. I guess this age of total exposure and the availability of information is going to have that effect.
Did you anticipate that skateboarding will be something that you can share with your kids eventually, or is that already happening?
When I was younger I was doubtful that I would be able to skate at 30, I wouldn’t have expected to be able to teach my kids at 40+ if they wanted it. Bobs not massively interested but Megan is a natural.
To anyone reading this who might be interested in experimenting with wood-working, carving etc – what advice would you give in terms of how to start and the correct way to learn the basics?
I would say get some wood and a cheaper end set of chisels and have a play see what happens. There’s no better way to learn than hands on experience. above all else remain patient.
Top five Essex spots?
The rest of the river Rom
Favourite memories from traveling over the years?
Visiting Pompeii with Sidewalk and Clown crews
Converse/Document tour to Marseille and back
New York Etnies trip
Hill bombing in Switzerland
Top five Essex skaters?
Ben Raemers – don’t be silly you know why.
Nick Remon – absolute trick encyclopedia.
Neil Smith – Smithy’s no-nonsense approach is spot on.
Jordan Thackerz – styles for miles.
Taylor Jones – always moving up and doing it!
What the best trick you’ve ever seen anyone do in Essex?
Mattias Nylen doing a frontside blunt on the Rom halfpipe on three separate occasions and not hurting himself once.
Do you have any final words of wisdom or experience to impart to anyone reading this from your exalted old-man-of-the-sea position?
Don’t be a dick and have some fun.
Thanks to my lovely wife and kids and mark from zombie and anyone that I have grabbed a lift from ever! If anybody is interested in seeing more of my work, go take a look at www.simonskipp.uk