The urban sprawl of Barcelona is one well known to skateboarders, with the combination of the wealth of spots, its heavy nightlife and the unmistakeable brink-of-chaos pace of the city making it truly hallowed ground within our culture. In amongst the throng of humanity, the dealers, beer sellers and the hustlers, the possibility for shredding is endless if you have the right mind set.
Having first come out here in January, Owen Watkins AKA Sox quickly slotted himself easily into the madness of Barca – his flowing, bendy-legged skateboarding style which allows him to bring almost any trick back from the brink in disaster, matching an approach to life that has seen him travelling the world and spending the majority of his life on the road with little more than a skateboard and a bag of clothes.
Sox is one of those people who always brings maximum hype to a session so it was a treat to spend a few days getting a tour of his favourite city spots and parks, with added input from Welsh Alun, Harvey Thompson, Reuben Deehan and a rotating cast of Cornish skaters who all happened to be there at the same time. Somehow between a packed schedule of citywide trekking, terrain ranging from smooth concrete to jagged rocks and a regular street beer intake, we found time to sit down for an interview at the incredible Spotter DIY spot.
Carry on scrolling for tales of Danish debauchery, skate camps in India, cycling from Copenhagen to Berlin with Flex O’Connor and much more…
Interview by Jono Coote
Sox: Let’s start off here, do the interview here near this quarter, I love this quarter. Sorry if I ride off now and then, I will answer your questions – I just love skating this quarter.
Let’s start with the basics – name, age and when you started skating?
My name’s Owen Watkins AKA Sox. I’m 26 and I’ve been skating for 10 and a half years. I grew up in Cwmbran with my Nan and that’s where I started skating.
So we’re conducting this interview in Barcelona where you’ve been staying for the last month or two. How did that come about?
That came about because my good mukka Alun moved here basically. I’d been in America and I was looking for the next adventure and this seemed like the best idea. Fly south for the winter, that’s the moral of the story…
Barca is a hustler’s city – what are some of the tricks to getting by out here?
(Laughs) You can jump the metro at certain times of the day and at certain stations, it’s really easy actually; just go behind someone. Steal from Lidl, make sandwiches, jump trains, learn the cheap beer shops and the good weed hook ups. Only eat out on the Arab street by MACBA and at Pizza Circus. And don’t buy hookers!
And you’re currently living between different hostels right?
Yea I’ve been moving between loads of different places! It’s fun though because you get to meet loads of different people. Then you’ve got Para-lel where you can meet loads of people, loads of tourist skaters, which is good.
Reuben Deehan: Tell them where you’re living right now!
I’m living on my own and we all meet every day, everyone comes out at a sensibly early hour…
Reuben: You’re staying at my house! Am I on the microphone?
Reuben: Can you come over here?
Doing the amount of travelling you do, do you find yourself getting sorted out with places to stay through skateboarding and the skate network?
Yes! The skateboarding network is the one. You need some kind of hobby, something to help you interact with like-minded people definitely, and skateboarding is the best. If you go somewhere where they don’t have skateboards it’s even better – you can just fucking give them the gift of skateboarding, see their faces when they try to stand on it, that’s a good laugh.
I’m sure I wouldn’t have done at least half as much travelling around if it wasn’t for skateboarding. That was what ignited the spark for me. Meeting people one day, and then the next you go visit them where they live and the network of good times and friends just grows and grows. Most people I’ve stayed with have been skaters.
And in India you were teaching at a skate camp right?
Yeah that’s right. German Dan from Yamato, Hambe, Lou-Jane, Marine and I built them a new skatepark in the courtyard of their school. That was so much fun, teaching kids how to go up vert walls and ollie off ledges. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Reuben: Come on, next question!
Fuck off Reuben.
This has basically been the ‘Fuck off Reuben’ tour…
So before this trip you were in America, before that it was Marseille, and before that you were in India…
Yeah before I went to America I was in the South of France, with my girlfriend at the time. Living on the beach basically, swimming all the time and going skating on my own. With headphones, listening to drum and bass and smashing around all the parks and skatespots. It’s really good to skate around Marseille, everything out there.
Hitting the OG park much?
I used to a lot, but not so much this time because there are so many other places to go. Even just riding around, finding perfect kerbs everywhere – everyone’s front door step is a marble kerb! You can just get lost in the streets… But yea, the park is nice like. The lights are on all night, all the kids shred as well and they’re all super sound. No-one speaks English so you just learn to speak French with them all, it’s a good laugh.
Do you notice a big difference in some cities being easier or harder to get by in when you’re living on a shoestring?
Definitely, like for example Marseille is really easy to get by. You can get the bus and the metro for free, it’s always sunny, there’s loads of places to eat cheap. Barcelona is really good as well – the lifestyle is really cheap and the longer we stay the more rooted we get, the bigger the network’s growing. Every day when you go out there’s always someone you know.
Copenhagen seemed to be working out alright last year for you, even though it’s pretty expensive.
Yeah but in Copenhagen you can make your money back recycling cans so it’s alright…
As someone who spends most of his time on the road, what have been some of your favourite places, skate-wise and non-skate-wise?
Non-skating, Nepal. That is a truly wonderful country. The cuisine, the people, and the landscape are all something special. West Wales is another slamming non-skate destination, that’s where the dragons still live.
Skate destination wise: Marseille. A ghetto paradise. The streets are smooth and scattered with marble. The people are real and the skatepark is a thing of legend. Here too, Barcelona is a must-skate. The city is a skatepark…
What’s the hardest thing about spending as much time travelling as you do? I guess it can be hard to get boards/hardware when things happen like snapping your truck the other day?
You got it spot on Jono. It is a mission getting new gear; last year I can remember having no boards for months on end. But as long as you’ve got one, you can get that feeling. Big up Bromley [Blast Skates], he sent me some gear when I was in France. I was over the moon!
It seems like a solid portion of the Newport skate scene are known widely within the European scene. What makes the scene down there so distinctive and recognisable to other people, do you think?
Yea Newport’s always had a strong scene, all the older boys were fucking nuts. It was all based around the indoor skatepark, Skate Extreme. You’d go there and you’d see them all, always sat in the same place. That was where the steep quarterpipes were, and you knew never to go over there, you always put your bag down somewhere else. But watching them skate was fucking insane, it was like how our friends are now. They were just insane, screaming, just fucking going fast and doing tricks – doing whatever they wanted. They were our role models to some extent and we just carry the legacy on. And there are not a lot of places to skate there so we bring that vibe around everywhere we go. Seems like where ever Newport travels, the Newport vibe travels too…
And I guess Pulley, Bailey, Chav Dan and that are still around even though some people have moved…
Exactly. And we’ve got the new generation smashing it now…
I’m guessing that focuses around the new park? How does that compare to the old Newport skatepark?
Yeah that definitely bought loads of new rippers in – Hotdog, Corey and Ben to name a few. And old skaters coming back too. It has brought a hub back to Newport, we were in limbo before Youngo knocked it up. It’s an original, there is no other park in the UK like it. If you ride the bowls, it will take you out of your comfort zone for sure.
I definitely have a soft spot for the old skatepark still. I mean none of us really knew about skating bowls…or anything about round corners really, no-one ever Carved Wicked! (Laughs), It was all straight lines in the old skatepark; so having that bowl was a big eye opener for everyone. Then later on we were all old enough to have cars, and it was the time that skateparks started popping up everywhere. We got the cars and that was it, it was the Newport takeover!
It was always you guys and the Scottish dudes who seemed most willing to travel back then, I’d expect to see you at events more than local people sometimes…
Well there’s not that much in Wales…we have a great time and it’s great for the people but, for things like that, there’s not a lot going on. Having a car opened a lot of things up – War of the Roses, Skegness Miniramp Champs, loads of places. We went to Europe, everyone went to ISPO one year. That was the first time I ever went on holiday with the boys actually, there was about ten of us, that was the best. It’s still like that now though, everyone’s the same which is why it’s so good – we’re just more spread out now.
Can you give us one of your strangest story from life on the road?
When you’re on the road you live a lot in one day, wonderful, weird and insanely coincidental things are happening all the time. I’ve got a pretty good one actually! This always stands out as a mad moment, it was a crazy weekend at Copenhagen Pro when I was staying with all the CRV boys and the only time I had been to the room was to drop my bag off. I hadn’t been home for three days and I had the vaguest memory of the hostel where all the boys were staying in – I’d see them every day skating but I had been at these crazy street parties every night, staying with different girls and I was lost (laughs). So there was another party on the last night – no girls then but who knows what was even happening, we were dancing in the streets. So I decided right, it was time to go home. I was just searching on my bike, in shorts and t-shirt – and with a decent bag of cans – peddling around where I thought the room was.
I knew I had a rough milestone so I got there and I was just circling the area, seeing what was going on; no luck, so I went back to the waypoint and was sitting on the wall outside this big building when I noticed there was this little…I don’t even know how to explain it, like a ditch, a three foot ditch behind the wall where no-one would see that you were there. I just got in this hole and was lying there trying to go to sleep, though I had shorts and t-shirt on and it was getting a bit cold. Eventually I fell asleep and at some point got woken up by a group of girls partying on a bench about two feet away from me. I’m thinking, “They don’t know I’m here, I’m just going to go back to sleep” so I drifted off again, then all of a sudden I hear Jake Collins going, ‘Excuse me, do you know where CPH Hostel is?” I remember laughing before I even got up, like, “As if he’s just gone up to these random people and asked for some exact location, and they’re gonna know?” So I popped straight out of my little hole and there’s Jake and Beanhead and that was it, instantly screaming like, “What the fuck!?”
We were in a state of ecstasy. Screaming at each other, laughing and grappling each other. These girls were intrigued by then, they were trying to speak to us and we were basically telling them to fuck off (laughs), we’d just met each other like a fucking miracle, it was the best. We all went home happily ever after. The night after that was even wilder, but that’s another story. That was probably the best week of my life!
The CRV united! How about when you ended up riding bikes from Berlin to Copenhagen?
Ha! That’s a good story. I was in Berlin for the Pura Pura video premiere and one thing lead to another and I stayed there in the Perus flat with Flex O’Connor for, like, three weeks. He had come to Germany without his passport so riding back to Denmark seemed like the logical solution to this problem, and that was it. We decided we would go in the morning and we left the city that evening. I got a map when we got to the outskirts of the city and we followed it all the way to the border, no ferry, no shortcuts; we went all the way around. It took six days. We didn’t have tents or sleeping bags and we would just pedal through the night because it was quiet on the roads. When the sun would come up then we would sleep where we thought fit and then carry on early afternoon. It’s a good way to travel, what you put in is what you get out. Once you’ve had a little break you feel like you can continue again easily. We drunk a lot of coffee and ate a lot of knoppers. Flex is a legend and a friend for life now. It’s good to know it’s that easy as well – you can just leave your front door and pedal to wherever you want. It definitely made countries seem smaller and more accessible!
To get the last photos for this interview you rode from Essex to Wales right? Did you ride through nights for that as well? What’s the appeal of a fold up bike compared to a road bike, and do you find it becomes a challenge to ride over long distances?
Haha, Chinese whispers. I didn’t ride from Essex to Wales, I rode from London to Essex when I got off the bus from Barca. A road bike has no appeal to me really, you can’t go down a dirt path or take a short cut across a field or anything fun like that. The fold up bike is perfect – you can take it on the aeroplane, the underground or in your mate’s boot, it can go where no other bikes can. It’s easy to ride over distance too. It sounds worse than it is, as soon as you take a little break you feel fine to carry on again. I think it’s the perfect speed to see all the sights of the road, as well as to get you to your destination in a fair amount of time.
Finally, what’s the appeal of barefoot skateboarding? Your feet are looking pretty haggard! And is that how you got the nickname ‘Sox’?
Ha! You can feel everything. It’s fresh, it’s pure. If you’re low on socks it’s the best thing to do to air your feet out; if you’re skating every day and you don’t give your feet oxygen they will turn red and give you hell in return. You gotta look after the feet, they carry you around all day. The cuts are just flesh wounds, they look worse than they are.
I got the name Sox for wearing my trackies tucked into them. I used to like seeing the whole shoe. F.U.B.A.R.