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Alex Moul – The Boy who left Oxford

Alex Moul is a bone fide skateboarding legend.

The fact that he also happens to be British just enhances his position in the skateboarding pantheon, rather than merely rendering it true on a national level. This baby-faced son of Abingdon has been appearing in skate magazines and videos for 25 years – in every era of street skating, from its rudimentary beginnings in the late 80’s, right up to the present day, Alex has made a contribution.

He was sponsored at 12 years old, pro before the concept of non-American pro skaters was even a reality and was beating top tier American skaters in contests at a time when this was completely unprecedented. His presence, his skateboarding, his innovation and more importantly his modest, unassuming persona, has paved the way for all those who have followed in his wake.

Knowing him as I do, I can only imagine how much he will be squirming whilst reading this, so I’ll keep the fawning to a minimum to save him further embarrassment.

Suffice to say that, without Alex Moul, skateboarding the world over would be a very different place. I’m proud to call him my friend and even prouder to present him to you: all hail the boy who left Oxford.

Keep it popcorn mate.

Alex Moul lipslides in the San Diego sun with a surprising lack of security.

So Alex, what’s been going on lately?

Well I’ve just recently moved out of Huntingdon Beach finally, which is where I’ve basically lived the entire time since I moved over to the States. I’m now living in the city of Orange, in Orange County, just because it’s a nicer place really.

Orange County is kind of what people have in their heads when they hear the words “Southern California”, the clichéd So Cal area sort of, right?

Yeah, Laguna Beach, HB and all that. Freeways, retail parks, etc, etc. Where I live right now is a bit more suburban than HB though, because I’m in a city I guess…

Is there actually a city centre in the way we understand it in the UK?

(Laughing) there is actually, they have the ‘Orange Circle’, which is technically just a roundabout, (laughing) but apparently it’s where they filmed that scene from Forrest Gump with him sitting on the bench. The place is a bit more cosmopolitan than HB to be honest, you know cafes and people sitting around reading books and what have you whereas HB is more of a ‘yo bro surf’s up!’ type of atmosphere. Kind of a college town vibe, if that makes sense…

Given that you live in So Cal and you don’t have a car, does living in Orange mean that you’re less f*cked than you were in HB?

Nah, I am f*cked, (laughing). I’m joking really, I’ve got my push bike so I can get around on that, but when it comes to skating, you’re right – without a car here you are screwed. Luckily I met a bunch of new sound skate mates in Orange who film and shoot pictures and all that, they’ll come pick me on the weekend and we’ll go out skating around the area so I’m not totally marooned. They’re really sound guys as it happens…just down for skating and whatever happens really. It’s pretty mellow. 

Pretty different from the atmosphere in HB when you first came out there then?

Yeah true, when I first moved to HB, years and years ago it was kind of the epicenter of skateboarding I guess, well before everyone moved out to Long Beach or Hollywood… 

What was it about HB that made it such a hotspot?

But there was a 5-year period when HB was the place to be though, right?

Oh yeah, from say 98 onwards, and without wanting to sound like I’m name-dropping, HB was the home of Reynolds, Ellington, Greco, Maldonado, Elissa, Boulala and tons of other people who went on to become skateboard superstars and we all lived within this one apartment complex about a minutes walk away from each other. That was the apartment complex that ended up being dubbed as the centre of the whole ‘Warner Ave’ thing…

The magazines and 411 in particular definitely focused on that one spot pretty hard back then, was the Warner Ave thing made out to be more than it was?

I suppose so, it wasn’t like a secret club or anything; it just so happened that a ton of us all ended up living there in this one place. And because of that we all skated together all the time and everyone was on the come-up pretty hard so it attracted a lot of attention. They were definitely wicked times…

Deathbox – Spirit of the Blitz (1991)

It’s pretty weird from today’s perspective though seeing as how a lot of people from that one apartment complex ended up becoming super stars, millionaires, company owners and all the rest though, eh?

(Laughing), yeah I suppose so. It kind of was total chaos living there but not to the extent that it maybe got played up in the skate media. I mean we’d definitely be partying at night pretty regularly but everybody would be out skating every day too. It was really nothing more than a group of young people doing what all young people do when they’re in that kind of environment: I bet there are just as many areas like that now, say in Long Beach for example where there are a lot of younger skaters all living together. It wasn’t really anything special in some ways, just that a lot of very, very good skateboarders kind of came out of that one scene.

What killed that scene off?

A combination of all the spots being either skate-stopped, demolished or rinsed and people moving out to different areas to find new places to skate. You know, you’d think that a place like LA would be completely rinsed when it comes to skate spots but it’s not at all. You can find new stuff all the time just because it’s so big.

What is your current situation as regards skateboarding, because when you first moved to Orange you weren’t really skating that much were you?

I didn’t really have much of a focus at all really, I wasn’t really able to skate because I’d done my ankle in pretty badly and I had a pinched nerve in my shoulder, which really knackered me. When I was back in the UK the last time I went to see a physiotherapist about this recurring shoulder problem I had and they retracted the nerve for me but told me that I had to start using my left arm or the muscles were going to atrophy and not be fixable. Up until that point I’d just kind of thought “oh well my shoulder hurts, whatever”, but what I didn’t realise was that because I wasn’t using it due to it hurting so much that my left arm was basically wasting away. I couldn’t even lift a litre of water with that arm at one point. So once I realised it was serious I started actually exercising and it began to get better; I can pick up at least three bags of shopping now, (laughing).

What caused it? Skating?

I’m not 100% sure but I think that might have started from me sleeping on the floor next to my front door waiting for Sid Melvin’s passport to arrive the day before we had to leave for Europe for five weeks, (laughs). I was literally that scared of missing the UPS man that I slept on the floor right in front of the front door. TM commitment eh? (Laughing)…

A classic 1990 Deathbox advert courtesy of www.skateboardingis.com

So what about now? What’s your current skateboarding situation?

Just having a load of fun with it really. Luckily I bumped into these local skaters when I first moved here, so I’ve got a crew and some good mates to go out skating with at the weekends. Then obviously you lot were over here recently so I was out every day for a week, which if I’m honest, is the first time I’ve skated 7 days in a row in ages. Other than that I’m just skating really; if I get some pictures or some footage great, if I don’t, it doesn’t matter as I’m still having a good time. I’m still searching for Animal Chin basically, (laughs).

But you’re not getting any money from being a sponsored skater are you?

Nah, I’m basically living month to month. Wondering where my rent’s going to come from is a bit scary but things are starting to look up. It seems like the more you skate the more things start to happen…

You’d almost given up on the idea of skating as a career though hadn’t you?

Well yeah, you can’t do it forever can you? You have injuries and stuff along the way and you start thinking “who’s going want to see me on a skateboard when there’s all these gnarly ripping kids everywhere?”. But then on the other side of that you sort of realise that there are all these people who kind of grew up seeing you about and that maybe they’re still interested in what you’re up to, you know?

As well as for yourself too. I’m not going to lie, getting a cover of a skate mag at this stage in the game was a right stoker. I’m definitely not that jaded, (laughs).

So how old are you now and how old were you when you had your first photo published in a skate magazine?

I’m 37 now, 38 in May and I think I was 12 when I had my first photos in RAD. After that I was basically sponsored immediately…

Is it really true that you only ever bought three skateboards in your life?

Yeah, (laughing): an Alva Eddie Reategui, a Santa Cruz Corey O’Brien and then the Tommy Guerrero ‘Flaming Sword’ board that I had those first photos in RAD magazine riding. I never had to buy one after that. In that respect I’m probably the luckiest skateboarder in the world. 25 years of uninterrupted free skateboards, you can’t really grumble at that. The fact that people are still willing to give me free boards today is really quite a charming thing too. I think with the skate community you can get to a point where you have a certain amount of respect so that people will still flow you product even if you’re not really doing that much. Santa Cruz still hook me up with boards whenever I need them which is rad because they don’t have to but I guess they were stoked on the time I spent with them. Likewise I’m sure Jeremy at Flip would hook me up if I asked.

So you’re still “living the dream” in a way then?

It’s gone back to how things were when I first came out the States basically; I had nothing, just some free skateboards to roll around on. I was living on Arto’s floor back then, then in the ‘Breather’ van with Boulala for a bit.

Playing Fields (1998)

You actually lived in a van?

Yeah Ali and me lived inside a van for about two weeks. It’s actually quite a fond memory in a f*cked up way. This is before the Warner era, I think both of us were staying with Geoff and Luke McKirdy and his girlfriend in a two-bedroom house and it was just too hectic so Ali and I just decided to sleep in the van out on the street in front of the house. It took a couple of weeks and then Flip got us the apartment on Warner…

Who else lived there?

Well technically just me and Ali, but a bunch of other people stayed there all the time, Eric Brockman was always there, Bainesy lived with us for ages…actually we kind of kidnapped Baines…

What do you mean?

Ali literally ripped up his return ticket to England, (laughing). Mark came out and was ripping and things were kind of happening for him over there, New Deal was kind of happening and other people were interested and promising stuff, so me and Ali just said to stay. You know, the sun shines every day, there are ledges for days, it was like a skateboard Disneyland back then. One night we were having a few drinks and Ali just grabbed his return ticket and ripped it up. Baines said something like, “Oh well, that’s it then”. (Laughing)…

By the way Baines, I think you still owe me 56 sets of wheels from playing dice mate. 

You were living with Boulala when his whole transformation took place too, weren’t you? Can you pinpoint that shift?

Oh yeah, I can pinpoint it to one weekend. One day he was baggy shirts and Timbo’s and then the next it’s Sid Vicious in front of the mirror carving the PD sign into his chest with a razor blade. I think him and Greco had gone to Arizona for a weekend and just decided to be Sid and Nancy, I dunno which one was which though…(laughs). Then over that year I just saw so many other people jumping on this thing that those two had started. They basically reinvented themselves and it turned out to be a pretty clever move in the end.

What about the story of Eric Brockman getting caught wanking in your house, is that one true?

(Laughing) Unfortunately for him, yes. So Brockman was about 14 or 15 at the time, we left him in the house and he’d somehow found one of Boulala’s bottles of whiskey and a huge stack of porno mags. We came home and we’re like “where’s Brockman?”, then a bit later I got up to go to the bog and stumbled across Brockman sitting on the toilet with his trousers round his ankles surrounded by twenty porno mags, with a bottle of whiskey in one hand and his cock in the other, he hadn’t even locked the door, (laughing). As I opened the door he just screamed “Nooooooo!”. That was a running joke for a long time after that, you know, “what you doing today Brockman? Cracking one off with a bottle of whiskey?”

That house was a bit of a nightmare to be honest, I’d be hiding the whiskey from Brockman one minute, then confiscating the razor blades from Boulala so he’d stop carving himself up the next. Proper “skate dad” mode, (laughing)…I had no choice but to be the responsible one living with that lot. I had to dispense a few punches from time to time too. Needless to say we got evicted from there eventually.

A high-floated kickflip offers up ninja shapes for Horsley's lens...

In between your early skate career and the time you moved to America you were pretty heavily involved in making and playing music – can you tell us a little bit about that? You made a bit of a name for yourself in that D&B scene too, didn’t you?

Yeah sort of, I made a couple of records with my mate Graham from Oxford, who I originally met through him coming into the record shop that I used to work in after the Deathbox era. We made a few tunes together that got released, kind of bare, sparse drum and bass stuff back when it was still a pretty underground deal. Me and him would go up to London every Thursday to this night called “Speed” at a club called the Milk Bar and see LTJ Buken and Fabio play, that was a pretty influential time on our output.

Did you get to a point where you were getting paid to DJ and all that?

Yeah, this is a weird one actually, we were standing outside the Milk Bar club one night waiting to get in and we suddenly heard the bassline of one of our tunes belting out of the sound system. We were queuing up outside and Leo, the bloke who ran the night, came out and asked us why we were at the back of the queue because we were regulars. So we get talking as he’s leading us up to the front and I casually asked if he liked the tune that he was playing to warm up the sound system. He goes, “Oh what, that Mouly and Lucida tune? Yeah, it’s wicked.” At which point I said, “Yeah, we made that tune, I’m Mouly and he’s Lucida.” The guy couldn’t believe it, “You come here every week and sit outside for hours waiting to get in?”. I just told him that we loved it; we’d drive up from Oxford, get home at 4am and then go to work the next morning.

After that, one thing lead to another and I played that Speed night a fair few times; it was a trip to end up DJing at my favourite club night.

Did you play anywhere else?

Yeah I was a resident at the Zodiac in Oxford for years, at Source, then a few other gigs around England here and there. I played a wicked gig at Cambridge Uni one time, they’d never had a drum and bass night before and they’d booked me as the headliner, which was pretty flattering. That night went off, we played one of our own tunes, the ‘Spirit’ one, and it got two rewinds and afterwards some American bird came up to me going, “that was incredible, I wanted to take my clothes off!” I think I just said something along the lines off, “well, why didn’t you?” (Laughing).

You’ve played a few times over in the States though too, haven’t you?

Yeah I play the odd night here and there, drum and bass has died down a bit over here now though; it’s all about dubstep and all that these days. I’ve played gigs in LA, at Respect amongst other places, which is quite a prominent drum and bass venue, a few nights in San Diego…I’ve been making music again lately too, after a few years off, so if I get some records out this year I’ll probably get some more bookings; that’s how it works really.

You once told me a story about a pretty gnarly incident that took place outside a club in LA that you played a night at – can I ask you about that?

So Ewan (Bowman) gave me a lift up to LA to play this gig, I was on before Total Science, my mates from Oxford who are really massive, so I was super stoked on the whole deal. You know, “Oxford boys make some noise”, (laughing). So anyway, the night went really well, people were going bananas in the club; there was a really good vibe and all that. At the end of the night I’m outside with Ewan and my records, waiting to get paid and to say goodbye to everyone, when these two guys right next to us started having a bit of a scuffle over something. We’re probably six feet away, thinking, “Oh shit, it’s kicking off”. At this point some other seemingly random guy appears and starts trying to break up the two other guys that are fighting, and then, almost without warning, one of the guys in the scuffle pulls a gun and shoots the guy trying to break it up twice in the face. We were so close that we could feel the power of the gun going off through the air. The guy with the gun then leans over the dude he just shot and empties the rest of the clip into his chest. The weird thing was that it all seemed to happen in slow motion, just like in the movies. Honestly, shock just took over and we just stood there staring for what felt like ages. The guy broke the spell by waving the gun in the air, screaming “Get the f*ck out of here motherf*ckers!”

Ewan ran off one way and I did one in the other direction, until the scene had calmed down a bit. Eventually we get back on the freeway and we’re that freaked out that we drive past our exit and don’t even realize. F*cking gnarly man, I mean I guess that kind of thing is ‘normal’ to a degree in LA but I’d never experienced anything like it until that night.

For a few weeks after as soon as guns came on the telly, Ewan or I would just switch it off because we couldn’t handle it. The saddest thing about it was that afterwards there was a picture released of the night and the guy who got shot was right at the front, hands in the air, loving it, and tragically he randomly got caught up in some gang initiation thing and got murdered because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. The sketchy thing is it could just as easily have happened to Ewan or to me. Really, really gnarly: it definitely affected me for a long, long time afterwards. It wasn’t even on the news or anything either which was f*cked, I guess it’s that normal out there…horrible.

411VM 36 – Wheels of Fortune (1998)

Okay moving on, you’re from Abingdon, just outside of Oxford, a city that has produced pro skateboarders over the last four generations – Sean Goff, you, Tom Penny and then Tom Watts – have you got any idea as to why that is the case?

I’ve got no idea mate. How the f*ck do I explain that? There are definitely a lot of creative people in Oxford in general so that’s probably had a big influence on things. I mean in music too, a lot of big bands have come out of Oxford. It might just be luck to a certain extent. Obviously SS20 being there has helped an awful lot in at least three of those eras – without SS20 I probably wouldn’t have got anywhere. Mon and Sean are the reason why I got my first coverage, I’ve told this story before but they are definitely the reason for me…

You’re too modest to answer this probably, but how come you were the person who got the coverage and went on to be pro so early? Were you naturally good at skateboarding?

I didn’t really understand why I was getting sponsored back then at all because I didn’t think I was anywhere near good enough. I didn’t even really understand what it meant to be honest. I was only 12 years old at the point: I had no idea. Plus back then there was no internet so you’d only see a couple of skate videos a year and then what you’d see in magazines so I just assumed that everyone else in the world was better than me, which they probably were.

Yeah but quite early on you developed a bag of tricks that was different from most of the stuff being done elsewhere: was this down to a conscious decision from you or from the pressure of being sponsored pushing you to try and be as good as you could be?

I think I was just always hungry to be doing new stuff. When I was younger I was influenced by videos and by what other people had already done but then that kind of changed into thinking ‘what can I do that hasn’t already been done, or hasn’t been seen before?’ Rather than waiting for someone else to do tricks first I suppose. To me it was just a case of ‘what’s the point of being the same as everyone else? Be yourself…’

So you got more out of it that way?

Yeah, plus you’d go somewhere and do a trick that nobody had seen before, (which was obviously a hell of a lot easier back in those days), and people would trip out, which would just make it even more exciting for me. Back then nothing really got filmed either so word of mouth getting around about certain tricks was just a buzz, whereas today if it’s not on film, you didn’t do it. 

So modesty aside, which tricks do you reckon you did first over the years? There must be a fair few, surely?

Maybe the late-shove backfoot flip one, Penny and me probably both did that around the same time at the BMX track in Abingdon – a frontside late shove-it backfoot flip. I’d like to claim that I did the first 540 ollie one-foot too, (laughing), I know Hensley gets the credit for it but the sequence of me doing it was printed in RAD magazine before the footage of him doing it came out. This dude I’d skate with that was hooked up with H-Street, Scott Wilson, had been over in the States and had told me that Hensley was working on 540 ollies, which then got me thinking about how that trick would work, then I went on to learn them that day on some sketchy bank in London. Then I went to a Leamington Spa comp and did one on the mini ramp there and got a sequence in RAD doing it. This was around the time of filming for “Spirit of the Blitz” – that was when I kind of got them down.

What else?

Hmm…maybe the frontside hurricane to fakie on a handrail – I’d definitely never seen anyone else do it before. That was on the little rails at Harrow. What else? (Pauses), maybe the backside noseblunt on a rail too, even though it was really tiny little rail…I don’t know if I can really ‘claim’ any of this stuff though because who knows? Someone else was probably doing it too…

Front foot impossibles?

Nah I definitely didn’t do those first, Rodney Mullen must’ve invented that one, he invented everything else. I saw one on “Shackle Me Not” first, maybe Jeff Petit I think, the guy who ollied the ladder and shouted “fuck yeah”. I think I got them from there originally. I can’t remember when I actually learned that one but I do remember going to London one time and everybody buzzing about this new trick, the front foot impossible. Regular impossibles were already really trendy at that point so it was inevitable I guess. It started as this rumour, “oh apparently there are people doing impossibles around their front foot”.  When I first learned them I used to do them body varial, kind of a frontside bigspin but around your front foot.

You seemed to be one of only a few people who actually had any control over that trick, rather than it looking like you were having a seizure…

Not in the beginning. I remember when I first went out to California and everyone was just blasting kickflips and all that, I felt a bit lost because I didn’t really have that much control with my flips at that point. I rolled up the bank one day at HB park and did a frontside front foot and all the kids went bananas, you know the whole “are you sponsored?” stuff. It kind of dawned on me that nobody had really seen front foot impossibles for years so I decided to bring that one back and work on doing them a bit cleaner and bigger. I just love that trick…

I saw some kiddy doing it to boardslide on a park rail on Hellaclips the other day…

Wow, that is mental. I tried one a long time ago and it’s super sketchy that one. One I nearly did a few years ago was boardslide to front foot impossible out…

Alex Moul Japan Airs over a piece of literal street furniture. Photo: Horsley

What about really obscure stuff that you’ve only ever managed to do a few times?

Well I didn’t know that I’d done the nollie backfoot impossible until I saw the footage which ended up on that “On Video” thing, I think I did that way before I’d seen anyone else even try it. Hmm, what else – maybe the nosestall bonk 270 shove-it body varial back in at the ice rink bars in Oxford. There’s the one that people up North used to call the “Moul Grip” (laughs), the backside 180 half casper flip, but a proper one where you actually catch the tail with your back foot rather than those Flymo sketchy ones. I went to skate Bury one day with Andy Scott and some kid came up to me and asked, “Can you show us the Moul Grip?”

What else? (Pauses), the backside 360 ollie late shove-it thing that I used to do on mini ramp, I had that pretty down, I can’t think of seeing anyone else doing that one late the way I did it. Oh here’s another one, I did the same trick I just mentioned but with a back foot heelflip in it once, I only ever did that once though because it was f*cking rock hard.  I did a backside 360 late heelflip once too, I think Manzoori filmed it and it was on “Sound & Vision”, I’ll claim that one for sure; kind of a backside 360 ollie late hardflip, I’m stoked I remembered that one.

Quite a legacy eh Mouly?
(Laughing), I am pretty proud of some of them to be honest although I can’t really claim any of these tricks myself because you never know who else was doing it at the same time, do you? Plus this was at a time when there were genuinely ‘new’ tricks appearing, rather than today where new stuff is really just combinations of existing tricks. You know, I grew up in an era when it was ‘wow Danny Way just did an ollie blunt on vert’ when you’d never seen anyone doing a blunt without grabbing it before. Although, thinking back that’s actually bullshit because I saw Wurzel do an ollie blunt at Meanwhile on the ‘Ollie the Gap’ video, which was way before Danny Way did it.

What about the willy grind?

Well I guess I kind of was associated with that trick but I’m pretty sure I saw Jason Carney doing those first, we did come out with the ‘sausage grind’ though – the willy tail grab, which to be honest was really awkward and shit. People still hate on the willy grind now don’t they, “oh it’s just a lazy nosegrind” but you know I’m from that older era so I still like them. I was stoked to do the willy backside 180 out, I can probably claim that one for what it’s worth. I have heard people refer to willy grinds as ‘Mouly grinds’ before too, which is cool, or ‘Mouly flips’ for the switch biggie heels but there’s no way I can claim that because Daewon definitely did that one first. Plus I can’t do them properly anyway because I’ve got switch mob, (laughing)…

(At this point Arto Saari appears in the background of Alex’s Skype window.)

I’m just trying to get Mouly to big himself up and failing, what other tricks do you associate with Mouly doing first Arto?

Arto: Hmmm, kickflip late-shove its for sure…

Mouly: Mike Carroll did the first backside one, maybe I can claim the frontside version.

Arto: Yeah but you did it properly Mouly, you’re the only person I’ve ever seen really catch a kickflip before the late shove..

Mouly: Nah, Kerry Getz does them too.

Arto: Yeah but you did them first, Kerry was just ripping you off mate, (laughing).

Arto: Here’s a good one for you actually, I wasn’t around for it because I was only 2 years old at the time but I still hear about the time that Mouly came to Finland and blew everyone’s brains out in 1992. Back in the day there was this Finnish contest and Mouly came over and blew everyone out of the water – my older Finnish homies still talk about it to this day. You know, Mouly rocked up and started ripping nosebluntslides and all these crazy long fast variations on flatbars…

He’s going to hate me for saying it but Alex really was like the Euro pioneer back then, wasn’t he?

Arto: Yeah absolutely, it’s true. People still to this day talk about Mouly’s one-man demo at that contest. And there were a lot of really good skaters in Finland at the time, it wasn’t like we were that far behind, but he blew everyone out of the water…

Mouly: Here’s the thing, before that demo Jeremy Fox had shown me this video of the local Finnish skaters and they were all so good that I didn’t want to go and do the demo…

Arto: He didn’t want to go but he did and everyone was so hyped on it, like I say people genuinely still talk about it to this day. He did a solo demo in this ice rink too, which makes it even radder and gnarlier, (laughing).

On your own?

Mouly: Yep, in some huge ice stadium, just me skating on my own. I did it at first but after about ten minutes I think I just asked for everyone else to skate as well to make it less gnarly…

Arto: It was in the middle of the Finnish National contest, and half way through the Moul just had to roll out and do this demo, so funny. Everyone else had been ripping all day and was all warmed up and then he had to just roll out cold and entertain everyone by himself. What a great way to pile the pressure on, (laughs). There’s footage of it somewhere on the internet…anyway, I’ve got to disappear for a bit, see you later.

Mouly: Cheers Arto, I’ll make you a sandwich when you get back, (laughing), bribing people with food to say nice things…

So how many of those kinds of situation did you find yourself in back in the Deathbox days? Did you do lots of demos back then?

Yeah loads of them, all over the place. As far as solo demos go that one was probably the only time really. I remember going to Italy on my own at 13 or 14 to do a demo, I’d travel all kinds of mad places on my own. It was a case of, “Oh dad, Jeremy’s just called, I have to be in Antwerp to do a demo”, then take like five trains to get there or something. This was back when travelling around Europe wasn’t the piece of piss it is now, and it’s not like I had a cell phone or money in my pocket either; if I got lost, I was really lost, you know?

That can’t have been an experience that many other skaters (outside of top vert pros) were having at that time…

I don’t think many people of that age experienced that amount of independence full stop really. It was pretty scary at times but the thing about skating is that it teaches you fairly quickly how to become self-sufficient and to grow up a bit – as well as having a good time.

Did you have any sketchy experiences or actually get lost back then?

Nah not really, your shyness just goes out of the window and you get used to asking people. Sometimes when I’d be switching trains somewhere I didn’t know I’d make sure to ask at least five people the same question, just to be sure that I was getting the right one. I did have one funny experience back then, whilst I was on a school skiing trip. When we arrived in Austria there was another school that arrived at the same time and there were three kids that you could tell skated, just from their shoes. This was back when if you saw someone in skate shoes with scuffs on them then you were 100% certain they skated. Anyway, I saw them looking at me and one of them said, “Hey, are you Alex Moul?” This is when I started being in skate mags a bit so I go “Yeah.” Straight away the same kid says, “We don’t believe you, show us your passport.” By now a few people had started noticing what was happening, some of the teachers as well, so I showed them my passport and then ended up signing a few bits and pieces. I look behind me and there are all these kids from my class looking at me weirdly. Eventually my PE teacher comes over and asked me what the hell was going on and why I was signing autographs. I was fully cringing at this point, I think I said something like, “Oh I do a bit of skateboarding…” (Laughing), I was really embarrassed because I didn’t really want anyone at school to know about it but he pushed me to explain so I told him about being in skate magazines and all that and just tried to forget about it. Sure enough next month I get the cover of RAD magazine and my PE teacher brings the mag into school. “I went into WHSmith’s and I saw this Alex, is it really you…?”

Did you get the piss taken for it?

Nah, not too much because luckily my PE teacher was pretty chilled about it. I tried to keep it a secret from most people although my English teacher, Mr White, he knew all about it and was really encouraging. He’d come in each month and tell me, “I’ve seen you in another magazine Alex, keep it up, keep doing it”. Eventually a few people at school cottoned onto it but I didn’t really get much hassle because they didn’t really understand it, which was great, you know like, “Wicked, don’t understand it, that suits me…” (Laughing).

Tell us the story about skating with Gonz at Harrow.

This must’ve been around 1990, before the time when he came over to film for the Blind video. I was staying with Matt Stewart, one of the old South Bank legends, and we were skating Harrow because we’d heard Gonz was going to be there at some point. He turns up eventually and starts skating the halfpipe and takes the gnarliest slam almost immediately. He ollies up to frontside pivot on the lip but misses it completely, his legs go over the other side, falls back straight to the flat, and cracks his head really hard. We’re all like ‘oh great, he’s f*cked himself, damn, really wanted to see him skate’. Anyway, he just gets straight back up and does the fs pivot next try like the slam was nothing, so already we’re fanning out really hard.

We all skate together for a bit and at some point I mention the handrails round the back of the park and ask if he fancies a session on them. Much to my delight, he immediately answers in his crazy high-pitched voice, “yeah, I’ll go check em out”. We go round there and little do I know the annihilation that’s about to be unleashed.

At this point I could maybe do 4 tricks on rails, in fact it was the day I learned smith grinds, so that ought to give you some idea of where the level of rail skating was at this point. The Gonz gets up and the first thing he does on the rail, first try, is a fs salad grind. I’m thinking ‘okay, that was mental, I’ve never even seen that trick on anything other than a mini ramp’. He comes back up to the top and immediately does a bs salad grind, I’m starting to trip out – two new tricks in two minutes. Third trick, frontside 180 fakie nosegrind, gets on right at the top, cruises the whole thing, boom. So amazing.

I’m like, ‘ok he’s probably pretty much done now’: nope. His crazy creative brain kicks in, here we go: he starts trying noseblunt slides. This is before the Blind video and at this point Curtis and me were throwing nosebluntslides around on kerbs but we hadn’t really seen anyone do them properly yet. He’s throwing them around, we’re freaking out and he pretty much lands one sketchily but the fact that he’s even trying something like that is insane. This is how his brain works, it goes into overload so he starts trying 270 ollie boardslides, tries them for a bit, gets into a bunch of them but half way through switches to trying half flip darkslides down it. We’re going nuts by this point. So then he gives up on that, drops a switch boardslide like it’s nothing; bearing in mind that switch didn’t even exist yet. By now, we’re really beginning to lose it at what we’re seeing. And then just when we thought it couldn’t get any more insane, he finished the day of annihilation off with a switch 180 to 5050 down the rail.

That just blew me away, I’d just had the best session of my life right there and I knew it. Genius…

Hat game on point too. Photo: CJ

I always think it’s interesting when you talk about this late 80’s/early 90’s era because so much of what happened went undocumented, didn’t it? At least in terms of video footage at least…

Yeah totally, I’m stoked to have been a part of that era because it’s not possible for skateboarding to ever be like that again really. I mean how are you going to invent something completely new now?

It was sort of an innocent time in some respects I suppose, before the internet and before money and business played such a huge part in being sponsored. Surely even for you, as somebody who went as far as it was possible to go with skateboarding at that point, you were never expecting to get rich from it, correct?

Yeah, I mean I did make some money but I spent all of it on travelling to places to go skating. Any money I got from Deathbox back then went on train fares basically.

Where haven’t you been through skating?

There’s a few places – never been to Australia, that’s a bummer. I must’ve been to pretty much every country in Europe, in fact I’ve probably been to more countries in Europe than I have States in America.  I was lucky enough to go to Japan for a week with Emmanuel Guzman too, which was amazing. I was so stoked to go there because growing up I was really into Japanese culture so I always hoped I’d get a chance. It was brilliant. Tokyo tower was amazing, even though I’m petrified of heights. We had one day off where we got to go and do some tourist stuff – went to some temples and saw the monks and all that and then at the end of the day the distributor goes, ‘we’re going up the Tokyo tower now’.  So we get to the tower and it was massive, like really massive, we get in the lift with the guy who was showing us around, Kou-suke his name was, really lovely bloke, he’d got us the best tickets to get right up to the top. So we get in the lift and it’s glass so you can see out of it. I’m starting to get a big bugged out by it. At this point, we get to what I think is the top of it, only to be told that we’re only at the first floor of the tower and that we’ve got to go right up to the top. So eventually we get there and I’m full white-knuckle riding it, at first I daren’t even go too close to the windows because I’m on a full adrenalin bug out. But in the end the view was so mental, so Bladerunner-ish, that I couldn’t resist so I started taking photos, trying to keep it together. Then I turn around and Emmanuel is standing on this bit of the floor, which is made of glass and he’s jumping up and down on it, calling me a pussy because I wouldn’t go and stand on it. (Laughing), I was terrified but it was an amazing experience for sure.

Given that a lot of people that you’ve hung out with and skated with over the last decade have gone on to become extremely wealthy and basically set up for life through skateboarding, and you haven’t – is there any bitterness from your perspective about that?

Nah, I have a phrase for it, ‘RILNIF’ – which means ‘rich in lifestyle, not in funds’, (laughing). I’m not bitter at all, I mean I didn’t really get anything financial from skateboarding at all but that’s just how life is sometimes…

Do you think that’s down to certain decisions that you made or what?

Not really, it’s like anything, it’s just a timeline thing isn’t it? It’s hard to explain how I feel about this side of my life really because I try not to think about it to be honest…

It’s been said before but maybe you really were too far ahead of the curve Alex…

Yeah well that’s what I mean about timelines – my skate career was sort of poorly timed, wasn’t it? (Laughing), you can’t choose when you’re born can you? Plus I’m psyched that I was around when I was because it was a magical time and who knows? If I’d been born five or ten years later maybe things would be different but I wasn’t so there you go. I don’t feel miffed about it or anything, I mean obviously I’d have liked to have been one of the ones who did alright out of skating in a money sense, but then, on the other hand, the experiences that I’ve had are priceless. So, like I said, RILNIF…

Right now I’m just trying to have as much fun with skating as I can before my body stops co-operating. In some ways skateboarding is a lot like modeling, you know, it’s inevitable that your time runs out eventually. The gravy train will run out of gravy, there’s no avoiding it.  All you can do is just enjoy it whilst it’s there; after all, that’s the reason we all started skateboarding in the beginning, isn’t it?

Cover of Sidewalk Issue 185, February 2012, by Horsley. Read Mouly’s Cover Stories interview for the back story.

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