As you may already be aware if you saw our recent feature on the UK Vert Series Southsea Shut Up and Skate contest, Southsea's 40 year old concrete skatepark has recently had a face-lift thanks to the efforts of some of the locals working under the banner of The Duffnell Project.
With Southsea skatepark celebrating its 40 year anniversary this year, we were truly stoked to see this genuinely grass roots endeavour, (led by locals Sam Tuffnell and Dan Dyer), resurrect the original concrete features (built back in 1978) from their previous state of crusty decrepitude into something that can finally be used by the locals without the need for 78A soft wheels.
We caught up with Sam Tuffnell to get a little insight into this restoration project and to find out what inspired them to bring one of the UK's oldest and most infamous Concrete Dinosaurs back from the brink of extinction.
Read on to find out more and then go follow them on Instagram @the_duffnell_project to keep up to date with their ongoing project and to get involved yourselves.
Big ups all round!
Photos courtesy of Sam Tuffnell
Can you give everyone reading a little bit of back story in terms of your own relationship with Southsea skatepark please?
As far as our history and relationship with Southsea skatepark goes, I (Sam) discovered the park in 1992 as a small 10-year-old peering through the fence and seeing Southsea legend John Goodfellow skating the then quite freshly built spoon bowl and instantly being inspired. Dan became a local about 10 years later after seeing us rolling about there and instantly fell in love with the park. We both would’ve loved to have experienced the freshly constructed park back in 1978 when it opened but unfortunately neither of us had been born. In old videos and photos it looked like an amazing era to be a part of, as well as it being the birth of somewhere so many people would grow to call home!
What are some of your favourite memories from over the years in terms of events and what have you at the park? It's seen some pretty serious visitations and demo's over the last four decades...
I am aware of the Bones Brigade demo on the old blue vert, which stands as a fond memory for many of the older locals that I’ve spoken to, but again, that was way before my time. After that I think of the King of Concrete BMX comps and the Southsea Inline comps, which were annual events to always look forward to, whether it was seeing legends from around the world smashing it, or partaking in them ourselves, the atmosphere was something else! It would’ve been rad to have been around during the original 1980's ‘Shut Up And Skate’ comps too, it seems that the legacy of those has encouraged so many big names to visit the park over the years.
In the minds of most people who were skating back in the 80's - Southsea is forever associated with the Abrook brothers - lots of their coverage was from there, they started the Shut Up and Skate contests etc, etc. Are Mark or Barry still around? One of them moved to Texas as far as I know - do you ever see either of them?
Growing up in the park, I used to watch various generations of skaters destroy it: I’d say Barry Abrook, Gary Lee, Ian Harper and the Hate Portsmouth/Love Southsea lot stood out for me. I have seen Barry and Gary session the vert in the recent past actually, along with other faces now the ‘Shut Up And Skate’ series is back, which is real cool!
Southsea is one of only a few 1970's skateparks that have survived this long - what do you think allowed this to happen? So many others were bulldozed or built over and the land where the park sits must be fairly valuable - why do you think it has remained a fixture for so long?
Southsea has been lucky to survive as a skatepark to this day; it was definitely struggling as a council-run business and was only really held together by the heritage of the UFO looking bandstand that the skatepark was built around originally. Back in the late 1920’s that’s all it was, people used to rollerskate round it in circles like a rollerdisco but with a band instead of a DJ.
I guess the fact that the bandstand holds so much history in itself probably played a part in the skatepark surviving this long.
The council slowly stopped putting any money into the park and it came very close to demolition, but with it becoming a self-sufficient charity, run by the trustees who have worked hard to create events, fund raise and receive donations for maintenance, they’ve managed to keep it afloat.
So, onto matters at hand - what's the time-frame behind your project and what's the relevance of the 'Duffnell Project' name?
The Duffnell project was an idea from Dan and I, to give the skatepark a birthday present for its 40th anniversary. We’ve always been curious as to what was lying beneath the spoon bowl, but really started talking about doing something in March 2018. That gave us just over 3 months to get the thumbs up from the board and to get stuck in. We knew that the original bowl is loved and is the site of some many fond memories for so many people but weighing up the usage it was getting currently, versus trying to resurrect it and make it more skateable for today's generations was an easy decision in the end.
The Instagram account name is nothing more complicated than a combo of our surnames: Dyer and Tuffnell and 'Duffnell' was our favourite of all the options. The project part is just that; it’s a project, we didn’t know how it was going to turn out or what to expect. It’s on-going too, whether that means repairs, or adding new features. We just wanted it to be skateable for the park's 40th birthday. The instagram account: @the_duffnell_project shows some of the journey but it’s hard to keep documenting when you’re focusing so much on doing the work.
Can you give us a breakdown of what you actually did and to what parts of the skatepark please?
So, for people who don’t know, there are a series of 4 bowls that were all built in the late 70’s (making them some of the oldest in the world) and opening it as a skatepark: back in the day they were all colour-coded in relevance to difficulty and you had to pass tests to be allowed to ride the harder ones.
Three of them have held their original shape from when they were originally built, but the slalom was modified in 1990 adding a vert pool at the bottom of the run. From what I’ve heard it got lots of use for a couple of weeks then when the more experienced skaters got bored of it, the less experienced were too scared to skate it like a mini vert bowl that it was and it basically sat there neglected.
For the 26 years I’ve been going down there I haven’t seen it used that much, so we thought 'why not take it back and open the bowl section up a bit for wider range of usage and create more lines and transfers?'.
What kind of experience did either of you have with working with concrete and this kind of demolition/construction?
Before we started any work, we asked the few concrete experts that we knew to give us their opinion and we studied the structure, seeing if we could identify how it was built and from what materials. Dan works with concrete but had no experience with ramps and I had no experience but have studied engineering. What we both had though was a wondrous passion for the skatepark.
Our first steps were with an SDS drill to form a couple of investigation holes, which was agreed by the board. Our discovery was brilliant and unexpected. After creating a hole next to one of the wings, a load of stones poured out, looking like it was filled using Southsea beach.
It occurred to us that the original construction was probably going to turn out to be a combination of concrete blocks tied together, back-filled with beach stones, then for the transition, some sort of spray crete and rebar.
Dan and I were keen to get stuck in when we could after work, but everyone was skeptical due to the size of this project.
After lots of discussions and proposals, the trustees gave us the go ahead providing it would be in our own time and in phases due to lack of funds. We got our little SDS drill and started making more holes, although we were making progress it was killing the drill, so we went and bought a road breaker and stepped it up a gear.
From looking at the photos on the Insta account, it's almost like you reverse engineered the place in a way, breaking up the existing crete and then recycling it into the face-lift - is that how it worked?
As you guessed, we reverse engineered the different sections and learned the best way to demolish/dismantle through persistence. Alongside this, we were discovering how it was built and realised that the whole project could potentially be completely recycled creating zero wastage.
When we started reaching the original bowl underneath, it felt like we were on Time Team and both of us were so excited to see a preserved 40 year old bowl underneath - the tools were put down and we frantically brushed the stones out of the way with our hands so we didn’t damage anything.
To our surprise the bowl underneath looked in perfect condition.
When we realised how long demolishing the bowl with our road breaker was taking, we hired a three-ton digger with a hydraulic pecker for a weekend and smashed the remaining structure up into manageable chunks.
Reaching the end of the excavation we discovered a channel that had been cut out to house the retaining wall, and the top of the transition that was once about knee height had been removed. These were the only parts that needed rebuilding and repairing. We did this using the advice from others and the skills Dan had from using concrete.
Did you find any interesting 1970's bits and pieces underneath?
Along the way we kept finding treasure left by the builders, even though they were only 28 years old it was well fun. Every time we found something we would shout “TREASURRRRE" and stop what we were doing and examine what it was. It was mainly sweet wrappers but there were BMX grips, trucks and some tasty asbestos someone had dumped in there.
We’re going to do something with the treasure and try to sell it to put towards further projects around the bowl area.
Now there’s a mountain of rubble sitting next to the bowl, we’d like to use it to form DIY ramps around the park too.
Are you happy with the final results? Anything you've learned along the way that you wished you'd known at the beginning of the project?
We’re stoked with the stage it’s at now as it’s fun and a good session, but there are still bits to work on like renewing the top of the extension with a grind friendly slab or pool coping as it’s pretty battered. It’s going to be an on-going project and we welcome any advice/opinions and/or assistance from everyone.
We’ve both learnt how to demolish well due to the amount of hours we put into it, but how to concrete on a slope we sussed towards the end, which I wish I had known at the beginning of the project, but it’s been amazing learning along the way.
How was this project funded?
The project was voluntary due to lack of funding and all the cement was generously donated, but when the anniversary was just around the corner, the board of trustees very kindly offered to pay us to complete it in time to prevent us having to work ourselves into an early grave. Big thanks for that!
Any plans to hold an event on the reconfigured concrete in the coming months?
The Duffnell Project would love to hold an event in the near future but it’s not going anywhere and we would like to develop it a little more first. If anyone wants to hold an event on it and make some new memories, feel free! I’d like to say thanks to Danny Dyer for all the hard work and making the project such a laugh along the way, couldn’t have done it without you!
Visit southseaskatepark.org for a further glimpse into the history of Southsea skatepark going back to the 1920's.