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Photographers’ Stories – Chris Johnson

It’s once again the time of year to recap some of the past 12 months’ highlights in terms of skateboarding content and, luckily for us, there’s been plenty of it. Our own lensman Chris Johnson is the first to come through with his Photographers’ Stories picks of the year; covering ground from Gran Canaria to Liverpool, California to the Scottish Highlands, and the wide variety of spots that those locations should conjure up in your minds! Carry on down the page for a festive visual treat…

Sam Beckett - Stalefish. Vista, California

This past January, myself, Sam Beckett and Ryan Gray were lucky enough to shake off the post-Christmas winter blues with a fortnight in California chasing the dream. As Sam spends parts of the year out there, we were given an insight into this side of his life whilst shooting for his Vans Excursion project. The trip came as a bit of a double edged sword of both stoke (it’s every skateboarder’s dream to spend sometime in the hub of it all) and anxiety (as my wife was expecting our baby boy just six weeks after the trip and I was well aware that premature labour could be a reality and that I’d be 6,000 miles away).

Things in California are obviously very different to things here in the UK. With Ryan and Sam flying over to the US a few days before me, it was on from the moment they picked me up from San Diego Airport. Over our two weeks out there we headed to some of the most iconic ramps, ditches, bowls and full pipes that have ever been committed to film or magazine and bumped into or spent time with some of the biggest names in the vertical game. You literally can’t go to a Starbucks in Vista without seeing Bob Burnquist or Steve Caballero waiting for a caffeine hit in the queue, it’s completely surreal.

As covered in our recent interview with 80’s vert heavyweight Lucian Hendricks, backyard vert ramps in the UK are as rare as rocking horse shit and usually last a few months at best due to direct action by local councils. So when we had the chance to take in Mancha’s ramp, a lofty structure nestled between houses in a quiet suburb of Vista, it was quite a culture shock. This photo was a welcome break to the standard vantage point offered up by a vert ramp and being able to isolate Sam in the sky is what made the session for me. Bonus points if you can name the onlooker.

Nick Roberts - Ollie. Scottish Highlands

“We’re gonna use the money we won from the first round of Store Wars and take a punt on some mental spots in the Scottish Highlands that we’ve seen in a BMX edit. Do you wanna come?”

Spending a lot of time crouched in the stereotypical piss ridden back streets and run down industrial estates of mainland England for a steady proportion of my role behind the lens, the chance to head way, way north of the border and hit up some spots that had never been skated or documented was welcomed with open arms. The main objective of the trip was for Rollersnakes to create an edit to be entered into the finals of the Sidewalk and Mountain Dew Store Wars competition and for me to come back with a magazine article. Matlok Bennett-Jones, Daryl Dominguez and Nick Roberts piled into the van and after a solid day’s drive we reached the first of many “are we really skating this” spots in the form of a massive transitioned bank which was holding countless tons of natural spring water in place.

As we’d only seen some sketchy Google images and a BMX edit before heading there, we were taking a punt on whether the thing was actually even skateable and what the dimensions were. Having driven through a solid hour of torrential rain before arriving, Nick wasted no time in getting himself down the near vertical embankment and up into the huge transitioned supports which were holding the bridge up. I spent the next thirty minutes running around like a headless chicken, changing lenses and vantage points until I settled my self down at the river’s edge amongst the swarms of beached micro jelly fish. This was by far the best trip I’ve ever been on and the grip of photos shot over our four days in the Highlands have some of the fondest and most bizarre memories attached to them.

Korahn Gayle - Switch backside flip. Liverpool

It’s no secret that Korahn is one of the most talented and productive skateboarders in Europe right now (and let’s be honest, has been for the best part of the past decade too). Having just tied the knot with his lady, Korahn came on the Bones UK tour as the pro and in a sense the benchmark for the younger members of the crew to either aspire to be or realise what it takes to legitimately earn your name on a board right now.

With the weather not really playing ball for the first few days of the trip, the sight of a bit of sun shine and dry paving slabs got Korahn fired up for a session at the Albert Dock in Liverpool. Anyone who’s skated this spot will know it’s both a wind trap and tourist magnet. Inconsistent gusts made the session unpredictable and, paired with the hoards of iPhone wielding holiday makers on a cultural pilgrimage, Korahn battled through until he rolled it one away. He then ran straight back up the three block and fakie heeled them within a handful of tries. Pro as fuck!

Mark Stern - kickflip. Newhaven, East Sussex

At the tail end of the summer Rollersnakes embarked upon their second road trip of the year; a week’s journey along the south coast of England with the majority of their team riders. Being guilty of getting trapped in the central motorway corridor chasing editorial day to day, the chance of a week on the road with someone else leading the charge through a bunch of spots that I’d potentially never seen – let alone shot – was jumped at.

Having covered Plymouth, Portsmouth and most places in between by the middle of the week, we headed over to Brighton as trusty lens local Sirus Gahan was on filming duties for the duration of the trip (along with Ryan Gray) and local knowledge is like gold dust when you’re out of your comfort zone. Coming through with all manner of spots on our first day in town, we headed over to the nearby Newhaven and with the help of his mother’s step ladders we managed to scale the fenced off spit way.

Like most things made of concrete along the shorelines of Britain, this thing was well and truly weather beaten and almost unskateable. With a spot like this it’s all about taking what is basically a postcard and you just need to put a skateboarder in the frame to get a great result. Mark Stern obligated with this well popped, classic kickflip whilst I lay fifty meters away in a pile of discarded fishing lines and crab remains capturing the trick at 1/2000th of a second.

Doug McLaughlan - frontside grind. Gran Canaria

One of the most challenging things about shooting skateboarding at the present point is that to some extent most feasible destinations have been well and truly covered. Gran Canaria is one of those places which, like many other Spanish speaking skateboard meccas, has been a magnet for the media over the past decade – and, to some extent, you’ve seen the majority of the spots before.

With the mindset of avoiding the iconic spots and taking chances on local guidance, we managed to get through most of our time in Gran Canaria with a minimal amount of repetition which was rad. Manhead was large and in charge for the week and had been given a tip off by a friend of a friend who knew of an abandoned water park which was potentially still accessible and free to skate. Having 90% of the edit and magazine feature shot towards the tail end of the week, we took a punt and headed in search of something a little different.

Arriving into the almost ironic and now run down 1980’s package holiday dream gone sour, we had no problems gaining access to the water park as by the looks of things the owners had given up on the place. As the sun began to lower itself behind the surrounding hills, the mindset of ‘now or never’ helped move the session along. By the time Benson and Doug had gotten used to the rickety water slide the ambient light was amazing. With just enough time to plonk a couple of flashes in place and get myself up into the rare ‘perfect vantage point’ overlooking the water park, Doug had made his way out of the 5-0 and round the hairpin bend in the worryingly wobbly heath and safety nightmare.

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