Words by Jason Caines
Scans by Don Brider
No Comply Network illustration by Trav Wardle - backdownwarchild.co.uk
I’d like to take you back in time to a period before websites and before UK skate mags such as Sidewalk, in the late 1970's and 1980's when skaters made their own skate zines and didn’t need to please advertisers to document the skateboarding happening around them.
In this age, skate zines were mostly handwritten, a few were typed and their content and quality ranged from the fancy, glossy paged Alpine Newsletter of the 70's to Steve Douglas' self confessedly cruel and puerile 80's zine Guttersluts. These zines became part of a wider self publishing D.I.Y culture that really pushed the envelopes of creativity and ingenuity; not just of UK skateboarding but of D.I.Y culture itself. Here's how they did it and what it was all about.
Looking back, the early 80's was the definitive era for skate zines. Skateboarding had lost all the popularity it had in the 70's, the big UK skate mags were dead and self publishing was the only way to see skate photos or read skate articles. Although Thrasher started in 1981, it was a US mag in its infancy and the UK skaters wanted their own outlets.
This was in the dark days of UK skateboarding. There were only a few hundred skaters in the country and you were pretty likely to be beaten up if you were a skateboarder. Skaters back then didn’t want to see skateboarding on the 6 o'clock news and they thrived in its obscurity. The skaters were a determine, dedicated, motivated lot who made boards, ramps and zines.
When chatting about early 80's skate zines with OG Ideal Birmingham legend Mark 'Zippy' Preston, he mentions sick notable local zines as De-Zine by Tom Davies, Sudden Impact from Steve Spain in Coventry and Dave Glover's Variable Transition. Zippy said they consisted mainly of 'hyper local in-jokes, Xerox trolling, terrible photos and useful hints & tips about stealing from shops or potentially scoring hash'. Zines were essentially all about making your mates laugh and keeping everyone stoked about local skate culture.
But then some zines became really popular nationwide. One example Mark notes is Skate Muties from the 5th Dimension, a Bristolian skate-hardcore rave zine. He says "Skate Muties was streets ahead of everything else and could have only have been spawned from the West country, every page was an intense Dadaist explosion of clippings, home penned cartoons and genuinely side-splitting,copy."
Ironically, due to skateboarding's serious lack of popularity in the late 80's even Skate Muties ditched skateboarding content all together. Its creators rebranded Skate Muties as a new magazine called Bugs & Drugs, which was about music and “alternative health products".
Every zine was made differently and there was literally no standard for quality; although many skate zines were pretty decent quality, some were definitely not. Skate zine maker Steve Douglas says, “I started my zine Go For It in the early 80's, the first one was 8 pages and it took me about 8 mins to make! I printed it at my mums work. We also made a zine called Gutterslut and its sole aim was to rip people apart. It was an x rated version of Go For it. I think we were pretty harsh looking back'.
The often haphazard cut and paste production method made some of these zines look like vandalised skate photo collages, but it seems a skate zines overall sloppiness just made it even more funny and popular. It was a D.I.Y movement that took as much skill as you had. Some zine makers would include really crap prizes inside them, like the legendary issue of Variable Transitions which had a free single Rizla paper taped on the inside of each copy as a “promotional offer". It was such an absolute genius move that skaters from that time still joke about it 20 years later, proving the staying power of such a simple, funny gesture.
Free Rizla promotions aside, the major difference between 80's zines and the mags in the 70's was that the zines had no advertising. Slalom skater Rob Ashby bought a copy of the first UK skate mag, Skateboard!, in 1977. He says Skateboard! contained a mix of paper and glossy pages, a 'Who’s Hot' section, product reviews and ads for skate shops and equipment. But the advertising meant Skateboard!'s makers were forced to publish a lot of ads and resultingly a lot of substandard content. Although loads of skate mags were released in the late 70's, all of them had a very heavy amount of ads. Ashby says "There were a plethora of cheap and nasty cash-in publications and poster mags, every high street store had them in and even Boots were selling skateboards."
In these 80's dark days UK skaters had just one regular publication, called the English Skateboard Association newsletter, which seriously broke the mould. The ESA Newsletter was made by a skater called Derry Thompson and it was infact the first ever UK publication of any kind to be made using an Apple Mac computer. At the time a Mac costed £20k but Derry, who was an original UK Apple Mac dealer, had access to one which he used to make the newsletter.
Some things never change. 80's zines were like an early form of internet trolling and were used like memes and forums are now. They were used to discussed ideas, but also to vent some hilarious and sometimes scathingly cruel anonymous hate. The closer you look into skate zine culture, the more you discover an obsession with anonymity.
Southampton based UK skate legend Don Brider says he got his "...first ever issue of the zine Sketchy when it was was thrown off a bridge at Crystal Palace and no one knew who made it for quite a few issues". What Brider didn’t know at the time was that Sketchy was made by a skater called Paul Browne, who had a weird sense of humour and didn’t want to be judged for it. Shane, like many zine makers, remained anonymous to hide from the backlash of the insults he doled out in Sketchy. The anonymity of the creators of the zines made the zines themselves even more interesting for the skaters who read them. In a modern day culture with so much information out there its hard to imagine reading a magazine every month without knowing who even made, it but that's what they did.
There were some people who would stand by their zines and use them as a calling card, and some people made zines together and became good mates.
However its not like you'd like all the zines that you would receive through the post - some were pretty terrible. In the pre-internet era of the 80's, people were always writing to each other and sometimes they hated what they received. It could be a drag, reading through pages of hardcore reviews to discover there weren't any skate photos in it that month. It was just made however that person felt at the time.
But all of sudden in 1985, Back to the Future was released and UK skateboarding experienced a major boom in popularity. In 1987 Rad Magazine was started by skater-photographer Tim Leighton Boyce, who was a photographer for Action BMX . He initially called it Read And Destroy but was forced to abbreviate it to RAD due to publishing issues. Rad received many contributions from writers who previously made zines. This caused many of the zines to die out and magazines became the way to see what was going on in skateboarding. By 1988 UK skate mags had come back into full force and Rad was joined by the return of revived 70's title Skateboard! which gave Rad, a relatively new publication at the time, its first competition.
Then in the 90's Rad magazine ceased, being replaced by Sidewalk in 1995. By then there were a load of US & Euro magazines. Nowadays basically every skate mag and zines is online, but there are a few who are still making print editions. Although handmade and online skate zines serve the same purpose, the fact that paper zines take hours to make, send, receive and read makes you feel a bit more invested in reading one. The fact that in the 80's that they were made and circulated in such great amounts, when skateboarding was pretty much dead, is astounding.
These zines and their makers helped us to connect the small pockets of UK skaters who were left in those dark days. Sidewalk took up that torch and has helped UK skateboarding to stay alive so that we can enjoy it today in all its forms. Lets keep that fire burning online.