The Horsforth Skatepark Interview
The Horsforth Skatepark Interview
By Jono Coote
“Out of all the parks I’ve built, I thought Inverness - when Div broke his jaw and Steve broke his collarbone, and it was basically me and Chris sitting there on a Monday with a third of the park built, two thirds of the way through the contract - that if we could get through that, we could get through anything. But Leeds has certainly put me through my paces.”
Concreate Skateparks are reaching the end of their artistic residency in Horsforth Hall Park; an extended one due to pitfalls and setbacks littering the path to the skatepark’s completion.In the midst of the pack down for the next job and as the dust has begun to settle from the skate session which took place earlier in the evening, Concreate Skateparks owner Iain Young reclines in his van and sips on a beer to help ease the litany of misfortune tripping off of his tongue.
Tetanus is just a state of mind; Youngo practices rebar avoidance by way of a slob plant fakie. Ph: Jono Coote
Horsforth is not the sort of area you would expect to be in line for a high quality skatepark; the kind which draws visitors, incites heavy sessions and nurtures a new generation of feral lunatics huffing Salba Sauce and eating concrete dust. This quiet suburb of Leeds, peopled by octogenarians and those looking for a more sedate day to day existence than the student-infused mayhem of Hyde Park or Headingley, is traditionally a soil which encourages the building of bowls clubs and afternoon tea shops more than intimidatingly gnarly holes in the ground.
A skatepark with a focus on big transitions is what the Leeds skate scene, so vibrant in other areas, has required for a long time - one look at the flourishing community at Thornes Skatepark down the road in Wakefield, or a quick roll call of the members of the city’s skate community with an affinity for backside bonelesses, will attest to that. Its appearance in one of the more affluent suburbs of the urban sprawl which connects Bradford to Leeds was as unexpected as it was welcome when the news filtered through the World Wide Web all the way to my share house in the depths of Melbourne’s Northern Suburbs last year, and probably played no small part in the decision to move back to Yorkshire when Visa expiration sent me trundling back to the UK.
“I’d heard talk of it for years; Joe (Howard) had mentioned it to me, Middle Aged Shred dudes had spoken about it, then Simon, the architect involved, contacted me. We were actually getting ready to start a big job elsewhere; a kind of sculpture park, it looked really exciting and interesting, but that ended up not happening. They’d tendered it I think, another contractor had it but then said that they couldn’t build it for the money. At the time Simon got in touch we were fortunate enough to be free from work, and we put a price in that was attractive to the council...and here we are, basically.”
I’d been trying to do this interview for some time and, after numerous attempts were waylaid by our combined tendencies to be distracted by the physical act of skateboarding itself, we finally got around to talking about the park - but, really, we’d been talking about it non stop for six months, in amongst the skating, the beers in the sun and a discussion encompassing concrete finishing techniques, skateboarding, the most underrated moments on AC/DC’s Powerage, Blaze Blouin, Livi, the differences between marrows and courgettes, Buster Halterman, Stockwell, the birth of human consciousness, correct backside air form and more. From a basic plan involving a snake run and kidney bowl, things quickly started snowballing once some of the stranger ideas had been culled;
“There were certain classic elements Simon wanted; a transitioned flatbank, the kidney, the snake run, some kind of pinnacle feature; then it was this bizarre set of ideas from six years worth of user groups, pump tracks to curved ledges, it was madness. We thinned out some of those, then aside from those key features the rest was left to artistic license.”
One of those moments of 'artistic license' - Yorkshire stone sub box three feet above seven.
With the focus usually on the people on site when it comes to skatepark building, Simon has clearly been a major part of helping this project come to fruition and Youngo is quick to heap praise on those who work behind the scenes to bring proper skateparks to their suburb;
“Hats off to him, he’s been wanting to make this happen for years. He’s got a vision to get good skateparks built in Leeds because he’s sick of seeing, you know, massive wastes of money. He’s probably taken some stick for it over the years, but thankfully he stuck with it.”
A constant throughout the evenings spent on site, quality testing the transitions - adrenaline and endorphins under grapefruit hued sunsets redolent with the promise of long summer days to come - has been the sight of intrigued pedestrians peering through the fences. The energy levels create a subconscious thrum beyond the clatter of boards and wheels which seems to act as a beacon; molecules in motion creating a chain reaction, an ebb and flow which catches the curious in its tides.
Stu Christie and Youngo perfecting their doubles routine with the treacherous "Two men one stalefish". 10/10. Ph: Jono Coote
Despite the slow headache brought on by regularly having to answer “Are you going to graffiti it all once the concrete is finished?”, the genuine excitement by non-skating locals is a happy turnaround from the abuse, bemusement and outright wrath incurred by a group of adults using a skatepark in previous years.
“It’s got more than the local skaters excited too - older people who’ve never been interested in something like this coming up to the fences, asking how we’re doing it all, the feedback has been 99.9% positive.”
Sprawling across the edge of the park closest to the ring road, hemmed in by pine trees, it is within spitting distance of the cricket pitch; close enough for an unwary use to take a ball to the head. The plus side is that having Horsforth Cricket Club as a neighbour also opens up potential for events between the park and bar, especially with it being a licensed music venue.
“I mean I can’t think of anything better to be next to my brand new skatepark than a licensed bar and music venue, to be honest with you. It’s fucking amazing - Rob, the guy that runs it is super cool and he’s hyped because at the end of the day it’s money through their doors as well. How often do you get that, a fucking gig venue next to the skatepark? It’s happened when we’ve been working here; 100, 150 people out on the field. LS10 are doing stuff with them and they’re really keen to build it back to a busy, bustling space.”
Lien air high above both concrete and cricket club, howzat? Ph: Jono Coote
Of course, it may be some time before events can occur; fast forward six months from those first images on social media piquing my interest and a global pandemic, the widespread curbing of social interaction and other such paroxysms incited by the orgiastic death throes of late 20th century capitalism have seen a few minor hiccups in the road to Horsforth’s permanent stoke zone. The fact that the park is still on track is due to a combination of Iain’s manic energy and vision and the sheer graft put in by his crew of workers. Starting the build in mid-winter and almost immediately having to flip the park design around due to drainage was just the beginning…
“We dug the drainage in, cut the trench about halfway out and we were in the ground up to our chests. So that wasn’t working and we ended up flipping the park around. We had to figure out how to work the drainage, and the only option was putting a path in and having the drainage across from the park. The machine guy was a nightmare, on top of that he was expensive, so we ended up just getting rid of him and doing it ourselves. Then, as it was mid winter, the weather was just a fucking nightmare. It was a bad start, we had issues to overcome.”
The first round of lockdown put the build on hold for nine weeks, just as the weather started looking up and a pump had been hired to alleviate the graft of hand stacking concrete; then, the return to site was marked by two large scale setbacks.
“When COVID appeared and lockdown happened we had to ship everything off, but not everything got shipped off because the hire company made a mistake and so the digger got left on site for six weeks. After that we’re coming back from lockdown, I’d arranged for stuff to be ready to go on a Monday, and on the Saturday before that people broke in and stole the digger.
That set us back but we got going again, and three weeks later I went home for my birthday - we’ve been building my 46th concrete park for my 46th birthday - for a three day weekend. I wasn’t planning on doing anything on the Monday, I got up at about 1pm and had about 27 mixed calls. I phoned the boys to see what was going on, and the container had been broken into and all the tools taken. So just as we were getting back into the swing of things we got put back again - no tools, all of us lost money, people didn’t come back to site because there were no tools to do the work with, it was really stressful.
The park’s been a slog and I wish I’d had more time to skate, but we’re here now with it done, we’ve all been paid, we’ve built an amazing park and apart from the robbery it’s been great being down here...like with Inverness, sometimes I think the more adversity there is during a build the better the park comes out. It’s like skateboarding itself, if it was too easy it wouldn’t be worth it. You’ve got to earn it…”
I wonder if that makes Horsforth Skatepark the blues in concrete form. I’ve had a couple of drinks by this point, but luckily Youngo catches my drift.
“Aye, it’s like good music; some middle class or aristocratic prick who’s never had any toughness in his life, he’s never been beaten up or bullied or dealt with shit, the music they’re going to make will be shit. You’ve got to have been through the wringer...Kurt Cobain, Keith Richards, Lemmy. Maybe that’s why this park is so good, because it’s been so shit for me that my only sanctuary and solace is coming up with ideas for the park.”
James Soutar takes to the most dangerous board in the park and dodges bags of gravel for this backside grind on the first pour of the park. Ph: Jono Coote
The monumental levels of graft put in by the crew can be attested to by the fact that, after all these setbacks, the park is now standing proud;
“To start off with it was me, James Soutar, Slim and Mersey Grit Chris. Then Chris left, but we had Joe Howard come in just as the weather was getting good and Aaron Wilmot too. After lockdown when we finally got going again, my good friend Craig Rothney came on board to help as we had no one for the pump. Craig’s been a godsend, he’s taken a lot of the weight off and led the build when I was almost ready to give up. Avid joined us as a labourer and a pole tool aficionado, then James broke his wrist and Joe had to leave for his new job. Yet again I’m sitting halfway through the job with just me to do the concreting, thinking ‘this isn’t looking very good.’
Slim, Joe Howard and Avid birthing the snake.
Luckily I had some friends from abroad, my friend Simo from Finland came over, then Hem... who else? Oh then I forced Aaron back, James recovered and came back...Ian too, Ian Blackburn was a fucking godsend. He was smashing it concreting within days, and his joinery was really good too. Josh Sutton, he’s been a massive, massive help - I wish I’d got him in before. Having Stu Christie down has been great.”
Stu Christie back smiths before the storm clouds roll in and the session goes full otter's pocket. Ph: Jono Coote
With a revolving cast predicated on the fact that, first and foremost, they all actually skate, the park takes influence from a number of parks across the UK. The kidney pool - a rare sight in a UK skatepark - is a mirror image of the pool at Huyton, one of Concreate’s builds in Liverpool, which was itself partially based on the Simparch Bowl;
“I really liked the wooden one that was at Ramp City in Blackpool - Huyton’s kind of modelled on that, but beefed up because I thought the shallow end was a bit small. It’s a funny one with pools, because if you haven’t skated them...I mean I’ve skated backyard pools, but they’ve all been fucking brutal! And I’ve seen footage of ones that look like they have a nice transition. I’d say the Antwerp one is the best representation of a proper pool in Europe. Hereford is good too, still kind of weird but the badly done surface actually kind of works for it and the sausage coping on it is sick. Anyway, inspiration…it’s actually quite funny; I’m assuming this, I’m not 100%, but I think it was the Middle Aged Shred guys in the original user group and they were pretty insistent on the snake run and kidney. We’d just built Huyton and those guys wanted to skate it, but it’s part of a youth centre and it’s on the other side of the country. So I’m assuming they wanted the kidney because of that, and so we inspired ourselves in a weird, roundabout way.”
The other bowl might be snakier, but the oroubros of inspiration helped define this kidney.
Other semi-recognisable obstacles include the Livi flyout into bank - “I think that this one’s harder than the Livi flyout, but it works the same; just fly at it and go straight up. The higher you go up, the less you travel” - and the Newport wall with hips on either side, “which has ended up skating quite differently from Newport; tonight was the first time I’ve got a solid backside boost out of the first hip, it works with noping there rather than sausage coping. You see Sam Pulley skate Newport and he can get a great boost out of that one, but I can’t.”
Outside of these obvious features, and the sheer scale of the place, one of the first things you notice as you walk around is the amount of non-metal coping; two different profiles of hand poured sausage coping painted in a Leeds blue, copper paint noping on the small quarter at the back, and proper pool coping in the kidney. Over the last few months I’ve had a number of kids telling me they’re intimidated by the thought of skating a concrete lip for the first time, and I mention that I’ve been struggling to explain to them just how good it feels once you get used to it.
“Well what you’re saying to me is almost alien, because I grew up skating Livi; concrete coping was all I knew, until we started building miniramps, which didn’t exist unless skaters built them back then. I’m trying to remember which I skated first...I remember my friend did build a little quarterpipe, so he could do ‘slobby disasters’. Now that was some kind of one footed invert, with his hand on the ground [laughs]...I’m pretty sure the actual term wouldn’t be slobby disaster. He’d try them with these monstrous hip pads on, like a sumo wrestler, it was brilliant. We built this quarter and would just put it against a wall, then I think we went to Livi before we skated another ramp. Concrete coping, it just seemed like it was natural. That was the environment I grew up in, and we wanted to put it in the bowl at Hebden Bridge but there are too many bikers there for that.”
Concrete coping curing under sunny skies.
From here the conversation moves on to dream obstacles (“I’d always thought about building a fullpipe, but at the same time maybe not”), the logistics of pouring over vert transitions, and musings on Iain’s top skateparks and DIY spots - those not immediately obvious in the Horsforth Skatepark build, but undoubtedly a wealth of subconscious inspiration.
“I’ve spent years in America and Canada, skating amazing parks, and I just want skateparks here to be good. Burnaby in Canada, that one’s fucking rad. I came back in 2005 or 2006 and I was thinking, ‘I should be building ramps.’ I was always talked out of it by business advisors, but I shouldn’t have listened. If there’s one lesson in life, it’s if you think an idea will work then don’t let anyone talk you down, don’t listen to the naysayers. I wish I’d been doing this 20 years before.
West Linn, Oregon - I went there and thought ‘this park is incredible, you can just keep going.’ It’s maybe the park they did before Orcas, I’ve never been to Orcas but I think it’s similarly laid out with a bowl in the middle and then loads of pumpy, snake run type things around the outside. That’s a big influence to me, that’s why I always have bits on the platform and try to link things together. I hate flat walls, some skatepark companies love putting them in and pride themselves on how flat their walls are but I don’t really get that myself. Curves are fucking sick.
Livi’s on my list for sure...it’ll be controversial to put down, but Livi in a previous guise. Then Mammoth, Inverness, West Linn, Burnaby.
'Crails not bails' takes on more urgency when the 'bail' option involves possible impalement. Ph: Jono Coote
As for DIY spots, then Burnside, New Bird, Sibbarp’s DIY isn’t it? It was a skatepark, then they DIY’d it, then the DIY became legit through John Magnusson. When I went there they’d just done it, I’d seen footage of Schroeder talking about building it. I think it was either a crowd funded or city funded DIY, where they let them do it because it was legitimised. They're trying to do the same with that Bournbrook DIY, which I've started helping them with, through a friend.
Arches DIY is good, The Spot is an amazing DIY - that has to go in, just as a monument to commitment, motivation and hard graft. I couldn’t believe how much they’d done when I first got there, I can’t grasp some of the pours they’ve done. Mostly by hand, maybe with a couple of mixers. The Meat Taco is about a foot and a half thick! That’d be a tough pour with a truck coming in and spraying it. I think maybe The Spot and Burnside get joint first on the list.
Rat City was really good too! Spotter’s fun, I’ve been to loads in Europe. Mechelen’s really good, Delside...it’s too hard, it’s going to have to be a top ten. Frank’s place, Kobwebs, that’s wild. There’s Rob’s bowl...M32 is really sick, I love the ride on curbs they’ve got there. There’s too many to mention to be honest.”
By this point we’ve lost track completely of how many have been contributed to the top five on either list, so we hedge our bets and add to the skatepark selection, just to be sure; “Whistler, the snake run in Whistler! That’s a massive inspiration. Just endless lines...that’s what it’s all about really isn’t it, there has to be lines. Everything links in and the idea is just to keep going and going.”
Concrete burned zombie finger and the dangers of tailblocks on longboards.