New Social Art School Projects - Aberdeen Street Skaters

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October 2003

People have told me that if I want to know about skateboarding in Aberdeen I have to speak to Andy Dobson. We meet in the Belmont Bar, Andy buys me a drink:

I would like you to start by telling about your background as a skater and as an Aberdeen citizen

I've been skating for over 17 years. Most of that time I have been based in Aberdeen. I have also been heavily involved in trying to get a facility for skating, both through the Council and through finding places and setting up ramps myself. I have worked in the Boarderline skate shop for the last 3 years. I have struggled with the skate park at the beach for the last 2 years, trying to convince the Council that we need backing from them. They haven't been forthcoming at all - actually, trying to get something up and running in Aberdeen for the last 10 years has been a complete nightmare. You know, if the Council has done anything, they have done it without asking any of the skateboarders, the people who know about these things.

The park at the beach is that the first skate park in Aberdeen - officially?

No, in the last 5 years there have been small projects happening. In the 80's we managed to get an indoor set-up in the Exhibition Centre. It was private. Some kids' mum who worked at the Exhibition Centre realised that we needed a facility in Aberdeen. That got shot down due to basically not having the Council supporting it. Then we had Stoneywood skate-park, which was going from 96 to probably 98. But that was seasonal. It was indoors during the summer, which was a nightmare in itself. It was an ice-rink and it was insulated, so therefore it was roasting hot. This also was a private initiative. Then the Beach project was started up by a Christian organisation last year. I got involved with that to help them build the ramps... Oh, I forgot to say that I've been building and designing ramps for over 10 years now. The Council didn't have anything to do with the beach either. The whole Christian thing was a bit bizarre to the people of Aberdeen, you know, the Christians came into town and decided to build this amazing skate park.

Did they actually put the money into it?

Yeah, it was all private input from a Christian businessman in Aberdeen. I think he put almost £3/4 million into it. Then at the end of the summer it closed down and just sat there through the winter. Outside! Half of the Council thought it had been pulled down, the other half...well, I don't know what they thought! They didn't make any effort to keep it open or even find out what was going on with it. And we were sneaking over the fences and skating it all the time. A week before it was supposed to be pulled down the new Council got in the power and the Lord Provost was aware of the facility and he wanted to know why it wasn't open. I was notified and asked to get it up to standard and get it open for the summer holidays. The design from the first year was extreme-game based design which, for the little kids, was a bit scary. So we redesigned it a little bit in the 2 weeks we had and got it opened and it has been a huge success. I think there's been over 3000 people registering there; people from Wales, all across England, people coming up from Dundee. They were risking the fact that it might be raining, but they were still coming up and using it. You know, in Aberdeen you really need an indoor facility. The beach is completely open to the elements. When the Council came to us and said that they wanted us to reopen the park, the terms were that it would be decommissioned at the end of October holidays. But, because we did such a good job with it and it was so popular, I felt that the Council wouldn't close it. All these parents that took their kids down there, they would drop the kids off at the start of the day and the kids would be hanging out with us all day, skating and having a great time. You know, I couldn't believe that the Council didn't see what a positive thing this is for Aberdeen. But, no no, of course - all the politics behind it...

Why did they have to close it down?

Well, we weren't allowed to keep it on that piece of ground, all though nothing has been done with it for as long as I can remember, over 10 years, I think. Codona's have been trying to buy that bit of land for a long time. And if the Council were seen to let us have that land, you know, kind of sneaking-in-through-the-back-door type of thing, then that would kick up loads of shit, you know what I mean? Basically the Council was not prepared to let us have it. The Christian guy, Brian Taylor, who owns Chimes, which is a big building company, put money into the park and paid for everything. We basically put a wee business plan together to give to the Council and we were speaking about us paying for the roof to go over it. We were talking about state of the art, modern canopy, and glass walls; like a total showpiece you know. Inside there would be a skate-park, climbing walls, professional trampolines. We would have classrooms where we could teach photography, video editing and graphic design, stuff that is directly linked with skateboarding anyway. You start to appreciate art and get drawn into it through skateboarding. There would be mountain bike jumps, anything, a massive facility. On that ground, right there. And we were looking for a little bit of investment from the Council. Basically we just wanted the Council to let us use that ground. It would have been such a showpiece for Aberdeen; it would have brought people in from all over the UK. So I couldn't believe that they wouldn't go for it. But there you go. They say it's not as easy as giving us the land, it will have to come down. We had a meeting at the skate-park a week before it closed down, with Gordon McIntosh who has been given the roll of dealing with the skateboarders, trying to work out what it is that we need.

Is he a councillor?

I'm not sure what his position is. I got him to promise that the Council would provide somewhere for us to store the ramps over winter. There were probably about 30 kids who were asking questions and he was speaking to us and in the end he promised that he would look really hard to find somewhere to house the skate-park. At the end of the meeting he said, "I will speak to you soon, we will have a meeting", and so on. He seemed like a nice guy, but he has never been in contact.

I'm generally interested in communication, you know.

That's what it comes down to. You have got to speak to people who know about these things.

Somebody with experience?

Exactly. If there is something you don't know about, you go to somebody with experience about that matter. The Council has never done that. Westhill skate-park, Portlethen skate-park, Inverurie skate-park were all the same sort of mould, a quick-fix type of solution that the Council brought in, maybe about 2 years ago, in small communities on the outskirts of Aberdeen. They went and build the most bizarre, tripped-out concrete things that were so ridiculous. At that time I had started to design a skate-park for a small town, Kemnay, where I used to go to school. We are going to start building in March.

Are you the main man behind that?

Yeah. At the time Inverurie, Westhill and others were all getting their wee parks, in Kemnay, they decided they wanted a skate park and I bumped into one of the parents. It was actually on the day I went to view the Westhill park for the first time. I couldn't believe what a waste of time that park was. Okay it's provided a facility for the kids and you still have people going out there from Aberdeen. So I think it's something, you know, but...if you're going to build something you might as well build it correctly and it's not going to cost more. I got to meet the guy who designed this park. He basically told me that a job pack was put on his desk and he was told that he had 3 days to design a skate park for Westhill. This guy builds bridges, right! He knows nothing about skate boarding. So he went on to the Internet and looked at pictures and sort of took his interpretation of what he was seeing. And this thing they've got at Westhill looks like an abortion. You can't even call it a skate park! And they did it all over; almost the same design on each one. Some have worked better than others. Westhill has survived longer because the kids there were determined to skate whatever.

The kids put it like this "building a skate park for us is like building a basketball court for football players, cause that's not really the kind of skating we are into".

This is probably coming from the kids that you met in the street, they are really upset that Broad Street got ruined, right?

Yeah, very...

Now, I've seen skateboarding go through a whole lot of changes and I think some of the kids miss out on a lot of skateboarding. They are pigeonholing themselves a little bit and they don't realise that by skating big ramps they are going to improve in whatever they want to skate, you know. It's the quickest way to actually improve and before they know it...oh, it's hard to explain...The kids got really upset about the beach facility. The guy who designed it was a Christian roller-blading guy from America, total idiot. He didn't have anybody to build with in Aberdeen so that's where I got roped into it with a friend from Dundee. We didn't do the designing. This is the problem I had. I fell out with him once and then I thought, "Wait a minute, this isn't my worry. I'm going to be happy to skate what ever. I'll keep my mouth shut, I'll build it and it's going to be finished and it'll be fine. Just get on with it". We are probably one of the biggest skating communities in the UK. About two years ago Aberdeen was selling the most skate products in the UK, and we still had no facility. All these kids are skating car parks with tiny little kerbs, everything is really small scale, and all of a sudden there's this fucking monster of a skate park with the biggest half pipe ramp in the UK. Everything is really big. So the kids didn't really support it. Last year there was half the amount of bodies through the door. This year we had two weeks to change the design. So we changed what we could to make these guys happy - because I know what they are into. But I think a lot of them worry a little bit about how they look when they skate. If they have been skating for two years, and they are quite good at skating Broad Street, they don't want to be down at the beach learning to drop in a 5-foot high ramp. In my eyes this is a little bit of a problem in Aberdeen, people worry about how they look. But, if I do get to design a park, then everybody will be catered for. It will be the best street course that we can build, possible. But it will also have ramps and transitions, which I think are important to develop a really good skate boarder. If we do get to open a park it's not going to be designed by any councillors. So therefore, the kids can just forget about that and not worry, get over that thing, you know. I'm trying to say to them "Come down to the beach and support it. If you support the beach, then we can upgrade it in half a years time and get it really up to date". It's all fucking skate boarding, you know what I mean?

Yeah. The kids I spoke to were quite upset and nostalgic about Broad Street...

But it's so bad! I skated there in the 80's and it was still smooth. But I'm so glad it's gone, a lot of skaters think it's good that it's gone. After all it's just a couple of ledges. When we were young we would come into town and go all over Aberdeen, looking for things to skate. These guys spent all day at Broad Street, which I think is killing a certain part of skateboarding, the thing about adapting to any kind of architecture and skate anything.

The guys were talking about John Rattray, that he skated there and now he's a big name and a pro and...

Yeah, but that wasn't because he skated Broad Street, you know. People had loads of fun there...but they shouldn't base their whole vision of skating there. It's pretty lame, it upsets me...

Graham lent me a video, the first skateboarding video I've ever seen. It's called Yeah Right. It was great and it's very much about urban architecture and culture, skating stairs, benches and handrails. It's a lot about creativity.

That's what street skating is about. I can imagine Graham got upset about Broad Street vanishing. But these guys need to go out and find other places, there's so much out there. The whole spirit of skateboarding is about going out there and finding obscure things to mess about with your body on! Actually I think there's a big problem in Aberdeen in general, not just a skateboarding thing. People are reluctant. When I came back from Oregon, where I had stayed for a few months, I thought we were going to build a concrete facility here. I just wanted to find a place and build our own thing but my friends just said "We have tried, we can't be bothered". And it's the same with the club scene in Aberdeen. People won't support it and that's why there is no club scene in Aberdeen. It's really lacking any culture.

You are not the first who's said that. Why is that?

The only thing I can think of is that it must have something to do with the money that came here in the 80's and the sort of Aberdonians that were here before the money. Now, I don't know what it is, but it's so false and they follow this really sheepish. If you go to a club in Aberdeen people are not relaxed and will dance just because they feel like dancing. They look around and if there's nobody else dancing they are not going up on the dance floor. What the skate park needed this summer was that all the kids supported it, to come down and skate and just be like, "Fuck it, we need to show the Council that this skate park is needed and they will not be able to ignore it".

You said Aberdeen has the biggest skating scene in the UK because the skate shops in Aberdeen sell the most. Is that because there are the most skaters or is that because they have the most money?

I think it's a bit of both really. I think the parents give the kids a lot of pocket money. It's hard to say. How can they have that much money? I remember when I was their age, I would skate my board for almost a year.

Well, we can definitely agree that it's different now. I don't know how old you are...

I'm old! It's a bit annoying for me because, you know, I'm involved and I feel it's really important for me...I don't want to be like I know everything, but I'm trying to educate these younger skaters. But to them it's really important with this whole sponsorship thing, yeah? When I was little, and I was good when I was younger, you never dreamed of getting sponsored, you just wanted to go out there and skate and have fun and that's all it was about...Yeah, kids getting upset about Broad Street... Obviously, now when it's not there they can speak about how amazing it was and what they were going to learn on it and all. But really, it was shit. The main question mark is the whole fact about the Council spending a great amount of money on an area that's going to be demolished in 4 years. Supposedly it cost £18,000...

It's a statement isn't it?

Those knobs look like a Geiger design! Oh, it definitely is. Why don't the Council think that the public should be consulted about that? You could be little flour rails...but the big cocks...Oh, we will have the cocks! Give us the big metal fuckers!

The kids say they feel totally neglected. Maybe the Council have actually done a big mistake.

I think so. Unless you're playing football there really isn't anything for the youth in Aberdeen. And their approach to building skate parks is like the building-football-pitches-for-basketball-player's thing. I think we should start having the skaters to design the football parks!

So, if you're getting this really good skate park, then there will be no street skating?

No no no. Street skating is the heart of skateboarding. That's what it's all about. Aaahhh, I'm an old man now, so I'm more likely to go down to the skate park, where I know exactly what the conditions are. I still go and look for spots and especially when we are filming. We will go to undiscovered wee spots. That's the nature of it. Another thing that cracked me up was the top of the St. Nicholas Centre. The guys would go up there and skate the steps and it was a good meeting place. There was loads of youth culture up there. And then all of a sudden there's these workmen erecting these metal fences and padlocked gates in front of certain sets of steps. Instead of speaking to the kids they just snug in and erected these fences. The public can't even walk through there now. Whoever is in charge of that area...what the fuck is that all about? The place looks terrible. There is no balance to it. You're standing up there and you wonder why the gate is never open and why the fences are there. It just doesn't make any sense, does it? The Council could take some of the money they put towards the Geiger knobs on Broad Street and get even just a strip of concrete, a couple of ramps, a couple of ledges. I mean, make a replica of Broad Street and you are going to make hundreds of kids happy, you know. There's bound to be areas in Aberdeen where you could do that. There's a ware house at the bottom of South College Street that I pretty much took over a couple of years ago. It was a derelict building and it was due to be pulled down. It was when I didn't have a job, so I spend 6 months cleaning it all up, putting windows in and building ramps. It was where the prostitutes and the junkies used to go so the police would come down to check. My friend, who's an electrician, came and got the power on and we would skate there all the time. We used it for filming for magazines and my friend, John Rattray, filmed parts for his video there. The police came down, standing in the door, watching, saying "This is really good, this is what Aberdeen needs. Do you have the keys for this place?" and I said yes cause I had put my own padlocks on. So of course I had my own keys, you know what I mean? The police are fully backing having a facility for kids in Aberdeen. How come we still don't have one? They are missing the whole point about the youth culture. If they don't provide for the youth in Aberdeen it's going to become a ghost town, people will grow up and leave because there's nothing here. I think Aberdeen City Council is so out of touch with it...But, I'm sure, if they did build a skate park they would start enforcing fines and stuff like that. If you go to places in Canada and America and skate in city centres you will get your board taken away and you will get fined. I was in Vancouver in 1998 and it was a really popular place with a big street skating scene. There's really good architecture for skating. But absolutely everything within a mile and a half radius of the city centre had been skate stopped or knobbed. All the ledges had chunks on metal on them, it looked shocking...

Okay, so you have seen something like in Broad Street?

Oh no, not to that extend. No way! You can't come close to that.

It beats even America?

Yeah. They say everything is bigger in America. Forget about that, look at Broad Street and the size of our skate stoppers! Now, there's a council meeting on Monday night about a skate park and they are still not sure...

So, are you invited to that meeting?

No, but there never has been any of us at any of these meetings. This is what cracks me up. How can they even have a meeting if there are no skateboarders there? How hard is it to go into a skateboard shop and say, "Look we have a meeting would you care to come and enlighten us?"

That was easy! I walked into your shop and asked what was going on in Broad Street and now we are talking. Just to finish this off, what do you think for the future? It looks like...

It looks like Graham is going to be the main man. I'm going to hand it over to Graham! Sparky is getting the title of Skate Coordinator for Aberdeen, which means he has to stay for the next 10 years at least and commit all his spare time to help in the community!!