FS Melon - North 30 Cover
Photography & Interview by Graham Tait
So, you’ve just had your second kid! How is that going?
Fucking intense man! Everyone’s ready to tell you how difficult it’s going to be when you have your first kid but no one ever briefed me on just how much more difficult and testing things were going to be with two! We’ve got two boys, Brodie and Jackie, two years apart, which is what I wanted. Me and my brother and cousins are similar ages and are really close - but be careful what you wish for! It’s not just doubly as hard as one kid, it’s like, four times as much work.
Was he born during lockdown?
He was born the day the first lockdown lifted! Ashley was pregnant when the Covid shit hit the fan and the world ground to a halt, and we were freaking out. No one really knew anything at the time so of course she and the baby were classed as vulnerable. I stopped working and it was a pretty worrying time. When he was born it was a relief, and we could relax a bit, and the day he was born they lifted restrictions so while Ashley had to stay in the hospital I bounced right outside and went for a drink with my friends to wet the baby’s head, the old-fashioned way. Haha!
You mentioned that you’re close to your brother, did you grow up skating together?
Yeah, I started skating in 2001, when I was 11, and we’d had skateboards as kids when we lived in Australia, mostly used to roll down hills etc. I was of the generation, like many others, whose life was changed by the intro video to Tony Hawk’s pro skater 1! I think there’s a lot of people my age who’d say the same, although you wouldn’t admit it at the time as it seemed pretty uncool in front of all the older guys at the skate park who had been doing it for years!
I think after I started skating, my brother and then my cousins from Aberdeen were all skating within a month, and we all kept at it. We’re all really close and see each other every week, so I don’t know if that would be the same without skating or not, but it certainly is something to do with it, and I’m grateful for what we have. So I’d love for my boys to have the same, whether it’s skating or anything else, just having those shared interests and an opportunity to bond. Maybe it’s just my own ego talking, in that I want them to be like me!
Your cousin Pete has a photo in this issue actually. Oh, and I’ve always wondered why is his brother James is called Apeman?
Haha! This guy Mike from Haddington coined it I think, or maybe it was Kerr? It was from way back when we used to skate in North Berwick outdoor park, and we were all just a bunch of skinny little kids, and James just hit puberty way before any of us and just bulked up and turned into a man overnight! He kinda skated in this Peter Hewitt, tensed arms kinda way, so I think that’s where it came from! It’s always the worst nicknames that stick, isn’t it? I don’t think I wanna be Raw-dog anymore.
Haha! Did you give yourself that nickname?
Someone over in Australia came up with it when I went back there as a teenager. I came back and Aaron and Kerr were calling me Fakie or Carlos or one of the other nicknames I had and I said “Oh I haven’t heard that in ages, everyone in Australia was calling me Raw-Dog” so then obviously to take the piss they started calling me that and spread the rumour that I made it up myself. I guess I did mention it in the hope that it would catch on…
Giving a good nickname is a dying art!
I like the weird ones that become people's names. Like my little brother Cree, I don’t think anyone knows that his actual name is Christopher! And Ron, Big Sexy Ron - he’s the only Aaron that I know whose name has been shortened to Ron. When Brodie was born, I gave him the middle name Cree, as it kind of immortalises my brother's nickname into full-on birth certificate status. Jackie’s full name is Jackson Cosmo Britee-Steer named after David Cosmo, AKA Adam Paris.
Nice! So, back to present times, you said you stopped working during lockdown?
Yeah, for a bit. Obviously, there were no jobs happening at the time. I’m a joiner, well I feel I can call myself that these days. I spent a few years not quite wanting to use that word because I didn’t do an apprenticeship when I was younger or anything, but it's been long enough now and I know how to swing a hammer. Haha!
How did you get into that line of work?
Well I built skate parks and various other things, and then got a job with a joiner firm and then started doing my own thing. I’ve built ramps as long as I’ve been skating really. I had a really old copy of Read and Destroy, which had an exploded diagram of a launch ramp, and so my dad helped us build one. He’d been teaching us those sort of skills since we were toddlers, I have very early memories of hammering nails and learning how to cut a straight line with a saw, so it was a natural progression really, and a way for him to be a part of our skate obsession. We lived in Portobello, so it was all street skating, there was no skate park and not many good street spots so building ramps was just a natural part of skateboarding for me.
Has that heavily influenced your skateboarding today?
Yeah, I grew up during what I suppose was the handrail era, and kind of the hip hop era of the early 2000’s, so all the local older kids were so G’d out, and switch heel flipping down stairs and shit, which I kind of wanted to do, but I was more influenced by Tony Trujillo and John Cardiel. So I was building launch ramps and doing early grabs and trying to learn every tweak and doing big 80’s airs as far out as I could take them. Before I knew how to skate ramps properly I was just doing that.
50-50 Pull In
I guess skateparks were only opening up throughout Scotland in the late 00s.
Yeah Perth arrived in 2003 I think, so we’d get the train there sometimes or get the bus to Livi and get our minds blown by what Ben, Stu, Benson, and the rest were doing. It wasn’t til they built the concrete park in North Berwick, when Kerr really schooled me on how to skate transitions. He was a big influence.
Were there any other local influences?
The Blantyre guys were the heaviest crew back then. I guess skating is always like that, there would be crews from different towns that will road trip together and you’d meet up and always see those four or five guys skating together. Kyle and Adam O’byrne, James Symington, Tam Laughton, and Aaron Wilmot were the Blantyre guys, and Kerr McLachlan was kinda pals with them so he took me through there and we stayed with his Granny. I was like woah because they were so hesh. Haha! They were into Anti Hero and Metallica and could skate really big transitions and you could tell they had grown up skating skate parks. I had no idea there were people doing it that way here, so different to the skaters in Edinburgh, so that influenced me for sure!
I think everyone wants to skate with folk who are just a little bit better than them. It’s not like skating with a bunch of intimidating pros. They’re just good enough that you can get involved in the session but you’re punching above your weight and you’re going to learn something.
Yeah definitely! Is that how you met Aaron?
Yeah it was the first weekend we went through. Kerr and Aaron got rumbled shoplifting from the big Asda and so I got left to my own devices and had to get the train home by myself. I had also been hearing stories all weekend about how violent the Neds were around there so I was thinking 'Shit this place is gnarly'. Haha! Those are kind of formative experiences aren’t they, when you’re that age?
I heard that Blantyre was especially rough though, I remember hearing that kids would be throwing stones and bricks at folk in the skatepark all the time.
I’ve heard of that kind of shit happening down at Livi too.
I grew up there and yeah that sort of thing did happen quite a lot I suppose. It’s a bummer when you think that it probably puts a lot of people off. It’s gonna happen anywhere where teenagers hang out I guess, skateboarding or not.
This is going to sound cheesy, but if you’re out there trying to pursue something or do something different, you’re just going to find yourself up against idiots and in extreme situations.
You’re heavily involved in the DIY scene here in Edinburgh, is that something you’ve always been doing?
By the time I was in my early twenties I worked at The Space skate park in North Berwick. It was kind of a volunteer job really, you got paid dole money without having to go and sign on and stuff, and we eventually started getting paid, but not very much. It was a kind of rough and ready, rapid joiners' apprenticeship. There was loads of building and I got to have a lot of input in the designs and I also just got to skate loads, it was amazing!
Sounds sick. How did you hear about that?
I knew a lot of the people involved, and went out one day to see what they were doing. The Space was huge and they had big ambitions for it, and I just felt that I could really contribute. I’d just come back from big trips in Europe and Australia so I had a lot of ideas and I really wanted to help create something. It was brilliant, but sadly had to close after 5 years. I kept the keys after it all closed down, so still had access to The Space as it was lying unused.
Then by chance, I just happened to be talking to my friends Colin and Fiona in the Lioness Of Leith bar, who said they wanted to build a skatepark in Leith because their kids skated. They’d started a petition for funding and stuff, so I was like well if you want to build a skatepark you need to talk to me! I’ve got the keys to this big, half demolished indoor park, and it’s going to take years for the council to do something, so let's do something this summer.
So between us, we masterminded a plan to salvage as much timber as we could from the old park and then started building the ramp that became known as Plastic Beach. Even though it was kind of a rogue mission, we did take it really seriously and treated it like work in that we would get up early to get down there and get started. I mean, we’d have a few cans and maybe a barbecue and would be having fun, but we stripped the whole thing, laid it all out and hired a massive truck to take it all back to Leith. It was like a military operation! It wasn’t just like shovelling a bit of concrete against a wall or building a kicker, there were logistics, and we needed the right tools and the right people to bring it all together. With all that hard work we managed to pull off something pretty cool, pretty quickly.
How long was Plastic Beach there?
About 6 months or less. We built it, and then extended it, and it was great. It skated great and I really liked it, it was so secluded down there and you could do whatever you wanted. No one would bother us or complain, people walking past would say hello and that, and you could just camp out all night pretty much. We’d try to be friendly to passers by and explain what we were up too so it sounded positive, I tried to drill that into the younger kids as one of the rules. Sadly, its quiet and hidden location was probably its downfall, as it got burned to the ground by the usual sort of people. Little toe rags - teenagers with nothing to do who just enjoy destroying stuff. It was a real bummer, but we were still motivated to keep creating.
So what came next?
Charlie Myatt started a little DIY spot in town briefly which was good fun but that got shut down pretty quickly. One day me, Charlie and Seb Singh were in Seb’s van dropping some materials off at the spot, but when we got there it had been fenced off. I was like, “Right lads turn the van around I know where the next spot is.” I’d had an idea for it for a while, and so we ended up dropping off the materials to what eventually became Rat City DIY, right outside my house basically.
We had the drive to create something good, and when James got involved, things took off because he was really great at writing funding applications. So he started with crowd-funders and then approached the council, and while he was sorting out the financing I was down there doing the shuttering and that. We were getting big deliveries of concrete by the cubic metre, which is how the big DIY projects over in America get done, but as far as I know, we were the first people doing it like that in Scotland.
Whose land was it?
It's pretty convoluted - it’s essentially owned by the council, but we had one department of Edinburgh City council funding us, and another department trying to shut us down. Haha! We eventually got kicked out by Scottish Power as it was too close to one of their substations. It always had a lifespan anyway, because eventually, the trams were going to be built there. It was there for two or three years all in all. By the second summer it was a full-on skate park, and what I was most proud of was that you didn’t have to push, you could just drop in and carve and pump, which to me is what a skate park should be like.
That’s a pretty good run for a DIY spot.
Yeah, and when it shut down, we’d just been given nine grand from the council, by Leith Chooses, a local community group that decides how local funding will be allocated. We’d go along to these things without any real branding or organisation, just photos printed out from North or whatever, and we’d stand at our little stall and give the spiel about how a skatepark would be good for kids and so on, and we’d always do really well, so we got some funding. We then heard about the Meanwhile Use Project on Leith Walk, where people had already suggested building a skatepark, so we attended lots of tedious committee meetings for about a year to push our agenda and we eventually did it.
Is that still running?
It breaks my heart because it’s never open. When we first started going to these meetings, the plan was that the ramp would be just one part of this multi-purpose community space, so we thought we had to just build the ramp and maybe put on some events, organise lessons for kids etc. But it’s never open and we can’t be there every day to open it up and run it, so I ended up giving keys to some of the younger guys so they could use it. We got pretty lax with it and then obviously the wrong people started hanging out there and causing trouble so that had to stop. I just wanted to give people the benefit of the doubt, as in my mind it was better than it just sitting there locked up with no one using it. Sadly the trust was constantly abused and they would continually fuck it up. They are the ones it was built for and they’ve ruined it for themselves. I feel like if someone had built that for me when I was eighteen I would have been respectful, and had some notion about how important it was to take care of the space. But maybe I was a wee dick then, I can’t remember, who knows what eighteen-year-old me would have done!
Listen kids - don’t shit where you eat! So did you have plans for events there?
Yes, we still do! We’ll be doing the UK mini ramp champs there this August, just trying to get the final touches done on the posters and get sponsors lined up. We need to get a bigger prize fund to bring in the big dogs. Haha! I want to put on a full-on skateboard contest and attract the pros, no one cares about being the unofficial champ, you need to have some cash up for grabs!
My ambition was to put on a contest that I can’t win - I want it to be so good that I can’t make the finals. Haha! Something that’s going to go down in history, and that people will remember.
You can have some pretty strong opinions when it comes to skateboarding. Do you think that’s ever hindered any opportunities for you?
Haha! Probably. I think I could be a bit more tolerant of how other people want to do things! Maybe I just need to learn how to articulate myself a bit better, as often when I’m loudly ranting about something, I’ve got my tongue in my cheek but people don’t realise it. I’m just playing a stupid character that I’ve invented. Haha! That’s totally my fault.
I’m no more bitter and jaded than anyone else, but I do look at some of the teenagers coming up and hope that they can learn from my mistakes. When I was twenty-one, Ben Powell hooked it up for me to get boards from Witchcraft and I fucked that up immediately just by not knowing how things really worked. I would just ask for more boards straight after trashing the ones that they’d just sent me. My ego maybe got inflated at times. But I do like being around people who are confident and have opinions and don’t mind sharing them. If that’s sometimes egotistical then so be it, as long as it’s in the boundaries of taste and not being too fucking full on!
Did you tour with Witchcraft?
Yeah. I remember getting the train to London by myself for the first time to go and skate with a bunch of people I didn’t know, and I was shitting myself. I skated really well and people were supportive so it went to my head and just drunk loads and probably pissed everyone off. Oh well, oops! That was probably a missed opportunity because that team went from strength to strength. I felt like I let Ben down, he was the guv’nor at the time, still is, and he gave me a shot. I’ve rarely seen him since, so I should probably say to him, thanks for putting that in motion and sorry I fucked it!
Haha! When did you come to the realisation that you were skating for yourself, and figuring out what you wanted out of it, instead of chasing the dream?
What the fuck are you talking about, I’m out chasing the dream every day! Haha!
I never had any delusions of turning pro. I certainly wanted to be sponsored, I’d see all these guys getting set up with free shoes and nice clobber without having to work too much for it, but mostly I just wanted to be able to skate at the same level as those guys. I knew I was never going to be the best, but I wanted to be able to hold my own and be able to command a bit of respect within skating. Adam Paris schooled me one time, on where he wanted to be, and he described wanting to be a well-respected member of the skate scene, and someone people looked up to, which as we know, isn’t all to do with skating.
My motivation is still very much the same, I have realised as I get older that I’ve spent a lot of time at the park chilling and not skating much, when you’ve got an hour or two away from the kids that soon changes. Your body starts to give in at a certain point too, depending on how many slams you’ve taken throughout the years! I’ve still got lots of life in me, but I realise that it’s finite, so now the motivation is just to skate while I can.
You don’t take time for granted that's for sure.
There are still things I want to do, spots that I need to handle, skate parks I want to skate and tricks that have been in the back of my mind for a while. Doing this interview has been a good opportunity to do one or two of them. Skating for you has been different to what I usually do. Going somewhere, often with a trick in mind, that you may have only thought of gives you a focus, but also nerves and anticipation. You said you were going to do this and now the pressure's on! Having to make it happen, and sometimes locking horns and having a full-on battle, I really like it! I like that aspect of skating. Turns out I hadn’t done it much before.
Were you happy with the mix of stuff we got?
There were loads of ideas we bandied about - I wanted the feature to be really well rounded, so I suppose a proper vert photo, with kneepads and a helmet on a twelve-foot ramp would have been good! But we would have had to go to the south coast of England to make that happen, and I’d have nothing for a vert ramp these days anyway…
I’m really happy with the variety we managed to achieve. Some of it was really difficult for me, and some of it had never been done at the spots we chose. We did some classics to get good photos. Remember that kickflip? It was a fucking saga, and the whole time I was just thinking about all the people who could have just done it in a couple of tries.
You’ll never forget that kickflip though because you worked for it!
Anyone that knows me, knows fine well that I cannot flip my board. I’m never doing that again.
Well, congrats, you got there…eventually. What are your plans for the rest of the year?
We’re trying to extend the ramp, and build a hip. There’s a lot bubbling under the surface with the Leith DIY, we’ve got a hot sauce collab with Trodden Black - the boys that run that are skaters based on the West Coast, so we’re pretty stoked about that. We’re also doing a beer collab with Campervan Brewery, who are based in Leith, just round the corner from the spot actually. These two projects will both be great fundraisers for us hopefully, and we’re absolutely hyped on it. We’ve got a little skate jam coming up on Leith Links - a little publicity stunt that will raise awareness of our project. Then of course we’ve got the UK mini ramps champs in August, which I’m planning to be a whole weekend extravaganza. There's loads going on! Plus, I’ve got two very young kids to dedicate my time to, and I need to work, and skate! I’m going to need to learn how to delegate, because I become quite a control freak and end up wanting to do everything myself. My mind's constantly bubbling over with ideas of weird stuff that I want to build. It sucks not having the time to do all of it! I’m hoping that one day building that skate park could be my full-time job.
Hopefully one day! Any shout outs?
First and foremost, thanks to you for letting me do this, you’re clearly scraping the barrel. Haha! Thanks to Sean for filming as well. You both sat through a fair few debacles when it looked like I wasn’t going to get anything and you both stuck with me! What do people usually say? Thanks to Mom, Dad, God? Haha!. Well thanks to my parents, for real, and to Aslaich and the kids of course. Big Mark and Forty for hooking me up with some boards, Sibs and everyone at Focus, my cousins, all the crew who turn up to shovel concrete or cut timber - Youngo, Kerry Getz, Big Sexy, and Baby P. All my friends, you know who you are, and all the boys that I’ve mentioned already, but definitely not Ron.
Brodie and Jackson, I love you both. I can’t wait to see what kinda people you are when you’re old enough to read this!
This is mental
Published in North 30