Interview by Alex Irvine. Photos by Sam Ashley unless stated.
We had the pleasure of your company in Helsinki on the final leg of the DIY series, how did you find it out there?
Well I didn’t have any information about what we where going to do there . I saw a photo of the spot, but that’s about it. Well so what to say about it… It was hard work – as it always is with concrete – but I had a rad time up there, building with the locals, giving them a had and showing them some tricks. The peak was the little side project Polar Side with all the barriers.
Gap to backside tailslide, Helsinki. Ph: Alex irvine.
Yeah, you made yourselves a rad little spot on the side. Do you prefer to be prepared for what you’re building?
Well most of the work with concrete is all in the preparation, first comes the idea, vision and design. Then you have to build up all the moulds and fill them up etc. The better you do the preparations the easier the concrete work will be. I learnt that lesson from doing many shitty fillings at first. Do it well from the start.
Do you prefer doing your own thing?
The best part of building your own spot is going from idea to the final thing. The part I like the most is the design, idea and creative vision of it. That’s where the magic happens. The building of the dream is just work, A to B, the real fun work is the idea.
It was on that trip you suggested we do a little extra bonus trip building some stuff around your hometown of Malmö. Do you find building at home is ultimately like having a blank canvas, where your ideas can just be actuated and you can be in total control?
Well the location doesn’t really matter but, for sure, the motivation to build something right outside your door is higher than building something far away that you can’t skate on a day to day basis. I also believe that when you’re at home you pass the same locations many times over, you can go back check it out again, think about it, dream about it and really plan it in your head in the smallest detail. So yeah in Malmö there is no stress; I got all the space and time in the world here. It is a good place for DIY movements, but the city is changing a lot and space is becoming more and more limited in the inner city.
Despite the difficulties in building in developing areas of a growing city, Malmö-ites seem to be determined to carry on building regardless. Do you ever take set backs personally? How do you respond?
Well we have been building DIY spots here for about ten years and we have seen our spots go up and come down. It always hurts and it always sucks, but it is a part of the game. The spots are temporary and always in progress, these spots are organic and we all know they won’t last forever. But this is what makes them so good, it fires up the sessions and you push it all a bit extra ’cause you never know when it will all be gone. It can happen any time and it did happen to us three or four times so far. It’s sad and it hurt but we have proven that as fast as a spot comes down another one can appear. I try to see the positive side: that it keeps us active and it gives us new spots to skate over the years. For example if they didn’t bulldoze Savanna Side we would have never gotten the barrier spot, steppe side, TBS or Step it up Side. We would have still been at Savanna Side, and who knows how that place would have looked today if we kept building there?
Has the scene considered trying to legitimise Step it up Side? It’s quite a grand project, I’m guessing the government has noticed it…
The city likes what we do and they are always down to give us a skatepark whenever they get the chance. But a skatepark is a skatepark and an illegal, home-made, sketchy, ghetto-park is something different. For sure it would have been great if the city said: you can have the Step it up Side land and just keep doing what you guys do there; but I can’t see that happening, the days of that spot are numbered. If we are lucky we will get the next summer as well.
Do you think the fact that a build is illegal drives a crew to be more creative or is it just another factor to deal with?
I think DIY spots are more creative because they are built in sections, with no plans. You start in on corner with something, skate it, and then you add the next piece. Most skateparks have a fixed plan and I don’t believe that is the best way to go. Plus, a DIY spot most of the time are kind of fucked up, perhaps the floor is shitty or the concrete is rough, which adds a lot of flavor to the spot. I also think that most DIY spots have limits on how big you can go which force you to be creative on a small level….
Compared to a lot of the big spots we see in the USA (Burnside, FDR, WSVT etc.) I suppose this is true. Do you think the infancy of the DIY scene in Europe has an effect on the size of builds at all?
Hmmm, I don’t know maybe the things we built in Malmö inspired others around here to build small stuff. I love the small, weird stuff and most of the things we build where never over head height. Things don’t have to be massive to be fun. Small stuff is fast and easy to build and you don’t have to be a gnarly skater to ride it. Everybody can enjoy it and get into it; perhaps it is more inviting with small things around here. We don’t have to prove ourselves to be the biggest, baddest mother fuckers around, we just want to skate some fun stuff, dude.
I see your point, it is true to say there is a difference, and perhaps Malmö’s position as the centre of DIY in European skateboarding has made smaller stuff the norm over here. Did you ever want to try and work in skatepark design? All the planning you want, less of the work?
I did design and work on the Sibbarp skatepark, here in Malmö, together with Concreatures and Bryggeriet. That one was built section by section and by making things up as we went – piece of paper and a pen. I think you can see that as a final result that the park is different. Dave at Concreatures wants me to do some designs for them and I have some plans together with another friend. For me skatepark design comes very naturally and I think there is still a lot to be done with skatepark designs. But it’s not always that easy because it always comes down to budget Vs time Vs design. Some crazy sick ass designs take a lot of time to build and that costs a lot of money…
So still going to be doing a lot of DIY then? How do you go about finding a spot you want to build on?
Yeah I love the DIY stuff, you don’t have to worry about any rules or design stuff. If I got a spot, idea and location, I can just go and do it; get some bags and get to work. Well a good location depends on what you want to build. So called renegade attacks, when there already is a spot that just need to be fixed… those can appear anywhere. But if we are taking about a location to build a bigger thing I look for: no neighbours near by that might dislike what you’re doing. Secondly, is there anything to start from, a base, a floor, perhaps walls? Then try to see what kind of material there is in the area, you’ll need filling material, stones, bricks; sand for the cement; and of course water near by is always good.
Have you ever tried to disguise your self as a construction worker or anything to build a renegade spot?
No I’ve never done that, I just pick my locations well; where I know it won’t be a problem. We had tonnes of people asking us what we’re do, even the cops, and when you tell them what you’re doing and what you believe in, they are, most of the time, really stoked. You take a useless space and create something useful, for people to ride and enjoy. We’re not vandalizing the city, we are contributing to it in a positive way; I think most people see that – plus, they think these social sculptures look really cool and interesting. But that is the attitude, around here people are down for it and the city kind of see that…
The UK just has their first ever officially authorised DIY spot in Liverpool, do you think this is something we might see more of throughout Europe in the future? Less budget from governments in a recession, more proactive citizens?
Yeah that would be amazing. To be given a piece of land where skaters can build whatever they want with a small budget, each year they will add sections. An organic social sculpture – super sick. I like that the most that DIY spots are growing and you can follow the process development in the concrete from the first rugged piece laid, to the later ones; it has character. A public skatepark is just fixed with one design and the surface is always perfect which, for my taste, makes the space kind of dead.
The visual aspect of a DIY spot showing the process of learning is pretty interesting, I think it reminds you to better yourself in future pours. What was the first ever thing you made?
The first thing we did was a quarter pipe at Savanna Side about 2 metres wide and 1 metre 20 high. We had no idea what we were doing, we just made a wood frame, filled it up and put some concrete on it using a triangular (brickwork) trowel. We had no idea about shaping or finishing, we where just happy to have it there. It was rough as fuck but it was super sick to skate.
I got a lot of photos from this period
So it was trial and error for the most part after that or did you have a mentor to show you the ropes?
Stefan Hauser from Placed to Ride came to town and showed us some moves, how to mix concrete on the floor with cement and sand – the volcano technique. He showed us how to work with a wood float and also the finishing. Then I we also learnt a lot of high-end moves from Chucky and Dave of Concreatures, when we built Sibbarp. But then, of course, also a lot of learning by doing.
What advice would you give someone starting their first build?
Start with something small and easy, like a quarter pipe and some speed bumps. Make some wood frames and just fill them up with solid materials. You can make a rough mix with concrete and do a first rough layer to have a nice base to work from. Then when you do the final layer shape it with wood tools only, and be patient. Let the concrete go hard before you start working with your steel tools to give it the final finish. So, anyway, the final thing is that it is not hard or expensive to do and you can really make tonnes of rad spots in your town if you are ready to put in some work in. It’s all there, outside your door if you want it. Leave facebook, leave the bar and get out there and get radical.