Southbank is not for Skateboarders Anymore

Lately there has been a whole lot of hoopla regarding what seems to be the imminent closure of the skatespot at Southbank, otherwise located in what’s known as the ‘undercroft'(I’ve never heard this word either) of the Southbank Centre in London. While having more than a couple pints in me and letting loose such getting-my-ass-kicked worthy epithets like “level Southbank, give me a latte”, I do have a fair appreciation of the insane amount of effort to save it. This is also the problem.

No space for skaters and that’s not necessarily a bad thing

I completely understand the idea that there you have this skatespot that was never meant to be a skate spot, and that this scene evolved here over decades at this place a lot of people like to think is public space. This is where most of the Southbank supporters seem to weigh in, that its beyond a place you skate, but now some sort of London cultural landmark. We have to remember though that we as skaters don’t have any right to land or places or spaces. We just use, abuse and leave them. Spots come and go, concrete chips and becomes more or less unskateable, and tricks change and so we skate other things. Skateboarding is about moving on.

Spots come and go, concrete chips and becomes more or less unskateable, and tricks change and so we skate other things. Skateboarding is about moving on.

While skateboarding now enjoys an unprecedented level of media attention and publicity, the situation is roughly the same as it was 10 or even 20 years ago, which is nobody gives a shit about skateboarders. There are a couple more parks and just as much bans on skating in the city. Skateboarding however, meaning not watching it on TV or playing a video game, is still very much of a gutter activity. This is a very good thing if you ask me.

EMB never had it this good

Southbank has achieved this Waterloo or Alamo-like class of attention. Its become about the Man vs. the Little Guy or the Establishment vs. Us. This is something EMB never enjoyed, and EMB truly served as the skate focus globally for two generations of skateboarders. Nobody cries over EMB, yet Southbank enjoys some sort of weird, now oddly international, support. I’ve ridden these shit streets and barely considered skateparks for almost 10 years now. I’m not nostalgic about South Bank, just like I’m not nostalgic about EMB. I didn’t grow up skating at either place or smoke my first joint or get beat up for the first time there or share any of these other magical moments with all these people in London seem to have.

While I can appreciate the amount of effort and sheer determination in taking on local government, not to mention the most powerful force in the capital – property developers, I think they could have spent all of this time and effort much more effectively. All that effort would be better spent taking the park they propose and run. No one gets this sort of funding for a brand new, what looks to be decent, dry spot in what is still more or less the centre of London. Then they should try and get more and more distributed spots, mini parks built all throughout the city. A ledge here, a hip there, all over the place. Better yet, how about requesting funds to build spots on derelict spaces like Andrew Willis did with the amazing Frontside Gardens did with refuse materials? Frontside Gardens is about skateboarding and not just about nostalgia I believe. Its built entirely with reclaimed, thrown away materials and its in the shitty forgotten corners (While Hackney Wick is well on its way to being gentrified, it’s still quite grotty no matter what you try to tell yourself) where no one will be bothered. Best yet, its been built to disappear, which it might have done by now. It is a true skate spot, fluid, temporary in the ebbs and flows of skateboarding and all the styles, sideline hobbies and tricks that go with the terrain.