Ed Syder - ‘Skater Owned’ interview
Much like the internationally feted Record Store Day, Skate Shop Day was established in 2020, as a way for the skateboard community to give back to the independent skater owned retail outfits who tirelessly strive to meet our consumer needs.
Given to its position in the dead of winter (for most places outside of California), it was decided that February 19th would be crowned Skate Shop Day, hereby forcing skaters through the doors of their local skate store at a point in the year when trade is typically dead. The first Skate Shop Day in 2020 seemed to go off without a hitch; internationally, skate shops organised special events, created limited edition items, and enjoyed welcoming their scenes back into their establishments on a day where most skaters probably wouldn’t be considering leaving the house. But obviously, the COVID pandemic was already starting to gather traction, and within the month, many countries around the globe were placed under strict lockdown measures. This saw independent retailers – including our essential skate shops – forced into indefinitely closing their bricks and mortar operations. Barely a month after the success of the first Skate Shop Day, the future of skateboard retail looked uncertain at best, if not exceptionally bleak.
Global skateboarding has been on quite the journey since then; it’s no secret that during lockdown, active participants boomed beyond all comprehension, the industry went into overdrive in an attempt to keep up with ever increasing demands for product, and stores struggled to secure enough stock to meet the needs of their steadily growing customer base. Some shops naturally benefited from this boom, whilst others still struggled.
No two stories about trading during the turbulent year of 2020 are the same, and as the second annual Skate Shop Day steadily approaches, Ed Syder – the man behind a rich body of work that includes publications such as Hawk and Hosoi, The Natas and Gonz Book, and My Skateboard Life – has decided to dedicate his next project to the skate shop owner. Released on February 19th, Skater Owned aims to give some shine to the heroes who are currently overcoming the odds to ensure their scenes are able to keep rolling.
Find out more about Skater Owned below, and then be sure to pick up a copy (ideally from your local skate shop) on Skate Shop Day later this month.
It’s well documented that your skateboard journey started in Cornwall in the 1980s; with that in mind, can you remember the first time you set foot in a skate shop?
Absolutely. It’s funny because I remember this stuff better than what I did today. The shop was called Clive Mitchells in Truro, in Cornwall; it was a bike shop. Me and my two brothers, we were really into BMXing, but I went into Clive Mitchells and I saw a skateboard…I can still remember it; it was a white Mike McGill deck, and I was looking at it like, “oh f*ck…!”
That same year, SJ Williams opened up a shop in Truro, called SJ’z, and I’d go there all day Saturday, all day Sunday, after school, on lunchtimes sometimes; the shop was a bit like Byker Grove, like a community centre. SJ took a lot of people under his wing. He had kids who skated that were my age, he’d be at the skatepark at Mount Hawke in his VW camper van, and he was really f*cking cool as well; that shop was a big part of growing up for me.
You’ve lived all over the UK since you first picked up a skateboard - Cornwall, Liverpool, Manchester, London, Sheffield. Which skate shops in those places have you regularly lurked in?
I moved to Liverpool to do fine art at uni, and that would have been the mid-90s. There was the Flea Pit in the shopping center that I think was called Quiggins. I’d be in there a lot, especially during my first year. This guy in the third year, called Marke Newton, he was like Ricky Oyola, an absolute beast at skating. He actually interviewed me to get into university, and I’m sure he only let me in because I wore a skate top to the interview; I think he even admitted to that (laughs). Anyway, we’d go into town and go to the Flea Pit. I wouldn’t say I spent a lot of time in the shop, but whenever I would be there, it would be great; a lot of hijinks went on with Brian Sumner, H (Howard Cooke), and all of those guys. They’re characters, the Scousers.
Then I moved to Manchester after I left uni, and the shop there at that time was Note. There was a guy called James that I knew from drinking, and he used to run a shop called Sheep. This was before my time, but the guy who worked in Sheep was Splodge (Paul Rogers), who now runs Note. I think Note was in either Stockport or Bolton Bones, so I’d go to the skatepark and the shop would be there. Again, the Mancunians are like Scousers; they’re larger than life. You always get big personalities in a skate shop.
Then I moved to London, and I got to know ‘Camo’ Pete (Makarski) at Three Amigos. I was under the impression that I was going to draw Camo Pete for the zine, but he sold the shop a few years ago; it’s owned by Dick (Weetch) now.
Since I moved to Sheffield, I’ve got to know Martin (Kennelly) and the guys at Slugger; they’re all really, really nice.
Do you still find much time to skate these days?
I skate more now than I have done in 20 years. Before moving to Sheffield and having kids, I’d skate hardly ever; once a month tops. I never had a gang, but since I moved to Sheffield, there’s been a resurgence of the over-40s going curb skating. There’s a top-secret location in an industrial estate where everyone just skates curbs, and the people that skate there are really nice. Everyone is of varying abilities. I started going there and I couldn’t slappy a curb, but I didn’t feel shunned because I couldn’t do it, and then when I learnt how to do it however many visits later, I got yelps. I’m 45 now, so when someone yelps when you’ve done a trick, it makes you feel pretty good (laughs).
The cover of Ed's second Secret Curb Club zine.
Give us your personal favourite anecdote involving a skate shop please…
I remember being in the Flea Pit, looking at decks and trying to not say anything stupid, and Misfits were playing. Brian Sumner was working there, behind the till, and he was singing along to Teenagers From Mars. “We land in barren fields, on the Arizona plains…” but he got the lyrics wrong, and Robbie Reid really told him off. They were good mates, but I stood there as two scousers were having a go at each about who was the most punk rock. That has stuck with me, for some reason. I’m a big Misfits fan, but maybe I’m a big Misfits fan because of that moment, because I walked out of the shop thinking, “OK, I need to listen to that”. I needed to learn the words, in case I got caught out.
Would you regularly cross paths with many of the Flea Pit types whilst you were out and about skating in Liverpool?
Those years at university I spent skating at the waterfront, watching people like H. People like that are such good skaters, but they are so nice too; it’s disarming. They’d drop in on a 20-foot wall, but they’d take the time to talk to everybody as well.
The park in Liverpool too, Rampworx, I’d go there with my friend from university who was a BMXer, and you’d see H skate the mini ramp and the bowl. He would drop in and pump so hard, his run would only end because the ramp couldn’t contain him any more. He would be going so fast that he’d fly over the platform and do a summersault almost. He’d never fall off trying a trick; he’d only ever be catapulted out of the ramp. It was amazing.
If you could be transported to any point in time, visit any skate shop in the world and go on a Supermarket Sweep style shopping spree, where would you visit and why?
I went to San Francisco in 1999, and I visited FTC. I bought a shop t-shirt, but I was just kind of star struck because I was in FTC, and Karma Tsocheff was there. It would be good to be transported back then and not just stand there, almost frozen. I don’t know what would happen, but it would be nice to be there again.
The COVID lockdowns and subsequent restrictions on retail have obviously had a massive impact on independent businesses, including our much needed skate shops. Has the way you shop for skate product changed since the start of 2020?
Yes, absolutely. Lockdown has made me very aware of the fact that, if I’m going to buy something, I need to buy it from a skater owned store. I’ve been buying things off Three Amigos, and Sam and Drug Store, just because I guess they’re in my Instagram feed now. I’m so aware that they’re people just like me and you, and if you don’t support them, then they won’t be there. Especially hearing their stories; one person will say that lockdown has been amazing and their shop is doing better than ever, but the next person will say that lockdown has closed their shop and everything is f*cked.
Moving on to Skater Owned – where did the idea for the zine come from?
Early last year, I saw that Pete Fowler had drawn someone who runs a record shop, and that’s when I started thinking. At the time – the start of lockdown - a lot of people were saying ‘support your local skate shop’ because skate shops didn’t know that everybody was going to suddenly start skating. There was that time around March and April, where it was like, ‘quick, buy a deck. The shops are closed and everyone is going to go under’, but luckily it didn’t happen.
I drew Harry (Paul Harrison) and Tez (Robinson) at The Black Sheep, and then I DM’d three or four other shops to draw them. I put the portraits on Instagram, then more people got in touch, saying, ‘draw me’. But I didn’t have a plan to make a zine to begin with.
So from those first ‘straight to Instagram’ drawings, I guess the idea to create a zine started to emerge?
Yeah. In June, I drew the first portrait for the zine, then I set myself an impossible task – which is what I do - of drawing every skate shop owner in the country. Then I saw there was a day, Skate Shop Day, which was six months away, and I started talking to the guy who runs it. It turned out it was a guy I kind of knew anyway – Chris Nieratko. I had no idea originally that it was him, but he’d previously bought zines off me and asked me to sign them for his kids. He’s doing this cool thing where he’s buying every skate zine he can and putting them in a time capsule for his sons to open up.
I think as the book took shape, I got braver and braver with DMing people. Once I’d DM’d Jim Thiebaud to ask for support, and he was so nice, it gave me a lot of confidence. And having the zine ready in time for Skate Shop Day certainly helped me finish it.
You started in June, but when did you get the finished zine in your hands?
Kind of too soon, actually; I’m sitting on them in my office. I made sure that I’d got the zine done by the end of December, thinking it would take ages to print it, but the guy printed them for me in about three days (laughs). I’m sort of treading water at the moment, but it’s OK. It’s a good test of my character to have a big bunch of books there and not put them on sale.
How did you go about identifying the skate shops to feature in Skater Owned? Was it a hard process to narrow them down from ‘every shop in the country’ to what must be closer to something like 20?
I think I’ve done 15. A lot of these shops, like Wight Trash and Cardiff Skateboard Club, I’ve done shop t-shirts for. I think after drawing the first five, I went on skaterowned.co.uk and I saw there was something like forty shops, and I went ‘aaah…’. But that’s when I saw that Skate Shop Day takes place in February, and there was no way I could draw all 40 shop by then, so it became a bit more manageable. So some are people I’ve worked with before, and some are the people who replied with their photo. Some shops aren’t in it because they’d repeatedly not send me a photo to work from. I’d look on the internet and there would be nothing. “I don’t know what you look like, and you won’t tell me your name…” (laughs).
Sheffield's Slugger family, doing their best collective Cheers impression.
Have you got any plans to release Skater Owned: Part 2, or are you going to move onto a fresh project for Skate Shop Day 2022?
I definitely would like to carry on, because it’s good to do on so many levels. I started out just by drawing the owner behind his counter, but as it went on I thought, “I can’t just draw a man behind a counter”, so I did about five like that, but then I got a bit looser with it. Sam and Tom at Welcome seemed quite happy for me to draw them as Ren and Stimpy.
But one idea for next time is to do all 50 states in America, but that means drawing one shop a week the next year. This is what I do; I like setting myself undoable tasks. Or do an alphabet of countries, so I’d do Africa, Brazil, Canada, Denmark…East LA (laughs). Both of those ideas are a bit…daunting.
I’m definitely going to do something for next year, because hopefully this pandemic will be over by then. What I wanted to have was a pile of the zines in a skate shop on the table, and people come in and get it on Skate Shop Day.
It would be like Record Store Day. You queue up and you go in, and you leave with this thing that you could only get because you went to the shop on the day. I’m posting some zines tomorrow, and maybe the shop owners will just put them on eBay or give them to their mates, but it would be a lot better to do it again, in a normal world. I’ll definitely do something for next year, but how grand that will be, I don’t know.
Out of all of the portraits you’ve drawn for Skater Owned, have you got one that you can safely say is your favourite?
Can I pick two?
OK, so the Slugger one. For this one, I got a picture of the cast of Cheers, and then basically swapped out the characters with the Slugger guys. In the photo that I used to help me, Forde (Brookfield) is Carla the waitress (laughs). I know Jazz (Wade), but I wasn’t sure if he still worked there, so he’s in the tiny photo on the table. When I drew the photo on there, Martin laughed; he said it looked like they’re all at Jazz’s funeral.
Fittingly, Forde has got his Funeral shirt on as well.
He has. But I think the one that has turned out the best is Sam at Drug Store. I thought of drugs, then I thought of William Burroughs, so I drew Sam as William Burroughs. It turns out that Sam totally f*cking loves William Burroughs too. That was definitely the one I took the most time on.
Sam Avery of Norwich's Drug Store, reimagined as William Burroughs.
Skate Shop Day takes place globally on February 19th, which is when I assume the zine will be available. Given the COVID restricted world that we’re currently living in, how will people be able to get their grubby mitts on a copy?
If they buy something from the featured shops on the day, hopefully the shop owner of shop staff will put a copy in there with your order. I’m kind of leaving it up to the shop owners, but hopefully people have some fun with it, and maybe run some competitions. I can imagine with some shops they might just disappear (laughs). Failing that, you can buy them from me – secretcurbclub.bigcartel.com – and I will personally post it out (laughs).
Shops like Welcome have also bought extras from me, so some shops will have more copies than others. If shops get the demand I can sell some to them wholesale, but they’ve all got copies to do with as they will. And my wife just said Palomino; they’ll probably be available on Nick’s website as well.
Thanks for your time Ed; have you got any final thoughts on the Skater Owned project or Skate Shop Day that you’d like to share before we part ways?
We’ve not talked about Jim Thiebaud enough.
That’s true; let’s wrap this up by talking a bit about Jim, and his involvement in this.
He made this happen, basically. I contacted Jim to say about Skater Owned, and he asked how he could help, which made me think, “what can he do to help?” So I said, “I’d like an advert, and I’d like help getting it printed”. He said, “OK” and made it all happen.
I’ll freely admit that I’m quite clueless at how to sell more than a finite amount of anything, but Jim’s getting me on Frank Gerwer’s YouTube show, DLXSF Stock Report, where Frank stands there and tells you about the latest products. That’s mental that Skater Owned is going to be on there. Deluxe are advertising with me, they’ve got f*cking amazing adverts for Real and Spitfire in my little zine; it’s pretty mind blowing that that has happened.
I did a book about Tony Hawk and Hosoi and asked people to draw pictures for it, and I sold five copies of it on my bigcartel to Tony Hawk. He hadn’t said anything, I’d have gladly sent him 50 copies for free, but he went and bought it. We need people like that, like Jim and Tony Hawk, people that will support our projects and don’t expect anything in return.
Ed's 1988 three colour A3 screenprint - available soon.