Photography: Rob Whiston.
Can you kindly introduce yourself for us please, Alice?
Hey, I’m Alice Smith, and I’m a 21-year-old skateboarder from Birmingham. Technically my home is Kidderminster, a town that’s a half hour drive out of Brum, but nowadays I consider Brum to be my home.
Am I right in thinking that you started skating when you were 14? What was it that inspired you to first step on a board?
Well, I think I was more like 13, but my first year of skating was just me riding about on a Sports Direct board, then I properly got into it when I was 14. One of the first things that inspired me to step on a board was a skate video called Quaked, where these guys skated Christchurch after the earthquake, and they used Lotus Flower by Radiohead as the song. I listened to Lotus Flower non-stop because I associated it so heavily with the feeling that Quaked gave me. I also remember watching videos with big groups of friends skating, messing about, and laughing lots. For example, there was a skate video called Pear Shaped on YouTube that was based down south, and I stumbled across that at quite a young age. Seeing the community and fun that the guys in that video had made me want to experience that kind of environment for myself; that is something that I’ve now 100% got out of skateboarding.
I barely left the carparks when I started out skating…so I suppose not too much has changed there (laughs).
What are some of your best memories from your early days of skating around Kidderminster?
The majority of my best memories from when I was young are of going to Brinton Park in the summer; back then there was quite a big scene in Kidderminster, believe it or not. We used to take sofas down to the skatepark that people had left on the street, and the atmosphere was always great; we’d easily spend 10 hours a day skating there in the summer. A lot of my winter memories are dominated by skating in Dunelm carpark. The carpark would usually shut around 10pm, but I remember the one year, the shutters broke, so the carpark was open all night and the lights were left on. The prospect of not having a time constraint when skating a carpark got me gassed. I barely left the carparks when I started out skating…so I suppose not too much has changed there (laughs).
You don't get too many of these to the pound. Frontside no-comply shove-it, The Bullring.
When you first started skating, were you aware that Brum had such a large and active community?
Honestly, for my first year or two of skating, I was kind of in a little bubble, and didn’t really leave the carparks that much; the thought of travelling outside of my comfortable bubble was a bit daunting. I think I properly started going to Brum in 2015; I went to the Ideal mini ramp a few times, but never really skated it properly; I went more so for the social aspect. Being 15 and a girl meant that skating in Brum was always quite scary, especially when I was used to Kidderminster, where everyone knew each other. It was mad seeing so many unfamiliar faces, and this put me off properly skating in Brum for a bit. But yeah, I was always aware that Brum had a big community for skating, and I always wanted to be involved in it.
Were your family supportive of your discovery of skateboarding in your teenage years?
I’ve always had a difficult relationship with my family, and some of them especially were quite sceptical of me skating; I think this actually encouraged me to skate more (laughs). At that age, I found the prospect of undermining anyone in a position of authority exciting. One of my most prominent memories comes from when I was about 15; it was Mother’s Day and my mom’s birthday, so we were all going to my nan’s house for dinner, but I decided to squeeze a skate in beforehand. I got wheelbite bombing a hill and I stacked it. I powerslid on my face and ripped a few piercings out, and had to ring my mom to get her to drive me to minor injuries. I wasn’t seriously hurt, but I’ll always remember the look on my nan’s face when I showed up to her house, hours late for dinner, with my face all swollen and cut. Immediately I got the, “what have I told you?” comments, but this only incited me to skate more.
I showed up to [my nan's] house, hours late for dinner, with my face all swollen and cut.
Womxn skating has obviously been massively on the rise over the course of recent years, but - in terms of gender - how diverse was skateboarding in Birmingham back in 2014, and how have things changed over the years since?
Brum has always been a weird one when it comes to the womxn’s scene. I was into something like my fourth year of skating before I actually skated with another girl, which is insane to think. I knew of a couple of girls around the West Midlands, but that was it. Even pre-lockdown, I probably knew two or three other girls in Brum that regularly skated. But now, since lockdown, and since we established Brum Girl Skate and started hosting regular girls nights, there have been new faces every week, which is so sick to see. This should’ve happened years ago, but it’s better late than never; I’m gassed to see the Brum scene finally growing.
As you just mentioned, in June 2020, you established Brum Girl Skate - @brumgirlskate on Instagram - alongside Stella Kiselyova. Can you tell us a bit about where the idea came from, and how it has positively affected the shape of your local scene?
Well, I was always aware of - and quite unhappy with - the lack of a womxn scene in Birmingham, especially considering that most other major UK cities had growing or already established scenes; Brum was very much behind on this. We started off with a WhatsApp group, and then after this picked up a fair bit of interest, I thought an Instagram page would be a good way of reaching more people around the West Midlands, and encourage more skaters to get involved. The Instagram page immediately got so much support from the Brum scene, more so than I ever would have expected, with people sharing it and gassing it up…I really didn’t expect the magnitude of support that it received; I was so happy with it. We hosted our first casual meet up at Kings Norton in August, and we must’ve had about 20 or 30 womxn show up. From there, the scene only grew. Bournbrook DIY has been vital in allowing the growth of Brum Girl Skate; the atmosphere of this park is one of community and support, and I genuinely don’t think the scene would be where it is now without it. For me, going to certain skateparks can sometimes be a bit daunting, but at Bournbrook this is never the case, which is something I know resonates with a lot of other womxn in Birmingham. We hosted our first indoor event at Creation Skatepark in September, where 73 people showed, which was insane. I remember lying in bed the night before the event and thinking, “what if nobody shows up, and there’s only 10 of us there?” To have the event at nearly maximum capacity blew my mind, and since then the scene has only grown. Our WhatsApp group has nearly 200 members now, and new womxn are getting involved every week.
From what I’ve seen, it looks like you live in a pretty lively household. There’s always music being made, people mixing, MCing. Are you all musical? What are your neighbours saying?
Yeah, it is a lively household, we’re all pretty musical. Everyone in our house can mix, and with raves and nights out obviously not being a thing right now, we just mix in our house; we make do (laughs). We actually got really lucky with our house, as it has a games room in the garden, which is a separate building with a snooker table. Because it’s not attached to anything, the neighbours have never been an issue. It’s the perfect lockdown house (laughs).
Wolverhampton wonderings lead Alice and her shove-it flip to unchartered rooftop territories.
Other than skating, what else do you get up to on a day-to-day basis?
At the moment, the majority of my time is dominated either by my job, going skating, or doing uni work. I’m in my final year at University of Birmingham studying English and History, so the workload has been stupid. Plus, trying to finish my degree in a COVID world means that it’s harder to complete assignments, as we’ve got less support and access to fewer resources. I also work at an independent deli in the city centre of Brum a few days a week, but we’re finally at that time of the year where I finish work at 5pm and can squeeze a skate in afterwards. In the context of COVID, this is all I really do at the moment, but - when BoJo gives us the thumbs up – I’ll enjoy going to festivals, raves, and travelling abroad.
You can imagine how I felt when Stu (Smith) messaged me and wanted to send me a package; my 14 year old self’s dream.
You’ve been going out in the depths of winter in order to get this interview shot, along with the equally as dedicated Rob Whiston. How was it trying to shoot street photos in Birmingham in January, mid-lockdown?
Trying to shoot photos has been quite difficult. Not only have we been heavily weather dependent, but COVID has also meant there is another factor restricting us from shooting street photos. We were in the fish market carpark in Brum the other week trying to get a photo, and, naturally, security showed and stood in the way. There was only a small group of us, but they insisted that we go, and we tried negotiating by saying, “one more try and we’ll leave”, but they weren’t having any of it. I remember security even saying something like, “you guys think you’re hard, yeah?” Eventually we gave up and dipped, but we got outside and the police had been called; there was more police than there was us! We got threatened with fines, but luckily they didn’t follow up on that. So yeah, it has been difficult trying to get these photos, but it’s been fun nonetheless; I’d definitely do it all again.
Which brands currently help you out with product?
Currently, I rep clothing from Concrete Girls and Artemis. I recently started getting product from Lovenskate, which is insane; I’ve followed them for ages and I got gassed when they followed me back on Insta. You can imagine how I felt when Stu (Smith) messaged me and wanted to send me a package; my 14 year old self’s dream. I also recently got sent some New Balance, which, again, was mental, and Vaughan (Baker) has also been in contact about flowing me some Nike, which blew my mind. Supertoxic Urethane have also started hooking me up with product, and I’m so excited to be skating more regularly with people like Rianne (Evans), Jess (Russell), Marcus (Palmer), and OG (James Hewitt). Big things happening!
You’re pretty handy with a kendama too. With that in mind, fellow kendama enthusiast Cam Barr would like to know if you’ve ever caught the ball on your pinky finger?
(Laughing) yeah, I’ve been learning. I actually tried to do this after you mentioned it; it’s pretty difficult, but I managed to get it.
Follow Alice - @_palice