Portrait by Andy J Simmons.
Extended interview by Mia Gurary.
Yo Merryn, you started skating in Cornwall, right? I’ve never actually asked you this, but what made you start skating?
I always wanted to skate. My brothers had boards, and I’d obviously join in, because having three brothers, I was always desperate to keep up with them and do what they were doing. My mum was into longboarding as well at one point; she used to skate to Lidl with one of us cross-legged on the front of the board, carrying the shopping, resting her hand on our head, while the rest of us skated alongside her. On the way home from the beach, we’d go on the back roads to find hillbombs. We’d park the car at the top to block the road off, and all bomb it down on our boards.
Yeah, so it’s always kind of been a thing. But then when I got older and started being a teenager, it all became about ‘being a girl’, and doing all of that shit. I always wanted to pick skating up again, but there was this stigma of, ‘it’s not really a girls’ thing’. But eventually I was like, “yeah, fuck that”, and started skating again.
Did you restart skating by yourself, or was it with your brothers?
By myself, but luckily for me, my brothers already skated, and where I’m from there’s one skatepark that’s 10 minutes away from me. Because I’m from a really small town, I already knew people that skated there, so it wasn’t like I was fully legit on my own, but there was this corner that everyone would call ‘Merryn’s Corner’, and I would just go there and spend all day trying to ollie (laughs). If someone was ever in that corner and I wasn’t there, everyone would be like, ”Merryn, someone’s in your corner; you better go claim that space back”. I got seriously hooked straight away. We’d all walk home together, I’d eat my tea, wait a few hours, then go back out ‘til 12, 1am down the park. I did that for months without anybody knowing.
That kinda sounds like you at Southbank sometimes now (laughs). I swear there’s a ‘Merryn’s flatground corner’ at SB, and you’re there every day.
(Laughs) Which corner’s that?
The new bit near the mini bank. I’ve seen you sesh flatground for hours there.
(Laughs) It’s true, it's true. I just like having a little cubbyhole when I skate. I don’t really like knowing that people are watching me; that’s why I think I have my headphones in all the time. I really like disconnecting and just being in my own little bubble, just focusing on one thing.
I swear you always have the most random shit playing in your headphones as well (laughs).
(Laughs) Yeah, the most random shit. One time, I was skating Mile, and Tom asked, “what are you listening to?” and I said, “Kate Bush, man!” and skated off, and he was like, “what the fuck?”. I have this thing where I get so hooked on one song, and it’s always for the most random reasons. For a bit it was Cotton Eye Joe, I was always listening to Cotton Eye Joe skating around, thinking, “this is so fucking funny; this makes everything so jokes”.
Cotton Eye Joe is a dank song.
I love putting that shit on at parties as well.
Yeah, you’re wild at parties.
I love going to parties on my own, where I don’t know anyone; that’s my favourite thing to do. You already know this about me, but I love creating this whole new identity and just being this random ass person; when nobody knows you, you can just be whoever the fuck you want. You can be Vanessa the astrologist and everyone’s like, “woah…!”. I love that.
Remind me about that time that you went to a party and told every single person there a different name and identity. How’d that end again, didn’t they all figure you out?
(Laughs) I was play fighting with this guy, and it turned out he was the boyfriend of the girl whose party it was. I started choke-slamming him, but completely as a joke, I wasn’t properly choking him. His girlfriend got hella pissed off about it, and is like, “get the fuck off my boyfriend, get the fuck out of my house; you have to leave right now”. I shouted, “everyone! She’s trying to kick me out of the party!” and everyone was like, “what, leave her alone, man!” They piped up and everyone turned against her, and were like, “we want her to stay, leave her alone”, “Leave Vanessa alone!” And someone else shouted, “her name’s Sarah!”, “No it’s Aimee!”, “No it’s Michelle!” and I was just there in the middle, going, “uhhh…” (laughs). She turns to me and she says, “see? No one even knows who the fuck you are!” But everyone managed to convince her to let me stay. That was a crazy party; I made many a friend that night.
…and enemies too. You’re wild (laughs).
Stella. My alter ego. My drunk alter ego. It’s come to the point where Stella’s just fucking uncontrollable.
Frontside 180 in a Redruth blur. Photo: Leo Sharp.
What actually made you move to London after Cornwall?
Cornwall’s one of those places where it’s so easy to get stuck there. The majority of people stay there because it’s so nice and peaceful, and so different from everywhere else I've been in the world; people are happy to just live there their whole life. But nothing really changes; you can leave and come back five years down the line and nothing has changed. I wanted to go to London and experience different places. I came for uni; I somehow managed to get into uni for photography. It was a massive passion of mine; it still is.
You didn’t really like it at uni though, right?
No, the idea of having to make something for other people to understand, that didn’t make sense to me. And I don’t like the idea of putting pressure on something creative that’s a release for me; it’s for me, you know? It’s not for everyone else. The tutors would be like, “we want you to be creative. We want you to express yourself”, and I’d do that, and then they’d say, “but you haven’t followed the brief, that’s not enough”. It was pretty jarring for me. I’d be sitting in a lecture and there would be a spot round the corner, and I’d think, “f*ck this, I’m going to go skate that spot”. The addiction took over.
It’s pretty weird to put things like photography and art into a system where they’re graded, and you get given a mark. Like, how the f*ck do you ‘pass’ or ‘fail' photography if you took photos…it’s pretty lame.
So I failed my first year, went back to Cornwall, saved loads of money working in this pub, came back to retake my first year, and literally the same thing happened where I was just skating all the time and missing my lectures. But that’s what I wanted to do; it didn’t feel like I was doing the wrong thing. If anything, uni was just stressing me out because my head wasn’t there; it felt like a waste of time. So yeah, I failed again. Uni’s not for everyone, you know? I feel like I might go back when I’m older, but there are other things I want to do right now.
We’re raised with this notion that uni is just the ‘next right step’, but that’s all an illusion; there’s so much more to life.
I feel like there’s this pressure; to succeed in life you have to follow these steps. School, college, uni, and then you get a job or whatever, and I think that way of doing it is so restricting. It’s like living in a box. Who’s to say you can't juggle it around and do things at different points in your life? I feel no pressure, I don't feel bad about it, I just know that uni wasn’t right for me at the time.
And it brought you where you are now. Maybe you wouldn’t have ended up in London without it.
Skateboarding owes you nothing; I think people forget that.
Are you still doing photography?
Sometimes. Uni kind of put me off it, and my love for skating took over. The amount of times I had my camera on me - okay, fair enough, it probably should have been in a bag - but I smashed so many cameras skating down the road. So many people ask me, “why don’t you do skate photography?” but that's not really the kind of thing I'm into. Documentary photography, sure. But there’s something about when you have a bag and a camera, you just can't skate down the street the same way. It’s not as freeing. You're just conscious that you've got this massive bag on, like you can't just ollie every single grate down the pavement. It’s nice though, because when skating pisses me off and I feel like I’m over it, which sometimes I do, I take photos, and it gives me the same kind of feeling.
That makes a lot of sense.
Yeah, so, skateboarding is pissing me off? I take photos. Photos are pissing me off? I go skateboarding. It’s nice to not have it all as one thing.
Yeah, they shouldn’t have to all depend on each other. I struggle focusing on my art when I’m skating, too. I mostly make art when I'm injured.
I feel like we're really similar in that respect; when we focus on something, we really put our full focus on it. It's really hard to be involved in multiple things at one time.
Yeah, got to full-send everything.
Full send everything. Go hard or go home (laughs).
What would you say is your relationship with mental health and skating? Do you think skating mostly helps you?
Yeah, 100%. Mental health and skating is actually a really big thing for me. I think it’s one of the reasons I got so into it in the first place. When I started skating I was going through quite a hard time, and it kind of felt like the be all or end all, the kind of point to my life. I was like, “I need to do something about this, otherwise I don’t know what the fuck’s going to happen”. And skateboarding gave me space to fucking breathe, to not think about all that shit, and just be like, “okay, all that other stuff is fucked up, it’s gnarly, so let’s just focus on skating, because all that stuff doesn’t matter when we’re doing this”. So it was like therapy, making life that little bit less intense. I get that all the time. Literally yesterday, I had a shit day, I was feeling really bad, and I was like, “right, let’s go fucking skate, ‘cause that’s going to make you feel so much better”. I feel like skating is almost essential for me, like I need to skate; it keeps me going, it gets me out of my head. Granted, sometimes you’re fully in your head, but at least you’re trying to work something out that isn’t just pondering on why you’re feeling shit. Going back to why I wanted to skate, and thinking that it wasn't a ‘girls’ thing’, it was really nice to come into a space where what society wants you to be doesn’t matter. The pressure of being a pretty female just wasn’t the case for me in skating. I was like, “oh, okay, I don't need to look nice to do this, I just need to turn up!”
Conjuring up the spirit of Kien Lieu with this City of London road gap clearance.
Photo: Rob Whiston.
Remember that Ben Raemers Foundation panel talk we went to, the one Chris Pulman spoke at? At one point it was mentioned how putting yourself out there, filming and feeling like you’re wasting peoples’ time adds its own dimension of pressure and internal conflict. Do you feel like that affects you?
I think that affects everybody. We all share that one desire to do a certain trick. That affects everyone, but when I notice myself getting into that mindset, I take a step back and remind myself, “this isn't why I do it, this isn’t why I skate. I skate because it makes me feel good”. Of course sometimes I'll push myself to get something, but as soon as I get angry or disappointed, I just take myself out of that situation. Skateboarding owes you nothing; I think people forget that. Everything that happens, you should be super grateful for. Even just landing a kickflip.
I completely relate to that. After my first ACL recovery, which took a year and a half, I remember feeling like every single second spent skating is this insane blessing; it’s something I need to remind myself of regularly. Even now waiting for my second surgery, I'd kill just to feel an ollie. The stuff skateboarding gives us in terms of community and family is enough, we have no reason to be pissed at it for not landing something on a certain day.
Exactly. A lot of people don't get that kind of experience in their life, where you have this environment and community with all these dope and creative people, who are all like-minded and have this love for a plank of wood.
I feel like it's so hard to understand that feeling of being so welcomed in something, regardless of your ability, from a non-skaters perspective. Everything else is so competitive, and has a ‘your gain is my loss’ mentality.
In other sports, it’s like all the best players will play with each other, whereas in skating, it's not like that; all abilities skate together. I think it comes out of respect, because no one’s making you go out and skate in your own time, to get up and go practice your ollies, or get a bus two hours away to go skate some park. It’s also not easy, and it hurts! A lot of people who are super good probably look at people who are just starting and think, “ah, I remember those good times - the struggle, but also the beginning of something so enjoyable”.
Demonstrating serious St Paul's snaps, Merryn frontside 180s straight up the four.
Sequence: Rob Whiston.
What's your favourite place to skate In London?
Yeah boy! Why’s that?
The ground’s so smooth. It’s got this slide to it that saves you when you do a trick and it just gets you round. I love the drops and the banks, the quarter, the manny pad…I need to skate the ledges more but shhh on that one (laughs).
What kind of skating inspires you?
There are so many different types of skaters. You get so many pockets of different types and styles. I definitely take inspiration from different types. Going back to what we were saying about all abilities skating together, that thing that we do, that enables creativity. It enables different styles of skating and growth.
The possibilities are endless; it's like an infinite field. We’re starting to see so much new shit.
Yeah, some people can skate a kerb and be really sick, and some people skate stairs really sick. The shit you see on Instagram these days, people literally make up their own tricks; it’s cool to see. With you and me, we started skating when Instagram started being a popular platform for people to post content. A lot of it for me was finding other girl skaters, which I did through Instagram, which is so weird because the girls we look up to talk about finding their inspirations through YouTube, or on actual VHS tapes. I don't think I watched a full-length skate video ‘til like two years into skating, when someone was like, “yo, you need to watch an actual skate video”.
Instagram’s changed skating a lot; I feel like our experience of skating in general is really different to the OGs.
That’s one of the reasons I wish I started earlier; it seemed so wholesome. We also started at a point where it’s fairly popular and has developed a lot as a culture. I hear people talking about being the only kid that skated for miles and miles, and having that one videotape they’d watch over and over again, or having that one magazine that they would be completely obsessed with. Whereas I already knew all that shit was out there so I knew I wasn't the only one; we had Instagram and YouTube at our fingertips. Cornwall’s pretty disconnected from the rest of the world so I guess I’ve adopted that in my skateboarding; just me and my board is enough.
Cornwall has a pretty strong skate scene, too. I remember going to my first skate premiere. My friend Radley filmed for his brand Contour. He’d hired out this little movie theatre in the back of this pub or hotel and then we all skated to the park after, and had beers to celebrate. Wholesome times (laughs). Nothing gets me more hyped than seeing the homies in videos; I’d rather see that any day, over watching a video just for ability.
Yeah, for the physical act and for the feeling. And then you go to London and it’s contextualised into this whole universe of inspiration, and seeing how people show their personalities through it. It was similar for me. I was obsessed with learning this trick and that trick, and then I was like, “woah, everyone does it in a completely different way". And then homies came into it, and we started skating together and it changed everything.
London’s skate scene is hella inspirational! I think it’s always going to be for myself, though. I’m always going to do it my way. You also get these older dudes who are like, “don’t do this, that’s not a trick, blah blah blah”. Fuck that; none of that really matters to me.
Who are your favorite skaters?
Alexis Sablone, Mariah Duran.
(Laughs) Fuck yes! Breana Geering, Fabiana Delfino. Guy wise, Antwuan Dixon. Actually, Baker 3 is one of the first skate videos I watched. I remember just seeing it and thinking, “woah; that’s fucking sick”. At the time, a few of the boys at the park showed me the video, and were like, “you want to be into this guy”, and I was like, “I’ll be the judge of that”. Then I watched it and was like, ”woah, this guy is insane. The steez!” You see people try to copy that steez as well, it's so funny, trying to fight their arms and keep them low…no one’s got it as natural as Antwuan, though. One of my best friends Fox was really into Miles Silvas at the time, and he would show me all his videos, and his love for him rubbed off on me. He’s such a sick skater.
Who are your inspirations?
My brothers. I love watching my brothers skate, and everybody back home in Penzance. They're the people that I looked up to when I started. It wasn’t anyone on the Internet, I wasn't looking anywhere else, it was just those guys. I was in awe of them.
Your Cornish homies are fucking dope.
They’re my favorite skaters; I took my inspiration from them for sure.
Fakie frontside shove-it on steep Bristolian bricks. Photo: Rob Whiston.
You’ve been filming for HUF with Jim (Silver) lately, right?
Thanks to you and Dan (Fisher-Eustance)! I haven't done much filming yet; I went filming with Jim last night, we got a little clip, but it's a fairly new thing.
We've got Santa Cruz as well. Thanks for getting me on that.
Nah, Alan (Glass) asked for both of us.
I'm stoked to go on more trips. Have you been to many?
Yeah, we went on a few little trips, I went out with them in London and Bristol, you and I went to Brighton with them too. I’m keen to go abroad after this COVID shit.
Yeah, everyone on the team is so nice as well.
Big up the team, big up Alan, big up all of them guys.
Is there anyone else you want to big up in London?
Jake (Royal), Dan and Calvin (Ligono) have all been like brothers to me! Kelly took me under her wing when I first moved to London, so big love. I also want to big up the Brixton’s Baddest crew, Daphne (Greca) has chucked me shoes when needed. Amy Ram has also looked out for me loads. Ross (McGouran) gave me the opportunity to skate as a job and would always encourage me. Alan and Jim for supporting the cause. The scene is strong AF; there are too many dope people to mention
Yeah, big up Vinny as well. He looks after the scene so well. He genuinely is like a father to everyone, he’s the ‘skate dad’ to all of us; he’s such a legend, he really does it for the love of skating. I respect that so much.
Yeah, he makes you feel like you're in a family. You know he’ll take care of you if you need something.
Yeah, I hope he sorts that physical shop soon. Can I ask you a question?
When you started skating, did you feel like it was welcoming to you?
Yes and no.
I feel like this is a really important topic, because it might be why a lot of people don't start skating. I feel like what puts them off is that initial introduction into the scene.
For me, I was too scared and embarrassed to go to a skatepark until I had learned the basics. When I finally did, I’ve got to say I was definitely intimidated. I approached a really sick girl skater at SB once and asked her advice on how to ollie, and she really brushed me off and told me to follow her Instagram. After that, I felt pretty sh*t for a while, but it dissipated fast when I started making friends.
It’s funny how we have this idea that going to the skatepark and just trying is embarrassing, but really it's the most respectable thing you can do. A lot of people feel like they’re not good enough, but that's what we all want to see as skaters. It’s heartwarming to watch someone come for the first time and learn something; you relate to it so much. I never felt intimidated when I started, for one I knew the people at my skatepark and we were already friends, but also it was this fucked up view of like it was ‘sick for a girl’ from the start. That mentality was like, “oh, I don't mind looking shit, because shit is good for a girl”.
I guess initially it's a confidence boost, but it gets annoying fast.
Yeah, after a while it’s so annoying, and makes you think, “f*ck this”. That’s what made me want to try all these things; I didn’t want to be ‘good for a girl’, I wanted to be ‘good’.
That bug and that love...once it's there, it's in you for good.
Yeah we both relate to this a lot, we really don't want to be ‘good’ relative to girls, we just want to be good skaters. Like when people cheer when I fail a kickflip within five minutes of warming up, I’m like “why?”
It’s so patronising. I think this is why girl skateboarding has blown up recently; it’s defying society’s depiction of what a female should be. It’s like everyone’s realised, “hold up a sec, that’s not right”; it's pretty misogynistic and weird. When people see girls skateboarding, they're like, “here’s the perfect example of a modern woman who can do whatever she wants and be on the same level as a guy on the playing field”. I think that's why everyone thinks it's so rad. I think we represent a way bigger thing than we realise.
It's like we’re breaking free from a lot of societal sh*t while doing it. You often hear things like, “you would never have gotten these sponsors if you were a guy”. I get in my head about that a lot, what do you think about that?
It goes back to all of the guys I used to skate with in Cornwall, and my brothers. My brothers and them guys are technically so much better than me at skateboarding, and I think, “why me and not them?” I’m definitely aware that female skating is a ‘hot marketable’ thing, and sometimes is the reason opportunities are given. But at the same time, I think it's not necessarily a ‘girl’ thing, it’s a ‘diversity’ or ‘variety’ thing; the audience is bigger and vaster now, and there needs to be someone that the new audience can relate to. Before, skateboarding was about the biggest, or the hardest, like X Games and Street League. Whereas now, it’s evolved a lot and changed a lot and isn't necessarily about what you do, but how you do it. And I think that’s the thing; it’s not like other sports where all the people you see are in that bracket of being ‘the best’, you see people in skateboarding, in the limelight, for loads of different reasons. Their style, their personality, their creativity. When it comes to being hooked up, I'm hooked up because I'm me.
It really is about who you are. Skateboarding is a portal for expressing yourself.
To me, skateboarding is like a branch of a tree, with all these mini branches coming off it. There’s a branch where it’s like, ‘go hard or go home, big daddy motherfuckin’ 12 stair, I’m-a fucking backside flip that shut like Jamie Foy’ style skating, then there are branches of people who like to do freestyle skating, and everything in between. And none of these things are better than the other, there's just a branch for everybody. Skateboarding is for everybody, whether you want to be a vert skater or skate kerbs, or you just want to do it sometimes. Everyone has a seat at the table.
Even when you can't physically skate, like I have to sit out for a year and a half now, but I’m here interviewing you, and I’m involved in so many projects. The scene is so supportive and beautiful; it's really not just about skating at that moment.
It's a family. It’s so interconnected in London especially. I used to put all of these people from Instagram on a pedestal, and then in London, that same person will skate the same spot as me. This is why I love SB as well. It's like an epicenter; you meet so many dope people, and it's always a surprise.
Skateboarding is the best.
Yeah, I see so many people at work in Selfridges, these people will say they used to skate, and are like, “oh I’ll have a go in the bowl”, and then they try their old tricks and you can see they’ve still got it. The love’s still there. They always walk away like, “maybe I might start skating again”. That bug and that love, it’s like once it's there, it's in you for good.
Do you like working in Selfridges?
Yeah. I mean, a corporation that doesn't understand skateboarding trying to make money from it is a bit weird and doesn't sit too well, but when you forget about that and think about the fact that they've given a space for skaters to come skate for free, it’s a pretty dope thing. Teaching is so rewarding as well. Passing on your knowledge is one of the best things humans can do, it's the best gift you can give, and it’s such a nice feeling when you see something click. It's this euphoric moment. You never stop learning, that's the beauty of it.
Yeah, it’s the best thing in the world. I can’t wait to be back.
I know I can’t wait for you to be back! The learning never stops, so neither will the skateboarding; I’m doing this shit ‘til the bitter end (laughs).
Follow Merryn - @merryngarner