Push: Izzy Almond
Interview by Farran Golding
Photos by Reece Leung
Between shooting the photos for this interview and shooting your portrait, you shaved your head. What else did you do during the great heatwave of July 2022?
My family did a slip n’ slide in their back garden; that was fun. I was working most of it at Welcome. It was fairly quiet. The second day it was completely dead because everyone was off work, but not us (laughs). I missed most of the heat but I did a lot of outdoor swimming with Jas (Lowe) and Elsie (Amies – Izzy’s housemates).
You started skating after you’d moved to Leeds for university, making you one of the few skateboarders in the city whose academic path wasn’t swayed by the existence of Hyde Park skatepark. How did skateboarding eventually catch your interest?
When I moved to Leeds, I never thought I was going to start skateboarding. In my first year of university, I had an old cruiser I used to skate to work on because walking took too long. I lived in a part of town where you could just skate the whole journey via the bike lane, so I’d skate to and from Bella Italia. It was literally from using it as a commuting device to being, like, “actually, this could be quite fun. Maybe I’ll start learning tricks…”
When I lived in Hull, my brother rode BMX, so I’d go to the skatepark with him and see skateboarding, but it never crossed my mind that I could do that. I just watched it, like, “oh, sick. That looks really hard.” I’d stood on a few boards in the past, but I felt like it was so out of reach. When I was younger, I didn’t see loads of girls at the skatepark, which probably was an underlying influence of me not skateboarding. I feel like if I went to the skatepark at 10 years old and there were loads of girls, it wouldn’t have crossed my mind, and I probably would have started skating.
When I first started I used to skate alone, and then I just skated with Rob (Fraser – Izzy’s boyfriend), as I didn’t have friends who skated. Over my time in Leeds I’ve made so many great friends; there’s always someone to skate with.
What can you remember about visiting Welcome early on?
My Dad’s friend, Andy Clark – who sadly is no longer with us - he used to skate, and he recommended it. He actually chose my first board, a SpongeBob Santa Cruz. He would have been so stoked to see me working at Welcome now!
When I didn’t live in Leeds, my family used to come over shopping for cool stuff, buying presents. We were going to OK Comics (long standing comic book store in Welcome’s home of Thorntons Arcade – ed.). I didn’t skateboard, but we went in and I remember thinking it was a cool shop. Everyone was fun to be around and really nice.
On my second visit, Fraser (Doughty) and Martyn (Hill) were working. I wanted to change my deck for the first time, and I remember asking them, “can you tell me how to grip it? But I don’t want you to do it…” So I sat on the floor whilst they told me what to do. I wanted to do it there so I did it right, but I wanted to grip it myself.
Fraser told me that’s why they wanted you to work in the shop later down the line.
Did you not know that?
No! They mentioned me setting up that board before. I must have made a good impression (laughs).
People often say they find skate shops intimidating at first, but clearly that wasn’t the case for you. A side note: if you’ve never worked in a shop, I feel you’re less likely to grip your own board. It’s cool you wanted to do that right off the bat.
I don’t want someone else to do something for me. I was brought up working for my dad – I didn’t fully work for him – but every now and then for pocket money I would. He basically converts VW vans into campers, so I’d do jobs like building tables and drawers. I didn’t do too much, but it was nice to do physical, hands-on work.
Anyway, I don’t want someone else doing something that I can 100% do myself. I’m surprised now at how many people don’t grip their own boards. I didn’t realise how many people don’t, so when I went in when I was younger – like, “I’ll grip it” – I thought that was what everyone else did! But it turns out, no, everyone gets their board gripped if they come in and want to skate. But I thought it was weird they were gripping other peoples’ boards.
“Nope. I want to do it. It’s not yours, it’s mine,” (laughs).
Izzy uses the full force of her crook prowess to steer clear of both grate and tree.
I know Fraser was keen to introduce someone new to Welcome, a fresh face who wasn’t embedded in the scene already. With that in mind, how did you feel about being asked to work there?
I was surprised. I didn’t think I’d skated “long enough”. I’d been skating a year, a year and a half, but I’d gotten so involved with knowing everyone. I remember at my old job, in an art shop, my manager said to me jokingly, “what would you do if Welcome offered you a job?”
Obviously me thinking that was nowhere on the horizon, I said I’d leave, and laughed. Literally the week after, Martyn got sent down to my work and asked if I was interested.
“My manager’s going to kill me but, yeah, of course” (laughs).
I guess they thought my personality would be good there, and could see through the fact I didn’t know much about skateboarding. But I enjoyed skateboarding and hanging out with my mates, and that was enough. Maybe the fact I didn’t know much was appealing because I’m keen to learn, and I still am, which is good in a job like that. You don’t want someone who isn’t keen to learn, who knows everything already, because they can be a bit cocky, maybe. I had a trial shift and – this is ironic – but I was so scared to grip a board for someone else.
Between working in the shop and finishing uni, I guess you’ve had quite a year?
100%. With my last year at uni, I got involved with a lot more skateboarding projects, like the Leeds 2023 project Harry Meadley did with Rolling With The Girls. That got me excited about skateboarding and finishing uni because I felt like this could carry on; it’s not just part of my degree.
Also, being at Welcome so much has created a Leeds family for me. I say it all the time when I’m working there, but it’s like a second home. I was talking to (Welcome co-owner) Tom Brown, saying that the Leeds skate scene is like a chosen family. There’s always someone, there’s always somewhere to go.
Before you establish that connection with a group of people in a city, it never feels like home. The last year of uni, getting to know so many cool people, getting involved with so many projects, has made me think I could stay in Leeds. It’s another base for me.
You had a couple of clips in the Welcome video Welcome 2: Hell, including a 5050 on L-Ledge, which is heavy on its own, but that drop is almost as tall as you. What comes to mind about filming with Josh Hallett that day?
It was a last minute clip; we filmed it like a week before the premiere. I was saying to Hilda (Quick, Leeds-based skater and filmer) that I wanted to get a clip on L-Ledge at some point. She was like, “you should do it for the Welcome video if you’re going to do it for anything.”
I messaged Josh that night, like, “tomorrow, let’s have it.” I knew it was within my ability, I just needed to get it over and done with. Every day I’d walk to uni I’d measure it against me. I was definitely going to do it, but what better way to do it than make it into the video?
Being at Welcome so much has created a Leeds family for me...it's like a second home.
There’s a clip of you reading before your 5050. What’s the book?
It’s a book by Katherine Ryan called The Audacity; she’s a comedian and I love her. It’s about being an awesome female and living life to the fullest. Jack Hackleton was trying a trick, and I actually asked Josh Blasutto, “is it rude for me to read whilst people are doing a trick?” Like, “it’s my day off. I want to read, I want to skate…I’m going to do it whilst he’s trying his trick and then I’m not distracting him either.” It’s a good book (laughs).
According to Ben Powell – so I trust this – that’s a W.N.B.D. too.
That makes it more impressive in my eyes. It’s been done so many times, by so many men, but doing something first for a female, I like that. I’ll take that (laughs).
A photo of that trick ran in the latest issue of Vague (#27) then you graduated with a First Class Honours in graphic design that same week, so congratulations there. What set you on the road to studying graphics, and what projects are personal standouts?
I knew I wanted to do something creative or “design-y” with my career. It’s been a standing joke in my family that “Izzy does cutting, sticking, colouring in.” I’ve always wanted to do that so the way I thought I could be creative and get paid properly for it is graphic design. You could be an artist and make a bit of money, but it’s so hard to make a career out of just creating art.
During my degree, my favourite project was definitely the risograph zine I worked on with Harry (Meadley) for Leeds 2023. It was a combination of illustration, graphic design and skateboarding for women, which coincided with the first permitted skate in Leeds city centre (at The Playhouse), which was really cool to be involved with. Harry’s thing was really fun. I think he approached me not knowing I could do it for uni, and then I was like, “I’ll do it for myself and it’ll help towards my degree”, which it did, luckily.
My friend and I did a project called Slam Poetry, this game where you pass around a piece of paper – write a line, fold it, pass it around – and at the end read it like a slam poetry performance. You have a few beers and it gets really funny because you don’t know what’s coming next. We made a book about that game and displayed them all, I made the cover and we designed the pages together. It’s fun doing projects that aren’t profitable as well. We did a print run for that just for our friends, sold a few at our end of year exhibition and in Village.
A narrow front shove-it out of a Hyde Park ginnel.
Who are some of your favourite designers, studios and sources of inspiration?
This is the one question I actually forgot how to answer in a job interview (laughs). One brand or studio is Bronze Age. They create such cool books, a lot of risograph and bright colours. I also love DR.ME – a Manchester based studio who focus mainly on collage and DIY graphic design, emphasising on the more hands-on, printed aspects of design, rather than digital, which I really love. Print is not dead. And Craig Oldham, he focuses on print and how it is and was used as design activism. I think that is really interesting.
Skateboarding is often an entry point for other creative pursuits, but being a designer beforehand, I’m curious about your take on graphic design in skateboarding?
It’s a bit cliché but I’ve always liked the sketchy, fun, graphic design side to skateboarding. When people do the motion graphics in skate videos, I think that’s really sick. Obviously, it’s about skateboarding, but I always remember, like, “that’s the video with that type,” or a certain colour. Vans’ Nice To See You has cool typography.
I suppose, mainly, I like the sketchy and more urgent design when it comes to skateboarding, as it matches the homemade vibe skateboarding has, too. It was cool to do it for Hilda, the little names and title animations for Drafts: Vol. 2. I’d like to get more involved with it, but I definitely need to watch more videos in order to be better at it as well.
Izzy opts for a no-comply entry route into a Wakefield bollard wallie.
It’s funny that you started skating at a point where titles in skate videos were almost nonexistent. Now they’re coming back, thankfully.
I feel like with a lot of skate videos, a title is just a name, static, with no animation. To me, that’s really boring. I like it when it’s fun and kinetic, like the Worble videos. I love their animation and little Worble graphics.
I think it could be more of a focus. It would be cool if there were more opportunities for illustration and graphic design within skateboarding, but that’s also up to a designer to bring that in. Vague does quite a good job; they have the Gallery section of their mag, which is cool. It shows they’re trying to push people out there a bit more.
Craig Oldham, who you mentioned earlier – and is also from Yorkshire, importantly – believes that design is “a means, not an end. It can be really powerful, meaningful, but it’s nothing without the content.” As you’ve done projects focused on climate change, mental health and community – like the Leeds 2023 project, which we touched on - how does that idea sit with you?
I totally agree. I did this for one of my essays. Without graphic design, you wouldn’t be able to communicate as strongly about things that need change. For example: sign writing as a process, without graphic design or art, would just be voices. However, I feel like you need to be involved in (the subject) for it to actually work.
For that climate project - Climate Crisis Collage Club - the outcome was that the design didn’t matter, it was the subject that did. Sometimes, you might design something amazing, then at the end realise that you need to get rid of everything because it’s actually about the context and the project. Creating all these posters and stuff mattered, but at the end of the day, it’s the issue that matters, not the design surrounding it, but there’s a back and forth.
Sometimes you have to realise you don’t need “fancy design”; you have to push it back and let the issue talk for itself. But I suppose that’s what graphic design is about: learning the best way to communicate. That might be using strong graphic design skills, or it might be using none at all.
What’s the plan from here - skating, freelancing and working at Welcome for a while?
I love working at Welcome. It gives me lots of opportunities to meet people as well. At the moment, I’ll just be working freelance, doing fun stuff here and there. Jas and I want something to do that’s fun, so I think that’ll be the next project for me. We live together so might as well make the most of our creativity. I’ll eventually look for a career in graphic design because I feel like there’s no point studying three years and spending a lot of money to throw it all away. Other than that, I’m going to skate and work at the shop whilst trying to build up a career. And maybe film a video part with Hilda (laughs). It’s sick what she’s doing, as there aren’t many women filmers out there. That’s awesome. I love that it’s creative, she enjoys it, and she’s getting something out of it.
Follow Izzy - @izzyalmond / @almond_graphics