Text: Ben Powell.
Photography: Ian Roxburgh & Ben Powell.
The jams held in the late 80s at Mon Barbour’s family farm near Chipping Norton are enshrined in UK skateboard and BMX lore. At a point in time when you could count the number of decent vert ramps on one hand, in stepped Mon with a (for the era) contest-standard halfpipe built on private land deep in rural Oxfordshire. The combined draw (pun intended) of a very laisser-faire attitude towards organization and rules, on-site camping and Mon’s legendary hospitality meant that despite literally being in the middle of (albeit idyllic) nowhere, everyone who was anyone in the 1980s BMX and skate scenes attended. Those unfortunate enough to miss out pored over the coverage in BMX Action Bike and R.A.D mags and in the numerous DIY zines that transmitted underground culture back in the olden days. Despite running for only three years between 1985 to 1987, Mon’s Jams (both BMX and skate) are still discussed to this day, despite the 36-year gap in between the last of the OG jams and this one.
Sean Goff - frontside smith. Photo: Ian Roxburgh.
Jason Cloete - backside tailslide. Photo: Ben Powell.
Oxford’s venerable skater-owned store SS20 grew from the hype surrounding Mon’s jams and was quickly established as a driving force of the UK scene. From giving support to skaters who you might’ve heard of, like Alex Moul, Tom Penny and Danny Wainwright long before they were household names, through to assisting the Ince family in setting up what would become the legendary Radlands Championships, Mon and his SS20 cohorts have played a huge role in many of the most significant happenings in UK skateboard culture for the last four decades. With the untimely demise of the jewel of Cowley Road in 2016, SS20 went on hiatus for a while until being resurrected as a stand-alone skate and clothing brand in 2020.
From the outset, the intention behind the rebirth was always to recreate some of the grassroots event hype that had first fuelled the fire in the mid 80s using the SS20 moniker as the launching pad. The cosmos bucked its ideas up and the ley lines walked in unison long enough to finally get things moving in 2023. With the proposed date falling on the 10th anniversary of the completion of the concrete skatepark on Meadow Lane (AKA Oxford Wheels Project) and through a serendipitous accident also on the same weekend as the previous 25th anniversary of the bricks and mortar SS20: it was a no-brainer.
Cue lots of hard work behind the scenes from Mon, Ian Roxburgh and Sunil Shah, (he filmed the infamous Tom Penny line from the roof of the St Cross building, don’t you know?) amongst others and before you could say ‘Can I buy one of those Jon Horner Tom Penny boards yet?’ it was on.
Chris Spencer - backside air. Photo: Ian Roxburgh.
Daniel Kočiř - frontside nosegrind. Photo: Ian Roxburgh.
Having been on the other side of putting events on myself, I think it’s worth adding the caveat that there is always a huge amount of anxiety in the lead up to them. In this case, additional to the standard ‘are people going to turn up?’ prang was the combined pressure of this jam sort of standing on the shoulders of giants to some extent due to the legacies of both Mon’s historic jams, and the fact that it represented the first large-scale SS20 event since its rebirth.
It was wasted sweat though because as those involved hoped, the skaters and bikers and parents and kids and punks and bemused passersbys turned up in their droves.
DxSxA, Osprey & Tenth Listen. Photos: Ian Roxburgh.
Saturday saw around 500 attendees, (equaling the previous record attendance at the final skate jam in 87) with both the park itself and the area with the stalls, graffiti walls and food absolutely rammed with at least five generations of alternative culture enthusiasts. What could easily have turned out to be a inward-looking gathering of old farts with bad knees was in fact a glorious celebration of all things wheeled, with that true sense of import that you only ever feel at grassroots events like this that are beholden to nothing beyond the scenes they represent.
James ‘Adski’ Voss - rock n' roll. Photo: Ian Roxburgh.
In fitting with the OWP’s remit to spread the virus, Saturday morning saw very well attended free BMX coaching led by Oxford’s very own Alex Leech which kicked things off proper. Heavy sessions sprung up in the bowl and on the street course as vans full of bikers and skaters piled into the park as morning turned into afternoon.
Concerns about potential weather treachery were happily dispatched and the sun smiled on proceedings.
The BMX Jam came first with insane consistency and amplitude (is there a better 80s action sports word?) shown by everyone in attendance. My BMX knowledge is minimal I’m afraid but I know a fucking sesh when I see one so, suffice to say, local lunatic Lima went higher than everyone else and Alex Leech got to do footplants in front of BMX royalty (Craig Campbell): thoroughly exciting stuff. Big knucks to the BMX scene – their shit is hard to learn, dangerous to do and has co-existed with skateboarding since the beginning. Four wheels good – two wheels good.
Ben Gregson - spine feeble. Photo: Ian Roxburgh.
Skateboarding was up next with a similarly relaxed attitude towards imposing any kind of competitive structure onto what had evolved into a massive session. From the outset it was made clear that everyone was welcome: regardless of your ability level, if you wanted in, then you were in. This led to a truly inclusive happening with kids learning to ollie by flinging themselves down the 5 set alongside seasoned veterans dropping NBDs on the hubbas and handrails.
When the jam proper began this same ethos prevailed with on-the-spot prizes awarded for effort and passion as much as for the standard of what tricks were being done. Special mentions have to go out to Chris Spencer’s ridiculous beanplant fakie out of the loveseat onto the vert wall and back in; Adam Voss’s non-stop assault of the same piece; Daniel Kocir putting the hurt on the big rail and hubba with a front feeble and front nose in that order; Greg Thorpe dropping buttery lines across the top section and Zaki and Ilka Rogers blasting the A-frame hubba repeatedly. Too many tricks got hammered out to mention them all but if there was one person emblematic of the whole Saturday vibe, it was the young lad in the purple Santa Cruz shirt who tried with all his might to ollie the mid-sized stair set despite loudly exclaiming that he’d only been skating a couple of weeks. Bravo little big man…
With the first day’s loosely competitive element boxed off, the crowds moved over to the stalls to peruse the huge array of SS20 gear on offer. This included the specially commissioned SS20 x Flip Tom Penny board designed by Jon Horner which was changing hands very quickly and should be for sale online by the time you’re reading this. Add to that a full range of limited edition gold, silver and graphite SS20 barcode decks in every size imaginable and a grip of new beanies, caps, wallets and belts and you know that Ron, Roz and Vez’s hands were full dealing with customers. Added to that were stalls from Again Garments, iFive, Ronin, Roots Longboards and Tie Di and truly banging burgers served up by Sprig & Shake: big respect to all involved for such a sterling smorgasbord of delights.
As the light began to fade, those old enough headed over to the nearby Chester Arms for a pint of Elderflower beer or five and readied themselves for what was clearly going to be a strong night across two Cowley Road based venues: Big Society and The Library. Reading about people getting hammered is never that entertaining regardless of the lies spun by Bukowski so let’s just say that all the bands and DJs killed it; the exhibition of SS20 and Mon’s Jam ephemera curated by Sunil Shah and installed by Gordon Skrezka was amazing; and, perhaps most predictably, there were many sore heads the next morning. Cowleyfornia forever!
Pete Dossett - frontside 5050. Photo: Ian Roxburgh.
Sunday dawned bringing with it headaches and foreboding weather forecasts suggesting that the presumed swerve on the rain front might not hold after all. As such, decisions were taken to be less laidback on timings. The skate coaching began earlier than usual with the OWP crew braving the slings and arrows of outrageous over indulgence to deliver the now traditional Sunday am free skate tuition: Big respect there.
The clouds had turned a portentous grey by midday so the best laid plans of both mice and of men were tossed into the bin and the skate bowl jam began earlier than anticipated. Veterans, skateboard royalty (Pete Dossett and Sir Goff himself) and younglings mixed together with one hell of a sesh developing rapidly as the likelihood of it pissing down increased. Chris Spencer and Cory Campton once again showed serious flow and knowledge of the bowl with Chris blasting super nice airs on an ankle seemingly held on by the skin around it. Instagram explorers Goff and Gregson tore it up, Pete Dossett casually dropped into a bowl he’d never skated before and almost made a backside noseblunt first go in the rain and everyone else got theirs before the inevitable happened.
Unknown - shove-it tailgrab. Photo: Ian Roxburgh.
The plan was to retreat back to the tented area and sit the rain out and then move onto the second BMX jam but the supposedly 30 minute long ‘light shower’ transformed into a torrential downpour meaning that the park was far too wet to even think about riding. The crowd stayed put though, more excellent Sprig & Shake burgers were chomped and the Chester Arms did a roaring trade in take out pints proving that in the UK, the rain has no power over us, at all. “It’s raining? So what, dickhead.”
Valiant attempts were made by the bright orange SS20 crew to squeegee aspects of the park dry so as to allow some kind of session to happen but in the end, Nature won. Well sort of.
You know you’ve had a good first day when 200+ people turn up on the Sunday despite clear weather warnings. There’s not really that much more to say beyond this simple fact: these cultures belong to us. If you want to put an event on or to make something happen, you can. You don't need permission – just get on with it. It’s been 37 years since the last Mon’s Jam but I’m pretty sure that we won’t be waiting that long for the next one.
Jason Cloete - frontside wallride. Photo: Ben Powell.
Big love and respect to all our sponsors: BSD, S&M Bikes, 4Down Dist, UnitedBMX, Bicycle Union, Volt BMX, The Heated Wheel, Independent, Spitfire, Shiner Dist, Big Woodys, Bored of Southsea, Clan Skates, Fifty Fifty, FortyTwo, Ideal, Pretend Supply, Skatepharm, Slam City Skates, The Black Sheep, SS20 and the Oxford Wheels Project.
Thanks to the Chester Arms, Big Society, The Library, Todd Twist and Katah Events.
Loving embraces to all of you behind the scenes and to everyone who came and skated, rode, cheered, drank, ate and generally got involved. We love you all.
Mon’s Reunion Jam was in aid of: Oxford Wheels Project, Save the Children and the Disasters Emergency Committee.
One love forever…