Updated: Apr 14
Tony Wood is a skateboarding poet hailing from sunny Stratford in East London, though these days, he resides in Colchester, and can often be found navigating his way around many of the fine parks that East Anglia has to offer on four unforgiving wheels.
Though Tony would describe himself in self-deprecating terms as ‘a bellend that likes rhymes’, you only have to read one of his poems to know that, in saying that, he is doing himself a massive disservice. A lot of Tony’s work reflects his own experiences of returning to skateboarding after years spent adrift in the ‘real world’, though the poems are certainly accessible and enjoyable regardless of whether or not you’d profess to know much about skateboarding or its culture.
Last year, having spent a prolonged period of time sharing his musings online, Tony joined forces with Carl Mynott and Stour Valley Publishing to release Procrastiskate, an anthology of work that’s as honest as it is entertaining, and will no doubt resonate with no shortage of middle-aged skateboarding enthusiasts.
We caught up with Tony to talk about all things Procrastiskate; please read on to find out more, and be sure to pick up a copy of the book if this collision of skateboarding and poetry sounds like your kind of thing.
You shan’t be disappointed!
So Tony, can you give us some background to your own journey in skateboarding please? It’s stated in the foreword to Procrastiskate that friends of yours include the likes of Sean Goff and Frankie Hill, so you must have some pretty deep 1980s roots…
(Laughing) That whole ‘friends with Goff and Frankie Hill’ thing is basically nonsense. I do know them both via Facebook and have chatted to them a fair bit, but I wouldn’t claim they are actual friends; that’s just Carl trying to make me look important. I started skating in around 1986 or 1987, so I must’ve been 12 or 13. My older cousin had a skateboard and let me have a go, and it was instant love!
Am I right in thinking you grew up in Stratford, East London? What was it like skating around Stratford back in the 1980s?
I did grow up in Stratford. It was a pretty rough area, but I was extremely lucky to live in a cul-de-sac with very little traffic. That meant that me and my mates could skate right outside my door, and learn how to do things like ride off a kerb.
Our nearest skate shop was Superbike in Ilford, and we’d go there most Saturdays to drawl over the Powell, Santa Cruz, and H-Street decks. That was where I met a few other skaters and we formed a pretty decent little crew. Stratford didn’t have much in the way of ‘famous’ spots, but it did have a cracking little four set at The Theatre Royal which I eventually ollied down. To this day, that remains my largest ollied set (laughs). I’ve never been any good at skating, but I have always loved it. We’d go to Romford or London most weekends; usually we’d just grab a travelcard and see what London had to offer. My favourite spot was always St Paul’s with its gorgeous steps and insane white bank. The Barbican was rad but was such a bust, even back then.
The thing we never appreciated at the time was that everything shut on Sundays; imagine that! It was like a one day lockdown every week, and we’d have the entire city pretty much to ourselves.
So that was my skateboarding life up until 1990 when my parents decided to move. I was 16 and my parents wanted me to go to a better school for my A Levels - which I failed spectacularly - so we moved out to Hornchurch in Essex and I swapped schools. Pretty much overnight my entire life changed. I moved away from friends and had no easy way to see them regularly. Nobody at the new school skated, so skating just sort of drifted away from me. Pubs, clubs, and a more ‘normal’ life emerged.
You’re not shy to admit that you’ve drifted in and out of skating over the years. What is it about skating that keeps bringing you back to the fold?
Around 2003 and I was married and living in Romford. By then I was 29, and hadn’t skated in over 10 years. I was in a bar in Soho and they had a skate film on in the background. I didn’t know at the time, but it turned out to be The DC Video, and it just stirred something inside me. So I took the plunge, bought a board at Rom, and had another year or two skating. Social media wasn’t really a thing then, and I had no real way of connecting with anybody else close to my age to skate with. Then I broke my ankle on a mini at Rom and decided I was over it!
I’d still see skaters and miss going skating, but I figured it was just part of my history.
Then, about seven years ago, I had a look on Facebook to see if there were any groups of older skaters, and my life changed completely! I found SCUK (Skateboard Collecting UK) and then other groups which made me realise I wasn’t the only silly old sod that wanted to skate again. I initially thought I just wanted to find a deck or two to hang on my walls, but I soon found myself fully back skating.
Tony about to make contact with Steve Sexton's very own coping (mechanism). Photo: Colin Edwards.
You definitely appear to be skating very regularly again these days; where are some of your four-wheel haunts, and who is typically your crew?
I live in Colchester now and, up until a few years ago, Empire Skatepark was still open. I met a couple of local older Colchester guys via Facebook groups - shout out to Mick Howell and Simon Leonard - and we became pretty tight. Then I met a couple of guys from Haverhill, such as Colin Edwards and Carl Mynott, and we would regularly meet up at an ungodly hour on Sundays. On one of the Sunday Club sessions, I met Hillbilly (Jason Cheverall) with Luke Mac Duke and a couple of other Chelmsford locals. I basically fell in love with Hillbilly (laughs). He is head honcho of a little crew called The Teabeggers, and is pretty much my best mate now. We all skate together a lot, and it’s just the best crew. We range in age from early 20s to late 40s, and have a massive difference in abilities, but we always have a proper laugh.
We mostly skate Essex parks like Rumbles in Colchester, Silverend in Witham, Tiptree, Chelmsford, and occasionally venture further afield.
Where did your interest in poetry initially come from? Was poetry something you were drawn to during your schooldays, or was it something that you discovered in later life?
Poetry has always been a part of my life but it was mostly kept to myself for fear of ridicule. I did have a piece about impending nuclear war published when I was at school, but I don’t even know where that was printed. I’ve always written a lot, and I’d read two or three books a week in the days before smartphones made me stupid.
When and how did you first start getting your poetry seen? Can you remember what the first poem you shared was? And how did it feel sharing that with the world?
In Facebook groups like SCUK and FoUKS (Family of UK Skaters) I’d throw the odd skateboard related piece up, and they seemed to go down pretty well. There’s a definite fear that putting poetry on a skate page is going to result in you get the p*ss ripped out of you, but you know…f*ck the haters, eh?
Moving onto Procrastiskate – how did the idea form to release an anthology of your work?
So over the course of about five or six years, I had put all of these poems on a couple of Facebook pages, and quite a lot of people would suggest that I should put a book out. It was very sweet of people to say such nice things, but I dismissed them, as I just couldn’t see a real demand for a skateboard poem anthology. In the meantime, Carl Mynott had set up Stour Valley Publishing and www.shookbop.com, and had been nagging me to let him help me put a book together. Christmas 2019 saw the Sunday Club and a few Teabeggers get together round mine for a drink and a catch up. Carl mentioned again about the book, and I drunkenly agreed to send him what I had.
Your words in Procrastiskate are suitably accompanied by artwork from Dan Bryant, Arron Campbell, and Jason ‘Hillbilly’ Cheverall. How did you go about identifying and approaching the artists you’ve ended up working with?
Hillbilly offered to do some illustrations and so did Arron Campbell. I jumped at the chance to have some actual talent on board, and told them to draw whatever they wanted for any of the poems. They decided between themselves who would do what pieces, and it all came together really quickly. Dan Bryant - author of Six Year Old Sidney: The Skateboarding Kid - had done a picture that I really liked, so I bought it off him and used that as the inside cover pic. Suddenly, in May 2020, I had a f*cking book out! I’m still amazed that it exists, and I’m so grateful for all the support it’s received. It’s been so popular that I now have a second book of poems about to be released. The second book is called Coping Mechanism, and is more generic than Procrastiskate. It deals with mental health, loss, love, and life in general, as well as having a couple of skateboard related pieces in there.
The illustration for As a Free Man by Arron Campbell.
Along the way you discuss not only skateboarding itself, but other issues such as mental health, injury, and age. When you sit down to write a poem, do you do so with the intention of covering/including specific topics, or do you have no expectations and see where the poetic journey takes you?
I never really know where a poem is going to go. Quite often I’ll get a rhyme in my head, or a vague sort of emotion, and just splurge it on to a page - well, into my Notes app on my phone nowadays.
There are some poems that just seem to arrive fully formed, like As A Free Man. That one is a personal favourite as it’s very honest, and almost like a polite ‘f*ck you!’ to all the miserable old bastards that think skating is for kids.
Where is Procrastiskate available from?
Procrastiskate is available at loads of skater owned shops, online at www.shookbop.com, and from Death’s website. It’s also available directly from me, just drop me a message on Instagram and I’ll sort it.
Rashes illustration by Arron Campbell.
What advice would you give to any aspiring poets reading this, or anyone who may feel the urge to put pen to paper and give poetry a try?
I’m not sure I’m in a position to offer advice on writing, so I’ll just quote Scroobius Pip and say, “we may not be for you, and that’s fine”.
The only way to write or do anything is to write and do stuff! Just go out there and do it.
Lastly, it’s stated early on in the book that you ‘drive a train’. Is that actually the case? Are you a train driver in your day-to-day life?
Yes, I am a real life train driver (laughing). I’ve no idea how I ended up driving trains, I’ve zero interest in the poxy things, but it’s a decent enough job that’s given me quite a comfortable life.
Any final words for the people reading this?
Can I give a shout out to a few people? Firstly Carl at Stour Valley Publishing for being the most supportive human ever.
To the Family of U.K. Skaters for being the best Facebook group! I can’t wait to have a big meet up with you guys when it’s allowed.
To Hillbilly for being a fantastic friend.
To everyone that helped Procrastiskate happen
To all the shops that stock the book - especially Big Woody’s, who have been behind me since day one.
And, lastly, to every single person that has bought a copy.
Tony's upcoming second book of poetry - Coping Mechanism.