Cardiff: The International City of Skateboarding 2023.
Wales’ capital city has been having something of a moment this year. Be it capacity gatherings at Bute Square or Spit and Sawdust, video premieres, local legends going pro… every week there seems to be something dragon orchestrated taking place, and every week I seem to find myself driving the length of the M4 as a result. With all roads figuratively and literally leading to Cardiff these days, it didn’t quite come as a shock to learn that Amanda and Josh at Vans would be taking their annual Shop Riot extravaganza to Christian Hart’s glorious Spit and Sawdust plywood playground at the start of August, summoning some of the country’s most respected skate retailers to South Wales for two days of unadulterated, grassroots four-wheeled mayhem.
Keen Will - Dragon head air to flat. Photo: Rob.
Photos: Rob and Finley.
The Shop Riot format in the U.K. has mutated somewhat over recent years, and now takes in a preliminary event on the Friday night, ahead of the main Saturday shop showdown, providing the gathering masses with the convenient combination of somewhere to be, and – most importantly - something to do. The devil makes work for idle hands, as the saying goes, and no one needs to bear witness to the spectacle of 80 assembled skateboarders left to their own devices in a major city on a Friday evening. Bute Square – barely being given three months to recover from its Black Mass hammering – was singled out for the Friday shindig, with semi-local brands Carve Wicked (Newport) and Forecast (Bristol) being tasked with designing a bespoke obstacle for the occasion. The result? A skateable dragon, naturally.
Sox - Dragon neck ollie. Photo: Rob.
Joe Hinson - frontside bluntslide. Photo: Rob.
Cardiff City Council has displayed a somewhat lenient attitude towards the skateboarding community's semi-regular incursions into Callaghan Square, seemingly preferring to turn a blind eye to the assembly of skaters, obstacles, sound systems, generators, and marquees that are part and parcel of the event experience. With Black Mass, and more specifically, the colossal Gates of Hell, Cardiff City Council’s ‘what we don’t know can’t hurt us’ stance was pushed presumably to its limits, and with the installation of the gargantuan multipurpose fire breather, those same previously understanding limits were going to be pushed further still. The scale of the thing was so great that Josh from Slap Ramps was unsure, the evening before, if it was going to even fit in his van. The same van that three months previous had comfortably transported the aforementioned Gates of Hell from Stoke to Cardiff. A few tense phone calls and some Tetris level van packing later, and the dragon was safely delivered to its awaiting Cardiff city centre venue, being given a quick paint job that dried bang on 6pm, just in time for the Dragon Jam’s scheduled start time. Having had a hand in designing the thing, it made sense that Carve Wicked CEO Sam Pulley helped get the session moving in the right direction, closely followed by Forecast representatives Taylor Jones, Baz Dan and Jordo Lightowler. As the session wore on, more and more heads from all over the country started to appear, with Rasheed Osman, Albie Edmonds, Daryl Dominguez, Joe Hinson, Diggs English, Tom Kinmon, Gabe Gorman and more all giving the mythical beast a fitting Cymru pounding. Glastonbury resident Stevie Thompson took an unfortunate tumble from the dragon’s neck, resulting in a compound fracture on his arm, the appearance of two ambulances, and understandably, the end of the session. Stevie was taken into surgery the following morning before emerging at Spit and Sawdust at the end of the day – arm in a sling and spirits unaffected - to a proper hero’s welcome. Get well soon, Stevie!
Stevie Thompson - backside boneless (get well soon). Photo: Rob.
Photos: Rob and Finley.
Hassan Media - backside tailslide. Photo: Rob.
Sam Pulley - frontside tailgrab. Photo: Rob.
Once the dragon had been disassembled and the evening had all but set in, it was off to the nearby Jacobs Roof Garden for most of the Shop Riot revellers. Not for me though; with a solid 12 hour filming stint awaiting me the following morning, I donned my seldom seen ‘sensible’ cap and made my merry way back to the hotel…
Jordo Lightowler - bodyjar. Photo: Finley.
Patrick Merryfield - Dragon's back no comply. Photo: Rob.
Keen Will - backside noseblunt. Photo: Rob.
Vans Shop Riot 2023 at Spit and Sawdust.
Two for (Route) One: Jordan Sharkey Spanish grinds whilst Diggs English wallrides.
Christian ‘Pirate Man’ Hart’s mighty Spit and Sawdust is one facility that needs no introduction. The place has served as a hub of the Cardiff scene since its doors were first opened back in 2014, and from its fairly humble beginnings, Pirate Man’s realm has grown substantially. Following a powerful crowd funding campaign, in the summer of 2020, Spit and Sawdust became home to the first vert ramp in Wales since the legendary Morfa ramp of years gone by, then more recently, the skatepark took over the neighbouring unit, effectively doubling in size, which resulted in the construction of a whole new bowl and mini ramp area (thanks to Jimo from Cardiff Skateboard Club). Throw in a karaoke room, some trademark hospitality and Christian’s willingness to embrace outlandish ideas with open arms, and you can see why Vans gravitated towards Spit and Sawdust for their 2023 retail battle.
Matlok Bennett-Jones back tails for Lost Art. Photo: Rob.
A Welcome rock fakie for Dean Greensmith. Photo: Rob.
Photos: Rob and Finley.
Despite tales of late night misunderstandings with unsympathetic hotel staff, and the evident air of regret that lingers around those who crawled into their beds at 5am, by midday, the park was swarming with skaters all intent on doing their local shop proud. As an event, Shop Riot entices a diverse cast of characters, many that you would rarely see at any contemporary competition, probably owing to the fact that the Shop Riot spotlight is shone on the shops themselves, more so than the individual skaters representing them. Skate shop loyalty is something that can never be underestimated, either. More often than not, the shop is the skater’s first and closest sponsor, whose support early on gave that encouragement to keep going, whose backing probably helped gain their skateboarding wider exposure. Shop Riot is an event where people put their finest foot forward to give something back to the shop, to gain their shop some recognition, not to seek competitive glory for themselves. Of course, no shop would grumble if they found themselves on the podium, but the main attraction with Shop Riot has always been that it’s a great opportunity to catch up with friends from all around the country, many of whom you’ve probably not seen since the previous years Shop Riot; as serious as people take their duty in representing their local shop, the ‘riot’ aspect of Shop Riot is very much friendly in nature.
Patrick Merryfield nosepick pull-ins for Gratitude. Photo: Rob.
More Gratitude, this time for Taylor Jones and his bastard plant on high. Photo: Rob.
Anyway, I digress. With close to 20 stores competing this time around, the heats kicked off at 1pm sharp and took a couple of hours to work through. For Shop Riot, a couple of custom-made obstacles had been installed around the park, including an Off The Wall extension for the mini ramp (more on that later), and a monstrous rainbow rail fitted to the driveway that looked to have been modelled on the story arc of Thomas Pynchon’s 1973 magnum opus Gravity’s Rainbow. Gravity’s Rainbow, as it shall be known forevermore, was conquered early on by Jasper Dawson-Clough, but as the day wore on, it savagely claimed several unsuspecting victims. Kieran Waterton took three particularly heavy slams during Kvltivation’s run trying to tame the thing, then following a successful up and over grind during warm up, Keen Will was thrown to flat during Fifty Fifty’s heat, resulting in one knock out, a trip to A+E and several stitches in his chin. From that point on, Gravity’s Rainbow was rendered, for all intent and purposes, obsolete.
Ilka Rogers front boards the rail for Decimal. Photo: Rob.
A big old Freestyle frontside wallride from Jake 'professional' Collins. Photo: Rob.
Josh Mayson, nollie heel on his way to a Supereight win. Photo: Finley.
Sam Fawcett - nosepicking for Decimal. Photo: Finley.
Lariatt boss man Alex Barton frontside bluntslides. Photo: Rob.
I’ll spare you a ‘who did what’ rundown of the event itself, as you may as well absorb the photos dotted around this very page, and the footage that awaits in the resulting edit – they’ll do a far greater job of demonstrating the days heroics than my mere words could ever do. What does need to be acknowledged is that the Supereight trifecta of Joe Hinson, Joe Hill and Josh Mayson will be making their way to the Shop Riot European finals later this year, an honour they more than earned in exchange for the consistent display of demo level skateboarding they delivered in the heats, then built upon for the finals.
After the main Shop Riot battle had been waged on the street course, the entire park gathered at the mini ramp for the now-traditional 'give Dean Greensmith a load of money' best trick session. The previously mentioned Off The Wall extension was to be the main focus of the jam, adding another few feet to the already towering highest part of the mini, and providing Dean Greensmith with an ideal scenario in which to rifle off a whole load of textbook ridiculousness. Dean naturally lived up to expectations and waltzed back to Grantham with an oversized £250 cheque stashed under his arm, though it was Sam Pulley who won himself the brandy filled Dragon Award, in fitting return for his decibel-producing dragon grind on the extension.
Lofty Sharkey nollie heel for The Black Sheep. Photo: Rob.
Joe Hinson kickflip crooks for Supereight. Photo: Rob.
Bowl Best Trick.
Jordo Lightowler - backside disaster. Photo: Rob.
Sam Pulley - Dragon Award winning dragon grind. Photo: Rob.
Patrick Merryfield - crailslide. Photo: Rob.
Dean Greensmith - frontside feeble fakie. Photo: Rob.
Dean Greensmith - switch frontside rock. Photo: Rob.
Once the various awards had been handed out and the final placements had been announced, there was little left to do but linger around the outside area of Spit and Sawdust, and enjoy the day’s final rays of sunlight. As the evening’s karaoke session slowly crept into gear, Harry Deane napped, food was consumed, people found inventive ways of exiting the vert ramp platform… and a whole host of guilty pleasure were belted out as Saturday evening slowly gave way to Sunday morning.
Winners gallery. Photo: Rob.
Thanks to the crew at Vans for not only pulling off the two separate events, but keeping everyone fed, hydrated and entertained across the weekend, namely Amanda, Manhead, Twiggy, Luke and Jasper. Thanks also to Christian and the crew at Spit and Sawdust, Josh at Slap Ramps for the Forecast X Carve Wicked dragon, Jimo, Trix and everyone at Cardiff Skateboard Club for their tireless hospitality, the esteemed panel of judges, and all of the shops that ventured to Cardiff to get involved. And thanks to all the skate shops nationwide that have weathered the last few turbulent years and are still able to provide the lifeblood upon which their local scenes depend. You’re all shatterproof rulers of the highest order.
Dragon Award: Sam Pulley.
Best Trick: Dean Greensmith - switch frontside rock.
Shop Riot Third Place: Route One.
Shop Riot Second Place: The Black Sheep.
Shop Riot First Place: Supereight.
The full Shop Riot 2023 edit:
All music by Fat Black Cats.