Interview: Alex Appleby

Shootin’ the breeze with fellow Ulverston extremist Alex Appleby.

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Sources indicate you started skating at a fairly early age. How old were you when you started? 

I think I was around nine years old. I remember getting a book about skating from a second hand bookshop and thought it looked amazing. This was also the same time the first Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater came out.

Me and Jordan (Watson), who lived across the street, started at the same time and used to push each other to learn tricks. My first memory was probably bombing the hill outside my house on a Sonic the Hedgehog kick-tail.

Ulverston had a pretty burgeoning X-treme scene in the mid-2000s considering it’s a small market town on the edge of the Lake District with zero grindable surfaces. Why do you think this was?

God knows. There were a lot of older skaters like Ben Kermode who may have partly paved the way. Barrow in Furness, up the road, always had a good scene from the early days of the Skate Shack, one of the first indoor skateparks in the country, so that might’ve had something to do with it.

It was crazy to think that such a run-down industrial area of an exceptionally isolated town was visited by Tony Hawk and Mark Gonzalez. I’d love to see their faces when they were taken up those steel stairs. Apart from that I have no idea.

Who are your top three Ulverston/South Lakes skaters? And why?

Will Appleby — was inspiring to see the transformation from a complete struggle to tech magician on a board. Switch heel 5-0s, nollie heel front nose at Lloyds in Bristol (probably the most rounded ledge in the UK), nollie 5-0 flip outs, frontside flips over big gaps. Love you pal.

Jordan/Ryan Watson — got into skating because of those two. Me and Jordan skated the most together. He was really talented and gnarly. See his section in Up North (West) for proof, which he filmed at the grand age of 14. Ryan was a true grafter on a board and took down some big handrails and stairs back in the day. He also had some horrific injuries and is now a professional boxer.

Ryan Zaccarini — pure natural talent and style from windy Walney. Absolutely killed Barrow as a youth.

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Will Appleby on one of the many BMX/Skateboard x-treme fusion jaunts to Lancaster. RIP Will. 

What are your top three classic Ulverston spots?

Stanley Street Health Centre (since knocked down and redone) — probably the first ‘spot’ I ever skated. There were loads of kids down every day dicking about and causing mischief. All there was was a wall and a giant electric box known as “The Box” that people used to leap off. Ryan (Watson) shattered his heel leaping off it in the thinnest shoes known to man after only a few week’s skating. I also met Pat Godbert down there for the first time on September 11th 2001. Make of that what you will haha.

Job Centre Wall — back in the early 2000s you could always find people skating here on a dry day despite it being, as you can tell by the name, just a wall. It was also one of the original Ulverston step-up spots. There was some serious backlash by the scene when they skate-stopped it weirdly enough.

Booths/Heron Glass Car Park — sick manual pads and loads of smooth flat with grindboxes when people could be arsed bringing them. My mate Ste (Fletcher) was the king of the pads. Sunday evenings in summer were the best.

Some classic Ulverstonian non-spots in this old gem.

Ulverston now has a purpose-built stunt zone, but it seems that there are no new skaters or riders there. Have you any theories as to why this is?

Aye I think the scene has pretty much died a death. I think it’s because all the older lads have all moved away and there’s no one to really look up to like when I was a kid. The new park is pretty good like but they built it about ten years too late. Barrow’s still got a strong scene with some talented young skaters but that’s about it.

What are your thoughts on fellow Cumbrian ex-pat Olly Todd?  I remember when I started at UVHS (the secondary school in Ulverston) there was a massive painting of him in the hall for some reason. 

Olly Todds class. Always been a big fan of his skating and the fact that he’s from Whitehaven. I actually have his pro board from when he road for Stereo on my wall at my parent’s house. He’s probably the only Cumbrian who will ever achieve that feat (the pro board not a space on my bedroom wall haha), although if I was him I would have definitely repped Cumbria a lot harder out in the States.

You and your brother have made a fair few videos over the years, and Will was making videos with his VX well before it was anything more than just a camera. Can you give us a full run-down of all the Appleby productions?

A Skate Odyssey: 2002

Informative Promo: 2003

Informative: 2004

Up North (West): 2007

Skateulv Vol 1-3: 2008-2009

Skateulv Vol 4: 2010

Alex Appleby and Owen Godbert City Series: 2011

Those Who’ve Sailed With Me: 2012

Snyde Park and the Curse of Brudenell Road: 2014

Please Shirley Anything but Burley: 2016

You’ve just finished your new video, Please Shirley, Anything but Burley. Who is Shirley?

Shirley doesn’t exist. The name is a bit of a rip from that John Cooper Clarke poem ‘I don’t ever want to go to Burnley’. So Shirley is there purely for rhyme purposes. Although I’m sure that phrase has been uttered a few time before in the Leeds area.

Making videos is a complete hassle. Did you have any video-based faff whilst making this?

Not really, it was a very mellow process. The vids only a combination of footage from Feb 2015-Feb 2016 then thrown together in a month or so. I don’t think anyone even knew I was doing it. The biggest faff was people wanting to film stuff at the last minute then having to re-edit the street section to fit it in.

How did you meet XXXL sportswear aficionado and all-round rude-dude Jambul? Have you got any good stories of his exploits?

I met Jambul up Hyde Park last summer after he’d done his back in and started skating again. Every time I’ve been out with him there’s something wild.

Some good ones are going skating with him round Bradders and him taking us to the maddest spots like a storm door down an alley behind a takeaway in Manningham. The owners chucked water out the door to try and stop us skating. He still got his line though.

Skitching double decker buses on the busiest streets in Manchester and filming a line through the pissed masses outside Tiger Tiger starting inside a chicken shop up the road.

Last Halloween he smashed his head open skating the House bowl jam after being on a bender for two days. He drank a beer instead of going to A+E. Apparently he bought more booze in the Co-op with blood pouring from his head. Probably the only night of the year he could’ve got away with it.

After a few years in Manchester, you now live in Leeds. How’s that going for you? Do you go to The Works much? Does The Works still exist?

Yeah it’s going alright really. Got a new job now, which is good. Skating wise a lot of rad people have left, which is a bit of a shame. Street skating pretty can be difficult sometimes as most of the well-known spots are completely rinsed and knackered these days. There is a really good new D.I.Y. though for those in the know.

As for the Works, it definitely still exists. I’ve only been a couple of times since I’ve been in town. I always forget it’s there.

You have a fairly extensive knowledge of skate videos. What was your favourite when you were 11? And what’s your favourite now?

At 11, the Blueprint vid Waiting for The World, without a shadow of a doubt. Me and Will bought it blindly from Kates Skates in Barrow when we were nine. Proper lucked out like. It’s still my favourite to this day.  Was such a massive influence in everything — skating, music etc. I remember thinking before I watched it, “There better be some flip tricks in this,” then seeing the first line in Scott Palmer’s section — ollie in tre fakie. Buzzing.

Can’t think of anything too recent that’s grabbed me. Probably the latest Scottish scene videos like Overcast or Street Snacks 3. Raw as owt.

Which videos suck?

Anything with shite music and repetitive zoomed in shots of people smoking cigs in slow motion.

You’re also pretty handy with a photo camera. Have you been taking many photographs lately? What sort of photographs do you like? 

Cheers man, that’s nice of you to say. Yeah I’m always taking bits and bobs. I’ve finally learnt to always carry my camera whenever possible. I’ve recently finished a mini-project on the aftermath of the floods in Leeds. I knew they were bad but now the whole canal bank seems like a huge modern-art sculpture.

I like photos that try and get under the fingernails of places. I’m massively influenced by people like Robert Frank and his famous book ‘The Americans’. I don’t think he could’ve summed up America in any truer sense than what he accomplished in that book.

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Mid-winter trip to Barrow’s golden arches. 2010?

You now work in the world of social care. I imagine this is the sort of thing you can’t say too much about, but can you give us a quick idea of what a usual day at work is like?

Nah it’s pretty chilled really. I work in a shared house with people with learning difficulties. A normal day would be checking the handover from whoever was left on shift then supporting the tenants to do whatever they need to do during the day.

I’m lucky that most of the lads are pretty independent and can go out on their own so just need help with medication and cooking really. You also do sleep-ins which means you’re on call until around 8am the next day in case anything happens during the night.

You used to work at a boat hire place on Windermere. Have you got any good stories from this time? Did anyone ever sink a boat?

Christ I’ve got an unreal amount. Sorry if I go on a bit. I actually wrote a mini-book in the last couple of months of working there to try and clear my head of it all. I’ll try and sum it up as best I can.

That place was crazy. It was a summer of madness despite how it sounds on paper. On the busiest days of the season you could spend ten hours knowing that if you so much as went to the toilet that part of the pier would descend into total chaos. The boat-hire department seemed to attract a lot of middle-aged madheads who were on the cusp of retirement or, as one put it, “I’ve had my time in the real world.”

My favourite was a man known as Staveley Steve (originally from Wythenshawe, Manchester) who should never have been allowed to work in customer service. A lot of the time he tried to put the customers off renting the boats by berating them. Here’s a few examples of his interactions with the general public…

“How much are the boats?”

“23 pounds if you’re daft enough to go out in them.”

“Please can we have one of the self-drive motorboats?”

“Are you mad?”

There were loads of mad happenings as people came from all over during the summer period to act like daft bastards.

The previous summer, one of the seasonal workers, who was a total meathead, threw a scally into the lake after him and his cronies stole one of the boats. Shortly after a sign appeared on the front door of the shop that read ‘NO SCOUSERS’. As you could imagine it didn’t go down too well.

The same summer a colossal sized man lost it on one of the self-drives. It was suspected that he was claustrophobic and ended up ripping the roof off to break free (the boats were barely big enough for normal sized adults). He got towed back by a random boat and then trapped the manager and one of the workers, a chap called Billy, down the pier and started screaming at them. The manager gave him his money back but the man threw it back in his face. Billy said that he was afraid that the man was going to, “Bray them to splinters,” but it turned out that this was only because he was wearing some new glasses and didn’t want them damaging.

Almost unbelievably, there were no major accidents while I was there. Although two Japanese tourists were inches away from getting decapitated by one of the huge steamers and there were a couple of Indiana Jones style rescues that took place.

Final question… brown cords or grey sweatpants?

Always cords for the win!

Alex’s photobook, Any Road Past the Foghorns is available now.

 

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