Crystal Palace : Sweat My Youth Away

By the time 1983 had rolled around, Crystal Palace half pipe had been shifted back beyond the bridge. It had also been resurfaced and had the addition of an Alpine Action logo on the back. Once again, the ESA (English Skateboard Association) had selected it for competition duties which resulted in 1983’s Crystal Palace Challenge…

Crystal Palace Challenge 1983.
Crystal Palace Challenge 1983.

It was a strange time to stage a comp, taking place in the chilly period of April. The comp had also attracted a diverse variety of skaters from around the UK, including Lee Bryan, Gary Lee, Sean Goff, Shane Rouse and Mark Abrook.

Also along for comp duties was Sue Hazel. Hailing from Hampshire, Sue divided her time between freestyle and vert skating, entering in both disciplines for the comp (not an uncommon thing in those days). Sue brought me up to speed on what was happening outside of London, introducing me to the likes of Southsea and Farnborough. At this point, neither Shane O’Brien or myself had traveled outside of London to skate – a situation that would change later that year.

Meanwhile, the comp produced some interesting results, with Hans “Puttis” Jacobsen (who had previously competed at the Euroskate) taking first place ahead of the UK talent. Justin Ashby took first for the B Group (Sue placed 6th) and Shane Rouse took first in freestyle.

Super Slider. Sue Hazel at the Crystal Palace Challenge 1983.
Super Slider. Sue Hazel at the Crystal Palace Challenge 1983.

Around this time, Mr O’Brien and myself had made the decision to start skating the Palace ramp. A reasonable challenge as we had very little clue about how to ride a contemporary flat-bottomed half pipe. Watching seasoned skaters was one thing, but putting what we witnessed into practice was something else altogether.

We made our own struggling efforts from the flat, pushing the board with our feet and kickturning on the transition to make a long, laborious routine to get up the ramp. Gaining the experience to go backwards (fakie) took some time to master. Plus, the locals at Palace only had so much patience to spare watching you struggling like a crippled heron…

Palace wasn’t short of struggling amateurs either. One older skater also tried his best. We laughed at his old skate gear before remembering that we were using stuff not too dissimilar the previous week. “Dorkman”, as the locals referred to him, had a very simple routine of going back and forth, hardly getting past the transition. If we couldn’t get our own act together, we’d be doing the same in perpetuity.

We would often ponder the future while taking tea in the Sports Centre Café – a handy spot to chill out and observe the half pipe at a distance. Although we were lucky enough to get a few ramp sessions in, it was made clear that Crystal Palace was run on a membership basis. To continue skating the ramp we would have to become members.

Andy Peerless and Dan Adams appeared to be chiefly responsible for both maintaining the ramp and running the membership of the club. Walking back from the café after a break, I’d managed to catch up with Dan to inquire about how you became a member. Dan, always an engaging and straightforward character, handed me a small form, which I had to fill in to start the process off.

Part of the club...
Part of the club…

The form included statements such as “I RELUCTANTLY HAND OVER £2.50 TO BRIBE THE COMMITTEE INTO ACCEPTING MY ENTRY”. It also asked if we as members should get anything back, to which I jotted down “the entry fee for starters…”.

Despite being a member, there appeared to be other issues involved in skating the ramp. A large timber beam was always locked in place across the flat bottom. It prevented any passers by from casually skating or (worse) putting a bike on the ramp. I still recall getting into debates with the staff that held the key in the sports centre. Sometimes we might get it, sometimes we might not.

Palace enjoyed a very tight camaraderie, which was marked out by the main locals such as Phil Burgoyne, Lucian Hendricks, Darryl James and Robbie Newell as well as Dan Adams and Andy Peerless (who was one of a few rollerskaters doing vert at the time).

Phil Burgoyne in action 1984.
Phil Burgoyne in action 1984.

As with some other skaters on the scene, Phil Burgoyne had also enjoyed different disciplines of skating, taking advantage of the inclines of the hill at Palace to do slalom. Both his height and peroxide-blond hair marked Phil as a very distinctive character amongst the Palace regulars. On vert, Phil had a very unique style of skating that combined speed and an almost casual approach. Blasting everything from handplants to airs, he would exhibit an almost bored expression as he effortlessly pulled tricks off.

Meanwhile, Lucian Hendricks had his own fast, aggressive style, which saw him link a huge variety of airs combined with confident inverts. Lucian was certainly one of the best skaters that Palace could offer, although he wasn’t always the most personable type.

One day, Shane and I had made the wise decision to arrive early in the morning. When sessions got packed, you’d usually get snaked left, right and centre so choosing when to skate Palace was quite essential.

As we were skating the ramp Lucian turned up. On some days he could be in a contrary mood and he challenged me about skating the ramp. “Are you a member?” he demanded. “Where’s your card?” I can sometimes be a contrary character myself so decided to front him out on this. I replied that yes, I had my card – but then demanded to know where his was.

This turned into a bit of an argy bargy and, employing his own method of diplomacy, Lucian then began lifting the timber block back in place. No one was going to skate – and it was also unlikely that anyone was going to get any cake either.

Enter Phil Burgoyne who had coincidently skated up as the beam was being dropped into place.

Lucian engaged Phil into the debate at hand: “Phil, tell this jerk who I am.”

I was shocked at this insult. I had been called many names in my time (“arsehole” was a popular favourite), but I drew the line at “jerk”. I made a mental note to burn down Lucian’s house at the earliest possible opportunity. Also, he was automatically not invited to any parties that I may choose to host in the future. He would be crushed.

Lucian Hendricks on invert duties.
Lucian Hendricks on invert duties.

Somehow, things were smoothed out and we continued to skate on. Plus, Lucian was less likely to snake me from that point onwards (meaning I got to have as many as 2 goes on the ramp on any given day).

Despite this often-frosty attitude, there was no mistaking Lucian’s ability to skate and his place as one of the UK’s top vert riders of the time is definitely well deserved.

Lucian also inadvertently passed on some words of wisdom during a typical session one day. If you cocked up a trick then the normal course of action was to bail and kneeslide out on the transition. Attempting a lofty lien air at an angle that would have been impossible to land, Lucian nevertheless tried anyway. He slammed with some considerable force and when quizzed on why he’d done it, Lucian philosophically remarked, “I just wanted to see what would happen”. If ever you wanted a motto to get through life, you could do worse than adopt that one.

Meanwhile, I was still trying to do my best in the punishing crucible of the Palace skate environment. I had the worst style in those days but persevered whenever I managed to get on the ramp. When I jumped on my board to begin my run, Phil would often casually call out “Go Stevie!” Puzzled at these comments, I quizzed him on who “Stevie” was, to which Phil responded “Stevie Caballero of course”. Because Phil had such a dry sense of humour it was often difficult to work out when he was paying a compliment or taking the piss (but he was definitely taking the piss).

Music was also an important part of the Palace scene as people would regularly rock up with ghetto blasters to add some tunes to a session. I was particularly drawn to an album that Phil played on a regular basis throughout the sessions in the early 1980s. It combined pop elements with funk rhythms, an unusual sound which I’d never heard before but grew to really like.

Learning it was the Penthouse & Pavement album by Sheffield outfit Heaven 17, I made an effort to track down my own copy. There was a euphoric quality to many of the songs on the album, which relied on rich, sequenced beats and often quirky percussion patterns. Glenn Gregory’s strong vocal style also gave the songs a strong emphatic impact.

Shane O'Brien takes off at Crystal Palace.
Shane O’Brien takes off at Crystal Palace.

My musical landscape was considerably broadened by the influx of new tunes I was being exposed to. During these early years of the 80s it was augmented by a variety of tunes including the fractured glory of OMD’s ‘difficult’ 4th album Dazzle Ships and the heartfelt lyrical content of Soul Mining – an amazing album by the talents of Matt Johnson under his The The moniker. Music has always had an important place in skateboarding which had given rise to an entire genre (Skate Rock), but here in the UK we had somehow created an incredibly eclectic mix of tunes that was definitely unique to these shores.

Once you were a regular at Palace, it wasn’t unusual to turn up on a day on which the ramp was being repaired. The surface took a pounding on a regular basis and required constant resurfacing and general maintenance. If you were unlucky to turn up on those days then you would inevitably get press ganged into helping out. At this stage, Shane and myself had started to refer to our Chief Of Maintenance as “Acid” Adams for reasons which are lost to history. Probably just because it was a funny alliterative name. Dan showed his appreciation for our hilarity by making us carry one of the huge marine ply sheets from the wood merchants back to the ramp.

It’s probably worth mentioning at this stage that nicknames were the order of the day, whether welcomed or not. Thus, we had had the likes of Colin “Shithead” Taylor, John “Bricky” Embury and Shane gained the nickname “Gappy” (due to an obvious dental issue). I myself was referred to as “Fuckface McPissflaps” (purely a term of endearment by my skating brothers I should add).

Anyway, at some point both Shane and myself had managed to grasp the tricky technical issues associated with skating the ramp and had begun to pull off tricks. Shane had started to eclipse me very early on by pushing himself that bit further. I lacked a lot of self-confidence during these years (an essential element for skating) and had also been unable to fully embrace the basic physics of skating. I would pull off these painfully laboured layback airs in which the board would feel like it was made of bricks. This was because I hadn’t sussed out that everyone else was letting momentum do the work for them. I was literally pulling the board up over the coping while everyone else was hitting it at speed so the board did the work.

One day, after trying to push my limits, I managed to hit the flat bottom with some considerable force. As I lay there contemplating the agonies of the soul, the concerned face of Andy Peerless came into view and said, “Can you go and die somewhere else please?”

By this point, the ramp had moved to a new and final position under the pedestrian bridge. This made a lot of sense as it meant you were less prone to the UK’s wonderful weather patterns. Unfortunately, the bridge also had leaks which meant that a tarpaulin had to be erected underneath the bridge to the back of the ramp. The only way to achieve this was by balancing a rickety stepladder on the platform to access the bridge. Fun.

Danny Webster ruling at the Crystal Palace Jam 1984
Danny Webster ruling at the Crystal Palace Jam 1984

The competition scene still gravitated towards Crystal Palace and in 1984 they staged a particularly intense comp that put the best of the UK’s talents head to head. This included Danny Webster (who had aced the Euroskate in 1982) as well as his close rival Sean Goff. Based in Oxford, Sean had acquired the nickname “Gunslinger” due to his stance while skating. Both Sean and Danny were evenly matched in terms of ability, but they also had to contend with the likes of Phil Burgoyne and Lucian Hendricks – both local boys who were more familiar with the ramp.

To keep things even more interesting, Harrow local Steve Douglas was added to the mix. Steve had been something of a junior prodigy who had excelled at a very early age. This was a trait shared by Hugh “Bod” Boyle – a younger skater who had only recently made the transition from B Group to A Group.

The event was also filled out by a host of characters who have become legendary figures in their own way: Mark & Barry Abrook, Gary Lee (always referred to as the third Abrook bro) and Rodga Harvey (who had made his mark during the 1970s and had simply kept going). Then there was the manic energy that had been contained in human form that went by the name of Davros.

Steve Douglas goes hands-free at the Palace
Steve Douglas goes hands-free at the Palace

Davros had his own particular style of skating that resembled nothing more than someone crouching on a stool while on his board. He would also bark out a host of mostly incomprehensible phrases as if someone had just plugged him into the mains (there were many volunteers for this hypothetical task). This week it was an obsession with the cartoon cast of Scooby Doo. “Scrappy Doo!!!” exclaimed Davros in a bid to gee up the waiting skaters. Bod considered this carefully for a moment before walking away with a curt “You’re such a penis Davros…”

This comp was certainly witness to some of the best skating of the year. The competitive spirit really pushed everyone to bring their ‘A’ game to the pipe. Gunslinger Goff was raising the bar with blunts, high airs and a smooth linked series of inverts. There’s almost a machine-like rhythm to the way Sean skated, effortlessly linking tricks from lip to lip. Meanwhile, Steve Douglas unleashed his own arsenal of tricks, including impressive ollies and even a Caballerial.

Lucian entered the fray with his trademark high lien airs and tuck-knee inverts, but Danny Webster once again claimed the day with a barrage of tricks including lien-to-tails and varial inverts. Considering he was actually recovering from a broken ankle at the time this was no mean feat.

Crystal Palace’s reign was brought to a dramatic end in the winter months of 1986. A dispute over land had seen the ramp unfortunately located in a position that acquired the wrath of Bromley council. This resulted in an answer to the burning question of whether or not a council digger can skate a ramp. According to the trashed flat bottom of the Palace half pipe, the answer was no.

During its brief tenure, Crystal Palace was home to some of the finest skaters that the UK has produced and its absence was sorely missed as the 1980s ground to an end.

For more on Crystal Palace we recommend the superb Caught In The Crossfire article which interviews many of the Palace regulars of the time.