‘I thought freestyle was dead?’
Blog by Anthony Simm
‘I thought freestyle was dead?’
It’s a comment that crops up every so often whenever people see me skating these days.
From the heights of freestyle in the 70’s/80’s which is synonymous with spacewalks, offensively neon seemingly crotch high socks, tie dye tshirts and bleached quiffy hair, the skating was championed by famous names such as Rodney Mullen, Primo Desideiro, Russ Howell, Per Welinder and more. The blazing popularity of freestyle slowly dwindled in the 90’s which saw the street/freestyle hybrid skills of Rodney Mullen, Killian Martin and a few others keeping freestyle just about clinging onto its raspy breaths and rapidly fading life, before it’s relative death in the early 2000’s.
After the almost instant explosion of street skating in the mid 90’s, which saw the likes of the Tony Hawks Pro Skater games released, creating household names such as Eric Koston, Jamie Thomas, Andrew Reynolds and more. These were hitting huge gaps, pulling off tricks invented on the freestyle arenas (such as kickflips, 360 flips, etc) now off of ledges, over stair gaps and adding them to technical lines; further pushing the boundaries of just what was possible.
Suddenly, a 2 min run doing tricks on the ground to music seemed boring in comparison. This is when freestyle became stale – it didn’t evolve with the times or bring anything particularly new to the table, so it faded away to a hardcore few who persevered, quietly keeping the scene bubbling away in the background over the past 15 years on places such as Web forums and small meets while street skating raged on.
Would freestyle ever return?
Fast forward to today, it would seem that things are on the up again for freestyle skateboarding, but not in the old sense.
With social media platforms, such as Instagram, and short, instant gratification, videos of technical wizardry tricks at our fingertips, this has provided a perfect storm for freestyle to re-emerge. Street skating, although still as popular as ever, was becoming a bit of ‘same old, same old’ and people were having to innovate online to become noticed in a crowd of people all pulling off tre flips and kickflip to tails at MACBA, etc…
So this is where it got interesting. People started adding in manuals, spacewalks, caspers, boneless variations and streetplants into their trick roster. Old school, seemingly forgotten tricks that grabbed peoples’ attention once again. So for that quick 30 second clip, seemingly impossible manny pad combos and creative skateboarding started appearing online again from the likes of June Saito, Richie Jackson and more.
Freestyle had always been bubbling away in the background and started becoming more popular again. The original form won’t ever reach the same popularity as it once was, but for the hardcore freestylers from the 80’s/90’s, hearing freestyle was re-emerging was like hearing Guns and Roses were reforming,. People started getting excited again, despite the initial fear from the wider skate scene that it was going to be middle aged men with pot bellies getting ready for a short lived comeback.
If freestyle was to survive, it had to innovate.
Which to many extents, it has.
The introduction of social media and the ability to put on quick meet ups and demos and to get names of skaters out there in remote places (and from all backgrounds) brought new blood to the table; which in turn, brought new, technical and mind blowing tricks as well.
From the aggressive, fast paced skating of Denham ‘Denweasel’ Hill (who has started a project called Terror-Firma – with the aim of both promoting and funding the Freestyle community. They do awesome t-shirts, check them out), the flowing and technical wizardry of Tony Gale (founder of the excellent website freestyletricktips, which is a great source for teaching, as well as where to purchase quality freestyle gear) and many more, including Mike Osterman in the US, who is currently surfing the Youtube and Instagram popularity wave with his company Waltz Skateboarding, liaising with Revive Skateboards in videos and bringing freestyle skating into the eyes of younger skateboarders.
Freestyle is also seeing a tidal wave of young blood over in Japan and also in Romania under the guidance of the talented Marius Constantin. He seems to be building his own small freestyle army over in Romania, guiding and nurturing the scene and bringing Romania to the interest of the skater’s eye.
Seemingly out of nowhere, all this young blood are pulling off ridiculously technical tricks that are even baffling their peers. One minute you’ll invent a new combo or trick and post it to social media, the next day, you’ll see one of these new breed of freestylers from Japan not only do the trick you just bloody invented, but up the game by evolving it into something completely mind boggling that just makes you feel like throwing your board in the bin.
Without a doubt, the freestyle scene is growing again. The UK freestyle scene seems to be getting stronger with every passing month. Thanks to social media once again, people are finding common ground with other skaters and discovering locals and building the scene stronger.
The UK freestyle roundup this year was an absolute hoot. It was my first ever skateboarding competition I’ve taken part in and I placed 7th in the lineup which I’m pleased with! After a 12 year break from skating which resulted in me putting a metric ton of weight, I decided to get fit again doing my one passion which has always lingered – skateboarding. I always skated street with a few little freestyle tricks in my book but after returning to skating, I found my teenage enthusiasm for launching down 10 sets had gone, replaced by the flatground technical side of things which I now love. I’ve always approached skateboarding with an open mind and figured as long as you’re having fun and being creative, then that’s the main thing. I’ve never really been able to pigeon-hole my style of skating as it incorporates freestyle, old school, street and transition tricks into each area, but I think that helps me stand out a little bit. At the Great British Skate Off, hosted by your very own Urban Surfer at Dynamix skatepark over in Gateshead, I was staggered to pick up 2nd place in the Bowl jam which I’m still a bit shocked with now, given the high level of skating that day. However it has sparked a flame in me which is growing more and more to the point of almost obsession. I’m pushing harder with every session and setting my sights on my first major competition which is over at Paderborn in Germany next year.
With some of the younger blood now watching and learning freestyle tricks, the kids at Dynamix imitating what they have seen me doing and learning rail stands, flips etc and countless others trying new tricks they’ve seen on Instagram/Youtube/Facebook etc, the future is looking bright for the new school of Freestyle.So, my response to the comments I hear from time to time to which I guarantee over the next few years I will hear less and less…
Freestyle skateboarding is very, very much alive and growing.