RBL Spot Interview

DIY skateparks have exploded in popularity over the last 10 years. I’m unsure whether it’s a response to the growing number of people using skateparks, as people look for a more secluded spot to skate, or whether it’s a natural extension of the creativity and freedom of skateboarding – but DIY parks have become a staple part of modern skateboarding. One spot which is thriving in this area is the RBL Spot, at an undisclosed location in Essex. The spot has been growing organically with an impressive level of professional finish and a great selection of obstacles to skate. I spoke to Will, who heads up the effort for the DIY spot, about how it came about, and how building there got him into the middle of a manhunt straight out of Police Interceptors. 

Can you introduce yourself and tell me how long you’ve been skating for? My name is Will. I started skateboarding in summer of ‘01, aged about 10-11.

What inspired you to start building the RBL Spot? I’ve wanted to make a street style spot for a while. I tried 6 months before in an underpass which is lit up all night, but had some trouble with the graffiti writers who captured the space first. When I found this spot, I knew it was perfect. It was a BMX spot before, but as they built it out of wood, it all got burnt down by local chav kids – a constant plague to the spot.

What does RBL stand for? RBL means “rubble”. If you follow the hashtag #rubblespot back, you can see the earlier wooden BMX park and the concrete bits they had on the building before it was burnt and then knocked down. It used to be a good spot for graffiti and urban exploration, so the name was pretty set, I just gave it a slight rework.

What was on the site of the RBL Spot before you moved in to build the DIY park and before the BMX spot? It was a sport and social club, with tennis courts, football and bowls pitches. The red tile areas of the spot are where the shower rooms used to be. It had a large function room you could rent out for parties and events. Some of the skaters remember playing football there when they were really young. The club was subject to arson in 2013, and then I believe the building was demolished in 2015.

Did you set out to build the spot because of a lack of decent skateparks nearby, or because you were after something a skatepark can’t offer? We have some OK parks locally, but there’s something special about DIY spots: a sort of no rules freedom. There are not many DIY’s that are all street. We’re 20 miles away from Urbside, who have the transition covered! Scooters are a real issue in my local park: It’s very small, and I’ve grown quite tired of waiting for the council and their 2 million pound lottery grant funded upgrade. I’ve been trying to work with them and local police on this for the last 18 months.

Which famous spots did you take inspiration from when building obstacles at the spot? As far as the inspiration for the obstacles, layout etc – it’s all from my love of plaza skating. Early 00s street was the best! Spots like Love Park, Carlsbad and Pier 7 are all hugely influential which is pretty obvious! Also 4 months before we started building, I visited Barcelona. Seeing the locals at Sants inspired me: their style, consistency and love for their spot.

Are there any other DIY parks out there that you use as an ideal benchmark for what you would like RBL to become? I really like the Bodila Project in Barcelona, the guys are super helpful and friendly too. Clemente DIY in Grand Rapids, Michigan is awesome too: kinda raw East Coast vibes. I love all the spots with a real sense of community, which is a big part of what I’m trying to create here.

You mentioned the chavs being a plague on the spot – Has anything super sketchy happened to you down at the spot whilst building or skating? Funny you should mention the chavs – I caught two of them just after the shed at the spot was kicked in for the 2nd time, and one of them ran away without his bike. I kept it hostage for a few hours until he went and got his Mum and Dad to scout it out for him.

By far the most memorable sketchy incident happened on a Sunday night in January. I’d been down there building on my own all day, and except for this crew of mosher kids who hang about near the spot, I’d seen no-one all day. I’m finishing a zoot, waiting to do the final pass on this triangle patch of concrete, when I hear a screech of a car from the top of the hill, and the loudest, clearest voice shouts out “freeze, put your hands up!”. I grab my phone, thinking ‘Oh shit, this could be some good content!’. Next thing I know, there’s loads of blue lights, sirens, and loud chatter from the road. More old bill turned up, and the whole thing was looking pretty heavy, so I started packing my shit up. 

One of the cars started driving down real slow past me, lights on. They stopped at the bottom of the hill, and they got out with a fucking huge dog, with lights shining over towards me and across the spot. They slowly walked towards where the moshers throw bricks and shit.

At this point, I thought “Fuck this, I’m out – I’m not getting caught up in this and bringing attention to the spot”. Touch wood: we have had no trouble from the police, local residents or businesses yet. So I grabbed my stuff and started waddling down the road between a load of police at the top and the parked, flashing police car at the bottom. When I say stuff, I mean a huge backpack, 2 tote bags, a tripod with a video light still on it, a shovel and a sledgehammer. 

FUCKING HELL. I thought you were gonna say the worst thing you encountered was some kids vandalising the spot but that’s much crazier than I expected. How I didn’t get stopped I don’t know, and I never got to the bottom of what happened! 

The spot seems like a real community effort. How many other people have helped with the build? 4 of us started it, but I’ve had probably 20 other people help mix cement, or donate some money on the GoFund. Myself, Wes, Sam, Mark, Daryl (our buddy who came up from London for the build days, bless him), then also big shout outs to Rob and Matt who also helped on the big builds. It’s awesome, as Mark and I skated Rob & Matt’s DIY warehouse spot in Brentwood about 10 years ago, and now it’s gone full circle.

How has the lockdown from COVID-19 affected the build? Dramatically. For starters, Wickes are not selling sand and cement as they’re not essential items, so getting materials has been a mission. Fortunately a small family-run builders merchant got me sorted. With the local skateparks officially taped off and police monitoring them, we’ve had more skaters visit, in small groups luckily. Downside of this is the ground is getting more worn day by day! We’ve also had more non-skater visitors than ever, with the residents of the local houses nearby all coming over to take a look, and they’ve all been very supportive when I’ve spoken to them. I’ve got to know one guy who heads down there every morning to work out; it’s great to see the space being used by everyone.

What have you got planned for the spot in the future? Currently in build is a new 7 stair with a low, long round handrail, and importantly, a BBQ. I’ve got plans to finish tidying the last bit of the edge and bank down to the lower panel. I’d like to add a long flatbar in the side section. And finally I’d like to extend and join the far end with a bank, making the whole layout a complete L shape, which is a lot of work! We really need to work on a lot of the holes in the floor too, and also dig away at the sides. The more you dig, the more room you have to skate but 95% of the digging has ended being by me! We really need to borrow a digger from the site opposite.

What’s the sickest trick to go down at the spot so far? For me, seeing Neil Smith shred it up the other week. He did a nollie heelflip down the gap in a line and nollie heelflip fs crook on the little ledge. Not enough from our lot: we spent more time building than skating last summer, so hopefully this year we’ll enjoy skating it more. This has gotta be the worst one: 

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Other than Neil Smith and Thrasher’s Hall Of Meat, have you had many high profile skaters visit the spot, or show interest in it? Nah. Smithy is pretty local. The future of the spot is pretty uncertain so we keep it pretty low key. If you know, you know. But obviously I’d love to see people come shred it up.

What advice would you give to anyone looking to start a DIY spot? Pick the right spot. Never stop researching, stuff like mix designs, tools, techniques – all knowledge is good. Preparation is everything, it’s better to take two days doing it really well than rushing it in 1 and having to fix it half a year later. Invite trustworthy people, and be prepared for everyone to slate what you’ve built. Everyone has ideas but not many will put the time, money, effort, blood, sweat and tears in!

Anyone you want to thank? @mr_radman for teaching me everything, all the support and encouragement to build the rubble spot, and the many hours he spends behind the camera capturing us all. @wjstringer for all the help and support from day 1, likewise @meerington_ for the many hours of help and all the sick sessions we’ve had skating recently. Shouts to @kit1 and @redbulluk for showing support for me last year and sending over a pallet of materials.

Big up everyone who’s donated and helped out, and come along for a session. Let’s hope we can have a few more soon! 

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