When you get some years under you as a skateboarder, you amass a whole bunch of stories about tricks, interfering weirdos, board setups and the absolute best times when riding a skateboard. As much as we try, not every session or trip turns out the way we expect. This is the story of My Big Fat Gypsy Road Trip.
Note: Please excuse the really bad video screencaps dotted throughout this article – the photos from this trip are lost to the sands of time.
Originally, after the successful “Sittin’ On The Toilet” trip of 2010, I wanted to do it all again the next year. 2011’s trip had been a write off though, as the potential for a road trip with a Cov crew and shredders Daryl Nobbs, Becky Jacques and Felix Parker had fallen through after some people got ill, and others had prior commitments they couldn’t rearrange. The following year, in 2012, we finally managed to get some Cov heads who were keen to hit the road again for several days of camping, shredding and good times, so I got organised and readied myself for another camping trip.
Like last time, we planned to hit up a good chunk of the south west, starting near Bristol and making our way down south to Cornwall. We booked ourselves in at the same campsite in Cheddar that we had stayed at for the first road trip, and got a tight crew of 8 people in 2 cars, with a plan to meet Joxa and Slasher Sam down in Bristol (they were living down there at the time).
The roster driving down from Coventry was myself, my wife Emily, Ralph Cooper, Hannah Craig, Kyle “KB” Smith, Tom Illsley, Ryan “RB” Bradley and Alex “Moose” McGhie. Emily, Ralph, Hannah, KB and Joxa were returning members of the Sittin’ On The Toilet gang, so I was pretty stoked for more awesome times with them, but also stoked on the people embarking on a trip with us for the first time.
The trip would run across a long weekend, starting on a Friday, and ending on a Monday. It was April, a time of year when weather is unpredictable, but can sometimes turn out really nice. April 2012 was not one of those times. On the Friday morning of the road trip’s start, it was chucking it down. The crew turned up at my house and we all looked at the BBC Weather website, and thought it looked like it might improve. Determined and overly optimistic, we got in our cars and hit the road, making a quick stop at the local Sainsbury’s.
Now, I’ve had some shit cars in my time. I once had a lowered Audi that would cut out whilst you were driving, and would only start again if you turned the ignition with the accelerator down (I had to do this whilst rolling, which was terrifying). I once had a Toyota Auris Sport that needed an entire clutch rebuild 3 months after I bought it. But the car I had on this road trip was a Toyota Corolla: the choice of grandads and Taxi Drivers everywhere. This car was reliable enough, but it was far too big for the engine size (it was a 1.4 litre) so was sluggish as fuck. It’s one redeeming quality was it was very spacious, especially compared to the Peugeot 106 I took on “Sittin’ On The Toilet”, which had to have a roof box attached just to carry all of our camping gear.
The Toyota Corolla didn’t give me a whole lot of problems in the 2 and a half years I owned it, but on this particular occasion, embarking on a skate road trip with high expectations, it decided to conk out. After we had been to Sainsbury’s, I got back in the car and turned the key. It turned over, and didn’t start. I tried again. No start. I tried a few more times. The car turned over and refused to start. With no idea what to do I gave my Dad a ring and explained what was going on. I had flooded the engine. When I asked how we could fix it, my Dad simply said “You’re just gonna have to wait”. “How long???”. “A couple of hours maybe?”. My heart sank.
After half an hour of sitting in the car watching skate videos and talking about how shit things had gone so far, I tried the ignition again. IT WAS ALIVE. The Toyota spluttered to life, and the engine was running. With not a second to spare, I gave Hannah the signal that we were hitting the road, and both cars rolled out of the Sainsbury’s car park we had become far too acquainted with.
As we barreled down the M5, the rain clouds began to shift, and suddenly: Blue skies! Things were looking up. The excitement was palpable and we all started to get hyped. As we rolled up to our first stop, Keynsham in Bristol, we were ready to shred.
The session hit the ground running – after being stuck in our cars and thinking the day was a washout, everyone was so excited and shredding. Everyone landed a trick at the park: RB got the sickest Backside Heelflip over the hip, Tom shot a sick photo of me doing a Sweeper (lost to the sands of the internet), Emily monster trucked down some steps into a bank, and Ralph had his trademark fancy footwork on display. As the session was really getting into the swing of things… The heavens opened, and the rain came down. It was a washout.
We sat in the cars and thought the rain might pass, but after 10 minutes it became obvious we were probably done here for now. Time was getting on a bit, so we decided to head on to the campsite, get set up, and chill out for the evening, with a fresh start the next day. Once we got to the campsite, we had a warm welcome, and the weather was looking fine once again. The evening camping antics were great, and everyone had a drink and a laugh. A few of the guys hotboxed a tent, so everyone was pretty mellow compared to the scrumpy based insanity of 2010’s trip. We all settled in for the night in hopes of a good day’s skate on Saturday.
And then came the night. I don’t think we get any hurricanes in the UK, but that night must have been the closest we’ve got to one. The wind was intense, and at times I thought our tent was coming down. Tom Illsley was in a pop up festival tent, and the evening before RB had made jokes that Tom would be sleeping in a tree by the time the morning came around. The more the night went on, the more I was convinced this would be the case.
The morning came, and the sky was grey. Very grey. It was freezing, it was wet, it was not the ideal weather for skateboarding. I remember waking up a good hour before anyone else, and I went and sat in my car, put the heating on, and listened to the radio whilst I waited for some activity from the rest of the camp. As people stirred, the realisation of how shit the weather was settled in. We had planned to hit up Cheddar skatepark, but it looked less likely as the morning went on.
We realised an indoor skatepark was probably going to be the only option. Bristol had the indoor Campus Skatepark, and was only a 30 minute drive away. We piled into our cars after some breakfast and headed to Bristol to meet Joxa and Sam. After an obligatory tea break at Joxa’s , we made our way to the park. This was before the Campus Pool existed, and at the time Campus consisted of a room with a mini ramp, and a former school gym (before the current skatepark there existed) with some portable ramps and ledges dotted around. It wasn’t perfect, but it was dry, and it was a skatepark.
This session was pretty rad. Joe Habgood was there and was flying out of banks to wall ride everywhere. We all filmed some stuff, and generally just hung out and drank tea and skated. After a couple of hours, we stepped outside and realised it had dried up. We floated the idea of going to a skatepark, but Joxa had a better idea, and suggested a DIY spot called Daveside (which is still standing today, and is a super sick DIY skatepark). Back in 2012, it was just a quarter and a ledge. However, it was more than enough for us to get a session going.
The skate was going well, and Emily had spotted a quirky little lump at the end of the quarter (built by Swampy) which she was determined to rock fakie. This thing wasn’t a quarter or a bank, it was a weird lump with a little curb at the top to get your trucks onto. It was a challenge to skate, but it was super fun. Emily had a few goes at it, and was getting really close. Tom got the camera out to film Emily’s trick on it, and first go, she went up and took a super gnarly slam, landing straight on her hip. It was one of the most horrible slams I’ve seen her take, but she just got straight back up – the next go she got it.
After about 45 minutes of skating, the rain began again. Grateful to have got some time outside skating, we got back in the cars and said goodbye to Joxa and Sam, and headed back to the campsite.
When we returned, it was like a bombsite. The horrendous storm-like weather had persisted through Saturday. Tom’s tent was practically up in a tree. RB and Moose’s tent had completely fallen down, soaking some of their bags. The big tent that Ralph, Hannah, Emily and myself were sharing was wavering, threatening to collapse. The only tent not on the verge of collapse was KB’s pro fishing tent.
The field we were camping in was boggy, and areas were becoming flooded. We made a decision to pack up, and head back to Coventry. If we could get a good night’s sleep in a warm bed inside a dry house, we might be able to regroup and make new plans to head to an indoor park if this weather continued on Sunday.
On the way out of the campsite, Hannah’s Ford Fiesta got stuck in the boggy grass. She couldn’t shift it, and no amount of pushing from others could free it. The Toyota had surprisingly gotten out of the field, so we tied a rope to the Fiesta and had to tow it out to rescue it. So far we had spent more time battling the elements than actually skateboarding! By the time we hit the road, the night time was drawing in. We stopped at a service station, where we skated some flat ground in wellies. Spirits were still high, somehow!
To keep a sense of us being on a “camping” road trip, Tom, RB, KB and Moose stayed at mine and Emily’s. Our house wasn’t massive, so it was a bit like sardines in a tin. In the morning I woke everyone up with my Covpark Combat megaphone, which was tradition for anyone who slept at my house.
The weather was still absolutely shit, so we thought about hitting an indoor park. Consensus landed on us going to The House in Sheffield, where we arranged to meet Alex Burrell. But when we checked social media we got a surprise. The House’s Facebook page said the park was closed, but would open ASAP, due to an emergency. Ralph phoned up for more details, and found out the building next door had caught fire. We all felt like this trip was fucking cursed.
The guys at The House encouraged us to drive up, saying by the time we arrived from Cov the fire engines would have gone. Ralph asked how busy the park would be, and we were told it wouldn’t be too bad. With the session on, we headed up to Sheffield. When we arrived, we were gutted to find the place absolutely rammed with scooter kids.
Dodging the scooter kids for this afternoon was an exercise in patience. Literally every time one of us would set up for a trick, there was a scooter kid there. For some of us it felt like we were never going to get a chance to even attempt the tricks we wanted. For a short stint we took over the micro room and got some footage there. We managed to get onto the street course a little bit, but the sheer congestion of the park, and the self entitled parents of the kids, just made it worse.
By this point I was flagging. I was genuinely so tired I couldn’t think straight. When we were leaving, KB was trying a trick, and wanted to get it down before we hit the road. I was so tired, and I just didn’t have the energy to wait around, so I got pissed off with it. In the car I ran my mouth and basically said some shit about Kyle that was unfair and moreso a reaction to me being so tired and bummed out about the trip than it was about Kyle wanting to land a trick. KB was understandably vexed with me, and everyone in the car was bummed out.
At the services I tried to mend the bridges and was honest that I was just completely wiped out. I was at the end of my rope and reacted like a twat. It was honestly one of the most embarrassing moments I’ve had skating and I felt so shit for being an arsehole and bringing the vibe down. We all tried to enjoy some KFC and put it behind us.
The next day, the weather was looking great. Things were finally turning around. Knowing that this was the last chance for this trip to turn out good, we plotted a course for Clifton Skatepark in Nottingham. I don’t know what happened on this day, but we never got any footage from the park. It was the day with easily the best weather, and I’m pretty sure Tom filmed some stuff here, but the footage got corrupted or something.
I barely remember anything else about this day apart from Emily taking the actual worst slam she has ever taken, and landing on her already bruised hip so hard she thought she had dislocated it. The session at Clifton ended with us making a trip to A&E to get an X-ray for Emily. KB and Tom were trapped in Nottingham waiting for us to be done, and late in the evening we rolled on back to Coventry kinda glad the whole weekend was over.
I’ve titled this “The Worst Road Trip”, but I am fully aware many of you might have far worse experiences. So why am I detailing this? I saw a video of Craig Questions from about 5 years ago where he talks about skateboarders, and how we might have a terrible time on a skate trip like sleeping in a cold garage with 10 other people, and how we all just accept it, like it’s no big deal.
For anyone else, this kind of experience might be their idea of hell. The trip I described would be enough to put most normal people off going camping or even interacting with the people involved ever again. But for skateboarders, this kind of shit is part and parcel. It’s who we are. Everyone has a road trip story like my one, where seemingly everything goes wrong. But the one thing that always, ALWAYS, makes it worth it? Riding your skateboard, with some good friends, and getting each other stoked on riding something new and different.
Questions made a good point that a bunch of “Lads” on holiday in Ibiza would take sleeping in a garage on a cold concrete floor as a failure. They would take camping in a literal storm as a failure. They would call the trip completely over the minute someone’s tent ended up in a tree.
Skateboarders adapt. Skateboarders think about how they can still proceed, and still get to do this thing we all enjoy so much, even if the universe is repeatedly telling you to give up and sit at home doing nothing. This road trip didn’t go to plan, but we stuck with the idea of 4 non stop days of skateboarding as a crew, and didn’t give up on it.
We made lemonade out of lemons. And that’s what skateboarding is about, right? If you are expecting perfect weather, perfect terrain, and no hiccups, and not making the most of what you have, then that’s not what skateboarders do – you get straight back out there and you figure out a way to get the session on!