The UK left the European Union on the 1st of January, and at this early stage we are still yet to know the long term effects. Businesses across the country have been preparing for this, and this includes the skateboard industry.
We imported a surprising amount of skateboard hardware through our cushy trade deal with the EU, so with a new trading landscape, it becomes obvious that skateboarders might be affected by Brexit far more than just having our easy access to Barcelona’s spots stripped away. With this in mind, I decided to talk to a handful of people who operate within the skateboarding industry to find out how Brexit might affect them in the coming year.
For clarity, it is worth noting that I voted to remain in the EU. I believe we benefit more from staying in than being out. Having said that, I have tried to write this article from an open viewpoint. Ultimately, however, this post largely comes from comparison between pre-Brexit and the early days of post-Brexit, for those who have worked in the industries surrounding skateboarding.
Growing up in Coventry, I am more than familiar with Ride – it was the shop that was the go to place to buy any skate products when I was a teenager and in my early 20’s, and I have bought countless items made by my favourite board companies from there over the years. Jim The Skin (aka Paul Atkins), who co-owns the shop with his brother Darren, is optimistic about how Brexit might affect the 22 year old business.
“I’m sure in the early stages there may be a few shortages on certain items, and we’re bound to see a price rise on items too (so I’ve been told anyway). It will be a bit of a headache for the importers at first but I’m guessing and hoping things will settle down before too long.”
In the specific case for Ride, they have always been huge supporters of UK companies like Death, Heroin and Third Foot, as well as largely dealing with UK distribution houses like Shiner and Power – this angle particularly gives Jim hope for business in 2021 and beyond being unaffected by Brexit.
“We’re lucky in that we buy all our products from UK importers, so all the setting up of buying from Europe is down to them. I actually think the pandemic is causing a lot more problems and putting a lot more pressure on business than Brexit ever will.”
And in case there is any issue getting big name brands from shops like Ride, Jim has a solution: buy shop boards! In the case of shops like Ride, their boards are printed by UK distributor Third Foot. Provided board suppliers can get their materials, shop boards will continue to be made and in stock.
“Ride has the new Joe Skin graphic out, so it’s pretty obvious to me that Europe will want to get their hands on a whole load of these bad boys!? Of course we’ll reach a good deal for those….Haha!”
Skateboarding hardware and clothing isn’t the only thing to be affected by our departure from the EU. In the UK, we have many construction needs that Brexit will no doubt affect, and skateparks are where construction and skateboarding industries collide. The UK arm of Norwegian company Betongpark is especially affected by Brexit more than any other UK park builder, as they are a British arm of a company not based in the UK. I spoke to Daryl Nobbs about how Brexit has impacted the business.
“Brexit is definitely going to affect our business going forward. Right now our UK company works seamlessly with our team out in Norway (which is actually not EU, but EEA), as well as having workers based all over Europe. We will still continue to work in that way, but we will have to adapt and no doubt have to contend with even more bureaucratic bullshit!”
Even knowing the challenges that face Betongpark, Daryl has a positive outlook, and he plans to use the situation to benefit the scene here in the UK: “Like anything I believe you just have to try and take opportunity from the adversity, albeit something as bullshit as Brexit. For us it has not only given us a foot up the ass to get some more concrete poured in the UK, but actually an opportunity to grow and be more progressive as a company by thinking even more about locality, community and sustainability.”
“By this, I mean being fluid with how we work, not just delivering a pre-packaged product: designing, sharing skills with people through community projects, encouraging locals to be involved in projects in their areas, as well as how we source our materials.”
Brexit and the current pandemic have become entwined, and Daryl recognises this and how it has informed his outlook on not only our current time, the sensibilities we can develop as a country, and his future as a skatepark builder: “Funnily, I think the pandemic has actually taught us a lot of important lessons to carry forward into this next challenge, and personally on top of that I would have to say there is value in the local community and we must do what we can to support that.”
It’s all well and good worrying about hardware, clothing and new skateparks, but EU membership has become a lifeline for many professionals working within the many creative industries skateboarding touches. For Garry Jones, this is especially true – as a photographer who has made a name for himself photographing some of skateboarding’s big names here in the UK and in the EU at competitions like the X Games and Simple Session, travel and freedom of movement are essential:
“Brexit undoubtedly affects the photography industry: removing the freedom to travel and work in European countries will be a big blow.”
Moreover, Garry’s industry is facing issues around funding due to the Brexit landscape. Now we are out of the EU, many of the funding opportunities for creative industries that we have enjoyed for decades will be closed off to UK businesses.
“Arts companies that are heavily funded have held onto their money and not spent it on the creative industries such as photography and videography because of it. I worry now we have finally left, funding they can tap into has dried up, and the landscape will change.”
If Brexit wasn’t enough of a blow to the photography industry, navigating the departure from the EU whilst a global pandemic has been going on has affected the Garry as a photographer immensely:
“I wouldn’t like to predict how Brexit’s going to affect me in 2021. I’ve already gone through the biggest change in my career in 2020 due to COVID. With the events industry gone, and having to rethink what I do as a photographer, I have to think will that happen again in 2021? Who knows?”
Mark “Morbid” Taylor, proprietor of Ripride Skateshop, has a slightly unique case when it comes to Brexit. 2021 sees the opening of the newest incarnation of the shop, after a brief hiatus – he is effectively trying to get his business back up and running in the first few months of post-Brexit Britain. He remembers the referendum vote itself having an effect on business, which may have been an early indicator of how Brexit might pan out for Skateboarding:
“Brexit had an immediate negative effect for Ripride when the results of the referendum were announced back in 2016. I woke up to an email from a distributor putting prices of boards up by 10% & hardware between 10/20% – the increase was blamed on the weakness of the pound…”
“It’s pretty difficult to sell the higher end stuff these days as most people want a good deal or to get something as cheaply as possible. I had to change what I ordered from some of the brands & could only really afford to get the more popular sizes in – a bit of a bummer, because I like to offer most sizes.”
Moving onto a post-Brexit world, Mark foresees the post-referendum price hike happening again. On a personal note, as a shop that brings in EU products and ships to many EU countries, he fears this may also affect business:
“Now that Brexit is go, I guess we’ll see some more product cost rises from the distributors who are EU based: boards that have been kept to the £40/£50 mark will probably be in line to rise to the standard US £60. About a third of my shop’s online orders went to EU countries, so I can see that falling massively with the import duty the customers will face (up to 35% of the order total). Overall, it’s pretty hard to find any positives with Brexit.”
I could write so many heated words about Brexit. Part of me believes that those who voted for it didn’t know what they were getting, and another part of me feels that what has been delivered certainly isn’t what most Brexiteers actually wanted in the first place. I could complain about it all is until I’m blue in the face – but ultimately it has happened and the reality is rolling out in front of our eyes.
Skateboarding can be a precarious industry at the best of times, and luckily the pandemic has been kind to core skate brands with a huge influx of new skaters to buy up products, despite providing its own brand of uncertainty. Navigating the new landscape of a UK outside of the EU would be tough for any industry, but at least the queue of people wanting new skateboards is decent enough to keep our core brands going.
There are people who would see this blog post and not understand the point. Why write about something political like Brexit? Why give time to something so divisive? The reason is that decisions like Brexit have a very real cost for British industries. Skateboarding does not exist in a bubble: it is, and always has been, a reaction to the world around us.
Skateboarders ride onto private property, claim it as their own, and use it for a completely different purpose. The act of skateboarding, especially on the street, is in its very nature a reaction to how we feel about our society. Skateboarding and Brexit were always destined to collide in some way, because everything is informed by each of our individual politics – whether it’s business, or individual opinion, or Craig Questions taking to the streets of London to ask the opinions of the general public on the matter. Brexit’s effect on our corner of the world was inevitable.
The various sub-industries I mentioned in this article will all be affected by the UK’s exit from the European Union. Whether indirectly (as is the case of skate shops like Ride or Ripride, who will largely be beholden to distributors getting good trade on goods) or directly (such as the creative industries like Photographers, or skatepark builders who operate throughout Europe like Betongpark) – there’s a distinct air of uncertainty on the horizon, with little option than to be optimistic that things work out OK.
A common thread from some of the people I spoke to was that Covid-19 has had a larger effect than the relatively known roadblock of Brexit. The global pandemic created massive uncertainty for many of the industries within skateboarding, and this coupled with Brexit could not have been easy to navigate. The positive side, however, is that skateboarding has become extremely popular (strangely, due to the pandemic), and is seeing another boom of sorts.
With the delayed Olympics, maybe this could be the best possible thing for the industry to survive during this time when the dust settles on the pandemic and Brexit? Based on what I have heard from those I talked to for this blog post, I’m optimistic.
Daryl had some pretty key words along these lines, so I’ll let him close this blog post: “I think by our nature skateboarders are pretty well equipped to adapt, and we will always thrive in our own little way a little left of centre. Brexit, Covid, or whatever the next bullshit that comes our way is.”. Thanks for reading.