Sidewalk Surfing The Net

If, like me, you started skateboarding at the turn of the millennium, you will likely remember the beginning of the internet, and how it combined with skateboarding. The abundance of information, videos and connections opened the skateboard world up to ensure you could always feel part of its culture, even from your PC. Join me as I fire up the Wayback Machine and visit a time long gone, and witness what skateboarding content on the internet was like back in the early days of the information superhighway – bringing things right up to the modern day, where, to be honest, things aren’t much different.

Truth be told, this blog post comes from a weird perspective. I’m going to spend time talking about how the early days of the internet helped a generation of skateboarders connect and find belonging, even when they lived miles from another skateboarder. The truth is, however, that this is a world I grew up in, and I never knew what life as a skateboarder was like before having the internet as an easy tool to find other people to skate with, or find videos.

A lot of older skateboarders tell me that they were heavily reliant on skateboard magazines, their local shops, and just turning up at a skatepark – this was how people formed scenes, and how people discovered what was “cool” in skateboarding. In the days before mobile phones and the internet, you just had to find the local spot and hope there would be other skateboarders there.

Now I’m not saying the internet revolutionised the simple act of planning to be somewhere at the same time as one of your mates – it didn’t. What the internet did was expand the average skateboarder’s exposure to how many other skateboarders were in their country, or even in the world. 

I joined the Enjoi forum back in 2003, after I started to explore the internet and see what delights I could uncover within skateboarding – and on this forum were people from all over the world, from Canada, America, France and Germany. And… No way, Jerry Hsu, Colt Cannon and Caswell Berry are on here too? Skateboarding forums made pro skaters far more accessible than ever before.

Caswell Berry / Feeble Grind Pole Jam / Photo by Wes Tonascia

In the UK, I think we believe athletes in our favourite sports are these untouchable celebrities. Footballers are paid so much money, and with the reach of football comes an aloofness – this person is way above you, and will not give you their attention. I think, for a long time, many UK skateboarders might have had a similar attitude towards pro skaters. The internet removed any semblance of that attitude – anyone remotely famous was now accessible if you had access to a shared platform.

With this realisation, it became obvious that pro skaters weren’t really celebrity athletes, and never had been. They were daft, silly idiots just like us. Seeing people like Colt Cannon pop up on the Enjoi forum made me realise that skateboarders have never had much pretension to them – we’re just normal people who happen to ride skateboards, and some of us get really good at it to the point where we get our name on a board.

The peak of my time on the Enjoi forum came from a Jerry Hsu interview in one of the big skateboarding magazine’s back in 2005. At this point I had been a mainstay on the small Enjoi forum for many years, and truth be told it was a very small, hardcore group who kept the forum going. A few of us had become really good friends, despite never skating together in real life. 

In the “good news” thread, I had spread the news that I had gotten a job at my local cinema. Now, he didn’t post in reply on the thread, but Jerry Hsu had clearly read that post – he quoted it, and congratulated me on my new job, in his magazine interview (specifically in response to a question related to the Enjoi forum).

Jerry Hsu / Switch 50-50

Again, this was further proof that pro skaters weren’t inaccessible celebrity deities you weren’t allowed to talk to – they were average people just like us. For people like me, this just drew us more into skateboarding. The flash and pompous bullshit of football was lost on people like me. I wanted something more genuine, more relaxed, more down to earth. My interactions with sponsored skaters on the early internet just reinforced those feelings about skateboarding.

The idea of a board company having its own forum might sound utterly weird to you. To be honest, by 2005, it was weird for everyone else as well. By that point, skateboarding magazines across the globe had their own forums which were quickly becoming the go to places for anyone wanting to join an online community to discuss the stunt wood. These thrived because the greater cross section of users gave them larger numbers, rather than die hard fans of a particular brand or skater. With that in mind, the Enjoi forum quietly disappeared into obscurity.

It was replaced by efforts from the likes of Slap Magazine (which, quite frankly, created skateboarding’s most notorious forum), and, in my own personal case, Sidewalk (aka Network 26). The Sidewalk forum was a huge online community which basically acted as a who’s who of British Skateboarding. Everyone was on here, legendary UK pros, shop owners, board company team managers, and Sidewalk’s very own staff writers and photographers. For anyone craving interaction with the wider UK scene, it was a lifeline.

Compared to the Enjoi forum, which was a community of maybe 10 or so people (who didn’t really give a shit if you embarrassed yourself), the Sidewalk forum was a huge network of British skateboarding’s most well known names, and as such the community came with a somewhat heavy amount of pressure. I was lucky to know other users on the forum in real life already (a few Cov heads happened to be frequent posters on there), and soon I made friends with a small group of other skaters around the same age as myself. 

Daryl Nobbs (Circa 2007) / BS Ollie / Photo by Alex Burrell

Even still, one thing that was present back then which is still an issue now is online communities insisting on never forgetting even the smallest transgression. Nicknames are born from small, one off, embarrassing incidents in skateboarding. Daryl Nobbs got the nickname Cov Sid because he wore leather jackets for a short stint in the 2000’s. Jim The Skin’s nickname stuck after an offhand joke comment when a magazine wanted to know his name. Skateboarders, for some reason, don’t forget this silly stuff, and it’s worse on the internet.

As was the case with MySpace, Facebook and even now on Instagram, TikTok and Twitter: social interaction on the internet is a tricky beast. My time on the Enjoi forum had prepared me for forum members with prickly personalities, those with an argumentative nature, and those who were literally just there to troll and cause trouble. The internet was, and still is, prime for misunderstandings causing long term negative effects on people. I would navigate all of this as I engaged in conversations with other skateboarders about videos I’d seen, parks I’d visited, and plans for parks yet to be built.

When I had something to share from my local scene, I’d post videos or details for competitions I was running. The idea of Terribleco being a Coventry scene blog/site only took off once I started to share my videos and ideas on the Sidewalk forum. I started to become “Ade The Terrible from Coventry”, who posted all of the “Coventry scene stuff”. It’s how I became friends with many skaters who would, in later years, call Coventry their home (e.g. Joxa and Matt Burrows, to name a couple). 

Me (circa 2008) / FS Ollie / Photo by Alex Burrell

Navigating the Sidewalk forum was like a self-contained, skateboarder only version of what we know social media as now. All of the same traps, tricks and communication tools we use on Instagram now echo the exact landscape of those mid-2000’s forums, albeit with more pretty pictures and clips that play automatically.

With the explosion of social media apps that run on a supercomputer that fits in your pocket, the mid-2000’s equivalent of me is multiplied tenfold in modern times – every city has 6 or 7 accounts designed to share up content from their local scene. All social media did was make the communication from the forum days more accessible, in the same ways forums made pro skaters more accessible.

Skateboarding forums are very much still a thing, though. The Sidewalk forum was resurrected as the UK Skate Forum in 2020.

As the internet became more prominent in skateboarding, the industry around it had to adjust. Up until the mid-2000’s, skate companies had a pretty sweet gig going on around skate videos – they would make a 40 minute video of their riders, designed to advertise how awesome their boards were, and then sell this video for a tenner to eager kids wanting to see the latest amazing tricks. The kids would then understandably be so stoked that they would go back to their local skateshop and ask for a board from the company whose video they just watched. I can think of no other industry outside of Extreme Sports that packages up a 40 minute advert and sells it on VHS tapes and DVDs for a tenner.

Whilst Girl were releasing epic videos directed by Spike Jonze that went on for over an hour, the internet was cooking up something that screwed this whole little enterprise over. Limewire, Kazaa, and any other pirate software you could think of was littered with DVD rips of the latest big video. OK, sometimes you would accidentally download porn, but more often than not you could watch the latest big video for free, with the only price being a 8 hour download time.

As someone who makes skate videos, this was something I tried to avoid doing myself. For the companies I really cared about, or the videos that I thought were real landmark moments, I would go out of my way to buy the DVD. I still do this if a video from a company or film maker I really love is released on DVD or Blu-Ray. However, through Limewire I ended up getting my hands on some really obscure videos that were near impossible to buy locally, and for me, this was the true beauty of pirating skate videos. 

For a long time my staunch opinion was that skate videos were a sacred thing, and streaming them or just watching them online was sacrilege. I softened my stance on this around 2012, when I realised that:

  1. Nobody was buying my stupid videos for 5 quid
  2. The cost, effort and down sides of producing physical media just didn’t stack up for something as small as a local skateboarding blog.
  3. The future was forcing the hand of filmmakers – go digital or die in obscurity.

Several cult skate video makers have done the DVD route properly and continue to do well from it – albeit with smart use of the digital platform to signal boost their efforts. For example, Baghead Crew and Get Lesta have kept their video releases on DVD to roaring success. For The Terrible Company, however, I had a good run of doing low budget, physical DVD releases between 2003 through to 2012 (with Cannonball Holocaust being the last Terribleco video to get a DVD release). After this, I went digital only. 

Forde & Deer Man

The path that skate videos have followed has only spiralled further and further in the direction of digital content since the days of Limewire and Kazaa. Practically every skate video releases digitally now, either through the Youtube channel of the board companies producing them, or more commonly via Thrasher’s website (followed by a release on their Youtube a few weeks later). Companies have pushed this even further, honouring shorter attention spans by releasing individual parts for big names in some cases, and this doesn’t even touch on Instagram’s effect on skate videos.

Instagram has almost reversed the trajectory of a skate video. More often than not you will see the last trick in an Insta post, then check out the full part, and then maybe figure out the brand that paid for the whole thing. Back in the DVD days, I remember seeing a Black Label logo first and foremost, then seeing Ragdoll in Blackout, and then see his last trick before coming to the conclusion that he was the baddest motherfucker I’ve ever seen.

This all sounds very “old man yells at cloud”, but I almost miss the mystery of a skate video. These days you are likely to see the 4 tricks you are most stoked on in someone’s part before you even know who the skater is. However, things haven’t really changed much since the early Internet days. The big shift from physical to digital media back in the mid-2000s shook up the whole industry, and in return the industry adapted. 

Instead of downloading something called “Adio1stepbeyond.avi” (which had a 50% chance of being porn), you can now go onto YouTube and find a high quality version of the video you are looking for, streamed directly from the company who made it. The industry saw the change that was coming and adjusted to make skate videos even easier to watch online. This is now the norm, and I bet there’s a whole generation of skateboarders who think it’s weird that we paid real money for a skate video at all. 

I don’t think we truly realised it back at the dawn of the century, but the last 20 years has brought a considerable change to skateboarding’s reach and reputation. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that technology went into overdrive at the same time as skateboarding began its biggest ever boom. Sure, the Tony Hawk games did a lot to kick start this wave of popularity, but the Internet, combined with an army of young, fresh skateboarders looking for other like-minded individuals, helped extend the tail on it. 

The Terrible Company is very much embedded in this online portion of skateboarding’s history. A lot of skateboarders enjoy reminiscing about the past – zines, VX1000’s, fishtail boards (and I am guilty of being a fan of all 3) – but I think people often forget just how much the internet has done for us. Whole swathes of skateboarding content, that thrived due to data flowing down a telephone wire. 

Look, even we tried to start our own forum!

The Internet managed to speed up our rate of discovery for new skateboarders who inspire us to learn new tricks. It opened our eyes to what good skateparks could be. It brought recognition to amazing skateboarders from parts of the world that might have been ignored without these tiny supercomputers in our pockets. As much as I say the past 20 years have been pretty consistent for how skateboarders use the Internet (if not just simply more refined as time goes on), the change the internet brought to skateboarding was revolutionary. 

Now stop looking at your screen and go skate. 

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