Why Do We DIY?

Ben Broyd at Bournbrook DIY / Tree Tail Slap / Photo by Rob Whiston

The last time I lived in Coventry was 2013. We lived in a surprisingly roomy 2 bedroom house in the Earlsdon area, roughly 15 minutes walk from the city centre. The location was pretty great for getting to anywhere you could ride a skateboard in Coventry – if you wanted street, it was easily accessible in the city centre, if you wanted skateparks, then the memorial Park Skatepark was also 15 minutes walk away, and the Holbrooks Bowls were 10 minutes drive. Earlsdon is also full of rad, tightly packed hills and pavements you could bomb through to get to spots.

Back in the Summer of 2013, I think I had been campaigning for a new skatepark in Coventry consistently for roughly 4 years. The campaign had changed direction a few times, with an indoor skatepark idea that fell through due to numerous council roadblocks, and due to the inevitable problem of us being people in our 20’s working full time. We didn’t have time to babysit the council and make sure they were following through on their side of things. Truth be told, this was mere months before I would move out of Coventry, and I knew I probably wouldn’t be bothered with continuing to carry on campaigning for a skatepark the council clearly didn’t want to build.

As a last ditch attempt to at least have something new and different to skate, I had built a wooden quarter in the backyard of that house in Earlsdon. It was 2 foot high, had awful transition and plastic coping (a trick I had picked up from my mate Tom Albrow to help reduce noise and keep neighbors happy). That ramp didn’t last long – Stan Byrne broke part of it with a Blunt Fakie, and that was the beginning of the end for it. I scrapped the thing and decided to maybe not have a ramp in my garden until I owned a house and could do something more substantial. 

Apart from my less than stellar effort at DIY, the summer of 2013 brought about one last attempt at something great. One of Coventry’s colleges had recently been shut down, and out the back of this building was a huge car park, with overgrown bushes and perfectly smooth tarmac clearings winding through them. This car park was less than 5 minutes from my house, and I used to cruise down the hill to this spot and meet with other skaters to put together some random obstacles to skate. From about 2012 through to 2013, we filled the car park with obstacles made from random junk – plywood boards, curb stones, etc. It was all surprisingly solid and really fun to skate.

Lucas Healey circa 2012 at the Premier spot / Photo by Ryan Bradley

After a couple of months, we got brave and decided we might be able to get away with something a little more… permanent. We all banded together and got some bags of cement, and began to build a ledge with a wallie block on the other side. About 5 of us grafted for an afternoon putting this thing together, with Kyle Smith basically getting the thing finished to a super professional standard. It looked amazing. Everyone who was there was super proud and stoked to get back and skate it. 

I returned the next day to check on it, and found a few kids trying to skate it: I explained they needed to wait another day, and then they could come back and skate it as much as they wanted. They were cool with it and asked me loads of questions about what else we wanted to build – to which I didn’t really have an answer… I hadn’t really given it much thought.

On the way down to the spot the next day, I came equipped with wax, a broom, and a sense of extreme hope and optimism that what we had built could be the next great Coventry spot. When I arrived, I was greeted with a huge pile of rubble. A few of the other lads turned up shortly after, and truth be told we were all gutted. Our DIY spot had hit a major setback. It soon became obvious that our ledge had been destroyed by the people who lived opposite the car park – a bunch of people who were dead against us using the space at all since the minute we rolled up to explore it for potential DIY opportunities. 

Martins Neimanis circa 2012 at the Premier spot / BS Flip / Photo by Kristian Edwards

In our minds, we were doing them a favour. Before we had moved in to skate the car park, we had spotted a lot of dodgy drug addicts hanging around in the car park. The bushes and fencing gave them good cover to sit on a manky old couch and get high. When the skaters moved in, it brought unnecessary attention to them, and they cleared off. The noise of skateboarders rolling around also attracted the attention of the nearby residents, who clearly would have just preferred quiet drug addicts leaving needles around rather than us being there doing anything. The demolition of our ledge was a statement: “Fuck off, and don’t build shit here”.

Let’s be honest, building DIY skateparks is illicit and extremely anti-social. You are moving in on someone else’s property, building stuff you have no legal right to, and then also skateboarding on it. Think about this: We come along, break the law, use concrete to vandalise something, and then loudly ride all over it calling attention to what we have done. To me, that is inherently funny. I think we get away with it often enough because people just can’t believe the audacity of it. I also think, when done well, what skateboarders bring to DIY projects benefits areas enough that non-skaters just accept it as a price to pay to avoid something potentially so much worse.

Some of the best examples of DIY skateparks always grow out of reclaiming a forgotten and unloved piece of land. When I think of Bournbrook DIY, the RBL spot, or even pioneering DIY parks like Burnside, they all came about from people wanting somewhere to skate, taking an area of land that modern society didn’t give a shit about, and then transforming it into an area that has purpose, beauty and hope. That last word is important. These projects succeed because they provide hope to communities that maybe need it. It’s no coincidence that Bournbrook was born and thrived during the pandemic – a time when people are experiencing extreme stress, anxiety and fear.

Others are restoration projects – taking old skateparks and making them thrive again. Stockwell’s modern, professional renovation was inspired and informed by the many DIY additions that had been bolted onto the old 70’s park. In a similar vein, the thriving Hackney Bumps project in London is currently following a similar path, with a huge community effort to grind down the old, rugged concrete to match smoother, modern standards, and adding rad modern obstacles to the park (built by Betongpark’s London branch). 

And then, there’s the Deaner in Bristol – a legitimate skatepark space that often enjoys DIY additions from plenty of locals, as well as renovations and maintenance from professional skatepark builders. Many of the park’s original features still exist, but have been patched up, improved and cared for over the park’s long history. Projects of this scale move far beyond illicit anti-social vandalism, and perhaps are more in line with the kind of heritage restoration we see at National Trust sites. This is using DIY to preserve skateboarding’s history, and add onto it with what we have learnt over the past 50 years since these parks were first built.

All of these projects begin the same way as the story of our ill-fated DIY ledge in Coventry. Skateboarders who want something new, fresh and different to skate, and the drive to get it built on their own terms. When conditions are right, this can produce incredible things. I’ve skated amazing DIY spots like Daveside, Swompton and the M32 spot, all with that unique feel of something hand-crafted away from prying eyes (or in some cases crafted with comical audacity by skaters in hi-vis jackets pretending to be council workers). All of them remind us of the best part of skateboarding: overcoming a challenge, working through a problem and getting a sense of reward for getting through it. 

So, why do we DIY? Let’s be honest, it’s because the elected officials who should be providing decent places to skate are doing a hopeless job of it. Nobody gives a shit about building skateparks, and they only do so because they think it’s a shortcut to fixing “bad” areas, or it will shut the kids up and maybe reduce anti-social behaviour. Skateparks are a means to sweep us unruly skateboarders off the streets and into an arena that conforms to modern sensibilities. I love skateparks, but this is totally what they are. 

DIY spots are a complete deconstruction of that. They are a complete rejection of the idea of “the arena”. They are proof that skateboarding will spill into any gap or crack it can fit into. It’s a rejection of having to do things “properly” to keep the elected officials happy. It’s a firm declaration of what we actually want to ride: Why wait for the council to build your dream setup (which they will inevitably get wrong), when you can just do it yourself? And when they go right, and when they really nail the message, you get places like Bournbrook, RBL Spot, Hackney Bumps and The Deaner. 

Stan Byrne at Curbside / Wallride Fakie / Photo by James Collins

You get these places that flourish, and impress the “establishment” enough that they finally understand that maybe we aren’t as anti-social or undesirable as they first thought. When DIY spots are done well, and done right, there’s an almost utopian feeling to the world, where skaters are allowed to just create whatever they want, and be who we truly are, uninterrupted by society. It’s rare, but when DIY spots work, they can become the best places Skateboarding has to offer: places truly full of hope and promise, and never-ending possibility. That’s why I built that awful 2 foot quarter in my garden in Earlsdon. That’s why we built that ill-fated wallie block ledge. That’s why I think we build anything ourselves. That is why we DIY.

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