How did you start skateboarding and what was it about freestyle that lured you to the dark side?
I started skating because I was a clumsy kid - but a stubborn one. Skateboarding was everywhere in 1999 - I don't really remember what first bought it to my attention, maybe it was the older kid who lived round the corner who was the prototypical late 90's skater - and I was oddly determined to prove that I could do it. It wasn't even so much that skateboarding looked "cool", more that it was something I knew I would suck at but that I could teach myself to do. More of a self-improvement goal than anything.
Really what I wanted to do was ride vert, but back then we had no ramps or parks nearby. I lived in an old mining village, and the nearest transition was an hour's bus ride away - a long way to go when you're 12 years old. All the local kids skated street, throwing themselves down three-sets and over little grass gaps, and I just wasn't interested in that. As a result, all I did for the first year or so was throw myself down hills and do wheelies. It was only when Dan Gesmer made an appearance on a Saturday morning TV show in the UK that I realised there was something else to skateboarding, and I was sold. Watching him do spins and handstands blew my mind more than the early clips of Mullen the producers spliced in to illustrate "typical" freestyle - funny that I still can't do either very well!
After that, I went onto the internet, and found everything I could. There wasn't much in 2001, but Bob's Trick Tips and F! Magazine (and the related forum) became my most frequented websites very quickly. There was no turning back at that point.
There are a lot of Mullen clones out there. You definitely have a style of your own. Succulent shuvits, fantastic fingerfips, and killer kickflips. How did you evolve to specialize in these tricks and why do you have a preference to them?
I suspect a lot of that has to do with two things:
1) my love of rolling, and the "magic of effortless gliding". Nothing feels better to me than actually rolling, so if I can't roll into it, I'm generally not interested.
2) the fact I've never been a street skater, so I've never considered or accepted the ollie as a mandatory trick or starting point. Every trick group had equal weight in my eyes when I was starting out, so I had the mental freedom to just go with whatever seemed the most fun.
If you also consider my earliest influences (Dan Gesmer, Darryl Grogan and Pierre Andre), my trick selection seems fairly obvious, in hindsight.
To be honest, there's a certain degree of curiosity and stubbornness in there, too; in a world filled with ollie variations, it's fun to see just how far I can personally push these oft-neglected trick groups, and what archaic variations I can dig back up.
U.K. has a gloomy and raining season about thirteen out of the twelve months. :) Does it limit the amount of time you have to skate or have you guys adapted to the weather to skate mostly under cover?
You have no idea. We get maybe three decent months a year, skate-wise. Lots of rain, and insanely short days during the winter (we're a lot further north than some people realise). Now I'm living near London, it's not too bad - I've got a few covered spots (including a shopping centre/mall) which I can use and abuse during the rainy season. Growing up, it was a nightmare. There was only one covered location for miles around - a tiny tunnel that went underneath a railway line. It had tiled walls which were always covered in lipstick graffiti, it was full of mud, and often you had to deal with piles of broken glass and dog turd. It wasn't even a very big space, but when your choice is that or not skating for weeks on end, you grab the broom and go to work.
That said, the biggest issue we have is the surfaces. Now there's a bunch of generic outdoor skateparks (skatepark design here is terrible) with polished concrete floors, so British street skaters are finally getting similar places to skate to their American counterparts, but everywhere else is rough, pitted and heavily abrasive tarmac, asphalt or similar. 99a+ wheels really don't work well here - it's just too goddamned rough. Even 97a is pushing it in a lot of places. I think this is possibly why British skaters - both street or freestyle - are generally scrappier and more rough-and-ready than American ones.
You have a deep loyalty to Tracker trucks. Explain why they work so well to your style of skating. You've skated most of the different models so please tell us how each of them work differently and how each work to your advantage.
The reason I keep sticking with Tracker is that everything else explodes under my feet. I've tried pretty much every other truck out there and nothing else lasts as long as a good Tracker. Don't get me wrong, they're not perfect - I still knock the axles out of a Racetrack given enough time - but I have far fewer problems with Trackers. My trick set is particularly tough on trucks. Coconut wheelies and one wheeled English wheelies bend trucks way out of shape, and some hard-impact pivot landings (Double M80 variations, I'm looking at you) shatter them. I've smashed both Indy and Bear hangars within a month, for example. I still have yet to try those freestyle Gullwings, but I can't find them anywhere in the UK. Options here are fairly limited.
Regarding the different 106mm Trackers, the Fultrack is a sturdy, stable truck that's lower than almost everything else in that size. I used to use these when I was still obsessed with pressureflips and shuvits. The Racetrack S is a very similar truck, but taller, and I keep these on single kick setups for more slow-paced, 80s style freestyle. The Racetrack X is basically a half-way point between Trackers and Indys; it turns sharper than a classic Tracker, is as tall as a Racetrack S, but is much stronger than Indy 109s. I use these on my main boards with 95a Superballs because it's a perfect mix of turn response, rebound and stability, which is important when you're flinging 540 shuvits at high speed. You need the board to turn when you want to, but not suddenly jerk to one side as you take off, which I find used to happen a lot on Indys with frontside 540 shuvits. Not a good feeling.
You have a nice variety of tricks. Does a certain setting in your setup interfere with other tricks? For example: no risers may be good for shuvits but bad for kickflips.
Yeah, everything's a give-and-take. I moved to a taller board - 1/4 risers under an already tall truck - for better coconut wheelies and kickflips, but that makes shuvits very twitchy if your trucks are bent or prone to diving into a turn. I play with single kicks occasionally for fingerflip variations, but I need perfectly bidirectional boards to be able to string together some of my rolling lines. I used to favour really square tails (such as the Meta:creations boards or Marius Constantin's Cirus model) for casper spins and English flips, but they throw off casper-to-casper tricks. I went down to a tiny Sassi board and found 720 shuvits a breeze, but it doesn't leave you much room to find the landing on a kickflip pirouette.
I've also grown to realise that concave is more of a hinderance than a help if you're not doing ollies; the concave on the Moonshine team boards works great for most ollie tricks and kickbacks, but is throwing off my Helicopters and toespins.
I've spent the best part of two or three years trying everything I can, shape-and-setup-wise - it became a borderline neurosis for a while. Thankfully, I think I've finally figured out what I need, though. It took long enough!