Credits- David Andrew

‘Skateboarding saved my life’

The untold stories of Cardiff's skateboarding community

Skateboarding is set to debut in the Olympics in 2020, but for many around Cardiff it is more than a sport, it is a way of life.

Four wheels on a wooden board, three puffs down, his two legs jostle to make this one grown man stand upright. He takes one glance on the curb and goes back to when he was 14 and homeless, skating his way through teenage.

Casey Helseth, now 36, was a teenager when he was rendered homeless due to his addiction to drugs. “My mom caught me smoking weed and she kicked me out of the house, and I was on my own from there. I’m not proud of it now but I didn’t really have a choice.” He now tells his story to young skateboarders on the Cardiff Barrage Skate Plaza in Cardiff Bay.

Photo credits – Casey Helseth

Casey first got on a skateboard when he was 11, which was just before the ‘commercial boom’ of skateboarding in 1995 which would revive the trend of skateboarding. “I never thought that skateboarding would be something to hold on to when my life was miserable…

…I turned to skateboarding when I knew nothing but to surf the streets,”

“I hung around the wrong people and did whatever it took to make a living. I wouldn’t care if I was getting £5 or £50, I’ve lived a life that nobody should ever live.”

Casey

Skateboarding has been in fashion and has also been neglected over the years, however, the history of skateboarding is one of remarkable turning points, Casey adds, “If you really look at it, skateboarders were always seen as rebellious teenagers making chaos, but now, it is probably something more.”

Skateboarding has been around since the 50’s but never really gained momentum as a fun leisure activity. Matthew Bashlord, who is the manager of Proline Skates in Cardiff has been a skater for more than a decade now and he has seen the scene of skateboarding evolve over time. “I remember how Tony Hawk introduced me and millions around the world to the skateboard, before that, it was just a nuisance on the streets which was just frowned upon by everyone.”

Matthew Bashlord standing in front of the customization options to make your skateboard reflect ‘you’

Matthew entered the world of skateboarding for a different reason, but why he stayed there is same as Casey. Matthew says, “Skateboarding isn’t a hype, it is not a ‘trend’, it is a lifestyle, it is what you wear and who you are, it is just a part of your identity that you carry on ball bearings.”

Casey rode the streets of Bristol as a kid and soon moved down to Cardiff in search of a job and a healthier way of living, away from his ‘crew’ back in hometown. “I had to move away from the drugs and the alcohol, I realized very soon that skateboarding is pretty much all I had.”

“I skated like I owned the streets because I skated with a group of friends. That is when I started to learn about the communal nature of skateboarding, the bonds it created with strangers and how this made me forget the bad things and gain confidence.”

Casey
Skateboards are affordable now with most ranges starting from £20.

Skateboarding in any part of the world is more or less the same according to Matthew and Casey. Matthew says, “Skateboarding appeals to people because they get to meet new people, spend time with people with same interests and eventually create a community that thrives on interaction and activity.” Casey has seen the same since he came to Cardiff.

“When I came here 16 years ago, there was a small group of skateboarders looking for nice spots in the bay and the city center, over time, skate parks have opened, and kids have started to go out and skate more frequently.”

Casey

Another figure in the Cardiff skateboarding scene is John Robertson, the co-owner of the indoor skate park Spit and Sawdust. “Street skating has largely inspired the design of the skate park – we’ve had input from over 100 skateboarders into the development of the layout,

It’s all about the community and all the money we make goes into Spit and Sawdust.”  

This is one example from several smaller groups and communities across Cardiff, which is part of the beauty of the skateboarding culture in Cardiff. This is following the larger worldwide trends around the popularity of skateboarding. According to Skate Review, there are over 20 million skateboarders worldwide and 11 million of them skateboard regularly, there has been a steady 1% rise in the number of skateboarders annually since 2007. The average age of a skateboarder has also increased from 15 years old to 22 years old since 2006.

This has resulted in Skateboarding making its way to the summer Olympics in Japan next year. Regarding these trends Casey, the old school skater, said, “It doesn’t surprise me, skateboarding can be a sport with immense technique and skill, however these big companies have made this culture into a typical commercial sport.” Alice, a regular skateboarder at Spit and Sawdust also had a similar distaste towards the commercial aspect of the activity,

“I have had friends who were good enough to go pro and sign with major brands, but they chose not to because there’s no right or wrong way to skateboard, it isn’t about the money or who is better, it’s just skateboarding.”

Alice
Alice Thomas, 24, has been a regular at Spit and Sawdust since its beginning.

Dan Sherer, a veteran skateboarder, who is also a father of two, said, “I want my kids to have fun, I don’t want them to think of medals when they pick up the board, sure the Olympics will make it more popular, but it will remove the community project aspect of it which I have held close to my heart for 30 years now.”

Casey, now works as an organizer for the Cardiff Skateboard Club, a shop located in the Castle Emporium. He has turned his life around from a homeless teenager, to a passionate skateboarder who centers his work around the love for the skating culture.

“Skateboarding saved my life, it gave me friends when I had none and it gave me something to enjoy after a long day. I couldn’t care less who wins the gold medal next year, because for me and many true skateboarding enthusiasts, it will always be an expression or a lifestyle.”

One of the main objectives of the Cardiff Skateboard Club is to encourage people to try skateboarding, whether it be near your house or your nearest skate park. Casey adds, “We are trying to make skateboard as a healthy option for kids to go out and have fun with and at the same time make new friends.”

CSC and Spit and Sawdust remain two glowing examples of a community that revolves around skateboarding and skateboarders. Skateboarding has always been a historically inclusive and culturally rich hobby which now stands on the cusp of revival and growth, all at the same time trying to retain the traces of its origin, as it moves at rollerblading speeds, straight into Olympic glory.

Credits- CSC for collaborating their database for the map.

Photo credits- Alice Thomas
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