Dread City Skates Interview

I recently came across possibly the best online resource for vintage and old school skateboarding history from Portsmouth & Southsea that exists on the internet. What’s nice about this archive is the people that put the site together were directly involved with a lot of the photos and events themselves.

Dread City Skates is a skateboarding crew originating from the 70s and we would like to share an exclusive Strong Island interview with John Nicholas, old school skateboarder and one of the original members of DCS. All the photos and articles are from DCS and have been collected over many years. Read the interview and then get RAD over at dreadcityskates.com

Hey John. How’s it going man? Firstly, who are the current members of Dread City Skates, and are you all still local?

Well there’s not many of us still skating. There’s me and Trevor Baker (he broke his leg at Shoreham, in April) and over the last couple of years we’ve got some of the old skaters back into it, they include John Healy, San and Ed Houghton. Plus new recruits Pete Langworthy and Travis Baker (Trevor’s son). Not forgetting Tracy Weller, he lives in Texas and still skates vert.

I know you guys still skate. How old are you now? “You don’t stop playing ‘cos you get old. You get old ‘cos you stop playing”

I’m 50, John H is 51 and the others are in their late 40’s except Travis- he’s 15.

Dread City was started up in the 70s yeah? We all rolled with skate crews when we were kids and had ‘team’ names back in the day. How did Dread City come about and who was originally involved.

From what I can remember, it was Jon Davis, I think he came up with the name Dread City Skates, Jon had dreadlocks, which was rare in Portsmouth in the 1970’s, oh yeah he was black as well, which was also quite rare in Portsmouth in the 70’s. He drew the original graphics on our boards. I’ve still got one of the original hand drawn decks, there’s photo’s of it on the website.

The ‘skate gang’ name was quite common back then, there was obviously Dog Town (Santa Monica) and Fog Town (San Francisco) in the U.S.A. In the U.K there was L.S.D. (London) and Pig City (Brighton) amongst others.

There were a lot of us skating in Portsmouth at the time, Dread City was a pretty loose idea, just a load of skaters who happened to be around at the time. It’s hard to put it into numbers, maybe 30 or more skaters at one time, some only skated during the skateboard ‘craze’ of 1977, others continued for years, most of them can be seen on the old photo’s page, on the website or on the Dread City Facebook page.

You were present at The Skateparks opening in June 1978? That must have been a serious buzz for the local skate scene watching the construction take place. Did anyone ever get in before the park was finished for a session?

The opening of the park was massive for the local skaters. It changed everything, we actually had a local park to skate, before that we had to travel to London, Brighton or Guilford to skate a park.

Southsea Skatepark was only just finished in time. So we only managed to climb the fence a couple of times the week before the open day. The builders had left machinery and other stuff in the bowls, so it was difficult to skate there. I do remember skating the end of the slalom bowl, which was a bit gritty and they hadn’t filled in the gap between the slalom run and the bowl.

We did a photo session for the local paper ‘The News’ a few days before the opening and parts of the park were not even finished. I think we got some official practice the day before the demo’s. It was 33 years ago , so I’m a bit vague on the details.

At the official opening of the park some of us local skaters were allocated bowls to skate, in the demo’s for the day. There was no public skating.

A few of us left school that summer and got jobs at the park, so we could skate the park for free and skate inbetween sessions when the park was closed, which was cool.

It must have been an exciting time being part of something relatively new? What was the scene like back then in Portsmouth & Southsea. The Skatepark was thriving by all accounts. Did you guys ever hit the streets much, and if so where did you mainly roll?

Before the park was built we used to skate Southsea Castle hill and along by the fountain, it was mostly freestyle and slalom back then.

Another main skate spot in the 70’s was the Navigators wall, it’s just behind the civic offices. The banked wall was just opposite the Navigators pub. The pub closed down years ago. The wall is still there, but they put an anti skate bar along the bottom of it. The ‘Navs’ was very important to us at the time we learnt all the basics there, it had street lights so we skated there through the winter, if it rained we would skate the covered area near the train station, or Arundel street arcade ( that’s where Wilkinsons is now). We would get chased off some of these spots by the police or random adults who worked there. Nobody liked us.

We also built a lot of wood ramps, with sheets of old ply from skips or building sites. One of the biggest ramps we built was in the carpark near the castle it lasted a few days until it got burnt down, by persons unknown.

Some of the articles and images on Dread City are incredible. Do you remember any of them specifically yourself? The Hobie Team down Guildhall, Alva at The Skatepark and McGill and Cabs doubles cover from RAD on the vert ramp.

I was at all of the events you mention. The visit of Tony Alva was reported in the local news paper.They didn’t rate him, but the reporter was a non-skater, so he didn’t really get it. Alva bailed a lot, but the transitions and surface of the bowls were crap compared to what he was used to. Oh yeah he seemed a bit stoned ( they said it was jet lag). “The News” said the locals skated better than Alva, which is true to a certain extent, but we were used to the park , with all of its lumps and bumps. Alva only had a few minutes in each bowl. But he had such a cool style and when he did stay on he showed what a class act he was.

After Southsea Alva toured the U.K. and by all accounts he ripped in every park he skated. A couple of months later another Dogtown skater, Shogo Kubo visited Southsea. A more low-key affair and another stylish skater, there weren’t so many tricks back then so style was more important.

The Hobie Team, they were brilliant, Bob Scolberg was doing slalom around beer cans on the brick tiled Guildhall square. Mike Weed and Skitch Hitchcock with a variety of freestyle moves, 360’s, nose-wheelies and old style kick-flips, as well as high-jump and hand stands on specially adapted hand skates. Trevor’s dad (Dave Baker) filmed the Hobie team and the park open day (silent movie footage). It’s on our Facebook page. I will put the films on the website when I get time.

In the late 80’s we got a lot of press coverage at Southsea and a lot of visiting pro’s. The Abrooks and Gary Lee, even moved to Southsea. Craig Johnson (Zorlac) came to Southsea and stayed for 2 months. There were pro skaters at the park most weekends. There was so much going on at the time with competitions and touring pro skaters.

The Bones Brigade came to Southsea in 1989 and 1991 (I think), with different skaters each time. Included in their ranks were Tony Hawk, Steve Caballero, Lance Mountain, Mike McGill, Tommy Guerrero and a very young Mike Vallely, who is now considered a legend. For the demo’s they only skated the vert and mini ramp, the concrete was covered with kids, so was not skatetable.

When they skated the vert ramp, they made it look like a mini ramp, with what looked like no effort at all. Caballero was getting 7ft plus airs. McGill was doing back to back 540 McTwists (he invented them). The doubles routine was amazing, they made every trick, no posing for the cameras, just the best skating I had ever seen. Mind blowing.

On the first visit after the main demo, most of the crowd left the park and we had a ‘lock in’, just the photographers, a few of us locals and Steve Cab, Lance and Tommy G. They skated the flatland street obstacles and had a proper session in the mogul. There’s a quick (blink and you’ll miss it) bit on one of the Powell videos. The time Tony Hawk came to Southsea, all the kids were shouting ‘twist,twist,twist, they wanted him to do a 540, this was about 10 years before he had done the 900. It seemed like no other trick was good enough for them. I’ve recently met kids who told me that Tony Hawk never skated Southsea. Well he did and I’ve got photo’s to prove it, and some video somewhere.

Did you and you friends have anything to do with the Southsea Skatezine ‘Skate Rat’? I’ve always been a fan of the whole raw aesthetic of homegrown skate zines. Scalpel, pens, coloured paper and a photocopier. Do you have any memories of producing the zine and how did you distribute it?

When we started ‘Skate Rat’, it was supposed to be a semi official zine, designed to promote skating in the Southsea area, but it soon got away from that agenda and became a more rebellious skate zine. Initially everyone wanted to be involved, but by the 2nd or 3rd issue it was down to a handful of people. Dean Bache did a lot of the compiling and editing, with my help, we would get together on a Wednesday night with photo’s, articles and ideas. There were plenty of contributions from the likes of Darren Reeves, Tracy Weller, Eric Hayto and John Carter amongst others.

I was at art collage at the time , so I had access to a darkroom, so I developed and printed a lot of my own black and white photo’s which we used in ‘Skate Rat’. The colour photo’s came out really dark when we photocopied them. We didn’t really have access to computers at the time (it was the late 80’s). For the page layouts it was all cut, paste and photocopy. All in glorious monochrome.

We had the first issue printed properly, but that cost too much. I think we had about 100 copies printed. For the 2nd issue we changed to photocopies. Dean knew someone who had a copier and they let us use it at a very cheap rate. In the end we would copy and staple each one by hand , it took hours.

The zines were sold at Skate and Surf (skate shop), where I worked. The shop owner John Sylvester was very supportive and did a lot to promote the local skate scene. We also sold a lot at Southsea Skatepark. The manager at the time John Thurston was brilliant (he built the original Southsea vert ramp).

It shows that you guys are still shredding hard man. In the Shoreham Old Skool Days photo you’re rolling Indys, Rib Bones and a Corey O’Brien. That’s a proper set up. What’s been your favourite set up over the years?

The Corey O’Brien, I had one of those in the 80’s, with Indys and T Bones that was one of the best set-ups I’ve had. The one I rode at Oldskool Days I bought off Ebay. I also got a re-issue Alva which I skated that day, that wasn’t easy to ride, but it made a few people laugh.

I’m happy with the board I’m riding at the moment, Grind king trucks, OJ 3’s and a new shape Dog Town pool deck, 9” wide at the front where you need it. I can’t ride those old 90’s lolly stick shapes that most skaters seem to like. I’ve got about 8 other boards that get regular use slalom, sliding, downhill, etc. Oh yeah and the street luge.

Soon we will all be riding the new Dread City Skates decks. We’re getting them made in the U.S.A. and they will be available online and in some skate shops. This may take a while, it took us 33 years to print the t-shirts.

There’s a photo of you ‘Sky Hooking’ out of the Slalom Bowl in the Skatepark. Those banks are tight. Getting air like that back in 78 is sick. Did you take any stacks on that?

Skyhooks were this great invention, they were plastic hooks screwed to the board, that you’ld slip your feet in so when you jumped the board came with you, they were meant to be easy to get out of, but your feet would get stuck, so you couldn’t bail you just slammed. Yes I did slam, many times, with the tight transition in the shallow of the old slalom bowl ( we called it Sadlands). If you miss-judged it you could hang on the lip or land on the flat bottom, either way it wasn’t good. Anyway Skyhooks never really caught on.

I love the photo of ‘The Gang in the Black Bowl’. That’s a pretty heavy crew right there. You still ride with a number of locals. Are any of them in that photo from 1978. And the photo on the train. Powerflex shirt and a can of Special Brew. Strong look.

The Black Bowl photo is a bit blurred, so its hard to tell, but I recognise a few, Andy Wilson near the back with his unmistakable Bowlhead hair cut, Dean Bache, Steve Harman, Mark Colewell, Darren Reeves, one of the Balfe brothers and Steve Langton, I think. I got that photo from Mike Forester, so he might be in the bowl, unless he took the pic.

The photo on the train, that could have been from any of our numerous skate trips,non of us could drive so it was train or sometimes our mate Dave Reeves ( one time skatepark manager) would organise a coach or hire a van. I don’t know who the girls are. Hanging at the back is Mike Forester, then Monty,Dave Hollaway nose pick,John Healy in Hobie hat and John Nicholas(me) in Hobie Hat. That’s Trevor Baker with the can of Special Brew trying to impress the ladies, some things never change. So three of us in the photo are still skating and Trevor’s still drinking, only it’s real ale now.

Final thoughts. I’ve got to know. Did Dean make the drop in on the Black Bowl? Even today that’s pretty gnarly…

Dean did the drop-in and made it on more than one occasion. We all had to do that drop-in, It was peer pressure, to be part of the gang, do it or face ridicule for the rest of you life. That bowl is horrible, I skated it recently and it seems to get worse with age. The transitions are so uneven, its so rough, I think that concrete was designed to eat human flesh. That bowl should have been destroyed years ago. Anyway, I like to finish on a positive note…

  1. Barry Abrook

    15 June

    To all the DCS and the mad times we have had here in the Southsea bubble…..I salute you!!!!!

  2. Jon B

    15 June

    Skate Rat was my bible and Bache gave me my first wooden deck – cheers DCS, southsea fathers!

  3. Matthew Maber

    15 June

    Fantastic, I still remember potting about in the mid 80s at the skatepark falling over mainly =D

  4. Kev Kirkham

    15 June

    SICK! The original southsea crew, I remember skate rat mag.

  5. trevor b

    15 June

    hay john lots of words well done you make us sound like great jolly guys see you in pub leg still iffy so no skating yet just rolling on wood floor indoors

  6. Carl Leroy-Smith

    15 June

    best ever strong island post. thanks.

  7. Ed Houghton

    16 June

    Nice interview John, being a part of DCS is what makes me who I am… Great friends, great memories and rad sessions to come. Skate for life!

  8. john (rehab) healy

    16 June

    to all of dread city . dread city is an attitude on and off the board . in pain politics art and music it has become legend .warm summer days cold wet penny less winters in the 80’s. the people have been great and the creativity and two fingerd mindset of leave us alone to do what we want and ‘can do’.have resulted wonderful differnt lives open to all possibillity of what could be .race mix ,music mix skate mix we dd our best to be open to it all . i couldnt want to have lived in any other time .skate punk sex and art . thanks to you all love from rehab . p.s please bomb southsea skatepark so we can have a better one (in doors and out .)

  9. Paul P

    17 June

    yeah this is wonderful, motivated to go skate southsea again right this second after reading that. whip round the peanut

  10. Steve Langton

    17 June

    Well done to Jon and Trev for running the DCS flag up the mast again !

    Good people and happy days.

    Lifelong friendships that started at Canoe Lake, The Fountain, Southsea Castle Hill and the Navigators

  11. BA

    18 June

    John Healy’s right we had it all…and then some!!

  12. Tracy

    22 June

    Never forget your roots…………..Yeeeeh Haaaw motherf@<er !!

  13. Dean Bache

    24 June

    What a great time we had …friends forever… DCS forever.

  14. Glen allen

    24 June

    Yeah , good times , good crew . Great words little john . the dreads not dead .

  15. Andy Jefferson

    22 October

    Big love. 84 to 89 skating until I ruptured my knee in the mogul. Only now am I feeling like I could get back on a board. With my son Max’s help I will. Thanks for the reminders.

  16. Shane F

    18 November

    what an amazing interview.

    and yeah….. Tony Hawk skated Southsea.

  17. Weller

    25 March

    Can’t believe I’m just seeing this…….DCS forever
    Hugs from the land of Beers ,Steers ,& Queers

  18. Great read. I’m proud to have been a part of the greater DCS massive if not exactly one of it’s core members or best skaters – . Nonetheless i was there back in the day at Southsea Castle, the Navigators and the Skatepark. I have some 8mm movie footage from the Navigators i’m planning on getting transferred to video soon. If you used to Skate there i may well have filmed you in grainy 8mm glory. There was a big crew representing the day i took my camera. I know Jon Davis is on there along with Steve Harman who i knew fairly well. I’ll keep you all posted when it’s available to watch on the Dread City Skates and Middle Age Shred websites.

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