See & do
Bowled Coast: City's skateboarders gone from being loathed to loved
Emily Toxward | September 29, 2017
In the 80s Gold Coast skateboarders didn’t have the world at their fingertips like today’s social media hungry teens.
Back then they were devoted to knowing the evolution of materials used in wheels and trucks. They pored over scarce magazine articles and watched and scrutinised video cassette footage of legend Tony Hawk doing tricks. Most grew up aspiring to be like the generation before.
Almost always the victims of harassment and violence, old school skaters were looked down upon for their beloved pastime, often from their parents and peers. Decent skate parks and bowls were far and few in between so they skated in streets, car parks, driveways and schools – most die-hard skaters still do.
Today the city is a mecca for skaters of all ages and has the highest concentration of skate parks in Australia. Parents encourage, even push their children into it, and every weekend free lessons for kids are held across various parks thanks to City of Gold Coast funding.
In March, Elanora hosted some of the world’s top skateboarders at Bowlzilla and in 2016 the Australian Skateboarding Federation chairman labelled the Gold Coast ‘ground zero for skateboarding’. Over the years skateboarding has come in and out of fashion, but the diehard Gold Coast skater remains. They have kick flipped their way through every trend and remained true to their passion, in an essence they are skateboarding purists.
Emily Toxward spoke to some old school skaters and board shop owners who collectively have more than 130 years on a skateboard. They generously share their unique stories, give a unique insight into why the Gold Coast is now heaving with skateboarders and reveal their thoughts on their hobby being made an Olympic sport.
Former Pro Skateboarder and co-owner of Precinct Skate Shop Trent Bohnam
“I never thought skateboarding would be as accepted as it now is.”
At the age of 10, Trent Bonham first stepped on a board and he’s pretty much never got off it. Any spare time he spent consuming video cassettes of skateboarders and he lined up for hours to watch live demos from some of his boarding heroes. He lived and breathed it, and at 41 the self-confessed ‘oldie skatie’ still does, skating at least three times a week.
He turned pro in 1996, just three years after leaving his private boys school. For 13 years he travelled the globe and got paid to skate, tour and be in photo shoots, he was living so many skaters’ dream. Trent says people took great pleasure in hating on skateboarders back in the day, but he used the ‘flak’ he copped from his high school peers ‘to drive me to succeed more’. A snapped ACL cut his professional career short but not his ability to ride; he just adapted his technique.
Three years ago Trent co-founded Precinct Skate Shop with Julian Lee, a boutique business in Mermaid Beach that sponsors up-and-coming skaters and has a niche clientele of diehard skateboarders. These are mostly guys who’ve been skating for 10 or more years, who Trent says have a certain ‘nostalgia and history’ about skateboarding.
“Back in the 1980 and 90s we were seen as a pest and I hope now that skateboarding is an Olympic sport some of the naysayers; who used to move us along because we were noisy or pests, realise this is not the case,” he says.
Former competitive skateboarder and coach Daniel Sevick
“The hardest thing about skating is the concrete – pain is the ultimate teacher.”
In Coolangatta in the 1990s Dan says he personally knew of all the skaters in his area, sadly they were harassed and often attacked just for being skateboarders. At 13 he’d skate the streets of Cooly and often jump on a Surfside bus to skate Pizzey Park and street spots in Surfers. Up the coast he says it was bigger scene with the likes of Chad Bartie, Andrew Currie, Al Boglio and Trent Bohnam.
“That’s when the sparks really started to fly in my mind and I found myself on that Surfside bus every weekend. It was around 96’ a great teacher of mine Mr Jarvis urged me and friend to create a petition pushing for a skate park in Coolangatta and around 800 signatures later the original Coolangatta park was born, serendipitously located on Jarvis Lane in Goodwin Park,” he says.
Dan says the Cooly park lasted all the way until his 20 and 30s but was eventually replaced with a new facility in 2013. All who grew up skating ‘on the old girl miss her dearly and along with the rubble of the old park buried in the site that it stood are also buried a lot of fond memories and precious Gold Coast skateboarding history’.
“When you’re a skateboarder the everyday world around you is transformed into a playground. Anywhere you travel your eyes are constantly scanning your surrounds for stairs, handrails, drainage ditches, raised bumps on a footpath, abandoned swimming pools, the list goes on,” says Dan.
As part of Gold Coast Skateboarding Coaching team he shares his love of skating with the city’s youngsters. He applauds the Council for their ‘proactive way of tackling our nation’s obesity epidemic’ and believes the key is finding a way to exercise that’s not a chore and skating is just that.
“I’ve watched skateboarding grow exponentially here. We’ve gone from being attacked on the street by strangers to seeing everyone from little kids to yuppie business men skating along the beach front paths,” he says.
Skateboarding photographer and magazine publisher Dave Adair
“True skateboarding is a complete self expression.”
Dave was 5-years-old in 1980 when his 19-year-old uncle left to join the armed forces and gave him his skateboard. It wasn’t long he become engrossed in videos and magazines and so began a lifelong love affair with boarding. He says the scene was massive in the 80s but that it ‘died in the arse’ in about 1991. Of course the diehard skaters still remained.
Sponsored from the age of 12, Dave says things were different back then, the local skateboard shop was the hub for all skaters, and this is something he sees dying a little. Always wanting a piece of the action, he moved to Melbourne and Sydney just to be a part of the burgeoning scene. At just 22 he became editor Australia’s premier boarding magazine Slam Skateboarding and made a living from taking professional skateboarding photos and running magazines.
“Skateboarding is a creative thing, people do appreciate that now. But back then what were doing was frowned upon. I was getting into fights every week just because I was a skateboarder. Now these young skater dudes are the coolest kids with the hottest chicks.”
“As for the Olympics, Tony Hawk says they need us more than we need them. And it’s true, the games are struggling to remain relevant and they need sports such as skating, surfing and BMX to bring in the crowds. I’m not a fan of it being seen as a sport because to me true skateboarding is a complete self expression, but I’d happily be involved to make sure those organising it get it right,” he says.
Gold Coast Skateboarding Coaching owner Jay Hetherington
“The level of skateboarding on the Gold Coast is going to get better and better.”
When Jay was 8 his dad gave him $8 to by a single kick skateboard from a tobacconist at Jack the Slashers in Palm Beach’s 19th Avenue. He started skating in his driveway and the Mallawa half pipe also in 19th Ave. Skating wasn’t popular back then and Jay guesses there were only a few hundred or so skaters across the Gold Coast and ‘security guards and police were constantly busting us for skateboarding in the streets’.
“I remember being the only skater at my school at the time and being stoked when I saw a new kid at school donning a pair of scuffed Airwalk ones, as I knew there was someone else to skate with. In my 20’s skating was a lot more popular, with a lot more parks and skate shops around, but I was mainly street skating at that point.”
In his early teens Jay’s favourite skate park was Nexus, it was put there by a ‘nice old guy by the name of Arthur Earl to keep us kids entertained and out of trouble I suppose’. He says big names did demos there including Tony Hawk, Eric Koston, Rick Howard, Caine Gail, Geoff Rowley and Tom Penny. While he took part in comps and won, his nerves get the better of him and these days he leaves it up to his son Zane.
Dan was instrumental in getting skateboarding into at Palm Beach Currumbin High; it’s now one of its biggest sports. Before he started Gold Coast Skateboard Coaching he was the Gold Coast hub manager for Skateboarding Australia and met former pro skater Richard Flude who gave him a shot at paid coaching and the rest is history. Every Saturday Jay or one of his team shares their knowledge, humour and passion for skateboarding at free lessons paid for by the council.
“The Gold Coast is known by some as the Bowled Coast due to its large number of bowls and transitional-based parks, which is why we have so many great all-round skaters here. The council is forward thinking and supportive as they putting new parks up, restoring old ones and supporting skate comps and lessons,” he says.
Co-owner Precinct Skate Shop Julian Lee
“Gold Coast parents are buying boards for their kids as soon as they can walk.”
Trent Bonham was one of the first skaters Julian, 27, got to know when he started skating as a 12-year-old. And that’s what he loves the most about skateboarding, that it’s ageless and it can connect all ages and there’s ‘no right or wrong’ way to do it. In the three years since he and Trent opened Precinct Skate Shop he’s noticed a lot more parents getting their kids, as young as 4 into skateboarding.
“You get skate coach parents who want their kids to become the next world champion and have that lifestyle. In the past parents didn’t help their kids get into skating and didn’t think it was a career opportunity, now they do,” he says.
Julian says re-issue boards, those that were sold in the 1980s and used by those who are now in their 40s to 60s, are some of store’s best sellers. Most are bought by those who stopped skating in their late teens to start careers and now have money to buy all the old boards they couldn’t afford back then.
Owners of Skate Connection Shelley Hedley and Brett Vowles
“It’s so popular because it’s easy for kids to grab a board and meet their friends at the park.”
This Gold Coast couple, while not die-hard skaters, have cleverly found a way to meet the increasingly demand for skateboards at every price level. Skate Connection opened in Ashmore four years ago and by the end of this year its likely there’ll be 10 stores open across the Gold and Sunshine coasts.
“Skateboarding is so popular because instead of parents having to take them to a sport at a certain time, they can grab a board and head out with their mates. It’s more free range,” says Shelley. Brett says he’s noticed more parents pushing their kids into skating, many wanting to relive their heyday.
“We’ve noticed a lot of parents are now encouraging skateboarding, hoping they’ll become professional and even get to the Olympics. There are still older guys getting old school boards, with many collecting the re-issues and using them as wall art,” he says.
Feature image of Jay Hetherington: photo credit: Jerry Burke