Iconic ‘70s photos that capture the birth of UK skateboarding

Iconic ‘70s photos that capture the birth of UK skateboarding
London Calling! celebrates the overlooked early years of British skateboarding, which laid the groundwork for the scene we know today.

It’s late evening on London Bridge, with a hint of sunset glow hovering between the thick blanket of grey cloud and the horizon’s edge. A man dressed in a bright orange bomber jacket and blue jeans rides his skateboard over the River Thames. Weaving left and right across the width of the pavement, with his mop of hair ducking and popping, he moves between the suited, briefcase-carrying pedestrians with a balletic grace.

That skater’s name is Kadir Guirey, a pro in the 1970s who was also the lead singer of a band named Funkapolitan and appeared on Top of the Pops in 1981. The scene described is from grainy footage, plucked out of an archived Spanish television feature on Skate City – an iconic skatepark situated near to Tower Bridge on London’s South Bank that opened in October 1977. This footage and many other rare archive gems of early British skateboarding form part of London Calling! – a recent exhibition at the Pure Evil Gallery in Hoxton, East London that is currently en-route to the Skateboarding Hall of Fame and Museum in Simi Valley, just outside Los Angeles, for another show in Spring 2024.

“I’ve been looking at skateboarding all my life, and I had to look at this video footage, I was just like: ‘Who the fuck is that?’ It was the most beautiful skateboarding,” recalls Steve Douglas, organiser of London Calling! who was also a professional skater in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. “He’s skating through people like slalom and it’s just beautiful – this guy’s never surfed before but he looks like he’s a surfer just skating.”

With the recognition from the Skateboarding Hall of Fame and Museum. Douglas and the other organisers of London Calling! achieved what they set out to do with the project. “You know, the ‘70s group of skateboarders in the UK are the most forgotten, important skateboarders in the world in my opinion,” Douglas says, the excitement clear in his voice. “Because they were so impactful – if you look at skateboarders through all the decades, brands, [skating] spots, magazines, photographers, and then you add music and videos – there’s no one that has that depth and that’s something we should support.

© Jeremy Henderson
© Ed Buziak

“Because the ‘70s was so strong, we had the ‘80s and ‘90s and everything else,” he adds. “If it wasn’t for the ‘70s I don’t think the UK would have the skate scene that it has [today]. In my opinion, people like Palace, Lovenskate and Death Skateboards, they’ve got to give tribute to the guys in the ‘70s.”

With the exhibition’s photography led mostly by Dan Adams, the pair dug deep into the archives of skate magazines, including the iconic publication R.a.D. (Read and Destroy) and SkateBoarder. It’s a wide-ranging retrospective look at the UK’s skate culture half a century ago, from the pro skaters pushing boundaries on their boards, to the magazine fandom of young enthusiasts. There are pictures of legends like Jeremy Henderson and Mark Sinclair pulling fakie ollies alongside videos like the one of Kadir Guirey, as well as collections of vintage boards, badges, and magazines.

And to go hand-in-hand with the show, Douglas organised a bumper series of events. Spread across the August bank holiday long weekend was a live forum featuring icons of the scene including Jeremy Henderson, John Sablosky, Tony Alva, Kadir Guirey and Ben Liddell, skate sessions at various skateparks across London, as well as a reunion meet up at the Crown and Anchor pub in Covent Garden. In a joyous nostalgia fest, skaters from those years all came together in what was one big celebration.

“After the opening night anyone that was going to the exhibit needs to tell a story and I totally get that, but the main reason of what we did wasn’t really about that – it’s not about seeing the shoes or whatever,” Douglas explains. “For some people it was, but for me it was really to say: ‘Guys, celebrate. This is your night. Here’s some photos’ And I’m very, very happy with the way it came out.”

Find out more about London Calling!

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