The Bartlett School of Architecture


The Bartlett Gathers Legendary Skaters for UK 1970s Skateboarding Forum

25 August 2023

Hosting the event last weekend, The Bartlett welcomed figures who helped to define the sport, as they discussed their experiences and the growth of skateboarding in the UK.

A group of 1970s skaters and event panellists stand arm in arm onstage in a UCL lecture theatre

Over 200 seminal riders, photographers and industry figures from around the world gathered for the forum, organised by London Calling with Iain Borden (Bartlett Vice-Dean of Education and Professor of Architecture & Urban Culture). The event included never-before-seen photography by Tim Leighton-Boyce and James Cassimus, panel discussions and a screening of Richard Gayer’s 1978 documentary Hot Wheels ’n’ Big Deals.

Skateboarding first exploded in the UK in the 1970s; now  there are over 700,000 skateboarders in the UK, with a skatepark in just about every city and town nationwide. The forum brought together all of the major players from the seventies to explore their histories, memories and stories. Lively conversations were held between the 10 panellists – including Marc Sinclair, Simon Napper, Kadir Guirey, Alex Turnbull and Ben Liddell from the UK, Sheenagh Burdell from France, USA superstar rider and 1977 World Champion Tony Alva, with fellow USA riders James Cassimus, John Sablosky and Jeremy Henderson, and Mark Baker joined from Bali via Zoom. 


Audience smiling in a lecture theatre at the UK Skateboarding Forum

Among the topics of conversation, the panellists discussed how London’s South Bank along the Thames was first established in the early 1970s as a place for skateboarders; how knowhow from the music industry helped to set up famous UK manufacturer Benjyboards; the importance of friendship and diversity in the growing collective identity of the skating community; and the design of the first UK skateparks. A question from Dr Pat Quinn (UCL Archaeology) prompted a discussion about the heritage value of 1970s skateparks, only a handful of which still survive today (and mostly in the UK).

Speaking after the forum, Iain Borden reflected,

The event worked on a number of levels – as a kind of collective oral history, as a call for more historical and archaeological work to be undertaken, as a reunion for 1970s pioneers (most of whom had not met since 1979), as a celebration of the birth of a global sport, and as a profound “thank you” from younger riders to those who had paved the way. Stories, resolutions, laughter, hugs and not a few tears were all in evidence.”

Prof Iain Borden with other panellists at the 1970s Skateboarding Forum

Iain Borden is Professor of Architecture & Urban Culture at the BSA, and author of Skateboarding and the City: a Complete History (Bloomsbury, 2019). The recent event ties into Iain’s ongoing research about skateboarding history, particularly its skateparks and films. His most recent publication, with Dr Patrick Quinn from UCL Archaeology, is Solid Surf: an Assessment of the Heritage Value of late 1970s–early 1980s Concrete and Asphalt Skateboard Parks, and Strategies for their Protection and Conservation, Journal of Contemporary Archaeology, v.10 n.1 (September 2023).

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Images: Mike John