I’ve just been named as the newest pro skater for Team Bentham. It’s almost impossible to describe how much that means to me, and what a huge (and sometimes painful) journey it’s been to get here. I bloody love Bentham and I’m super proud to rep the team especially as a queer pro skater.
I was presented with my pro board at our annual trophy night and the premiere of our new skate video UPH.
Rewind 30 years…
When I was a scruffy little teenage skater, a new skate video coming out was a huge deal. One of our skate gang would get a copy of the VHS tape and we’d all bundle round to their house to watch it and get hyped, before charging into the town centre full of energy to shred it to death.
We all grew up in a weird little town in Essex called South Woodham Ferrers. The book Crap Towns placed our beloved SWF number 32, saying
“I can not imagine a more soul destroying place on earth to grow up than South Woodham Ferrers”.
Little did they know that our crap new build town, turned out to be a skateboard heaven. We started out as a bunch of little grems, grinding down the steps outside the church and becoming the bane of the town council. Eventually skateboarding was banned from our town centre, but our crew lived on. We even organised our own “Trophy Nights” for skaters after seeing that the local school gave over their hall for the football team. We thought why shouldn’t we be celebrated in the same way?
But over the years our crew grew up, our lives diverged, some moved to London, we got proper jobs. For a while many of us forgot about skating.
Team Jeremy Bentham
Those teenage little skate rats grew up into a wonderfully diverse crew of misfits. A professional skateboarder, builders (one of our crew priced up half the spots we skate in the city), a drag queen, a cage fighter, the managing editor of British Vogue (I kid you not), plumbers, an international DJ and much much much more.
Gradually, one by one, the lure of plywood and urethane gradually clawed us all back together. So we started skating together again, and even formed a team. We describe Team Bentham as Essex’s finest middle aged skate squad, I’d argue we’re the UK’s finest if not the world’s.
Next Dave started throwing trophy nights in the pub in his back garden, and before long talk of making a new skate video together bubbling around.
Then Corona virus and lockdowns hit the world…
UPH the Bentham pro skate video
When the government tells you that the only thing you’re allowed to do is go outside and exercise, plus all the businesses have shut (and taken their security guards with them), in some ways it’s the perfect setting for making a skate video.
Over the last year and a half, we’ve been out filming religiously every weekend. Through rain, shine and even snow, we’ve been out exploring new spots, dodging security and breaking ourselves. All under the direction of Neil Flowers Smith our director. It’s literally been a case of blood sweat and tears.
I have to admit, I started getting waaaay too into it. Going on evening walks scouting for new spots around East London, starting a spreadsheet of clips that I’d got and tricks that I wanted to land and more.
But it all started to pay off. No lie, I think I’m skating better now than I ever have done before. The only issue is that these old brittle bones really don’t bounce like they used to.
Skate video premiere
The premiere of our video happened at this year’s trophy night. It’s a night where we get together, drink too much, and give out trophies to everyone to celebrate the hard work they’ve put into the skate team.
The video took centre stage of the evening, with none of us having ever seen it before. As we’d all filmed a lot of our tricks during lockdown when we couldn’t skate as a big crew, we hardly knew what each other had landed.
My big hope for the evening had been to get the coveted “last part” in the video. So as we watched through it, the other sections came up, I was getting secretly hyped. And then yes, as the finale of the video my part came up!
Obviously I’m biased, but I think the video is amazing and I couldn’t be more proud of all the work everyone put into it. You can watch the whole video below (please do) or skip straight to my part (16:40) on this link here.
Little did I know that a much bigger surprise was waiting for me.
Once the screening was over, we went to the pub for the trophy presentation. I pranced around in my gold dress as the glamorous assistant to Mark our compere for the evening. Thanks to Smiffy (sponsored by a bunch of skate companies) we dished out shoes, clothes and even boards to the whole team. Last year, I’d won a pair of socks for “most improved” (which I’d actually worn with pride quite a lot).
And then at the end of the night it happened. Mark gave out the final prize of the evening, and shocked me by presenting me with my pro skateboard! My god was that an emotional rollercoaster of laughter and tears (thank goodness for waterproof mascara). It’s what every little skate rat dreams of.
I’m the new pro skater for team Bentham and it feels amazing.
Being a queer pro skater
I’ve written before in this blog about how I describe myself as gender fluid and pansexual. I guess I can now add “queer pro skater” as an addition. For an outsider ‘counter culture’ sport, skateboarding to be honest has always been pretty “straight”. When pro skater Brian Anderson came out as gay a few years ago it sent shockwaves through the industry.
Growing up in Essex I have to admit was a struggle at times. I ran away to London pretty much as soon as I could to live my life in it’s full sparkly wonder. I’d always kinda kept my queerness away from my skater side of my teenage life. I guess I was embarrassed and afraid to talk about it. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve most definitely begun to care much less about what other people think (obviously society too has changed a lot since the 90s). And what’s more I’ve noticed that the more unapologetic I am about my queerness, the more accepting people are.
So to wrap this up, I’d like to give a shout out and send my love to all of the Bentham boys.
Walking back into that skate gang after so many years, I should have perhaps been really nervous. “Did you hear Rob’s a bloody drag queen”. But I’ve always felt welcomed, protected and cherished by them all. I have so much love for Team Bentham, and I promise I’m going to rep them so hard as their new queer pro skater!