When Northumbria University geographers Jon Swords and Michael Jeffries heard that the Norwich City Council was set to vote on a skateboard ban in the City Centre, they knew they had to head back home to Norwich. Skateboarding and geography might seem unrelated, but a skateboarder’s mind can work in similar patterns. That’s what the geography duos discovered after they asked skateboarders in Newcastle to map their worlds.
“A lot of skaters seem to see the world in a very particular way. They’re always on the lookout for shapes, sites, curves, jumps. They seem to have a very tuned in, 3-D vision,” Jeffries said. “They’ve got this sort of magical, architectural eye, and I rather like that.”
Then he and Swords heard about the potential Norwich skateboard ban. The ban itself was the result of accusations that the skateboarders were skating on the Memorial Gardens and War Memorial. “We read the things online and we thought, ‘This is just silly.’” Swords said. “So the university has given us a bit of money to come to the city and do this kind of work and show them that they’re not all bad”. So they asked Norwich’s skateboarders to map the Norwich skate scene. The result is not complete yet, but so far they’ve got cartoons, impressive sketches, doodled maps, and text about skateboarding. Many of the messages in the map plead for a little bit of respect. One of the images depicts a big eared, moustached man declaring, “Tosh!” That’s a reference to a Mike Sands, who accidentally sent an email to a skateboarder behind the Long Live Southbank skateboarding campaign that called his campaign message “tosh.” Other doodles are less artfully passive aggressive, and more chipper, as only stick figures can be. One reads, “Lots of different people making friends all ages all backgrounds exploring and creating.”
It doesn’t look like your typical map. It’s psycho geography.
“Psycho geography is a more personal, reflective response to spaces,” Swords said. “It’s more of an emotional, personal feel rather than just seeing the city as a vehicle for commerce and consumerism.” Gawain Thomas Godwin is a skateboarder who contributed to the map. He sees skateboarding itself as an art. “It’s not really a sport. It’s about aesthetics and what looks good,” Godwin said. “But to skateboard you need really ugly towns. Norwich has got really beautiful buildings and cobbled streets. But people persist. Skateboarding is about endeavour and trying hard. It’s the challenge.”
Some of the skateboarder’s favourite places were not included, because (sorry) they’re a secret. But many did note Eaton Park Skatepark, a park built by the council in 2010. Other skateboarders prefer to build their own ramps , either out of wood or out of the world around them. “That’s the thing with skateboarding. It’s a street sport,” Godwin said.
In the end, the Council voted to ditch the skateboard ban. Instead, they voted on a consultation on new powers aimed at stopping anti-social behaviour by issuing £100 fines. But skateboarders have other places in mind for skating than outside City Hall, anyway. They’re more creative than that.
To check out the illustrations, check out Norwich Skate scene map on Flickr. To learn more about getting involved in the Norwich Skateboarding World, find them on Facebook at Norwich Skateboarding.