Skateboarding:
Inside The Mind: Hold Tight Henry

We spent some time with London’s seminal skate filmmaker, Henry Edwards-Wood on the eve of Theobalds Cap Co releasing Thesis 001 featuring Jake Bidmead. We headed to the Elephant & Castle benches for a brief session but quickly lost the light, fooled by the throes of Autumn. One week later we visited him at home in Catford, and he took the time to show us the inner workings of his editing suite, gave us a sneak peak of Thesis 001 (which you can watch above), and revealed far more than we ever expected. Safe to say this guy has a lot going on upstairs, a lot of strong opinions on the current state of skateboarding, some great insights for any budding filmmakers out there, and some pretty wild ideas about what he wants to do in the future. We also talked a bit about the Long Live Southbank campaign, his research into mathematics and the study of architecture, how he met Jake Bidmead and how Theobalds came to be, plus a whole lot more that is almost impossible to describe in an intro of this length. In all honesty, I didn’t need to ask Henry a load of questions, just sat back and let him do the talking, and talk he did.

I arrive at Henry’s and he offers me a cup of coffee. It takes him about 20 minutes to make it while he talks about the last few days of filming, gathering footage from other contributors, the excitement about this project overflowing, distracting him from the task of brewing. Eventually, we head upstairs to check out the first cut of Thesis 001 and he begins to explain his editing process to me.

“I’ll spend 20 minutes deciding what level of grain I want on each frame. If you’re going to do something, why do it half arsed? I’ve been doing this for 16 years, if I’m going to do it and call it art, I should approach it like artwork. There’s not enough of that in skateboarding, there’s too much just pointing a camera at a skateboard and putting it online.

I’ll get to the point of where it’s basically finished and then watch it over and over again for about two or three hours, slowly little things will jar me so I’ll change them and adjust it and do it again. Not even in a critical way, I’m not sat there squinting at the screen, I’ll just sit here with a zoot watching it over and over. The more times I watch it the more I’ll realise that something is jarring me.”

I ask Henry if he has always been that way or if it is something he developed over time, with each new edit he works on.

“In my older work, there’s so much stuff that I don’t like. I always tried to be like I am now but when you’re younger you’re lazy, you’ve got less patience. A lot of my earlier films, I was stoked on, but I was making do with what I had, now, I’m making sure that there is not one second, one single frame, one pixel, that I’m unhappy with. Over time, when you look back on it things will jar you.”

Before we watch Thesis 001 for the first time, I mention that the teaser was really on point, and you can totally see Jake’s personality shine through.

“I love making trailers, it’s more fun than making the actual film. It’s got to be about the people and the mannerisms, there’s not enough of that these days. I think that gets lost, there’s not enough personality, they’re moulding skaters into a designated personality that fits with the brand they’re on. It’s just close ups of drinking a can of Red Bull, throwing down the board, setting up a board. And of course, there are bits of that in Thesis 001, it’s a skate video, but any other action is an excuse to have a beautiful frame. I’m a filmmaker, it’s all about aesthetics. For me as a skateboarder, yes the tricks are hard, but once they’ve been done and filmed and logged they just become pure form. I know why they’re important and why they’re going in the video and how to order it, but it’s all pure aesthetics.

I like dynamics and flow and that applies to all films and all art and anything that’s creative. That’s my perspective on it anyway. Obviously, this here is ‘content’, we’re trying to sell some hats, but fuck it, these days you’ve got to sell some hats if you want to make art. I say it in jest, this is a film, I’ve done my time at the magazines producing homogenous skate drivel. It has its place but there’s so much out there when you want to make a film how do you differentiate it? It’s all videos, it’s all the same really. ‘Content’ is just corporate jargon. Obviously, this is Thesis 001, we have the intent, we’re going to be dropping these fairly regularly.”

Henry finally plays me Thesis 001 but talks over it pretty much the whole way.

“For me, London is full of words and language. It’s where we take our identity from, Theobalds is a road in London where we all used to live. Every major skate company has always been about reclaiming your identity, skateboard graphics have always ripped off corporate logos and that’s an important thing, but people don’t understand why they do it anymore. It’s about asking how can you copyright the stroke of a brush? There are no rights for the music in this film yet but I believe in that. Why should it be copyrighted? Music is about love and expression and that needs to be shared. I’ll credit the labels and the music and say buy the music but there might be an issue if it’s on YouTube. I’m ready for that, we can put it online in other places. All the brand edits I do always have the rights cleared, but this is independent. The first track is by Amon Tobin, who is a ridiculous producer, one of my favourite, he’s so versatile. I use a lot of stuff from Ninja Tune actually, primarily because I rate their music and think it should be promoted. I’ve learnt everything I know about music through skate videos, I will always buy the British music that I back out of principle, I will always buy an independent video, I’ll watch all the big corporate ones illegally, why should I spend 30 quid on their DVD which is effectively a massive marketing exercise? But for the boys on the street, I support that, more often than not we share everything anyway. I’ve never turned a profit from making a skate video, once you factor in all the time and money spent getting around. No one does anything now unless there’s a carrot in front of them, people are just making friends to have better connections and move up in the world, to get themselves noticed, or famous, or to get to the right party, you know? Boys and crews going skateboarding has been there forever and was happening before the industry took hold of it. Skateboarding invented skate brands and board companies, and they developed as a way to facilitate and fund doing it, but we’ve lost sight of that and it’s become all about the profit and not the act.”

It seems like Theobalds is trying to bring that back around full circle, not doing it for that end goal of self-promotion, or money, you just need that creative process and outlet in your life.

“Skateboarding is a creative outlet, probably the best creative outlet for a young person or any person who can move their body. What it does is change your perspective on the world. Suddenly you’re not in the game or the rat race, you see the world entirely objectively, and you see possibilities everywhere. You can choose as and when you go in and stoke yourself out. We all remember that feeling the first time you land a flip trick or whatever. It’s a chemical reaction in the brain but you can do that whenever you want to without having to organise or schedule 22 men to turn up on a field and then moan about it afterwards. As a filmer you have to be ready to capture that, I don’t lug around dollies or gimbals, the whole of Thesis 001 was shot handheld, not one tripod, all on the Panasonic HD.”

Skate films have always had their own style, rough and ready I suppose.

We like fisheye. That idea of reconfiguring your environment and changing your perspective is there in filming too. We love fisheye because it makes the world look different. We’ve developed our own techniques, in our own genre. No-one wants to talk about skate videos as their own genre. Everyone talks about them like an amateur thing, but it’s a specific genre, one of the biggest. There are rules and techniques which are all there to be broken but there’s also a logic to deciding where you film from. There’s a formula: what’s the trick?; how is the spot set up?; what’s nice about the composition?; what’s the peak of the trick? Every trick sits on an ark, you’ve got the pop, the peak – or that moment you would take the photo – and the descent, terra-firma landing. In filming skating, there’s beginning, middle and end; the pop, the freeze frame and the roll-out, but they’re all equally important. That’s why I don’t use prime lenses. If the skater is only going to get the trick once, which, if it’s hard they probably will, you need to get everything in one shot. That’s filming in a nutshell. People who don’t skate can’t really film skating because they don’t have the same level of awareness and anticipation.

Our conversation takes a few twists and tangents that aren’t worth repeating here, but it is clear that Henry has some special ideas about what makes the simple act of skateboarding so magical.

“Skateboarding is the single most important cultural development in an urban environment in the last thirty or forty years because of how it fuses everything that is going on around us and makes sense of it, in a way. Everything comes from vibration, which is form, mathematics, there’s a golden ratio which is Phi, it’s how nature grows, how a tree proliferates. Architects are aware of Phi, it’s how physics works and how buildings are made, we have it in our bodies. It’s the symmetry of nature which enables us to be so productive. Skateboarding surely is a celebration of all of that. We’ve evolved this far as a species, this is where we’re at and this is what we’ve decided to do with it. You look at nature, the stars, basically anything, they all come from these fundamental principles of mathematics. You cannot fuck with that, it existed before we could talk, the universe wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them. Vitruvius talks about these divine proportions, he says everything ever made should be solid, useful and beautiful. Da Vinci took it further, which is why we have the Vitruvian man, it’s a study of those proportions within man, it’s all about the ratio of a cubit. But what we’re doing as skateboarders is connecting with something that someone has created using those rules.”

We surf the obtuse, the outside of these structures that are made, using the same principles. We come from surfing, where they surf the wave of energy in the medium of water, the difference with skateboarding is that we are the wave of energy, and we’re surfing the geometry of solid earth.

It seems like that whole idea of something being solid, useful and beautiful was the core of the Long Live Southbank campaign.

“The thing with the Long Live Southbank campaign was that I knew it was stupid, we didn’t even have to do it, the argument was won from the start. The metaphor was too perfect. They’re an arts institution, the proverbial elite, we’re the underclass in the undercroft, they’re trying to get rid of our culture and yet they don’t realise that Southbank is probably one of the most magical arts related fairy tales ever because of how it came to be. This radical group of architects had this idea that you should build some spaces creatively, and leave them to see what happens. Skateboarding is the living manifestation of that idea. It’s a generational leap from all the radical, progressive shit that was happening in the 60’s to where it is now, we are the manifestation of those ideas but they couldn’t even see it yet. Of course, it was going to be skateboarding. My feeling is that skateboarding really represents freedom, natural freedom within the modern world, and anyone who is good at PR or has an arts degree or whatever can see that, which is why it’s used as the symbol of youth culture. I think that’s why everyone’s so interested in skateboarding in this modern world but we’ve got caught up in playing the game. We want the money and not the wealth. We’re trying to eat menus. It comes in different waves, now it’s about everyone skates, it doesn’t matter how good you are it’s about style, which is why you see all these jazzy no-complys, back 3’s and wallies in the video parts. Yeah, it looks sick, going skating is amazing and it has value but why not wait and try something harder and put that out. If you look at any other art form, for your style to even be considered as something to talk about, you have to be able to deliver technically to be in a position to be witnessed. These professional skateboarders all around the world are busting their asses trying to do something new so people can look at how steezy their back leg is. They have to do that something new because that’s value, that’s effort, a moment of magic in a mundane world. That’s important and I’m passionate about that for those reasons.”

"Theobalds is our crew, it was our formative years, it was our university."

Let’s talk about Theobalds and how that all started, what is your involvement?

“Theobald’s is Craig’s company, I’m not financially involved, I’m just doing the videos. Obviously, there’s a bit more to it, I have it tattooed on my arm. It all ended too soon, life catches up with you. It’s Peter Pan syndrome, we are in this alternative world, but every now and then reality, or Babylon, pulls you back and you have to exist within it. We were paying 600 quid a month to live in central London, working non-stop and filming on the side.”

"So here we are four years later, with something that represents what skateboarding was to me and still is to me, is still to so many people but they can’t quite put their finger on it because they’re dazzled by all the logos."

“Looking back on all my films, I’m trying to express the same thing. We all just want to be free. All I’ve done over the years is refine it more and more. The skateboarding format is the same; skateboarding and music. You can see it as just that, as shit we put on Instagram, or, you can see the format as something to play with.”

“I’ll break it down for you because it happens to everything. I want to make a feature-length film about this. Art, expression, music, love, all these positive, creative things that humans do are dangerous to the status quo, to the establishment, the plutocrats, the kleptocrats, the bureaucrats, whichever tag you want to give them because they don’t understand it, it’s liberating. A positive vibration, thought or feeling is a million times stronger than a negative one. What they don’t want is for people to wake up and realise that they don’t have to play the financial game in a rigged system, that’s slowly been built up and designed to keep everyone in debt. So, from the oppressed comes the art. Just look at Jazz music, it got appropriated by the white middle classes and is now the bourgeois. Rock and Roll. All of these things came up as a way for people to break out and we were that close to having a revolution because of the messages that came with it, but what happens, the corporate machine understands that they have to absorb it and sanitise it. That’s what Southbank would have been. That’s what happen to hip hop, punk, everything. They take the image and aesthetic of it and then sell it back to the next generation that doesn’t know anything. The ethos gets lost.”

“That hasn’t quite happened to skateboarding yet, we’re at a unique point in time whereby because of the internet we have over a hundred years of visual history, of interviews, we are in a time when people can share their own information, factual, real information, not like bullshit that we get indoctrinated with at school. We’re in a time when we can learn from our mistakes, they say that history repeats itself until you learn from the mistakes. I wouldn’t want to rely completely on the internet, though, keep hard copies too yeah?

I dropped out of uni, I read my own books and watch my own lectures that I choose. But now art and media is everything, everyone wants to be part of the fantasy, part the show, they’ve built up entire institutions designed to farm people through an academic structure where they teach the formulas of the Scorsese technique, this technique or that angle or the rule of thirds, and you get all these people coming out of film school or art school or whatever and all the shit they make looks the fucking same because they work from a curriculum. I try my hardest to not do any of that, and try to look at the world differently and take my inspiration from other places. It’s fucking hard to be original. All we’re doing is different variations of a dot and a circle and a line. It just gets more complex but that’s the fun of it.”

“I do rant about the state of skateboarding, but I love it. We’re all beautiful waste men. We’re fucking creative outlaws.”

“I have a side of me that likes to be really organised and militant and doing missions to get skate videos done, there needs to be that, but all filmers are tweakers to a certain extent. We are the archivists. I’ve got everything that I’ve ever filmed that’s worth keeping saved, categorised, tagged, so that when I can afford it I can buy a big RAID system to put all my hard drives in one place. I have everything I’ve ever filmed since I was 14, all I have to do is search for it and it’s all there. That’s being organised. We’ll look back on Thesis 001 in ten years and think, yeah, that was 2016, we were fucking killing it back then. We’ll show our grandkids in 50 years, it’s important, it’s a document and a record of a time and a scene and a movement and a feeling. That’s not content.

Another thing I love is that it is purely collaborative. Yeah, I’m making a film and I’m on visual duties, marching dudes around town taking them to spots but there are hours of blood, sweat and tears from every skateboarder in Thesis 001, breaking themselves, putting themselves at risk, trying, battling their mental demons, actually doing stuff. There is quality and effort gone into everything and I love that I can collaborate with my friends and put something out that’s been made by all of us.”

It’s important to call it a collaboration. For me, a lot of the time, filmmakers and photographers, the people behind the lens: the documenters; the archivists, they don’t get the credit and acknowledgement that they deserve. Not to take anything away from the skaters, of course.

“But we never did it for that in the first place. Maybe when I was younger, I liked the day after a film came out, all the comments and everything, it’s all feedback. You’re interacting with the world out there, the internet facilitated that. With the original Hold Tight London, it was amazing to see that loads of people in Poland were watching it, and America. As an 18-year-old kid who just put a video online through his laptop, on shitty Quicktime, that was sick.”

We watch Thesis 001 again.

“I personally think this is the best shit I’ve ever made. It’s honest. Even though we are trying to sell some hats, I’ve tried to do it subtly. I’ll say it now, if you buy hats, we’ll make more films. That’s how it works, that was skateboarding originally, let’s keep it that way.”

“That’s an interesting thing about British skateboarding, the style of skating changes so much with the specific environment we’re in. Every clip has a story behind it and I can remember the whole day of how it happened. That’s a nice thing, to have your whole life memory jogged by seeing one clip you filmed ages ago. I spend all day outside capturing these moments, then come home and watch them all again and again. There’s something healthy about that, making sense of the day that was. You see things you missed the first time.”

Start from the beginning with Jake Bidmead, how long have you known him?

“The nature of London is that so many people come and go, but I’ve known Jake for 6 or 7 years now. He lived in East London so I’d always see him when we were skating East or Mile End or wherever, he lived with Madars Apse for a while. He travels quite a lot, a lot of people know Jake. What I love about him is that he’s not trying to be that sponsored dude, he’s hooked up by Parlour, Levis and Theobalds. We’re trying to sort him a board sponsor but the point is that he doesn’t want a board sponsor. The story of him is basically he’s from where Chewy (Cannon) is from, he’s Chewy’s boy. He’s from Great Yarmouth, that sort of area, same as Tommy May who’s in the edit as well. I’ve been there and it’s fucking grim, they’re always saying how they never want to go back, for them London is escapism, they’ve moved to London and it’s changed their fortunes, look at what happened to Chewy.”

“The reason I’m so stoked to be presenting Jake in an edit like this is because, for me, he embodies everything that British skateboarding is.”

“He holds down a full-time job as a manager of a pretty bougie bar in St. Paul’s. That includes getting to work at 8am on a Monday after skating until late on a Sunday to go and do a stock check. He does that and comes skating on the weekend, and weeknights. We started filming earlier this year before we knew we were doing this part. I was filming with Tommy May, after chatting with him at Canada water, he knew Jake. I just said to him to come and get some footage, he’s one of those dudes who is always wanting to film. I’ve been lucky enough to collaborate with some of the world’s best skaters, and certainly the cream of London, I love it, all these different parts I’ve made become this amazing bonding experience.

Jake and I are on a similar level, we like to think and to talk about stuff other than tricks. We like to talk about art and philosophy and culture and politics. A lot of politics. All the skaters these days are talking politics, people say young people aren’t engaged but that’s just not true. Skateboarders are more switched on, we spend our life watching, we’re always out in the streets, we see what’s going on. Skateboarders know what’s going on more than anyone, and Jake is like that. We both know what we want to create, he focusses on the skating, he trusts my vision, he trusts me to get close to him because he know that I’m going to save the camera or do my best to, if he hits the camera I don’t give a fuck, I’m the one pointing a 3 grand lens two inches from his board. It’s all in the pursuit of something. A lot of the tricks in there we’ve worked really hard for. Jake will not have skated for like a week, come out, spent his wages on a new board, gone to a shitty, crusty British spot and by the end of it, he’s broken himself off for two hours, destroyed the brand new board he just bought, but we’ve got a clip. Sometimes we don’t have a clip. It’s the pursuit. But we’re both down for it, he embodies everything that I feel is British skateboarding.”

“Most pros have a part-time job, it’s not Hollywood, the glitz and the glamour is the gritty Britty over here. It doesn’t mean it’s better or worse, it’s just different, and that to me is interesting. That’s something to be celebrated. We’re not saying fuck American skateboarding, we’re saying yeah American skating is great, thank you for creating skateboarding – even though Britain colonised you and technically still owns the land and basically we just sent off you idiots over there as an experiment and watched you destroy a whole continent – you gave us back skateboarding in the 70’s so if you want to claim street skating then remember that skateboarders were skating the banks in Southbank in ‘73. So who invented skateboarding, who knows? No-one did that’s the point, it’s the new religion.”

“I fell out of love with skateboarding for a few years because of the whole mentality of some of the kids coming up, not having respect for people on the streets, yeah you might piss people off but we’re not trying to piss the people off. It became a caricature of itself and with the Palace effect, suddenly it was cool to be skateboarder. I completely rate what Palace have done, it’s Robin Hood economics and it’s fucking sick, they’re robbing the idiots to give Chewy, Lucien and Rory money to do what we all want them to do. Well done. Unfortunately, the by-product of that is now we have all these braindead skate fans who go to the Palace shop or the Supreme shop and come down to Southbank to try and ask Chewy for an autograph while he’s billing a zoot. That’s not skateboarding. Skateboarding is not about celebrity.”

You mentioned Theobalds before, how did it start and how long were you there for?

“Amazingly, I lived in Theobalds for two years, exactly to the day. I’d just broken up with my long-term girlfriend who I lived with in West London for like three years, living that fantasy life that you try and do when you’re 21, so I was looking for a place and had a conversation with David Yap at Southbank who was also looking for a place, Tanner was trying to move down from Biggleswade, and my mate Faris who I grew up skating with, OG concrete poets who were looking for a place. It all just lined up, Tanner found the place on a gumtree ad with no pictures. It just said WC1. For skateboarders, it’s all about location, I’ll live anywhere. I didn’t even see it before I moved in. Faris ended up moving out because he wanted to save some money to go travelling, Craig moved in after that I think, Tanner moved out because the city was too different to where he’s from.

I’d never really met Craig but as soon as he moved in within a month we were like a married couple. I was making City of Rats at the time, working my ass of trying to pay the bills, working at Kingpin to begin with running around filming comps and all this mind numbing stuff you have to do and then going out filming until 2am every night for City of Rats, trying to film everyone in London to make something substantial. We supported each other, we were stoked because even though we were broke we had everything we needed to go skating at 3 in the morning if we wanted. We always talked about doing stuff, we were hyper critical, as all skateboarders are, of any new brands or videos or photos or whatever, we always talked about it. We’ve got a load of different brands that we’ve developed, but just felt like we didn’t want to do yet, we want to do it independently.”

What else are you working on in the near future?

“I’m working on a box set that will come out eventually, including a documentary. These are people’s lives, those tricks that people are doing on a skateboard are way harder and way more impressive than anything a fucking footballer does on a Saturday afternoon, yet they’re on £150,000 a month, they fucking fall around like pansies on grass, moaning, mothered and celebrated, when skateboarders are doing amazing things and they’re not even acknowledged or valued by society. To us they are valuable, they are feats of human ingenuity and vision, to even see that you could do it. You see a possibility, then you realise it, exploit it, conquer it, document it and share it.”

“Footage and photos are the commodities of skateboarding, that’s my mantra. It’s not something to stockpile, it’s what we produce, like a harvest, it’s our crop and it’s never ending.”

Take a look at some of the work Henry does outside of skateboarding below.

 

Theobalds Cap Co.

Hold Tight Films

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