Jerome Campbell

10 Years ago, Carhartt WIP packed off their skate team to Mongolia to try skate a park they’d seen a photo of, in the heart of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. On arrival, they found that the park had been torn down three weeks prior.

Mongolia has grown exponentially since and almost to the date a decade later, Carhartt WIP’s skate team returned to see what had changed and if there was anything to skate.

One of the guys on the trip was Sheffield born, UK legend and Carhartt pro Jerome Campbell. We caught up with Jerome to get the inside story on the trip, some of the gnarly shit they saw and just how he broke his foot an hour before his flight home.

Tom: Tell us about skating and growing up in Sheffield? 

Jerome: Skating in Sheffield was really really good, it was one of the pinnacle skate scenes I think in the whole of the UK, in fact it certainly was. Skating in Sheffield they had Sumo, one of the stores which I think was way ahead of its time. It just felt special, I started skating in 2002/2003 maybe.

For me it felt great, when you start skating you never see further than your own scene because especially at that time when the internet was non existent for skate stuff all you needed was what was going on. It was special a lot of professional skaters were from Sheffield – Joel, Mark, etc. Mark Baines was one of my geezers I looked up to.

Even the guys here that work here at House Of Vans now, Henry Clay worked at Sumo. It was special, I never really understood it for what it was at the time but now when I look back I think fuck a lot of what is going on in skateboarding now came from Sheffield. It’s a super special place for skateboarding.

Tom: How many photos over the years have been shot on those slightly arched concrete benches near Devvy Green?

Jerome: Quite a lot, but bizarrely enough since BMX’s smashed them to shit its got a lot harder to skate. Oval ones? Joel had the first photo on those doing 50/50 think it was a cover of Document back in…

Tom: You had a Sidewalk wallpaper of it, doing a Back Smith

Jerome: Yeah, that was actually not that long ago. I’ve always wanted to do something over the thing. Every time I used to come skating from where I lived in Sheffield we came in that way on the bus. I was always looking at them like ‘fuck I want to do something on that’. Yeah it was good I was stoked.

Will: You talked about being in Sheffield in an important era – how were you feeding on the scene, what magazines, videos, what was it you were looking at that time when you were growing up?

J: When I was a kid and when I was growing up in Sheffield it was, which Percy had a lot do with it was a big part of my upbringing in essence in skating, it was weird because print was so important at that time. There wasn’t clips on the internet every fifteen seconds, there wasn’t Instagram, there wasn’t all this other stuff. So when something would come out monthly or bimonthly like Kingpin or Sidewalk or whatever was out it was super important you waited for those days, you know. Nobody does that anymore, we’d go out and there wasn’t any attempt to film stuff it would just be going out skating. Which has massively changed now but yeah that was the fun waiting for mags and keeping them.

W: I might be jumping the gun a bit because I haven’t seen Tom’s questions but with this Carhartt thing there is a book right? Do you feel with the book you’ve tried to capture some of that excitement of opening a print magazine and seeing the things in print there?

J: I think more on Percy’s side for sure on this for me when we were there and when we were producing the content that was going to be in the book I was thinking about the publications at all, you don’t really. I think that’s an after thought of what content you’ve managed to get hold of. The fact that we knew we were going to produce a book when we were going there, whilst we were generating the content for it it wasn’t in our minds, we weren’t aware of how this was going to show up or at least I wasn’t as that wasn’t my intention.

T: Mongolia – who’s idea was that, how did that come about? Who thought let’s go to Mongolia and Skate?

J: 10 years ago Carhartt did a trip there – which I have to say looks a lot gnarlier compared to when we went. It was pretty gnarly when we went there, it really was a complete eye opener. So imagine 10 years ago it must have been another level altogether. As they went 10 years ago it was basically the 10 year anniversary so we decided to go back again. I think the guys who were involved in the previous book wanted to see how things had progressed and how things have grown structurally, whether the infrastructure has become more stable. That was the whole idea behind it.

T: When you go on these sort of trips you obviously documenting to a degree, you’re taking photos, end up creating a book, doing video parts etc is there a heightened pressure because of the time restrictions? How do you navigate that?

J: I think for me as a skater it was pretty chill as we are aware of the fact there is only so much we can do with what we’ve got. But for Percy and the guys that were documenting it were solely aware of what was going on in terms of having to produce. It’s more pressure on their side.

W: How long was the trip?

J: 3 weeks, it felt like 3 1/2 months. When you’ve not seen warm water for 3 weeks. But it felt like it was a long time, in terms of generating content making sure

W: You talked about a culture shock in terms of hot showers for 3 weeks, were there any crazy experiences of food, architecture etc.

J: Genuinely every day was gnarly. You forget you can get there on a plane in 18 hours realistically and that’s not that long, it doesn’t feel that long. But when you get off the plane oh my god, this is another fucking world you forget that these places still exist.

In terms of where, there was days we’d be out skating and it would be snowing, there would be stuff coming from the sky and we’d be like what the fuck is this. It turns out it would be ash from the coal. The country still runs on coal, there’s no nuclear power, it runs on people putting coal in the fucking chimney.

I don’t know if you’ve ever had freezing cold showers for close to 3 weeks but it’s no joke – you realise the people that live there deal with this every day. One thing for me was that although that we got to experience it and dip in and out of it, come back home and have a warm shower majority of people we met still live in that world. Still wakes up to a cold shower, still lives in a hut. That for me was super interesting, I really enjoyed the fact this place still exists, it’s always bizarre when you dip in and out of a country. Because you normally go into countries where you can skate for example. You might go to LA or something, you that the culturally references and being able to eat, have a hot shower they may seem relatively normal but when you go to a place like that it’s a complete luxury.

Internet was a myth, you turn up at a coffee shop which has the internet or those restaurants we went to and it was like we haven’t seen the internet for 5 days. You forget how much you need it when you’re trying to work as well as skate. It was bizarre because the cultural differences are massive, people don’t need the things we need. It really opened us up to the fact we have so much and we don’t actually need that much because these people are living a life out there, they are relatively happy. Yes they might be 15 ft deep in snow, and all the cows they don’t know where it is as its 40 miles to the nearest shop.

W: Was it quite nice after a while to not have that constant connection?

J: If I’m totally honest it wasn’t, because we’ve grown up with phones, become part of what we are doing. I’m not talking about being able to use the internet I’m talking about… I want to know if I’m skating some stairs.. actually that’s a lie, if I’m skating something flat, if I hurt myself 40 miles out of nowhere that I can call an ambulance to come and get me. But you can’t do those type of things and that’s where it comes a bit different because we have to weigh up the fact if I jump down this and hurt myself at this monument 1,000 miles away from the closest airport  nobody is going to come and get me.

It weighs up everything you do with skateboarding, it really does affect the way you skate. It’s like jumping over a massive padlock spike fence to go and skate a handrail I would not do that because I know people can’t get in to help me if I fell and hurt myself. It just became this thing where it’s not worth doing these things you just weigh it up a little bit different.

T: Tell us how you broke your leg at the end of the trip?

J: It was really gnarly actually, I was speaking to Percy about this earlier when we were at the pub. It was quite possibly the gnarliest experience of my entire life. The other guys were staying a couple of days extra but myself and Percy were leaving on the same flight to go back to China then fly from China to London. We’d basically saved this outfit each to go home in. Because we’d used all our clothes up and we were at the point of no return there was nothing left. No pants no nothing, but we had this one outfit. I was like ‘I’m putting my going home outfit on I’m ready to go home’. Someone was like we could probably get this kickflip wallride on this wall.

I’d skated for the last couple of days I’d done a lot of shit, I’d done a lot and I was like nah I’m going to chill. It was nothing, it wasn’t even worth me trying to skate this spot. When I mean at the airport, I mean from here to that post [gestures to a post about 2 metres away] away from the airport. We got there a couple of hours early to try and get some stuff, I was like I’m not going to skate, I’m not going to touch a board. I even had plimsolls on when I turned up.

I got geared up, they were like yeah you can probably do this, I’d give it a couple of tries. Tried this one trick, second go I really really badly took all of the front part of my foot open overlapped the back half of my foot. So basically my toes were resting on the top of my foot. It was really gnarly. Anyway I stood up out of shock and they’d gone back in. As I stood up they went back over it and they stayed over. At that point I knew that there was something really badly wrong.

W: Dislocated?

J: Yeah I was in pieces, I’d rather have broken my foot. I’d have broken my leg over what I did that day. It’s awful you can’t do fuck all. I haven’t able to skate properly for close to a year and a half. So I knew this was really bad. They carried me back to the van and I was on the phone to the insurance company saying I’ve just done this to my foot, what can I do? They told me that I can’t fly, so at that point I put the phone down, because my flight was in an hour. I was like we’re just going to have to go for it.

This was at the point I was feeling like I couldn’t stand up for the life of me. If Percy wasn’t there I wouldn’t have been able to go home. Because I couldn’t have been on my own. Anyway we managed to get through the thing hobbling. They put me in a wheelchair which I just asked for and I remember the relief of getting on the first flight was pretty gnarly but having dislocated my foot and entering that type of environment 45 minutes after doing it was really mentally, it crushed me to a point where I was like I knew I had 2 Nurofen for the 19 hour flight and I remember not taking them to the second part – which was when we flew from Mongolia to China.

I had a nice pizza in China airport and the next one was the 13 hour flight. I remember taking the 2 paracetamol, the gnarliest part for me was, I’d drifted off about 7 hours into the flight, when your heart slows down and you slowly relax sometimes you wake yourself up with that weird judder and that happened to me and I kicked the chair in front with my foot and I remember it was at the time when the whole plane goes dark and they make you sleep time. I’ve never wanted to scream so much in my entire life. It was genuinely the gnarliest 24 hours of my entire life. It was 6 months before I could even think about skating and it’s still a year and a half now I can’t play football I can’t run I can’t…

T: So apart from you breaking your leg were there any other wild experiences from the trip that come to mind?

J: I think the one thing that stuck out for me was when we were actually lucky enough to stay with a family. I genuinely mean in the middle of nowhere like you couldn’t walk home if you tried, if you tried to walk home you’d be dead, you’d have died of old age before you got anywhere. I remember the last day we stayed in this yurt thing the geezer brought out a sheep, bearing in mind for all the time you’re there you can see for about forty miles around. You can forty miles every direction, all of the time and I’d never seen a sheep.

Turns out this geezer had had this sheep inside his tent for the last four days. They brought the sheep out and rested it on this blue tarpaulin and the geezer came out with it, ran its finger down its sternum found where its sternum stopped and did a little incision, we were all watching in a circle. It was chilled as fuck, it’s like me looking at you now the sheep didn’t move. Anyway he put this little incision which must have been about this big and he put his hand in the fucking thing and the sheep is still looking, it didn’t squirm, it didn’t move. He pulled its heart, they pulled its main artery away from its heart and the sheep didn’t move. It just looked at him, the sheep died looking at this geezer in the face and not one drop of blood hit the floor. It was insane! Then we ate it. The best thing, if you drink this syrup you’re not going to get diarrhoea, it was all the insides of a sheep and we were like give us another pint of that. It was sheep face!

W: I know you shoot a lot of photos as well, did you shoot much out there?

J: I did actually, I really got into it. It was weird because we couldn’t skate as much as we can on a normal skate trip it gave me an opportunity to shoot photos. Which is really unusual for a skate trip. It became a point where everything you shot looked great because of where you were. It was hard to shoot a really shit photo, it was just brilliant! The kids, the people that we shot photos of, the environment the location it was so far fetched than anything we had ever been used to, everything was great! It was another world altogether.   

View the Out of Steppe Trailer here
View a preview of the book here

Visit Carhartt here

Interview by Will Sleigh & Tom Kirkby
Transcribing by Sarah Lawson
Photos by Cyrille Weiner and Percy Dean

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