For those that were around back then, skateboarding made a transition from a niche pastime to a recognized action sport back in the 1990s. This boom was championed by the likes of Tony Hawk, Steve Cabellero, Rodney Mullen, and several other truly inspirational skaters that shone a spotlight on a truly unique sport. This led to mainstream attention, the birth of the X-games, a series of well-received video games, and a surge of kids and adults picking up a board and riding. Which in turn, meant that skaters needed a place to skate.
Over time, parks popped up all over the globe and the skaters of this era had parks to visit regularly. However, these parks that were built over 20 years ago are the same parks that skaters frequent today, battered and run down by constant use with no regular upkeep being afforded by local councils. This is particularly true in the UK and why our interviewee Ryan Swain is fighting tirelessly to save the skateboarding infrastructure we have.
Ryan Swain is currently going toe-to-toe with the Norton and Malton local council in a political debate that threatens to demolish and dispose of the only outdoor, free-to-use half pipe in the North of England. Due to health and safety issues, the council has blocked their proposal to restore the ramp to its former glory despite Ryan’s campaign having financial backing, global reach, and all the resources needed to complete the project with little to no input from the governing body.
It’s a heated debate that has got the attention of huge figures within the Urban sport such as Tony Hawk, Bucky Lasek, and Danny Way to name a few. So we thought it would be best to sit down with Ryan, get his take on the process, get a deeper understanding of why this campaign is so important. Plus, we get to know the man behind the campaign. We introduce you, Ryan Swain, enjoy.
The Man Behind The Campaign
Callum: Hi Ryan, glad to get hold of you so we can get a chat about everything that is going on with you lately. We know you are a busy guy so thank you for taking the time to sit down and speak to us. So obviously we are going to be discussing your now globally recognized #Rescuetheramp campaign. However, just before we get into that, I want to let the readers behind the curtain a little bit. So firstly, can you give me a little insight into you? Who is Ryan Swain and what is your relationship with skateboarding?
Ryan: Yeah, of course. So obviously I’m Ryan Swain, I’m thirty-one and I’ve been skating for over twenty years. I’ve always been a massive advocate for action sports, especially skateboarding and I used to ride at a fairly high level, competing against professionals regularly. I was sponsored by several brands like Vans, Popcorn Skate Shop, Moshdog Wheels and Iron Column Skateboards back in the day, all of which from a really young age. So I’ve always had a real interest in skateboarding.
Skateboarding for me was just doing down to the local park in Malton and Norton and it allowed me to reach that high level in the sport. But it also allowed me to meet some amazing people that I might not have done otherwise. I’ve always said that skateboarding isn’t just a sport, it’s a culture. You get to meet people, they teach you things, you get to travel and see different places and I learned a lot of these things at the local park.
Being down there introduced me to the world of arts and culture and from there I got into performing arts which is now my career. I’m a presenter and a DJ primarily and that all stems back to skateboarding really, so I owe a lot to skating.
Callum: I’m glad to hear that skating gave you so much throughout your life. Even at the Olympics arguably the highest level that someone can compete in any sport. You still see this laid-back culture and this supportive atmosphere that you just wouldn’t get in any other sport.
Ryan: Definitely, there is so much comradery in Skating. If we compare it to football which is obviously a very different beast entirely. If you don’t land a trick in a skate comp, the other skaters competing will come right over and console you. Whereas in football, if you mess up or miss a chance, the fans and your teammates are on your case immediately. There is a completely different etiquette in skateboarding and there always has been and I think it always will be.
Callum: For sure, and you said that you experienced this culture and comradery primarily because of your local skate park which brings me on to the reason why you are here. You are involved in a pretty intense campaign to rescue a vital asset of this exact park from being demolished and disposed of. So in your own words, can you explain what the #Rescuetheramp campaign is and why rescuing this half pipe is so important.
Ryan: Of course, so the skatepark in Malton and Norton which is a very rural area in North Yorkshire, we have a skate park. The park opened officially in 2002 after a successful campaign involving a police officer called Stuart Ashton to get young skaters off the streets and skating in a designated area. The skaters back then all congregated in a supermarket car park, waxed up curbs, brought their own custom ramps, it was the old school way but they have obviously seen this as anti-social behavior and criminal damage and thankfully, this campaign was a success.
So when it opened, we were astonished to learn that the park had a half-pipe because that’s not a common thing when you visit a local park. Myself and all the other skaters at the time were learning to ollie up curbs and 50-50 ledges. We weren’t even thinking about vert skating. It was something that died out in the late nineties after being popular in the eighties and it took the likes of Tony Hawk to put it back in the spotlight again. So we felt very lucky to have it in our little rural town.
It took a few years but I was able to build up my ability and in my teenage years, I really enjoyed vert skating on the ramp. It’s hard not to love the big airs and the sick grinds you can pull off. Having this ramp meant that we had our own skate scene with loads of vert riders and that was great. Though obviously, as I left my teenage years I had to put skating to one side to launch my career and I’ve had identical twin daughters. So it meant skateboarding had to come second.
Then in March 2021 I heard that the council were planning to dismantle the half-pipe and disposing of it overnight with no public knowledge. That news fired me up because obviously there are a lot of young skaters who have never had the chance to use a ride a vert ramp before and if they took this resource away, chances are that they wouldn’t. The ramp has been sitting there deteriorating for about six or seven years and it’s been unsupervised, hasn’t been fenced off, there was no sign of pending renovations. So I thought, I engage well with young people, there aren’t enough advocates for the sport and I wanted to step in and do my part.
Our goal was to fix the ramp so that it’s safe to ride on again, raise the funds for repair and also to clad the sides of the ramp as this was something the council failed to do initially. Yet six months have gone by, I’ve worked tirelessly and we have garnered so much support from the local community right up to pros within the sport. Plus, we have a £15,000 sponsorship deal agreed which would help put this ramp together with no expense to the council.
However, sadly every time we approach the council to get this project completed, we get shot down for health and safety reasons and due to the fact that the ramp is unsupervised. My argument with that is that the park and the ramp has never been supervised, the ramp is in a state of disrepair. Has holes and bolts sticking out of it. Yet anyone could have jumped on and tried to ride it. So the point they are raising is irrelevant.
Then there is also the frustrating thing that the council allowed us to strip and clear the ramp, which was voted and agreed for by them. Yet they continue to hold up proceedings. This leads us to believe that they’ve used our volunteers to save expenses that would be used to do that same job when disposing of the ramp. But what I will say is that despite this, I’ll never give in, I’ll keep going, I’ll keep gathering support and it’s time for change.
Callum: It’s inspiring stuff and I agree it is time for change. Now, just to play devil’s advocate as you know where my bias lie, do the local council have any sort of case with their claims of health and safety being an issue. Or is a certain amount of risk part and parcel of any sport and we just have to accept that accidents happen and we can only do our best to stop them while facilitating athletes to prosper?
Ryan: Well, I consider myself to be a fair person and when engaged in a debate, I tend to try and see both sides of the coin. But there is no solid evidence to support their case. We have followed every single health and safety protocol to the letter and we have always backed up our actions with supporting legislation. The argument at the moment is that at this time, it doesn’t pass regulations and of course, it doesn’t. It’s currently a shell that’s been stripped of all the wood and needs some love to get it up and running again. However, we have the funds to make the necessary repairs, we have the materials, we have dedicated volunteers. We have everything we need to make this safe and that’s why their argument doesn’t stand up.
Another issue is that these councilors aren’t experts, nor do I expect them to be. However, they have sanctioned repairs for the park in the past and they’ve ended up using metal mesh for the ramps amongst other shoddy materials and it’s ruined a perfectly good skate park. So we want to make sure the half-pipe stays and is built with the right materials so that it lasts and it’s a joy to ride. If there was one major issue that was flagged that couldn’t be resolved, then I could understand where they are coming from, but we have the ability to deal with any issues raised so that’s why it’s frustrating.
Callum: I can imagine, and I have read that there could be certain entities involved that are pushing this decision back and blocking the restoration of the ramp because they have other plans for the land? Is there anything to that argument?
Ryan: Yeah, well the lease of the land has always been an issue. It’s a rolling lease from the Fitzwilliam estate and they own the whole riverside area, which is interesting, to say the least. Basically, there is this thing called the Malton and Norton Neighbourhood plan and it’s a public document. Within this document, there is a development plan for several places within the local area and the skate park is one of those areas included. Within the period of 2020 to 2027, there is a plan to revamp the area, add a riverside cafe, bring in a cycle track. Yet six months into a campaign, we still haven’t got the go-ahead to refurbish a ramp within this same skate park.
Plus, that lease runs out in three years and there was been no confirmation that the lease will be renewed or not. They won’t disclose any more information regarding this proposed development and that, in my opinion, is wrong. But we have put in a freedom of information request from both the Norton and Malton councils. We haven’t been given anything from Norton yet but the Malton council information we received was shocking.
We got messages right from the beginning of the campaign in March from the current major of Malton, telling someone to get in touch with me, back me into a corner and tell me to shut up. Plus, the Fitzwilliam estate was involved regarding the lease agreement again which we found out through the information we got. All in all, it’s very shady what’s going on. They never wanted me to speak out about this from the start which tells me that there is a lot more to it than meets the eye. Maybe we will learn more if and when we get Norton’s information but I guess we will wait and see.
Callum: It sounds like a small town version of the sitcom ‘The Thick of it’. It’s all smoke and mirrors and underhand dealings.
Ryan: Absolutely, it makes me wonder if this will spin-off and become a Netflix documentary or something. I think there is definitely a market for it.
Callum: I tell you what, I would watch it so I think you’re right. Now, just to move on slightly. We just witnessed Sky Brown return home from Toyko 2020 with a bronze medal. A feat that she achieved despite the pretty lacklustre funding that GB Skateboarding received to get to this event, with just £197,000 invested. Now, primarily that’s due to Sky spending her time in Japan and the US mostly. So my question is do think this pressures Skate GB to throw more money at Paris 2024 and equally, is this pressure a good thing for your campaign?
Ryan: Well, I hope so. I can’t fault Skate GB at all because they’ve been excellent with the whole campaign and I am very thankful. However, at the same time, the facilities and skating infrastructure in this country are really lacking. It’s about time that the whole government realised that this is more than just an action sport, it’s a culture and now, an Olympic sport. We are seeing more girls than ever picking up a board which is an incredible thing to see and some of the female skaters out there ride at such an amazing level. This might be a little embarrassing but ill admit it. I wept when Sky Brown took home that bronze and it was a great thing to see.
My worry now though, is there are expectations and with the facilities that we have, are we really going to be able to produce more talent of that level in the space of four years? It’s important to point out that there were no males representing GB at all. Why was that? I mean Sam Beckett is a world-class skateboarder and I’ve seen him skate many times. Why was he not involved? I don’t know if the scoring wasn’t right but I get the feeling that there was lots of talent that should have been featured and simply weren’t involved for whatever reason.
I know we have the UK Vert and Street series, which I want to train up for and compete in again. But we need more national competitions, sponsors getting involved and we need a premier league of skateboarding so to speak. If you take a look at Japan, that is an example of what can be done. They went to the Tokyo Olympics and they cleaned the house. If you invest the right amount of money and time and provide the right expertise. Then, you’ll get results.
Callum: I think it is important that we bring our best to France in 2024 as they have a great skate culture over there. Just look at Aurélien Giraud and Vincent Milou tearing it up in the street final this year.
Ryan: Yeah, I think it’ll be great. I remember traveling to France a while back. I think it was around 2005 and we were hanging around Louvre, which bears in mind, is a landmark and a huge tourist attraction, and there were skaters all over it. They were grinding it, flipping over it and the police were just letting it happen, it was incredible. Yet, back in the UK if you wax up and grind a park bench, you’ll likely get a fine. I just think that the sport is much more encouraged elsewhere.
Callum: Then just to elaborate on that, what sort of changes do you think need to happen within the UK to see more success in the sport and see more talented skaters pop up? Do we need a skate headquarters or more parks? What should be the approach?
Ryan: Well, I think it’s all of that, but it’s also the facilities we have and plan to build. I got a message of support from Tim Woodward who done the correspondence for the BBC during the Tokyo Olympics for skating and he has full of praise for the campaign. But he also took me around the Tokyo park during practice and gave me the inside scoop. Some of those ramps are 15 or 20 feet high and that is something that you would never see in the UK. Anything over 8ft is deemed a hazard and that’s not the case.
I think there is a carefree attitude, especially among the older skaters who won’t wear padding and won’t wear helmets and that’s up to them. But I think we need more advocates for change in that regard and see more skaters wearing helmets, wearing gear, and then maybe that helps shed the perception that skating is an accident waiting to happen. Then bigger and better ramps would likely pop up everywhere.
Also, everything that pops up at the moment is concrete. Not everyone wants to ride concrete. There are no indoor, wooden ramps anymore. Yet you have more options than ever. You have Skatelite or you have Ramp Armor which is just as good and it means that you can basically have indoor quality ramps outdoors.
Callum: Absolutely, there are tonnes of options, more than ever before. Now, just to pivot to the praise and support that you have been receiving. You touched on it slightly but what has it been like to get messages from all these pros and huge figures within the sport that you love?
Ryan: I mean, some of the messages that I’ve been getting are astonishing and I’m truly humbled and overwhelmed by it all. To have Danny Way’s support was mind-blowing. Danny rarely talks about the issues within skateboarding so to have him speak out about this issue is huge. He’s an icon, he’s a world record holder. He jumped the Great Wall of China for god’s sake, no one else is ever going to do that. I was starstruck by that and then I have Bucky Lasek message me as well and Bucky was one of my favorite pros growing up. I used to play as him in all the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater games. Then Tony Hawk reached out himself, which is like Michael Jackson reaching out to compliment your dance moves. He’s the man. Plus, it seems like Sky Brown is going to send us a video message which will be a huge boost too.
The only frustrating thing is that all these great and inspiring people are reaching out. Yet, it’s falling on deaf ears. We have the money, we have the resources in place and any other council would have snapped up this cost-free opportunity. We have all the pieces of the puzzle and we’ve been able to do is strip the ramp back. This brings a new problem as when the more harsh UK weather rolls in, obviously, the frame is exposed, it’s going to become brittle, it’s going to rust and then it is a safety issue.
I almost feel like that’s the intention of the council and they are trying to kick this into the long grass by giving us no other option than to tear it down. It’s all underhand tactics it seems.
Callum: It really does seem that way and I really appreciate you speaking so candidly about the issue. As it allows readers to truly understand what you are up against and why you need the support. Now, I just want to finish on a lighter note. I like to do a little bio section to give the readers a little look behind the curtain. So I’m going to hit you with some quick-fire questions and you feel free to be as detailed as you like. So first up, who is the skater that inspired you the most growing up?
Ryan: Oh, that’s a tough one straight away. I’m going to do one UK one and one US one. Then it feels like I’m being fair. So my favorite US skater is Tony TNT Trujillo, not just because he had some rad Vans shoes. I loved the fact that he skated everything I skated. He rode transition, bowls, half-pipes and the way he would carve was unbelievable. He had the best front-side carve I’ve ever seen.
Then in the UK, I would have to give it to Dan Cates. I know Dan and I like him a lot. I wouldn’t say he was the best overall skater, but he was technical. He could do things that no one else would even think of. He was a wizard on a board and would hit pieces of a park that no one would even look twice at. Plus, he was pretty gnarly on a mini-ramp. Yeah, Dan’s the man.
Callum: Next up, what’s the most impressive trick that you have ever pulled off?
Ryan: It’s got to be a fakie, full cab grab on the vert ramp for me. I think it was mute and on the vert ramp to be more specific. Or possibly a double flip backside disaster with a revert, that was one of my favorite tricks back in the day.
Callum: Really impressive, and obviously they are tricks that you could only really get away with on a vert ramp or transition. Did you ever do any street skating back in the day?
Ryan: I’ve done it and I do enjoy it. The problem is, I’m 6’2 and while I can still do all the tricks, they don’t look anywhere near as cool on flat ground when I do them. I’m too long and gangly and it just doesn’t sit right. I’ve always been quite heavy-footed and ramps catch me nicely, so I’ve mainly stuck to them.
Callum: Then to flip it around, what would be the moment in skateboarding history that you remember the most fondly?
Ryan: I remember seeing Tony Hawk’s 900 when I was about nine or ten years old and thinking, Wow, that’s insane. There was some serious comradery involved in that too. That happened at a national competition with others competing and he used every run possible to land that trick and break the world record. So that was probably one of my earliest flirtations with skateboarding.
Then when I was young I also used to attend the Sprite Urban Games at Clapham Common. That was really cool. I used to watch a show on Channel 5 called ‘The Groms’ with Matt Churchill on it and Ben Raemers, rest in peace. Then just the travelling around and skating in new and exciting places. Like in Barcelona or spots in Hull, the diverse locations and the different scenes were cool to see. It’s hard to pick just one moment so ill leave you with those.
Callum: Cool, and then to expand on the travel, what is the coolest spot you ever hit?
Ryan: I’ve done some really cool spots but surprisingly the best one was here in Norton, under my nose. There used to be a private skate park that was invite-only. The people that ran it were foster carers and their biological kid used to ride BMX and build ramps. So they built a whole skatepark on their land. Then we just so happened to make friends with them through seeing them at the local public park and they invited us down. They said they can only invite people they can trust and we fit the bill.
So we went along and inside this barn, we opened the door and there was this perfect skate park. Then on Fridays, they would have bands come down and play while we skated, they would throw parties there. It was just an amazing time and the people I went to that place with became my best friends for life. So that’s the coolest spot in my opinion, for sure.
Callum: That place sounds amazing, I’m genuinely jealous. So I want to let the readers know who Ryan Swain is outside of skateboarding. Do you want to share some of your passions away from the sport?
Ryan: Yeah, of course. So I’m very in touch with spirituality, I’m a vegan and that’s not just the animals, it’s about being resourceful and it’s better for you, health-wise. I’ve been a vegan for about two years now due to an auto-immune disease and I feel so much more alive because of it. Arts and Culture is also a massive part of my life and my day job, I love creating art, I host live events, festivals, TV, I DJ and I used to MC at conferences and commentate on skateboarding. So I would love to go out to Paris in four years time and do what Tim has been doing.
Then as well as that, thanks to the campaign, I’m investing my time into more philanthropic pursuits, campaigning, helping out the local community any way that I can. So a career change to something in that field wouldn’t be surprising either. Then obviously I have my daughters and I invest as much time into them as I can. Get them down to a skate park, let them ride their scooters, coerce them into riding a board. All that stuff.
Callum: Brilliant. Then last thing, Ryan. How can the readers help you in your fight to #Rescuetheramp?
Ryan: There are lots of things that they can do. Social media is the most powerful tool of them all and if you use it in the best way possible, you’ll get great results. So I would say share anything that you can surrounding the #Rescuetheramp campaign. Then hopefully when it comes to the event when we are launching the ramp, then please come. We will have some pros down there. We will be having a jam, maybe a competition and it will be a lot of fun. A big attendance for that would be incredible.
So that was our interview with the wonderful Ryan Swain. What did you make of this interview? Will you be supporting Ryan in his fight to #Rescuetheramp? What are your opinions on the current state of UK skateboarding? Let us know in the comments section below and as always, thank you for reading Skate Culture Insider.