What you’re about to read is the latest in our Auteurs series whereby we chat to notable lens wielding humans working within the skate industry.
This time around, the subject is none other than one time PNC/Blueprint rider and good friend of ours, Ewan Bowman.
For a variety of reasons, the following interview strays from the format established in previous Auteurs pieces in so far as it’s concerned less with specific video releases and their back stories, and more inclined towards discussions as to the larger context that skateboarding finds itself in as we approach 2020.
Ewan’s own story serves as instructive example of just how far a love of skateboarding and a truly infectious enthusiasm for the lifestyle that comes along with it can take you. From his introduction to skateboarding living on the sparsely populated Orkney Islands, through moves first to Edinburgh, then Northampton, then Croydon and ultimately, to California – the one constant throughout his life’s path has been a passionate desire to stay involved in the activity that so enthralled him as a teenager in Stromness.
Over the years since that first exposure to skating, Ewan has had all manner of high profile jobs within skateboarding and currently works at Thrasher Magazine, filming, editing and generally corralling a huge proportion of their incessant video output. So, if you’ve ever wondered what working deep inside the Californian skateboard machine for 25+ years is like, prepare for an insider’s view on that, and on various other topics. Read on and enjoy.
Thanks for your time Ewan; it’s reassuring to know that you’re just as beautifully mental as you always were!
For the sake of people reading who don’t know your history Ewan – can we get a little bit about where you’re from?
I was born in Toronto, Canada because my parents had emigrated there from Scotland. I lived there until I was five and then moved back to Scotland and lived in Fife for a few years and then they decided to move to the Orkney Islands for a whole host of reasons that we don’t need to go into here.
And you found skateboarding in the fucking Orkney Islands of all places?
Yep. As far as I know, I was the only skateboarder in Stromness, there were other skaters in Kirkwall but at that time I hadn’t met them. That started because my dad took my brother and I to see Police Academy 4, the one with Tony Hawk and all those guys in it. I’ll never forget coming out of the cinema and doing air skateboarding, (laughs) – you know what I mean.
Next thing I knew I’d got a Skate Zombie complete for Xmas – full plastic overload – coper, lapper, rails: all that shit. And that was it – the moment that set me off on the path that I’m still on. That was ‘the pill’…
How did you go from that to actually learning anything?
That was the thing – we had zero access to anything.
I was living in Stromness
which is a tiny town on the Orkney Islands, with only 4 TV channels, no skate media of any kind and the vaguest of ideas about what skateboarding was, based on a short segment in a Police Academy movie. I had no outside source of inspiration basically.
I skated for a long time like that – with no idea what I was doing. Then one day my brother and I were walking down the high street in Stromness and some dude on holiday with his parents came up to us – he had a real skateboard, board shorts, Converse Chucks.
There was this weird moment, like he saw us and must’ve thought, “I’m going to show these kids what’s up”.
I’ll never forget it, he looked over at us, threw his board down, crouched and touched the nose of his board and popped this ollie in front of us, skitched to a stop and goes, ‘What’s up?”
It was like a full-on movie scene. I started bombarding him with questions and he told us about skate magazines, explained mail order, etc – all of which was completely alien to us at the time. I went to Kirkwall and found a newsagent’s that had R.a.D magazine and there it began.
Kids these days have no idea.
They really don’t – this was like the Stone Age in comparison. Think about it, you had to write a cheque, post it off to wherever you were mail ordering from;
Then it would take 4 days for that cheque to turn up at whichever mail order place from Orkney; then they had to cash the cheque, which took even more time; then they’d finally mail you the product back.
It could take 2 or 3 weeks back then for us to get anything – just to get a skateboard that you could learn to ollie on. I got this Vision Marty Jimenez ‘Jinx’ board, Slime Ball wheels and the trucks from the Skate Zombie. From that point I did not stop…
Given where your skateboarding life began, I guess it’s fair to say that if anyone reading this really wants to end up working in skateboarding like you, then there’s no reason that can’t happen, right?
Anyone can do anything they want. Whatever your dream is, if you want it enough, it’s attainable. If I can end up where I am now after starting skating on a tiny island of 20,000 people off the northeastern coast of Scotland, then anyone else can too. It’s just the way skateboarding is, it’s unstoppable – the hype and stoke it brings to you is like nothing else.
It’s just the way skateboarding is, it’s unstoppable – the hype and stoke it brings to you is like nothing else
You’re just back in from the gym as I rang – is this the new you Ewan?
Yeah I’m definitely the polar opposite of what I used to be like, put it that way. Not that long ago I was living the obvious ‘skate life’ – just having fun, partying, drinking, not eating well. When I lived in SF, I relied on public transportation so I’d skate everywhere but then I moved to So Cal where there is no public transportation infrastructure. You have no option but to drive, so skating around from spot to spot is no longer part of the equation.
Living there you fall into the mind frame of, ‘I need to go to CVS which is only two blocks away’ but you’ll still drive there because that is the Southern California mentality.
I remember one day just realizing how asinine that was, like, “What the fuck am I doing? No wonder I’m overweight…” Then add to that, the fact that I’m filming skateboarding for a living, which in today’s world involves a lot more driving, eating and sitting around than it does actually skateboarding if you’re not careful – and ‘boom’, before you know it, you’re a fucking Teletubbie…
It creeps up on you man.
I’ll be 44 this year: I had to do something different. I mean I thought I was still fit, I could still film lines and whatnot but it wasn’t until the first time that I consciously tried to exercise that I realised how out of shape I was.
I ran a block and I honestly thought I was going to die. Even funnier than that was one of the first times I had sex with my girlfriend, that was a leveler too: I was seriously concerned that I was going to have a heart attack, (laughing).
I’d let the sedentary So Cal lifestyle take over and I was just like a big blob of jelly…
That sedentary thing is kind of an inevitable part of your job though, right?
Yeah it is, but only if you let it be. The actual catalyst to me taking my health a bit more seriously came when I was on a skate trip in Sacramento at this park with a four stair. I decided that ‘wooh I’m going to ollie this set of stairs’.
I go to do it, get wheel bite and fall forwards. I landed with my elbow in my ribs and burst the muscles between my rib bones. This was 4 days into the trip and I knew I’d fucked it. I couldn’t get out of bed, I couldn’t cough, I couldn’t take a shit…and I still had to film for the entire trip. It was at that point that I decided that I had to get my shit together.
I was 39 at the time and the sobering realization came, like I cannot do this job into my 40’s unless I start taking my health a bit more seriously. It catches up with us all; skateboarding maybe cons people into thinking that they’re still young, at least mentality-wise, but to do what I do for a living and be an out of shape blob, it just wasn’t going to happen.
Has getting healthier had a noticeable effect on your ability to do your job?
Absolutely, not even just on that either: it’s had an effect on all aspects of my life.
Getting fit started to make me understand more about myself – once I started training I found a sense of calmness and sanctuary in my mind. I finally tamed the beast and just realised that I was mental…
The first time I think I’d ever thought about my weight was the first time that I went skydiving. Obviously they have to weigh you beforehand and the maximum weight was 215 pounds and they weighed me in and I was 205 – like, ‘what the fuck! I’m nearly too heavy to skydive…’
Skaters tend to get to this pinnacle position as pros maybe because of teenage dedication or natural ability but then so many people lose that so quickly once age kicks in, and then there’s no culture of looking after your health. Are you seeing more pros looking after their health in a similar way to you?
Nah, well not as an industry-wide thing: I mean there are people out there embracing it. Neen Williams is one – he’s got nearly half a million followers on Instagram, pushing exercise, clean living and good diet so clearly there is an audience out there interested in this shit.
People can say whatever they want but realistically somebody like Neen is going to have longevity because of it. I’m not saying everyone should do it – some people don’t need to, but it’s good to know that if you want to, you can change your lifestyle and reverse some of the negative effects that living the wild lifestyle can have on your body.
What is your official job title at Thrasher?
A ‘master lens man’.
Is that mainly filming or mainly editing or what?
I’d say it’s a 50/50 split. I film, I work on projects with other people and I edit. We’re all kind of one-man bands within a larger band, if that makes sense.
Everyone at Thrasher is like that – you have to be in this day and age.
You have one of those jobs that a lot of people out there reading this will probably wish they had.
Be careful what you wish for – it’s always a total fucking riot but on the other side of the riot there’s all the hard work that goes into making it happen. At the end of the day though, the riot always outweighs the work.
How often is it like that?
The riot never ends.
It can be hard to translate the vibe of skate trips into edits sometimes, can’t it?
Yeah it can but with the Internet now, you have so many options of what you can show people so that I think it does get closer to encompassing the vibe of being there, more so than just a regular edit at least. I mean you have Rough Cuts with all the slams and the stuff beyond the landed tricks.
You have Instagram which means you can show the behind the scenes shit that happens – people get more of a sense of what it’s like to be on the trip.
Thrasher has definitely pushed those kinds of formats on their site.
You have to have all that stuff now.
Can you see a day coming when the phones take over and the gear becomes irrelevant?
The television will not be revolutionized.
How long have you worked for Thrasher now?
You still enjoy doing it just as much as you did ten or fifteen years ago though, right?
I honestly cannot imagine doing what I do and filming anything other than skateboarding.
Do you ever worry about what’s going to happen when you’re 50 though?
Yeah, I’m going to be 50, (laughing).
How have the last thirty years of your life felt?
It feels as if I’m in an episode of Mr. Benn – you remember that show, right? He wanders into the store, changes into a safari outfit and boom! Mr. Benn’s in the jungle chasing lions.
My life has felt like that, like one crazy trip – I took a pill 20+ years ago when I found skateboarding and then woke up at 43 going, “Wow! That was rad – can I keep doing this? I don’t want to stop…”
I took a pill 20+ years ago when I found skateboarding and then woke up at 43 going, “Wow! That was rad – can I keep doing this? I don’t want to stop
Where are you living these days?
I live in a bizarre surrealistic reality.
Did you say you were going to Sweden next week?
Yeah, I’m going out to meet up with Ali Boulala, to hang out and help him with a film project he’s working on.
What else is on the agenda?
Plazacation – that’s a new series where we basically take 4 skaters and 2 filmers and post up at different plazas around the world for ten days. You pick a plaza, everyone kills it, we kick it with the locals and then we make an epic clip at the end. It’s kind of like how skateboarding used to be in the old days – session one spot heavily without the nightmare of cars, vans and constant travelling between spots. No fence jumping here!
I’ve also just finished a super fun project with Walker Ryan. He hit me up with this great idea to film an entire part on Wilshire Boulevard, going from Santa Monica down to L.A. We only filmed on that one route – some of the spots were famous like JKwon and the Keenan rail and others were just random things that we found along the way. One aspect of that which I loved was that there are all these cool spots near Santa Monica that previously I couldn’t think of anyone to take to. Walker was down to skate anything so all the things I’ve seen out of the car window for ages finally got skated.
I’ve just finished another part with David Gonzalez too – he’s been really back on it recently. That should be out soon.
It’s cool how you seem to be working on so many different projects at the same time…
Yeah it keeps it fun. It’s good to have a lot of things going on at the same time.
Are you still able to watch skate videos and enjoy them?
I’m still able to watch them but I’m not sure if I have the time to actually enjoy them like I used to do. There’s no time any more for them to sink in.
From a skateboarder’s perspective is that a good or bad thing?
It’s just how it is. It’s pointless trying to work out if it’s negative or positive – it just is.
Part 2 – The second half of our conversation takes place a fortnight after the initial one, following Ewan’s trip to visit Ali Boulala in his native Sweden.
How was Sweden?
It was dark and cold but it was cool as fuck. It was great to go and hang out with Ali. I haven’t seen him since he was in jail, back when I went out to visit him in Melbourne.
How is he?
He’s doing great. He’s exactly the same Ali but he’s completely sober and he’s living his best life.
So you just went and talked to him?
Yeah the guys he’s working on his project with were filming us talking about what happened. It was quite funny actually; they’d rented out this Spa in the hotel I was staying at – just me and Ali in this outdoor ice pool. It was really cool just on a human level.
Think about this: I was there when the accident occurred; we’d been out filming for Extremely Sorry, then it happens, Shane dies, Ali’s in coma for months. He didn’t know anything about what had happened at all when he woke up.
I can’t even imagine what that must’ve been like…
I can’t either. It was hard enough to just be there and witness it; I can’t imagine what it must be like to carry all that weight on his shoulders.
Jake Sawyer insists that I ask you about Croydon – so to put this into context – you moved from Orkney to Edinburgh first right?
Yeah that’s right. We’d head to London from Edinburgh pretty often too.
I guess Bristo Square was the Scottish equivalent of Southbank back then to an extent…
Yeah I guess: both capital cities, both with big scenes with a lot going on.
I can’t even remember how that connection started; maybe a couple of heads came up to Bristo from Southbank one time and that created a connection. We’d be up and down there all the time. I’ve always loved Southbank.
What era are we talking here?
The scene was still really heavy there at that point – the 411 Metrospective was probably being filmed around this time. In fact, I remember the one of the first times I went to Southbank, Ben Jobe had this video camera that 411 had sent him to film with. I filmed Ben Jobe do a switch flip down the 7 so fucking badly. I had no idea what I was doing. I filmed him, then he filmed me do a noseslide on the beam down the stairs and when it came out it said ‘Vin from Edinburgh’, (laughing).
Things progressed from there and for some reason I ended up living in Northampton for a while just so I could skate the park – I met Shier there, he invited me to come visit him in Croydon for the weekend. I ended up living there for a year and a half, (laughing). Living at Paul’s was amazing: there was the one-armed lady, Crazy Chicken, The Rat & Parrot, Paul getting fired from his job which his mum didn’t find out about till six months later, and that one time I passed out having a wank.
This must be peak Fairfields era then?
Yeah absolutely – those were some amazing days. Thanks Paul for having me even though I know your mum hated me staying there. Sorry. I had a great time in Croydon.
Jake wants to know if you remember trying to ride up a vertical lamppost?
Yeah I do, mainly because Shier reminds me of it every time I see him. That was just me getting too hyped on pole jams because of Eastern Exposure. I think I’d just convinced myself that if I went fast enough that I’d be able to ride up the lamppost
So this must be before Panic skateboards was a thing too?
It was probably around the time Panic was being created. I was on Faze 7 flow before that and then I ended up on Panic, before it turned into Blueprint. The details of that time are pretty hazy though so I’m not sure about how any of it actually happened. Magee would know most probably, or Alvin Singfield…
At this point in time you presumably had no notion of ‘becoming a skate filmer’, though right?
Yeah, going to Mars was more likely to be honest. Actually I almost joined the Royal Marines not long before that…
Yeah they did some open day at my school in Orkney and I thought, ‘yeah that looks pretty cool’ so my friend and I signed up to do this short course at a Commando base somewhere in Scotland. We went with the intention of becoming Royal Marine Green Berets but after a weekend I thought, ‘fuck this!’ (Laughing), there was no way I was ready for that – getting woken up at 5am every day, people screaming at you about how you’ve made your bed or whatever. That dream was extinguished pretty fast…
In all actuality now though, in my 40’s, I get up at 4am. Maybe it’s time to join the Royal Marines?
In all actuality now though, in my 40’s, I get up at 4am. Maybe it’s time to join the Royal Marines?
Who else was around in Croydon during your time there?
Barrington, Ray-man (he was the first person I ever met at Fairfields – he took me to his house after bumping into me skating on my own at 8am), Ben Dominguez, Lee Stewart (funniest human ever) and Dom Marley: we’d go to some skate shop in Bromley and sell half our monthly packages, which would be like 4 boards a month, a pair of Faze 7 trucks and some wheels, and then just hustle to survive. I used to get shoes from time to time too but I was never sponsored, at least I don’t think I was…
You had a couple of Vans ads though…
Yeah, a board slide on that silver rail in Milton Keynes and a kickflip over an uphill road gap that wasn’t even a road gap (laughing).
Aforementioned photo used for a Vans ad. Shot by Wig
Literally a Vans advert kickflipping some cobbles despite not actually being on Vans. Oh how things have changed man. The deal back then was really funny – I got Vans but it wasn’t from Vans themselves, it was through some agency I think. They’d send me one pair of shoes and then, in order to get another pair that same month, I’d have to post the ones I’d worn back to them: insane, right?
Milton Keynes surrounded boardslide also shot by Wig
We should talk about some of the dudes that you grew up skating with in Edinburgh who kind of disappeared from the skate scene Ewan.
Well that’s easy: Rennie (Spaczynski) and Fuat (Yilmaz) – those two should’ve got sponsored, not me. The shit they were both doing back in the early 90’s at Bristo was so insane – so far ahead of everyone else.
Rennie in particular was nuts – he had the style, he had all the hardest tricks – he was on par with dudes in the States at that point. Back then it was so different: skateboarding was different, connecting with people was different – you had such a tiny window to make something happen for yourself in skating that it was really easy for it to not happen.
Rennie didn’t care though but it’s a shame that he didn’t pursue the sponsorship thing because he was special.
Fuat too – he had the best style. The coolest thing about Bristo was that it had that original plaza vibe – everybody just vibing off everyone else…
Tattie was the OG Bristo head – he’s out in the States, has been here for years, he still rips too. It’s cool that you brought these dudes up Ben, because this history will disappear if people don’t talk about it.
Looking back on it now: those Bristo days were all part of the riotous journey. It was just this crazy microcosm of skateboarding: all day, everyday.
Can you remember much about the time the entire Panic team got arrested during the Mixed Media tour?
(Laughing), oh yeah – that was the best time ever. So we’re doing a tour – which was a really rare thing back then – this is maybe like 1996. Everyone’s first thought wasn’t, ‘yeah we’re going on tour – let’s rip’ – it was more like, ‘let’s see how wasted we can get’. I remember we went to Bristol, Edinburgh, Newcastle, Wakefield and a few other places. It was in Edinburgh where the shenanigans went down.
Matt Pritchard super-glued a bunch of tea cups to the wall, Mike De Geus flushed a pillow down the toilet – just all kinds of stupidity. We left that hotel without getting busted, (or so we thought) but then when we got to the hotel in Newcastle and Alvin and Magee went off to try and check-in, we realised we’d fucked up.
They came running out screaming, ‘we need to leave – now!’
The hotel in Edinburgh had called the hotel in Newcastle so as soon as we arrived the cops were on their way. We leave the parking lot, see a cop car, Alvin starts gunning it and the next thing we know there’s a fucking police helicopter above the Panic team van.
We leave the parking lot, see a cop car, Alvin starts gunning it and the next thing we know there’s a fucking police helicopter above the Panic team van
I can still hear Bainesy’s high-pitched voice asking, “Is that for us?”
Eventually the police cars arrive – we all get arrested for criminal damage, I get handcuffed to Mike De Geus. As we were being chased I’d hidden my weed in the plastic wrap of my cigarette packet, melted it shut and pushed it into an orange juice carton. I was planning ahead, like ‘we’re obviously going to jail so I’ll hide the weed in here and get it tomorrow’. Flynn was eating his as we were being arrested. We get processed and they ask us to empty our pockets, Mike starts piling up all this tobacco and hash and rizlas on the counter: just a complete farce of a situation basically.
We end up in the cells and all we could hear all night was Pritchard shouting, “Fuck the police!” over and over again. It was so ridiculous.
All the charges ended up being dropped and we got out the next morning after Alvin had paid a fine. He was so angry man, (laughing) and rightfully so but it was really funny. He drove Pritchard straight to the nearest train station and sent him back to Wales. Right after that we did a demo at Wakefield skatepark, (laughing).
That was the first tour I ever went on – pretty hard to beat really. Get arrested, police helicopters, chain-smoking cigarettes in the cell – fucking crazy – like something out of Monty Python. A great time basically.
Had you already been to America at that point?
Yeah, I’d gone out earlier on – me, Kenny, Neil Chester, Benji Bateman, Fuat – that was during the tail end of the EMB era and the beginning of the Pier 7 time.
I got to skate all of the original SF spots before a lot of them were demolished or capped. The photo of me skating Union Square is from that trip. This was from before I moved down to London – I was 18 I think.
Ewan 5-0 at Union Square. 1994. Photo by Mike O’Meally
Did you start off filming for 411?
Not really – I just started filming and eventually things fell into place. The first paycheck I ever got for filming was from Thrasher…
But you worked for 411 for a while, right?
Yeah I was working at night and filming during the day. I got hired full time by 411 and quit my other job. From there I ended up getting a job at Transworld, then I worked for Flip and then eventually I ended up as staff at Thrasher where I still am now.
Do you have any idea of the numbers of VHS tapes being sold back then when 411 was massive?
I don’t know numbers no, but it must’ve been ridiculous. I mean, 411 was basically the Internet before the Internet existed, wasn’t it? It created the model that is still the way things work in skateboarding in terms of video content to this day. All the sub-categories and the way it was presented – they were way ahead of the curve on that. This brings me onto my point about, ‘what is life about?’
Well, okay look. There’s all this technology – you can go to the moon, you can go to Mars – you just program some spaceship and it takes 12 years for it to get there. It lands, drives around on the Martian landscape, sends back messages about the soil and all that.
But then at the same time, we went from ‘A’ to ‘K’ in terms of camera technology – that’s from analog to 4K. But as the K’s have increased in size, the viewing devices have decreased, almost to the size of a postage stamp. It doesn’t make any sense. So now instead of having a cupboard full of videotapes or DVDs – you’ve got a cupboard full of fucking hard drives.
“Wow man, it’s all in the Cloud!” No it’s not.
It’s all stored in some stadium-sized building in the desert in Arizona somewhere. It doesn’t make any sense to me – it’s like it’s progressed but it hasn’t at the same time. The whole thing about everything being archived forever because, ‘it’s on the Internet’ is bollocks. If that place catches fire, it’s all gone.
Things like this are why I have a hard time believing in God.
“God is everywhere!” No, he’s not – God is on a hard drive somewhere in Arizona, like everything else. Satan is probably on a hard drive right next to him.
God is on a hard drive somewhere in Arizona, like everything else
Maybe the whole world is like that? Maybe nothing actually exists? Maybe this conversation is on a hard drive somewhere too and none of this is happening…
(Laughing), I know it sounds insane but the more you think about this stuff, coupled with what I do for a living, which if you break it down, is just making more stuff to fill up these hard drives: it starts to get difficult to take anything that seriously.
Maybe purgatory is just a hard drive that can never be filled Ewan?
You could be onto something there. Basically, what the fuck are we doing?
We’re just animals recreating more animals.
Okay, here’s the most important take away from this bizarre conversation.
If you’re a kid reading this and you have a dream, just know that said dream is probably already on a hard drive somewhere, so really, what’s stopping you from doing whatever you want? You only get one chance so just have a go – find what you want to do and do your best to make it happen, whatever it might be.
Ultimately we’re all going to die so why not be Postman Pat?
Ewan also asked if we could add a few of his own personal favourite skate videos at the end of this piece and given his choices – who’s going to argue?…
Interview by Ben Powell