Our first Backstory feature expands on two tricks performed by Nick Jensen and Mike Arnold. Learn more about the insane, road gap manoeuvres they cemented in London skateboarding history…
words and interviews by Jacob Sawyer. Nick Jensen & Mike Arnold rotating over Westminster road gap
The idea for this Backstory format is to offer insights about some of our favourite tricks. It’s an excuse to speak to the skateboarders and filmers who were there and explore what went down from their perspective. There are always tales to be told, in this instance we wanted to see what possessed Nick Jensen and Mike Arnold to spin their respective tricks across the well-established Westminster road gap. We spoke to Nick and Mike about their experience and what surrounded it, as well as to Jacob Harris who captured NBD history being made and lined up Adam Todhunter to share in the privilege. Both of these tricks couldn’t have been executed more perfectly and involve two entirely different approaches. We hope you enjoy reading more about two impactful moments we are glad we got to romanticise a little more…
Nick Jensen – Nollie Cab Flip (2013)
I think it took us three trips to film this. It ended up being the last trick for me to film for Eleventh Hour. It’s the classic situation where you need just one more thing so I was aware it would be the ender. I had this weird feeling that I could do it, I’m not sure where that came from exactly. It’s not like I had nollie frontside flipped it before or done a nollie cab flip over anything long and flat previously. I just figured I could do it, tried and got nowhere near, then close, then nowhere near again.
Anyone who skates will be familiar in their own way with it being almost easier to do a nollie cab flip over something than it is to nollie frontside flip it. You just swing it around, you almost don’t really know what’s going on but you go for it. Because you are less in control it’s a bit easier, I don’t know why. There’s something fun about this trick. In a game of skate people can generally fling out a cab flip or a nollie cab flip and you can see it could work. I feel like deep down everyone knows they could do that trick if they try enough.
“It was the third trip where I started approaching the road gap from the other side and that was what made it easier for me…”
It was the third trip where I started approaching the road gap from the other side and that was what made it easier for me. The other way the run up is so long, weirdly it was having less time to think that helped me. You make the assumption that because it’s a road gap you need this speed to get across it so that’s the way most people skate it but you’re constantly waiting for tourists. For me I always ended up waiting, having too much speed, or too much time to think. The opposite approach is bordered by a wall, it closes off your run up in a way that excludes tourists, wandering into that zone would be counter-intuitive to their plan. So that in itself offers a constant flow of freedom when it comes to attempting it. You throw your board down, push as fast as you can, and quickly get your feet ready. That contributed to the feeling of not fully knowing what I was doing, that’s where instinct took over which was much better for that trick I think.
“You throw your board down, push as fast as you can, and quickly get your feet ready”
It didn’t feel stressful, or hard, It was more of a pipe dream I thought I would give a go and it actually worked. It was something I was actually happy to go and do, not an impossible trick I was dreading going back to do. Even though I went back three times to do it, for me it felt a lot lighter mentally than some of the things I’ve done in the past. When I first started skating London Bridge stairs I always had this fantasy of doing this trick down them, in the back of my mind I always felt I could. You kind of wait for that perfect day to come, for the opportunity to arise naturally but it never did. Everyone has that feeling with certain tricks, it works for you and you know you could take it further.
There weren’t any weird hardware tweaks to make it happen, I wouldn’t have had new shoes on that’s for sure but I would have set up a new board for it. This was just before Isle started officially. I think I did this on a Blueprint board but during that period I had been skating a few Girl boards. I had been on Blueprint for so long that it was quite fun as a novelty, it was exciting picking a board. I think for one session I didn’t even spray paint the board, just skated in private and pretended I was sponsored by Girl, hahaha. I only had that kiddy stage of picking boards from the wall for a short time before I was sponsored by Blueprint so it was cool to revisit that. Obviously I’m super grateful for my time on Blueprint but got to enjoy the feeling of picking a shape and a graphic again.
It’s a funny time to look back on because it feels like it was about six years ago but it was ten. It feels like me and Jake [Harris] already had a really strong relationship and had done loads of stuff but this was at the beginning of that relationship, it feels so recent. Shortly after that video would have been when we started making the first commercial for Isle.
I don’t remember our trips there as distinct sessions at all but we had to go back three times. It’s so busy there but the way he decided to skate it really wasn’t. What I do remember is that he was committing to it every single go. Sometimes the technique would be incredible and he would pop it three feet high and get robbed, and other attempts were nowhere near. He’d commit every time which is so impressive when you’re going that fast and spinning. Like everyone else who knows him I’m so fond of Nick, and he was eating shit a lot trying this. With some people like Casper [Brooker] I kind of enjoy it when he falls over because he has a big build and takes it like a rugby player. But I get no joy of watching Nick fall over at all, it’s just horrible. You don’t want him to slam at all because he’s maniacally dedicated to doing what he’s doing and you just want him to land it. He gets tangled up in himself sometimes and always falls in horrible ways, and coppers will go flying out of his pockets. He is usually such a graceful person and you don’t want to see that grace disrupted. He put this down about six times in a row and his carcass would go tornado-ing off.
I think the most time I have spent at this road gap was with Mike [Arnold] filming a different trick. People complain about it being super busy because of tourists but I find it quite peaceful there, it’s bizarrely quiet for how busy it is. I was definitely shocked when Nick landed this, all the components were there and he could have landed it early on into pretty much every session. He just wasn’t rolling away though. We got to that point where I wasn’t expecting him to roll away and then out of the blue he just did it. You’re always left questioning if it just happened. We had probably spent about ten hours in total at that point and it happens in three seconds. It would have been one of the last things we filmed for Eleventh Hour, it feels like a deadline kind of trick. We had filmed together for Make Friends With The Colour Blue but this was the first time we had worked together on a full part.
This was before Isle and Vase so I didn’t have much of an idea about Nick’s mental health or anything like that. Me and Tom [Knox] were young then and the language of mental health wasn’t particularly developed at the time. Nick was quite an unusual person and we thought everything about him was quite funny in a really endearing way, he was like an eccentric uncle, he had his quirks and ways of interacting that we didn’t understand, but now understand much more.
With Mike’s trick, we were filming an adidas part together when he first got on, I had a camera and a lens on loan. On the last day of filming for that part he was trying to nollie the road gap out of nose manual. He couldn’t do it and it was literally the last two hours of the last day of filming. He had admitted defeat on it and it was starting to rain. I suggested he try the switch backside 360 flip and he was putting it down almost every go but then it pissed it down and we called it a day. That bugged him until we had to film the Copa Nationale advert. He decided he just wanted to do one trick for that and he just wanted to do that really well. We shot all of this stuff around it like him front flipping out of his window and swimming in the sea in Torquay in February.
Very generously, Waylon Bone in New York had sent me his lens for this project but it got held up in customs for a month. This was when we needed to film that trick and Mike just had to get it going so Adam Todhunter stepped in and filmed it. I hated that because I’m a control freak and I like to film everything that happens in my projects. I knew along the way that he had landed it three or four times but was unhappy with how he did it each time. I was a bit disconnected from the process because I didn’t like the fact that I wasn’t filming it, while simultaneously being really grateful to Adam [Todhunter] for working so hard on it. I got sent the footage of him doing this incredible switch backside 360 flip and everyone celebrating afterwards and I felt so gutted that I wasn’t there. I hate that I didn’t film that but Adam did a great job so I’m really grateful to him. Mike and I are currently locked into another battle with a similar level of compulsion behind it, he’s been regularly travelling from Bristol to London to meet me.
Mike Arnold – Switch Backside 360 Flip (2020)
I had done this trick over the gaps at Lloyds in Bristol before, we had also filmed one on flat in New York before for an Atlantic Drift. I was trying a different trick at Big Ben which became too frustrating, too many things were getting in the way, so I threw this trick over the gap a few times instead. Jake [Harris] was filming long lens in the rain. I had already done a switch backside 360 over it six years beforehand and I realised I could potentially do it. Then the adidas shoe ad for the Copa Nationale came up and we had to think of something to do for it, I decided to film one really hard trick for it and mess around with other things like jumping out of windows. We settled on filming this but Jake didn’t have a lens at that point. Adam Todhunter did so we sorted it out so he could come and film it with me.
We would arrange to meet there in the mornings because it gets busier at lunchtime, it was wintertime too so it would get dark early. Overall I think it took us eight sessions. I actually landed quite a few of them but a lot were really sketchy. Each time I had about a 45 minute window where I could try it. It involves your whole body, your upper body has to twist and there’s a lot of core strength involved in that trick. You also need to be quite explosive at the same time. If your quad which goes up to your hip or your abs start getting tight, which happens, you’ve got no chance of doing it. You need your body to be limber to do that motion. You have to be explosive with it and you can’t go too fast. While filming that trick I came to the realisation of just trusting my speed, then jumping upwards and doing the trick. If you start lunging forward, kicking your board to get it over the gap, or throwing yourself over it you’re going to be off-axis and unable to roll away from it.
I would meet Adam [Todhunter] for these 45 minute windows and then arrange to meet again in a few days. It was quite strenuous on my body so I would have two days rest and then go back for it. This was when Covid started, it was just before lockdown because I remember people beginning to get Covid when we were filming in Torquay. We would hear that there were more cases being reported there each day and by our third day there we didn’t even want to go into a restaurant. We got that trick right before everything just switched.
“Each time I had about a 45 minute window where I could try it. It involves your whole body…”
I landed quite a few, I actually ended up waxing the floor a little bit just in case I under-rotated and needed to slide a little bit. Just a touch of wax, I remember Adam stopping me from putting too much on, and sometimes I would end up slipping out so he was right. Anything that can help I will always do but in the end there wasn’t a lot of wax on it at all. This trick began as something that felt beyond my reach and before you know it I’m dreaming about the technique of it, I was up at night picturing how to move my body in that way. I had to really figure the whole thing out, I was losing sleep over it, I’d be in bed running through the motion in my head. Or I would be moving around my room without my board practising the timing of turning my shoulders first, then as soon as you pop, spotting your landing. It’s a really backwards trick.
“your upper body has to twist and there’s a lot of core strength involved in that trick. You also need to be quite explosive at the same time”
There’s a really interesting sequence of Carlos Ribeiro doing a switch back 3 over a picnic table. One of the photos taken as he is popping the board, the tail is still on the ground and he is already looking at where he is going to land because his body is so twisted backwards. You have to rotate your shoulders so far before the pop. It’s all about getting that timing right too which takes a while. Music is also a crucial element, I find playing the right music and skating helps a lot. It makes you more connected to your body, like the feeling of dancing. It probably doesn’t look like that but it’s the closest comparison I can think of.
This was probably the biggest struggle and I went through it, even outside of skating it was constantly on my mind. I would like to fill in this road gap so I never have to go back there, I hate that place, it has taken up so much of my time, hahaha. It’s good to have a project though, something you care about that also drives you mad. I would like to give a big shout out to Adam [Todhunter] for going through that with me. I remember turning up there to meet him one day and I had eaten the spiciest Ramen the night before. It probably took him about an hour to get there, we met and I instantly told him I couldn’t skate. My stomach was too fucked from the night before and I just couldn’t try it. So I’d like to thank him for putting up with things like that which I tend to do. I remember as soon as I landed it he said he needed to quickly go to the toilet. He came back and he had actually gone to the shop and had a bottle of Champagne with him, so we popped that and drank it at the spot which is a nice memory.
Last but not least I would like to give a huge shout out Jake [Harris] for magically mixing skating with jumping in the sea. He does what he does so well and this is one of those projects where we were shocked by how well it worked. We really pushed it with how much you can do without a crew, cowboy style. My girlfriend was using a leaf blower on the plants in the room at one point. We would cook up ideas late into the night and then just go and do them, some of it was super sketchy. I had to go to hospital from jumping out of that window. I landed a bit short of the crash mat and almost did my neck, I got whiplash. It was bareback, no safety, cowboy shit. It was the most low budget way of doing things and I think that’s the reason it feels a certain way when you watch it. Jake is the only person I know who can put the shit I want to do together and make it work.
We would like to thank Nick Jensen, Mike Arnold, and Jacob Harris for taking the time out for speaking to us about the whole process behind these tricks. We look forward to seeing more from all of them. It is poetic that Nick and Mike are still together today working on isle Skateboards projects like the DREAMERS video which just dropped.