We jumped at the opportunity to connect on the phone with Tom Knox, this catch up interview coincides with the release of his new pro shoe for New Balance, and delves into some of the heavy achievements that have punctuated his year so far…
words and interview by Jacob Sawyer. Tom Knox in the city, storeys below his Thrasher cover. PH: Jake Darwen
Tom Knox is one of the most prolific skateboarders to emerge from the UK, a grandmaster when it comes to crafting video parts. Tom’s ability alone opens up anywhere he skates, but it’s his eye for what is possible, and what a line could be, that has led to him redefining landmarks steeped in skate history, as well as his own discoveries. Tom’s reverence for the art of concocting a line is best illustrated and comprehensively explored in Lineage: Tom Knox, an excellent deep dive into his process. The conversation below peels back the process behind a few skateboarding moments, but prompted by the release of his first pro shoe, the discussion was primarily driven by the desire to acknowledge what a uniquely momentous year this has been for someone who has been putting in the work for years.
For Tom, 2023 was filled with slightly different deadlines than those of previous years but he came through, as always, with a grip of footage. For the most part it was business as usual with Jacob Harris behind the lens, the winning partnership behind the Tom Knox moments ingrained in our mind’s eye. Together they have always tackled each project and made something memorable, long may they run.
During the course of the conversation Tom mentioned a few times that the achievements we talked about, were things he just didn’t see as being attainable growing up. It is clear to us that his skateboarding, and the parts he has put out there, have played a significant role in helping to evolve the industry to a point where those goals are possible, not just for Tom but also for the next generation. Find out more about an exceptional year, from unexpected surprises like his second Thrasher cover to receiving his first pro board for Krooked at DLXSF. We discuss putting together a whole signature collection for Dickies, and filming a part in Paris, with some Atlantic Drifting in between. We also find out more about the design process behind his new shoe for New Balance, the NM600, and how it has enhanced what he loves to do the most.
Staying on target with Wall to wall pressure. Thrasher December 2023. PH: Jake Darwen
Thanks for the time Tom, we wanted to use this opportunity to take stock of the last year, there have been some momentous achievements. Your busiest year yet maybe?
Yeah, I would say so.
Let’s talk about the Thrasher cover you shot with Jake Darwen, your second cover of the Bible. how was that trick to do psychologically?
It was terrifying, I’ve wanted to do it for a long time. I went there a few years ago to try and do it, and it was the middle of winter. The slabs or tiles leading up to it were moist, and had grass growing out of them. I just couldn’t get myself to try it. But then it came around to trying to shoot some photos for the New Balance campaign. Shooting photos in London can be pretty difficult sometimes when you’ve skated there for your whole life, and shot quite a bit there, you have to look for certain spots.
Shooting the photo that ended up on the cover was a shot in the dark. I suggested to [Jake] Darwen that we go there to take a look as we were nearby. I wanted to see what he thought and he said it would look good. I thought initially that it wouldn’t work very well for a photo at all, I didn’t know how he would be able to get in there, and out again. He was showing me how he would do it with his camera, and how it would look. I was jumping down the stairs on my feet to make sure I could squeeze through the gap and we arranged to go there the next morning.
“I thought initially that it wouldn’t work very well for a photo at all, I didn’t know how he would be able to get in there, and out again”
We got there early, I warmed up for ten minutes and went to give it a go. The main thing for me was not wanting to kick out, kicking your body away in such close quarters means your board could do anything, and it’s out of your control. Once I had jumped off my board and down it, and stuck the first one I knew I could do it. For some of them I would be an inch over on either side, and that’s too much. Some attempts I would be way too close to the facing wall, other times my arse was hitting the other side, so it was all about just finding that sweet spot. Luckily I landed that one and rolled away and also did it in the line but it was definitely terrifying.
Turning that cover photo into a line with Jacob harris behind the lens. Below: Tom’s first Thrasher cover from Feb 2020. PH: Henry Kingsford
The one you do in the line looks almost like your guiding the trajectory of the ollie with your elbow a little bit.
Yeah, in terms of what my body was doing nothing was too intentional. I did realise though that the more tired I got, the more I ended up hitting the wall with my hands. I had to make a conscious effort to try and tuck it in. I felt myself brushing the wall but it’s funny looking back at the footage, my elbow is quite bent, and it is kind of guiding me down. It’s weird when you can’t really practise those kind of tricks, you just have to go and try them at that spot.
It was amazing seeing you surprised with the cover at the spot, how did everyone manage to lure you up there?
Jacob [Harris] just got me out that day, he said we could shoot some little bits for the commercial for the shoe. He was being pretty slow that day, I hadn’t seen him for a while so we were just having a chat and shooting stuff. My missus is great, she lets me lead a pretty free life. She said that it has been a very busy year and suggested I go for some pints with Jacob after skating, as I hadn’t seen him much recently. It was her idea that we have a catch up, so the whole day I was looking forward to hanging out after we had finished, Jacob said that we should go back to that spot and shoot a few more shots of me running up the stairs.
He pulled his phone out and said to walk up the stairs so he could see how it looked from behind. Then I got to the top of the stairs and saw everyone there, it was a very surreal experience. I was blown away to see that on the cover, it’s the kind of accolade I never thought I’d be able to achieve. To have two covers, and for both photos to be in London, at two spots that are so characteristically part of the city is so nice, it’s a really good feeling. The Barbican, and Parliament Square by Big Ben are two places lots of people have skated over the years.
Let’s talk about turning pro for Krooked, you hinted at finding a new home in March in your Friends and Family interview for Free. Then the board followed soon after, was that another surprise at DLXSF?
It wasn’t a surprise that I was going to have a pro board because we had been planning it out from the moment I decided to get on. Gonz [Mark Gonzales] sent a load of different graphics over literally the next day. He sent them to me, it was lovely seeing my name in different styles penned by him. So at that point I did know what the board was going to look like. It was few days into that SF trip and somebody needed to pick up griptape at the shop. I was just in the van, and I was almost not going to go in but then I realised I had to go in and check out the shop while I was there. I walked in and saw some people I knew so I spoke to them, and I wasn’t even thinking about it. Then I looked up and the whole wall was covered. It was very sweet. That whole trip in general was so nice, actually getting to skate with the team, and feel like part of that whole family.
The trip was chalked up to welcome you to the team?
Yeah, I knew this year was going to be busy, and that I wasn’t going to be able to film a welcome part or anything like that. I had let them know that from the beginning. But I had a little window, there was a week period where a trip I had planned to go on fell through. I was free for some days, and they said we could work out a trip together. They asked me where I wanted to go, I just wanted to go somewhere where we could all skate together as a team. For me, growing up watching Krooked videos, there was always this feel of a bunch of pro skateboarders, kind of just dicking about together. Skating well, and trying hard, but the videos were never edited in a way to make the skating look so monumental. They were full of these nice, quirky sessions at certain spots, as a kid I always felt like I wanted to be a part of one of them.
I said to the team manager that I wanted to recreate that whole kind of thing. I wanted to go somewhere where there is a plaza, and some other spots where we can go and mess about, and film whatever we want as a team. We were going to go to Puerto Rico but they hadn’t done something in SF for a while, and they wanted me to visit Deluxe, and meet all of the people involved. It ended up being an SF trip, and at the time Union Square was open. We got two days there, the first days. My idea was to try and film a whole part at that spot with the crew but the police started coming after day two so we had to move on. It was so nice skating that city with everyone, and being there with locals who have just lived there forever. People who have loads of stories about the city, and know every corner. Just being in that kind of space, being in the van, getting dropped off at amazing spots, messing about with everyone, having a skate, and jumping back in.
“It was so nice skating that city with everyone, and being there with locals who have just lived there forever”
Tom’s footage from SF appears in Krooked’s “Kay Ar Kay Dee” video
It was such a nice welcome to the team, we ate good food, drank beers, saw some gigs, went to some lovely viewpoints. It felt like I got the full experience which I was very happy about. Id been there once before on a Drift trip, and we had good people showing us around. It feels different though when you’re in the Deluxe van, cruising around SF, it gave me a different feel for the city.
What’s your favourite Krooked graphic so far?
I think the first one for me, it meant a lot that graphic. It’s my first graphic, it represents something I didn’t think I would be able to get from skateboarding, to be on a US brand of that magnitude. Having my name written on that board, and not having to get on a company and work my way up through the ranks. Being in a space where they felt it was okay to get me on and give me a board straight away. I would say the first one is my favourite but since then there have been loads of graphics I like. They are really good about it too, they send me all of the mockups beforehand, and let me have my input where I can. Right now I am super happy with the having control and giving me classic looking Krooked graphics. Maybe at some point when the time is right, and I have settled in enough, and earned my stripes I can have a bit more influence on the graphics. But I just said to them I like what they do, and I want them to continue doing that.
It must be pretty wild knowing each time you open a box there could be a new Gonz graphic with your name on it.
I know, it’s a trip every time.
You have found the perfect shape already?
I actually said this the other day in an interview but essentially when I got on they asked me what size I wanted and I just said 8.5” because that’s what I always skated, and have skated for the last few years. Then they asked me what length I wanted, and I said I didn’t know. They told me to go on the site and have a look through. It’s Deluxe so there’s obviously hundreds of shapes so I was a bit confused. I asked them to send me a load of different 8.5” shapes. After a few weeks of testing out different boards I ended up sticking with a standard shape. Thy told me I could do anything as far as making my own shape but I didn’t want to go down that rabbit hole, I’ve heard it’s a sketchy trail to go down. I like skating the same thing over and over again, and I’ve found the shape I’ll stick to for a long time.
It’s been a year of being in the driving seat creatively. You had a whole Dickies collection drop recently. What was it like working on that?
That was great. Obviously I don’t live in America, the skateboarding side of their program is based in LA, and the main offices are in Texas, so there were a lot of Zoom meetings. It involved getting samples back, and going over everything in detail. It was a time consuming but super interesting process, I really enjoyed it. They gave me a lot of creative freedom, it was about designing the clothes that I wanted to wear, and figuring out a way of communicating that visually. I needed to film a part for the launch of the collection too. At the start of the year I had a New Balance 440 colourway coming out in February which needed a part to go with it. I had the Krooked trip the month after that, and then we had an Atlantic Drift trip to Bangkok. These commitments were all leading up to a trip to Paris in May for Dickies.I think it was the first time in my life that I was so scared of getting hurt. I knew how much work people had put into this collection, and I knew I had to come through.
“I think it was the first time in my life that I was so scared of getting hurt. I knew how much work people had put into this collection, and I knew I had to come through”
Tom’s part for his Dickies collection. Filmed in Paris by Jacob Harris
We had nineteen days in Paris and it rained a lot of the time. I was nervous going into that one, worried I couldn’t produce the amount of footage I needed to. In the end it all boiled down to about twelve or thirteen days of proper skating but it worked out. It felt really satisfying to accomplish what we did because of the time factor, and how much pressure I had put on myself. It was so nice to have Jacob [Harris] on that with me. We were being driven around Paris, picking the spots, hopping out to have a look, having a chat, a bit of a skate, and figuring out what to do there. Then we’d hop back in the van and move on, it was a really nice process. It definitely made me realise how fortunate I am to have worked with Jacob my whole life, and how fluid it is when we get on a roll on those kinds of trips. We can produce a lot of footage, and have a lot of fun doing it.
I really enjoyed the board-width backside bigspin.
Thanks, that’s one I’ve been trying to use for a while. It’s one of those ones where you’re watching someone skate a spot and there’s a line in the paving slabs. You try and see what tricks you can do on the line. It was nice to actually find a spot that could work out for. It was a lot harder than I thought it was going to be. It’s alright doing that trick on a line on flat but on that one, as soon as your weight went either way, you were off of it.
Were you sending Dickies existing clothes that you liked?
All I’ve really been wearing for the last four or five years is Dickies so I had some stuff pulled out. Essentially, the way I thought about it was what do I really like that Dickies haven’t done? Then trying to incorporate that with stuff I already know is good. With pants I picked things that like already, and just updated them to make them into something I want to skate in. In that sense I tried to use the Tech packs they already had, instead of sampling completely new materials because I know that process is a long one. It was quite a natural process, I figured out what I thought was missing when I wore the clothes, and it went from there.
Getting your trouser issues fixed at the source.
The trousers were the biggest pressure, you know what skateboarders are like about their trousers, everyone wants a particular thing. I actually had the chance to design my own ones, and I didn’t want to blow it. It was easy really, they already make such good pants, I just switched them up a little bit. I took the materials I liked, used waistband stretching which they hadn’t really done with the size of pants I wear. It was pretty flawless, as soon as I got the first samples back I knew they were okay. Everything else is fairly standard when you look at it, T-Shirts, hoodies, or even jackets. They all involve getting the fit right but pants can go really wrong, but I think they came out good.
Where did you find the old logo and what was the inspiration for the flower embroidery?
I had a few pieces from a European collection that came out quite a few years ago which used that logo. I remember really liking it and not seeing used on any of the skateboarding stuff. The flowers came from having three daughters at the time, now I have a son too. I was pottering around in the garden one day, my eldest daughter is called Rosie, and my third daughter is called Jasmine. I just thought then it would be nice to have a little ode to the kids in this. I liked the look of a vase of flowers, the different colours you could implement. The kids inspired that one.
You have touched on this when talking about Paris, it’s nice that your presence within NB Numeric is a continuation of your lifelong filming partnership with Jake, and you have put out some memorable ads previously for the 440 with your own stamp on the pace and aesthetics. When it comes to a New Balance project do you approach it any differently to filming for something else?
We have a style when it comes to the things we like to film, and the music we like to use but we try to switch it up. When you’re doing something for a shoe company you want to bring your own style to it, maintain something that is quite core to you, but also create something that fits in with the brand. There’s a bit of give and take, you don’t want to make something that looks exactly like an Atlantic Drift edit, but that is an innate part of our style because they’re the videos we make together. Jacob does all the creative stuff and I just try and skate as well as I can, but we meet in the middle to make it feel like it’s our thing still. We did the green screen suit with the floating shoes, it’s nice, it broadens the scope of what we can try and do. Finding a way of getting those shoes in the camera beyond what’s basic and commercial, we get to play with it like that, and it’s always fun.
Congratulations on the new shoe, it’s amazing that this release also marks a decade riding for New Balance.
I know, it’s crazy. When I was on that trip in Paris Jake Hayes was there, he was talking about someone who had been on for ten years at the start of the year, I think it was Tom Karangelov. I started wondering how long I’d been on for, I went back through my emails and typed in Seb [Palmer]’s name and went to the first email, I think it actually was from October 2013, it’s pretty crazy how it’s worked out like that.
“I went back through my emails and typed in Seb [Palmer]’s name and went to the first email, I think it actually was from October 2013, it’s pretty crazy how it’s worked out like that”
It makes it that much nicer, being on a brand for that long. I feel generally in skateboarding, when you’ve been on a company for ten years already, they don’t give you shoes. You’re not as relevant, or they’re trying to push younger kids. I think it’s a testament to what New Balance are about in skateboarding, they’re about longevity. They’ve built things up from the start, a slow build up, and supported people properly from the beginning, instead of coming in all guns blazing. They have done it with integrity. I have been on for ten years and they’re willing to give me a shoe which is a huge opportunity, and honour, that not very many people get.
Tell us about the 600, what problems did you give the design team to solve, what were your specifics?
I had the idea to do something that was a sporty looking skate shoe, something slightly aerodynamic, with a more football boot inspired shape. That was the original idea I pitched to them. Lost Art did a shoe with them years ago that was based on an old football boot, I always loved that shoe and wanted to do something a little bit similar to that but maybe a bit thicker. Sebastian [Palmer] then found this shoe on eBay, it was the original 600, a shoe there is no record of in the archives. It’s possible from the code to ascertain that it’s from the early 90s. He found that shoe and hit me up saying he had something for me to look at that might be something we could build on. I saw it and thought it was fantastic straight away, exactly what I wanted.
All of the latest Numeric Technology was incorporated into the New Balance NM600
From there we just worked on improving it for skateboarding which is their bread and butter. Jeff [Mikut] is the designer over there, and he’s so good at it. He can make things last, feel good, and comfortable, he’s designing things constantly. It was a pretty seamless process from getting the first samples back. I skated in them and gave feedback, but Jeff skates so much that he already knows the feedback I’m going to give. We just worked at it together to get to the final product
Has the shoe changed skating for you in any way?
Absolutely. The 440 is an amazing shoe but they are on the thinner side of a cupsole. The 600 is a step above when it comes to comfort, and protection for your foot. You’ll notice in some of the new footage I have had out skating in them, I’m jumping off roofs. Even the skinny ollie from the Thrasher cover, I think if I did that in thinner shoes it wouldn’t have worked. I couldn’t plan how to land, I just had to jump and land however I could on my feet, without knowing exactly where they would be. That’s the kind of thing these shoes really help with. The cushioning has stopped me getting heel bruises, or messing up the bottom of my feet. So they have changed it in that way.
“Even the skinny ollie from the Thrasher cover, I think if I did that in thinner shoes it wouldn’t have worked”
Tom noseblunts into an evening standard stand with full support of the NM600. PH: Jake Darwen
I was getting samples to start with, then I had colourways of the 440 coming out, so I was having to switch around. It’s been so nice recently just being able to skate the shoe back to back for the last five months now. Regularly putting on a new pair and feeling good straight away.
That first colourway with the kind of KCK white on a gum sole is such a strong one. Is this a direct reference of the shoe that Seb found?
It is exactly the same colourway. We went through different colour schemes but I said that one was perfect and we should use it, it’s part of the story. That’s the reason the first shoe has Indoor written on the side of it, it’s true to the original which was an indoor football shoe. We kept that detail just on the first colour, in honour of the shoe it’s based on.
You must be a dab hand when it comes to colourways now with a number of 440s under your belt.
I’m learning with colourways, often there are things I think I don’t like when I see them on a computer screen. Someone may design something I would dismiss at the start but make samples and send them anyway. Then I’ll see the shoe in the flesh and think it’s incredible, colours I wouldn’t have put together, that work perfectly. There is a bit of back and forth, I will give my input, and then ask for theirs, what they visualise working. It’s fun now looking around at people’s shoes and thinking about what we can do. There’s a lot we can do with the 600 too, different panels, the sole is split up, there’s mesh. I think there’s going to be a lot of exciting stuff in the future with that.
Now you have the 600, and the 440 as mainstays. What models in the New Balance line do you like to wear in your down time? There are some incredible shoes to choose from.
I’m not even just saying this, I just wear my shoe now. It has that hybrid feeling, you slip it on and it feels like a bit of a running shoe but when you skate in it it feels like a classic skate shoe. If I’m not wearing these and I’m chilling I really like some of the tech running shoes they make, they’re so good for your feet.
“There’s a lot we can do with the 600 too, different panels, the sole is split up, there’s mesh. I think there’s going to be a lot of exciting stuff in the future with that”
From your dad driving the school bus to BaySixty6 skate park on a Saturday, to the demo after your shoe launch being there this Saturday, it’s a poignant marker of how far this journey has taken you.
That’s so funny, I never even thought about that. Maybe he’ll come in the school bus this time. That’s really how we started skating, Saturday mornings at Playstation [Skatepark]. We’d go to the 10-12 beginners session in the morning. My dad would drive the school bus, take me and all of my brothers, and anyone else from our bit of the city who was skating St Paul’s and stuff. It’s lovely for things to have come full circle, that place did a lot for me as a kid, it really got me into it all. It was a safe haven in the winter, at least it kind of stayed dry.
For me there was always a nervousness which came along with that end of session call looming. Being about to drop in on the vert ramp for the first time and hearing “end of session”. I still reference that to this day when I’m skating, I’ll say end of session before the last few tries, knowing it may be a week or so before I get to try a trick again, hahaha.
Do you remember the end of session on a Wednesday night came along with them turning the lights out? I remember my friend carving the vert wall at the time and having to ride it out blind.
I did go to that session a few times, the lights would go off, and you’re fucked half-way through a trick. That is actually sketchy but if they didn’t do it no-one would have left. We would always stay as long as we could after the session, they would have to come and remove us.
It will be good to see some Andrew Reynolds magic in the flesh this weekend too.
Always. Since he has been on I’ve been on a couple of trips but it hasn’t lined up that we skate together, it will be nice. I did some demo tours with him years ago in Norway when I rode for Emerica so it will be great to do that again. It’s such an honour. When they put out the flyer for the demo and my name is next to his, my older brother actually hit me up saying “what the fuck, that’s amazing!”
It seems like you are happiest when there is a project on the go, and 2023 has been full of them, how is the rest of the year looking?
Looking good, I’m trying to finish off a little part at the moment. That’s obviously getting a bit harder in London with the weather but we have a couple of little trips planned. We have some footage in the bank, and we’re looking at the best way to put it out right now. I love have projects on, this is the first year of skating where it was real deadlines, and companies who have production lines in place so you can’t fuck about. I’ve been used to a much looser deadline, when we’re ready, we’re ready. We have always done it that way.
It was definitely interesting doing it the other way though, it has to be out by a certain time, and whatever we have got is it. It creates a different kind of pressure but it’s even more satisfying when you come through, and can be proud of what you’ve done. I’m happy not to milk it, and always try my hardest.
The last Atlantic Drift video was from your trip to Istanbul, do you have winter dodging plans boiling with Jacob?
We’re always looking for new places to go, there are actually a couple in the bank waiting to come out. By the time this interview comes out maybe the Bangkok edit will be out, and we have just done another one in Europe. We will see, it’s always nice to get away in the winter.
New Balance Numeric – Tom Knox 600. Filmed by Kyle Camarillo, Jacob Harris, Dan Stolling
All of us here at Slam are stoked to be hosting this launch, it’s a huge deal. We’re proud to be part of the story, so thank you.
Ah man, it’s lovely, it’s such an honour to have. The shop has always been the centre of London skateboarding. As a kid I was intimidated to go into Slam because all of the bigger kids were in there, it’s nice to get the nod of approval, and share this moment.
We would like to thank Tom for taking the time for this interview. Thanks also to Dave Mackey, and Seb Palmer for the assistance, and Jake Darwen for photos. We are proud to be hosting the launch for the Tom Knox NM600 shoe which at the time of typing this is tonight.
For further reading involving Tom Knox check out our: Lineage: Tom Knox interview by Farran Golding.