Olly Todd Interview

Posted on

This Olly Todd interview dips into decades of skateboarding. From starting to skate in Cumbria in 1988 he quickly set his sights on becoming part of a wider community. Where that would take him is the stuff dreams are made of and we talked about it all. Olly was a long-standing member of the Slam team and has put in some serious shop hours over the years. The Slam shop would be the first port of call every time he tripped back to the UK from Stereo business and the meeting point for so many missions. We are stoked that Olly’s life path brought him to London, where we became friends all those years ago, and grateful that he took the time out to talk about his experiences.

 

Olly Todd portrait shot by his better half for this interview
Words and interview by Jacob Sawyer. Portrait by Kate Allchin

 

Olly Todd’s illustrious career as a skateboarder has been quite a journey, geographically and otherwise. He managed to single-mindedly forge his path in the most traditional and organic sense and we very much enjoyed dissecting the decades. His desperation to leave his home town as a teenager would be more than made up for in the coming years. From feeling initially estranged from the greater UK skateboarding community he would later become fully ensconced in the strong scenes of Liverpool, Middlesborough, Worcester, Birmingham, and London.

Olly’s career is fascinating because with every turn he is not simply a passenger, but rather an integral part of building the companies which he aligned with. He joined A Third Foot when the company was in it’s infancy, was one of the four riders to evolve Organic into Landscape, was the second UK Sound Agent enlisted to launch the re-birth of Stereo, and part of the original trio who would announce Palace Skateboards to the world. He has had full interviews in all of his favourite publications, footage and parts in the most celebrated and seminal UK videos through to being part of the Static series and beyond. From filming scene videos with Dean ‘Bod’ Broderick when he was 11 to having a 411VM Profile is quite a trip and Toddy takes us through it.

His initial exposure to skateboarding came from his elder brother and his crew of friends. They were committed to the cause in the late 80s and Whitehaven in Cumbria was their playground. If Olly had successfully accumulated more funds and had his own way his entry to learning would have been further delayed. Luckily £9 wasn’t enough to buy a Scootech but afforded his first Polyprop skateboard and set him on his path. He became quickly immersed and months of trying to get a proper board together ensued, including some marine ply experiments with his dad. Finally, on a fateful summer holiday to Bristol he received a Hosoi Hammerhead, witnessed a vert demo, and returned to Cumbria on a reinvigorated mission.

What followed were some years skating with his older brother and the crew at the YMCA in Whitehaven as well as many hours of skating alone in the carpark. When they later gave up, these solo hours would become an even more all-encompassing part of his daily routine. There was no butt-boarding obliviousness involved, Olly was bonelessing from day one and fully trying to skate. He was in awe of the cultural importance of it all and how it made him feel. Powell and Santa Cruz videos were borrowed (pre-empting a 4 mile skate to his grans house to watch them) and he remembers a keen awareness of who the skaters in the videos were and why they were important.

Consuming this Transatlantic media was essential inspiration but sporadic. It would be poring over the pages of home-based publications like RaD and Skateboard! which would fuel his yearning to join the community he knew was out there waiting for him.

From his first photo being published in RaD to riding for his favourite US company, this story is punctuated by serendipity and childhood dreams coming true. With his second book of poetry having just been published it seems those dreams continue to evolve and materialise. It was captivating learning more about all of the details. Dean ‘Bod’ Broderick and Steven ‘Bingo’ Binks entering the picture is the timeframe where the conversation begins. This pivotal moment in Olly’s skateboarding voyage is where his world further expands thanks to National Rail missions to Middlesborough. Join us for the ride.

 

The Whitehaven YMCA was an early training ground for Olly Todd where this kickflip out of a fly off took place
An early fly off assisted kickflip at the Whitehaven YMCA where Olly’s journey began. PH: Stephen McDowell

 

Your older brother and his mates introduced you to skateboarding. This began as a Cumbria-centric activity until they got welding apprenticeships in Stockton?

Yeah a few of my hometown skate crew moved over to the North East to start apprenticeships. They met the local skaters there and this united the two coastal scenes of West Cumbria and Teesside. They introduced me to Dean [Bod] Broderick and Steven [Bingo] Binks and their scene. When my local older crew quit skating to get into raving and going to the Hacienda and stuff I kept in touch with Bod and Bingo. For a while they became my only contacts in skating. It meant I would have to travel the four hour trip on three different trains. Whitehaven to Carlisle, Carlisle to Newcastle and Newcastle down to Stockton, on my own. I was 13 or so when I first started making these trips.

Then Bod and Bingo were like the advanced version of your brother’s crew. Aspiring to make skateboarding happen and your guides for the coming years.

I would use the word avuncular, they were like uncle figures to me. Bod was nearly ten years older than me and was a big influence. His life experience, his focus on skating and appreciation of it. He was constantly looking to American skating and everything around it. Somehow he would always have the music from skate videos and would make me mixtapes and stuff. He fully embodied and lived that lifestyle; it was integral to me to have that influence at that age. It continued on from my brother and his mates; to have a crew to replace that was invaluable. Geographically it was further away but it was an important transition from one crew to the other.

They were like the skate shop without a skate shop.

Yeah, because Bingo hadn’t opened Mischief yet and there was certainly no skate shop in Cumbria. There was a bike shop in Carlisle that had a few boards on the wall but that was it. So it was like a skate shop without a skate shop, somewhere for me to go. Not always physically because I wouldn’t be there every weekend. But we would talk on the phone, send letters like pen pals with cuttings from skate mags.

As much as borrowing the Santa Cruz and Powell videos as a kid was a big part of your experience US mags weren’t right? RaD and Skateboard! were your window into what was happening. What were you taking away from those magazines?

The main thing I was taking away was this idea of a scene or a community which I wasn’t part of yet but desperately wanted to be. You grow up in a town like Whitehaven and even before I started skating I felt like an outsider. It’s not the most accepting of places in terms of people going against the grain and doing something different. You feel like an outsider because of that and don’t feel like you have a community to turn to, but in the UK mags I saw something I could belong to.

What would be the first US mag you saw?

It would have been Thrasher but I can’t remember which issue. Later on down the line I managed to order Transworld through WHSmith. They gave you your own little slot in a filing cabinet alongside everyone’s Fishing Monthly or Caravan Weekly or whatever. I’d go in every month to check my little slot. When the new Transworld would be there it was the most exciting thing ever. I’d pay for it and go to the multi-storey carpark and devour it and then skate there all day. I’d be so hyped having just read a Colin McKay interview or something super inspiring like that. That’s how I’d get the American magazines.

 

Olly Todd's first published photo at Barrow Skate Shack, a one foot tail grab shot in practise by TLB
One foot tail grab at Barrow Skate Shack in 1992. Olly’s first photo in Rad Magazine. PH: TLB

 

Let’s hop to the period where you get your first photo on home turf. How did that come about?

Well home county, yeah. Barrow Skate Shack skate park opened in about 1990. I’d been skating mini ramp in the local YMCA in Whitehaven since I started skating, so for a couple of years by this point. We heard about this skate park opening up in Barrow which is an hour’s train ride south from Whitehaven. My brother and his crew were still skating at this point so they used to get the train down there. Me and my brother convinced my parents to let him take me because I was only 12 or so. US demo tours would often come through there.

I saw an H-Street demo there once. Matt Hensley did a boardslide to 5-0 up a handrail, like straight out of Hokus Pokus. He did the same trick at a skate park in that video and then did it in front of our eyes at Barrow. Seeing that in the flesh was just so crazy, the video in real life. Later on there was also that sick demo tour with all the Faze 7 companies, so it was Gonz, Ron Chatman, Salman Agah, John Cardiel when he was on Black Label. He had that graphic with all the sweets on it, the slick, and he was skating that it in the demo. Gonz was drawing on the walls and stuff, it was so sick.

As well as the demos they held comps and my dad would drive me down to skate them. The first comp I entered, for some reason they didn’t separate sponsored and un-sponsored and I got seventh place. When I looked at the results in RAD, everyone in places one to six were all sponsored. If they had separated it I would have won my first comp, but we digress. Anyway, at that comp Tim Leighton-Boyce was there shooting for RaD.

During practise he shot a photo of me. I kind of knew it was happening; I felt the flash go off and knew he had taken a photo, but I didn’t know who he was or what mag it was for. It turned out it was in RaD a couple of months later. It was a quarter-page colour photo, a one foot tail grab over the mini-ramp hip. It was a mind-blowing moment for me to see that. That was the moment I first felt part of that community I was talking about.

That must have lit the fire.

Absolutely. The fire was well and truly lit but that definitely gave it a new spark.

 

Olly Todd chatting with TLB at our East shop about his photo from 1991
Olly Todd and TLB 28 years later at our East Shop. They are next to a nosegrind attempt from the same Barrow Skate Shack session in 1991

 

It’s cool you got to connect with Tim about that years down the line at that RaD event we had.

Exactly, it was amazing to just chat and acknowledge that with him, it was really special.

You said that around the age of 11 or 12 you were also filming full video parts with Bod.

Yeah it’s weird, I was already introduced to this idea of filming for a project and the work ethic involved. Totally independent, no sponsors or money or anything, just the classic scene video. The first one he made was called Joybus I think. I haven’t seen that video for so long but I remember bits from it. My part was mini ramp for a couple of minutes, street for a couple of minutes. It was a long part, four or five minutes and two songs, pretty crazy. He’d just film everything. That was the era of one-foots; all my stuff was one-foots, one-foot tail grabs. My last trick is a one-foot 5-0 grind out of a fly off down a classic free-standing handrail, the classic shoddy youth club set up. Fly off to a rail.

The double-barreled shotgun.

Totally, double-barrelled shotgun with the two bits of coping. I had never done that trick before or since, but Bod suggested I try it so I did. That’s how things used to happen, it was so sick.

You said mini ramp was the more accessible form of skating for you when you were younger because you could progress vs not being big enough to do the tricks you wanted to do skating street.

I was so small when I was a kid. I’m small anyway but I was small for my age and boards were massive and heavy. I couldn’t get myself in the air skating street. I could ollie but not very high, so I could ollie down stairs and use gravity to make it work. Mini ramp felt way more accessible because I could use the momentum you gain from the transition. So mini ramp became my primary form of skating for a long time.

If you had started a few years later you may have missed out on that foundation.

Mini ramps went out of vogue. By the time I moved to London I was just street skating, we all were. I guess depending on when you started you may have missed out on the mini ramp thing. That link to transition skating is useful for general board control and makes you more adaptable. It did set me back though in terms of street skating. When the new tricks started coming in like pressure flips and back foot flips or whatever. I was way behind on that stuff because I had only been skating mini ramp. I learned impossibles and pressure flips but not a lot of the other stuff which was coming out because I didn’t have time to catch up, and I sensed it. I couldn’t do late shove-its, is this going to be a problem? Luckily lots of those tricks were just a flash in the pan.

 

Olly Todd video grab sequence from Phat magazine, filmed by Bod
when video grabs ruled the roost. Switch varial flip to noseslide filmed by Bod in a shared space with Geoff Rowley, Mike Santarossa and Tom Knox

 

It could have been a waste of energy anyway.

For sure. It’s interesting though that I was aware of that at the time, of being behind the times. I was behind the times anyway as far as my equipment. My boards were always a year or two old. I’d be skating a re-shaped New Deal Ed Templeton when everyone else was skating that newer World Industries shape, the football shape with the tapered tail and nose. That board shape came in which was a practical thing for the new type of technical skating. I felt behind the times when it came to tricks and equipment which is reflective of being in such an isolated place geographically.

One summer on a family holiday down in Penzance we saw a bunch of skaters along the seafront. I was champing at the bit to get out of the car and go skate with them so my parents dropped me off. The skaters were all wearing Adidas Gazelles with massive baggy pants, and their board shapes were that new shape, wheels were tiny. It was my first time seeing all that; it was the first summer that wave had hit these shores and it hadn’t reached Cumbria yet.

One of them came over and picked my board up, and just ripped it to shreds. My Gullwings, old New Deal board and probably like 57mm wheels were a joke to him. He was like: ‘Here, this is what you should be riding’ and presented his brand new Plan B board with tiny wheels. The whole crew just laughing at me, fully bullying me.

I found my family at the arcades along the beach, tears in my eyes. Next day my dad bought me some small wheels from Essjays skate shop. Skating was moving so quickly in the early 90s. As a skater now you don’t feel that I guess. Skating progresses more slowly but also in a more acceptable way. There’s less pressure to be able to do the latest tricks or have the newest equipment; in fact it’s the polar opposite. Kids now won’t have that feeling of being behind, but back then it was a genuine feeling, for me at least.

 

“Kids now won’t have that feeling of being behind, but back then it was a genuine feeling, for me at least.”

 

Olly Todd fakie 5-0's at the Griptape Thumb exhibition in Penzance, shot by by Wig Worland
Toddy returned to Penzance in 2004 for a Last laugh frontside 180 fakie 5-0 at the Griptape Thumb exhibition. PH: Wig Worland

 

Also now if you felt behind or gravitated towards a certain type of skating there’s a community and outlet for you there, whether you’re just learning or not.

Exactly, there are so many sub-genres of skating now which is a really key point. Back then there was one genre of skating and it was street skating and it was conforming to the tricks, clothes and equipment that were deemed fashionable. If you wavered from that you simply weren’t up to date. Now skating is wide open and split into so many sub-genres. Every board shape is now being skated, every genre of tricks are being done and every type of spot is being skated.

Nowadays you can pick and choose. It’s fascinating to me to think about back then and all of that peer pressure. I’m not dissing that at all; I thought it was great and think it’s amazing to have all of those unwritten rules within skating. I’m not saying we were hard done by it’s just so different now. Skating grows and evolves and what it has evolved into is a much broader church. It’s just interesting and if you had told us back then how much would become acceptable we’d never have believed you.

That you’d be doing boardslides even.

The middle of your board wouldn’t be touched. Both trucks on an obstacle was unheard of unless you were doing an axle stall on a quarter pipe. Fucking smith grinds weren’t allowed. It’s mad, it’s so interesting.

I interviewed Ray Barbee and he mentioned coming to the UK and seeing a further disconnect. He talked about seeing people at Southbank doing tricks which were in the last video while they were already a step ahead when it came to trick evolution. The next video was yet to come out and the memo hadn’t been sent.

California was the epicentre of progression and for that signal to expand outwards and reach Europe and the rest of the world took a while. It wasn’t instant like it is now.

1992-1996 is the timeline of your first photo to starting university. What was happening during this period was it still solo skates in Cumbria and weekend trips to see Bod and Bingo?

It was, it’s mad that it’s only four years, because at the time it felt like an entire lifetime. I had a few other mates dotted around Cumbria who I could skate with on weekends here and there, but for the most part it was solo skating for me. Skating on my own was great but I think it got me into bad habits. Skating alone can make you really risk averse, and it had that effect on me. It’s a bad habit to land a kickflip with one foot. If you’re trying to kickflip some stairs and you keep landing with one foot, you’re being risk-averse because there’s no one else around and you feel vulnerable. I developed a way of skating where I would only commit to something if I absolutely knew I was going to land it.

The solo skating was so necessary but I wonder what legacy it had in how I approach commitment within skating, committing to tricks. I would bail things a lot. But then when you skate with other people you find yourself committing to more stuff because you feel less vulnerable. Skating is scary and your relationship with that fear is a really important thing to reconcile as an individual. Coming up against fear and how you deal with it on a daily basis, especially as an adolescent, is an important life lesson.

Trying something new is always scary because you don’t know what’s going to happen. The luxury we have now which helps is being able to film alone, something which would have made a big difference.

Being able to self-film encourages solo skaters to commit to stuff. It’s really important as a skateboarder to have that spur. Your enjoyment of skating is twofold, the physical sensation itself and also the sense of accomplishment. Accomplishment comes from landing tricks; if you’re not landing tricks and challenging yourself you’re denying yourself that enjoyment.

 

“Your enjoyment of skating is twofold, the physical sensation itself and also the sense of accomplishment…if you’re not landing tricks and challenging yourself you’re denying yourself that enjoyment.”

 

Tell us about the Swatch demo in South Wales and the impact that made on you.

My dad was really cool and supportive to me and my brother when it came to skating. Somehow, pre-internet obviously, he found out that there was this Swatch demo. A lot of people reading this from our generation will remember it. It was basically the UK vert scene on tour. Neil Danns, Sean Goff, the Abrook brothers, Pete Dossett, Davy Phillips and maybe Gary Lee. They were travelling the country with this big blue vert ramp which packed down onto a flatbed lorry.

The demo was in a little town called Narberth in South Wales, and we were going to be on a family holiday in Bristol, not far away. Our annual summer holiday to Bristol is another thing I should talk about as formative to my skating. Back then in the late 80s Bedminster was in its original form: three bowls linked together, the bank at the top, the snake run and the ‘Planet Rock’ bowled corner. There would be hundreds of kids skating there on weekends, everyone calling out which of the three bowls they were gonna hit before rolling in.

They were such fun, vibrant sessions. Never seen anything like it since. Spex would be there, Wee Giles, Di and those guys. St George’s was still there too, and Lockleaze, these amazing, ancient old concrete skate parks. My dad had worked out that after Bristol we could go to South Wales for that demo. This was my first summer of skating. I had just got my first proper board at Rollermania, a Hosoi Hammerhead. When we got to Narberth I’d had that board for a like a week. I’d written ‘Danz’ on the griptape.

We watched this demo and it was just amazing, they were all ripping even though I seem to remember there were no platforms on the ramp. We got to meet the guys after. Neil Danns was my first favourite pro skater; I got his autograph and my dad got me and brother t-shirts and stickers.

 

Back to Bristol years later for a fronside bluntslide on the top rope at Lloyd's shot by Percy Dean
Back to Bristol years later for a frontside Bluntslide on the top rope at Lloyd’s. PH: Percy Dean

 

You spoke about being aware early on that you weren’t expressing yourself yet, rather copying what you had seen. When do you think that change happened?

I remember reading interviews with people and the answer to the question ‘What’s the best thing about skating’ was often ‘Being able to express yourself’. I remember thinking, ‘Hmm, I’m not really doing that. I’m just copying other people’s tricks’. I think by the time I was about eighteen I felt then I was curating what tricks I wanted to do rather than just doing all the tricks I could do.

By then I was taller and had more strength, I felt a bit more agile. I was finally tall enough to the point where the length of the board wasn’t overwhelming. I was more nimble as a result and could manipulate this skateboard more easily. After a couple of months of living in Liverpool I felt this shift where I felt like I was expressing myself rather than just going through the motions of what tricks were available. That was a turning point in how I was skating.

 

“After a couple of months of living in Liverpool I felt this shift where I felt like I was expressing myself rather than just going through the motions of what tricks were available. That was a turning point in how I was skating.”

 

Backside tailslide at the post office banks in Liverpool shot by Leo Sharp
Backside tailsliding the bricks at the Post Office banks in Liverpool. PH: Leo Sharp

 

So from Cumbria straight into the scene in Liverpool. Were there other universities in the running because of mag scene coverage or did the course win out?

Good question. My first choice was Leeds. Bod would often do little road trips down to Wakefield when the park (Rehab) opened there. We’d go over to Leeds and skate the Playhouse, or we’d go to York, these North Yorkshire towns because Teesside borders North Yorkshire and they were like an hour’s car ride away. We skated Leeds a few times and I really loved the vibe of the city. I recognised a strong skate scene there in the mid 90s. So I applied to Leeds University on the basis of the skate scene but I didn’t get the grades I needed in my A levels. Liverpool was my second choice.

Both choices were based purely on the skate scene not on the actual academic side at all. I was totally aware of that. My only reason to go to university was to find a skate scene. I needed a ticket out of my home town and I needed that ticket ASAP. The quickest route out was to go to university. I was doing my homework and revising for exams for the sole reason of getting to a university and finding a skate scene, it was my entire motivation.

 

“I was doing my homework and revising for exams for the sole reason of getting to a university and finding a skate scene. It was my entire motivation.”

 

You quickly immersed yourself in the scene when you got to Liverpool?

Pretty much. First night I boshed six Fosters and puked all over my new halls of residence bedroom though, so it was a day or so before I went skating. My first thought was to find the skate shop. It’s 1996 so the internet does exist, but I have no way of accessing it. My only way of finding the skate shop was to go into town and physically look for skaters. So that’s what I did on my first Saturday there; skated into town and kept my eye out for anyone with a skateboard. I spotted these two skaters and literally followed them and they led me to The Fleapit skate shop. I asked the guy working there, who I later realised was Robbie Reid, where people would be skating. He gave me directions to the local meet-up spot, The Courts.

When I got there I saw Joel O’Connor, Brian Sumner, Barry Wong, Howard Cooke, Adam Cooke, Cactus, John Dalton. I’m obviously forgetting people but it was the full squad all ripping. I instantly clicked with people because of the universal language of skating and in no time at all I was skating with these guys every day.

We would do two shifts. The student crew who didn’t have jobs would skate in the daytime on weekday afternoons. Then we’d go home and get food and then come back out again to skate with the guys who had jobs and could only skate in the evening. Me and Joel were doing two shifts a day, pretty much every day. I was fitting in uni work and going to lectures in between but just skating non-stop.

From feeling disconnected to being right in the middle of an absolutely thriving skate scene.

Exactly, the contrast was huge. My own skating benefitted so much from that in such a short space of time. I absolutely felt it and it was just what I had been craving at that time. It was super important to me.

Did being around that crew dispel any bad skateboarding habits and instill others?

I think so because they were so vocal. Liverpool skaters of that era are infamous for how vocal they are in terms of encouragement. They were known for how much stoke they generated. That encouragement can only fuel you to land tricks. I have a lot to thank those guys for.

 

Olly Todd's New Blood in Sidewalk Magazine in 1996, familiar front blunt shot by Wig Worland
A familiar frontside bluntside transfer becomes Olly’s New Blood in Sidewalk in 1996. PH: Wig Worland

 

Your New Blood in Sidewalk happened organically like your first one just out skating with Brian Sumner?

Wig Worland was shooting an interview with Brian for Sidewalk, a pro spotlight-length interview. He wasn’t pro yet but was definitely skating like he was. At that point in time he was obviously the best skater in the country. Having been on Flip he got on Birdhouse and was going back and forth to America but was a Liverpool resident still. Wig was coming to town on weekends so the whole crew would go en masse from spot to spot every Saturday.

We would get to a spot and maybe Brian didn’t have anything for it or was recovering from the spot before because he had probably just feebled a 16 stair handrail or something. So there might be a window when he wasn’t particularly doing something but Wig would still be down to shoot photos. I just got lucky on a particular session at this spot we used to call the Cotton Exchange. I had a line there where I could front blunt transfer this flat bar thing. Wig was cool enough to want to shoot it. Ben Powell was there that day too actually and got my info and did a little interview to go with my New Blood.

That mag came out around Christmas time because I was back home in Whitehaven for the holidays. Bod and those guys received the mag before I did. Bod called me up and told me it was out and my photo was in it and he was just so proud. Later on Bod went on to get coverage in magazines but back then the pair of us used to daydream about having photos in magazines. So for me to get that, he was just so proud and it was amazing.

Did you get to see much Rowley magic firsthand?

I was there when he came over to shoot stuff one time, I think for the Volcom video maybe. I skated with him when he was in town just cruising around, but I wasn’t on those filming sessions. Those actual missions were a bit more private. I think it was just him with Joel [O’Connor] and Jimmy Boyes. So I skated with him but didn’t see any of that magic first hand unfortunately.

 

Tall fifty fifty while collaborating with Leo Sharp for Sidewalk
East Coast Approach. Tall 50-50 for the first full magazine project. PH: Leo Sharp

 

This leads on to asking about your Jimmy Boyes story.

Jimmy has always been a bit of an enigma, even back then in 1989 there were stories that would trickle back. He’s from Newcastle so the Northern scenes would chat and you’d hear tales. There were stories of him hitchhiking all the way to the Munster comps in Germany for example and somehow getting on the ferry with no ticket. Then hitchhiking to the contest and somehow getting on the street course and skating. Amazing to hear, this guy doing all this with no money out of pure will. So I knew about this guy and I had seen pictures of him in RaD so I knew what he looked like and I knew he was from the North East.

One day my mam had sent me to the local shop to get milk and bread and whatever. I was on my bike, the classic, shopping bags swinging off the handlebars. I was cycling home along this A-road because the shop was in a petrol station. It was the road out of town and it only led north, it led to Scotland basically if you stayed on it long enough. So I’m cycling in one direction and there’s a guy carrying a skateboard on the other side of the road hitchhiking with his thumb out.

 

“That was around the time he was planning to scale Kilimanjaro with a sheet of metal to do a kickflip on the summit.”

 

Later it dawned on me that that was fucking Jimmy Boyes. He was hitchhiking home. I guess you could get a ride up that road to Carlisle and figure another one across to Newcastle. He was probably heading back from one of those comps in Warrington or maybe back from Munster which would be even more glamorous. Either way it was Jimmy Boyes in my hometown, a bit of a unicorn sighting.

Fast forward ten years and Vaughan [Baker] and [Simon] Peplow and I find ourselves at the Huntington Beach skate park. We had taken the overnight Greyhound there from San Francisco. It’s super early, like seven in the morning and we’re just kinda lying around trying to sleep, waiting to link up with Sumner. We hear someone skating past and instinctively look up. It’s Jimmy. ‘Alreet lads, what are you doing here?’ That was around the time he was planning to scale Kilimanjaro with a sheet of metal to do a kickflip on the summit. He had a Thrasher package with him that Phelps had sent him, the plan being to wear a Thrasher t-shirt for the kickflip.

So at this point you’re living in Liverpool but still tripping back to Middlesborough and filming with Bod. How was the scene evolving there?

It was definitely evolving. They were branching out to other environs of the North East – South Shields, Sunderland and Newcastle. They were skating with Gordon Skrezka, Neil Urwin and people like that and more people were joining the scene in general. Bingo had opened Mischief in Stockton. So to continue to trip back and skate with those guys was great for me. It was a buoyant scene making more connections with the rest of the country through Mischief.

 

Olly Todd does a backside noseblunt for Wig which would end up in his Haunts for Sidewalk
Backside Noseblunt in a Jack Kerouac T-Shirt pre-empting his haunts article in Sidewalk. PH: Wig Worland

 

The video Bod made at this time was reviewed by Ben Powell which led to your first sponsor…

The video was called Odeon and by then this was Bod’s seventh or eighth video, he’d made so many, it was so sick. Odeon was the most professionally put together. He must have got some editing equipment because before then he was working VCR to VCR. I was lucky enough to have the last part in the video. Bod sent it in to Sidewalk and Ben Powell gave it a really good review. Ben always loved scene videos and championed them, he was a big advocate for that stuff. Off the back of my video part Sidewalk wanted to do a Haunts article with me.

 
Frontside 50-50-Backside 180 Transfer from Dean 'Bod' Broderick's Odeon video from 1998

Frontside 50-50 Backside 180 Transfer from Dean ‘Bod’ Broderick’s ODEON video. This 1998 release kickstarted Toddy’s trajectory

 

I already had a couple of photos in the bag I had shot with Wig that Sidewalk had. I was at a comp at the old indoor skate park in Stockport and Leo Sharp came and introduced himself. He told me they wanted to do the Haunts and suggested he come over to Liverpool from Manchester where he was living. I was stoked. I think Leo came over twice and we got the rest of the photos. When my Haunts came out I was wearing some DVS Daewon Songs in some of the photos.

Pete Hellicar and the guys from Slam City Skates Distribution who were handling DVS saw this. They were starting to sponsor people in the UK through that distribution. They phoned up Mischief, I think Andy Humphries made the call. I happened to be in there that day, and said yes to being on flow. So I got my first sponsor off the back of this video. Sidewalk liked the video, I got a Haunts and then got my first sponsor.

And now Hellicar is a neighbour.

Yeah he’s my neighbour down in Lewes in East Sussex. It’s amazing how things happen isn’t it?

Being on DVS at that time would have been amazing. But you were still hustling for boards?

Still hustling yeah but back to Pete, he would hook me up with Unabomber boards here and there, the odd free one or maybe half price. So I would get my box of DVS from Slam along with a couple of boards.

 

“Sidewalk liked the video, I got a Haunts, and then got my first sponsor.”

 

Daewon Song assisted road gap 360 flip which would lead to Olly's first sponsor. Photo by Leo Sharp
Road gap 360 flip in some DVS Daewon Song’s which would lead to Olly’s first sponsor PH: Leo Sharp

 

This led to being on tour with Daniel Castillo and Mike York. How was that?

Yeah the DVS team were on a European tour. They had been to Germany and France I think and were headed to the UK. It was Sean Sheffey, Mike York, Daniel Castillo and Keenan Milton. Skin Phillips was with them shooting photos and Hellicar was driving the van. One of the venues was Rampworx skatepark in Liverpool. Pete wanted to pick me up there so I could jump in the van and join the rest of the tour. Obviously to this day it’s just surreal to think I was in the van with these absolute legends. Fresh from isolated Cumbria, seeing these guys in videos as untouchable. They still were, I was just lucky enough to be on this mini tour with them. I felt massively inadequate but it was amazing and such a privilege.

 

“I’ve always been obsessed with Keenan’s famous switch flip over the picnic table at Lockwood. On that tour I took my chance to ask him about it. I was literally like ‘How did you do that?’ He was so humble and said he just made sure he picked a board from the bottom of the press so it had a steep nose.”

 

We did a demo at Rampworx and then travelled down to London and did a demo at PlayStation. We skated the original Meanwhile with the Gonz gap and Sheffey ollied it. It was just the biggest ollie I had ever seen, he was so high above it. It was an amazing thing to witness. I’ve always been obsessed with Keenan’s famous switch flip over the picnic table at Lockwood. On that tour I took my chance to ask him about it. I was literally like ‘How did you do that?’ He was so humble and said he just made sure he picked a board from the bottom of the press so it had a steep nose.

 

Alley oop nollie backside heelflip on Olly's first trip to the big smoke
Alley-oop Nollie backside heelflip at Playstation on Olly’s first trip to London PH: Leo Sharp

 

Around this time your parents relocate to Worcester?

I graduated university in 1999 and my parents had moved from Cumbria to Worcester. My dad’s job had moved to Birmingham and Worcester is like a commuter town near there. So I was now a resident of Worcester by default. That’s how and when I met Vaughan and ultimately the Birmingham skate crew which was centred around Ideal skate shop. So it was Peplow, Damon Levanthal, Ozzy Ben, James Woodley, Bob Sanderson and all those guys. Amazing times.

Which leads to getting boards at last.

Exactly. A Third Foot is a Birmingham-based skateboard manufacturer. Their boards were made and pressed in the UK; at the time they were the only company to do that. Their team was Peplow, Damon, Ozzy Ben, Norm, Woodley. Through the proximity of me being a local skater now, Ken (Gear) and Joel (Winwood) put me on the team. It was my first board sponsor, so a really important moment for me.

 

Olly Todd backside flips on a tight Teesside bank. Photo by Leo Sharp
Beautiful backside flip on a tight Teesside bank. PH: Leo Sharp

 

Before we go into the next chapter let’s talk briefly about your vert skating career. You started out thinking you were going to be a vert skater right?

I started out classing myself as a vert skater, more out of aspiration than reality. There were a couple of years where Danny Way and Colin McKay were my absolute idols. Their video parts in Questionable and Virtual Reality where they had street sections and vert sections within their part, to me that was it. The ultimate expression of skating is to be able to do both so well and I wanted to be like that, so I got into vert skating. But it’s like living in a landlocked town and being a surfer, I had no access to a vert ramp.

The closest thing I had was an 8” section of the mini ramp at the Skate Shack Barrow. It probably had a couple of inches of vert so I would pretend that was a vert ramp. There was another vert ramp in a town called Washington on the outskirts of Newcastle that was Paul ‘Rocker’ Robson’s local ramp. Bod would sometimes take us there. Another vert ramp was the Goshen ramp down in Bury near Manchester which I also skated a couple of times.

Every time I got to a vert ramp there would have often been a gap of three or four months since I last skated one. I’d basically have to re-learn all my tricks again because there was no consistency to build up. It was such a challenge and I would always be skating them on my own.

 

“It’s like living in a landlocked town and being a surfer, I had no access to a vert ramp.”

 

What would be your proudest achievement trick-wise on a vert ramp?

I did a Caballerial once, definitely a high point for me as a vert skater. It’s funny looking back because me and Vaughan used to go and skate Radlands vert ramp. By then, because I was taller and I guess motivated by how good Vaughan was at skating transition, it was a different experience. We would skate Radlands vert ramp, no pads, and suddenly I could do lip tricks whereas before I could only do weird airs that I would ollie into. My technique was so wrong on vert because I had no-one to show me how to skate it properly.

So my second go at vert skating was way more fun and fluid. I could do backside tailslides and stuff, it was cool. Vaughan was good at everything. He had such good transition skills, but also nollie and switch stuff on street, and obviously he could jump down stuff. That combination meant he was a pretty unique talent back then. Still is!

You still need to do the handplant for your dad though.

Yeah handplants were the coolest image of skating to my dad, something he could compute as impressive. Sorry dad, I’m still working on them! If anyone reading this has any invert tips, let me know!

 

Olly Todd hurricanes in Paris. Photo by Benjamin Deberdt
Half Cabbed hurricane. Olly’s foundation in transition pays off at La Vague. PH: Benjamin Deberdt

 

So from Worcester you save money and take your first trip to the USA with Vaughan. Where did you travel to and stay?

I think the first night I ever hung out with Vaughan and Peplow we planned a trip to America straight off the bat, this would be 1999 and we flew out there in 2000. I got a job at the returns department of the local Kays catalogue warehouse, and managed to save a few grand. Pete Turvey was Vaughan’s team manager at Converse and he agreed to book our flights if we (Peplow, Ozzy Ben and I) paid our share. So we flew to San Francisco, no hotel bookings or anything.

We get off the plane and while we are waiting for the bags at the carousel there was this map with hotels pinned to it. We found one near to Union Square on Geary street and phoned from a phone box in the airport to reserve rooms before jumping in a taxi. The hotel was like three blocks from Union Square. Our whole trip to California was three months and I think we stayed in SF for the first month of it. We would skate Union Square every night and skate around the city every day, it was amazing.

We were there for the time when Jason Dill and Anthony Van Engelen were filming for Photosynthesis. We didn’t know that was the video it would become, but they were around filming. We were at Pier 7 the day Dill did that manual roll, backside skid to fakie manual on the manny pad. At that time it was groundbreaking just to even think like that. It was the same time period when Danny Garcia and Rodrigo TX were battling to be the first to nollie flip nose slide Hubba Hideout. We didn’t see that but it happened while we were there, a really interesting time for some of the iconic skate tricks that were being put down. We were just so stoked to sense that atmosphere.

 

“Some nights would be a bust – cop cars actually driving in, scattering everyone in all directions – but when we did get to skate there they were the best skates I have ever had.”

 

It was when people were beginning to pop out in the middle of ledges. So we would go to Third & Army and people would be doing nosegrinds and popping out in the middle; saw Puleo there doing that actually. We were seeing this for the first time, new ideas were happening within street skating and it was sick to witness it. To this day I had the best skates of my entire life at Union Square with Vaughan and them. It was the OG Union Square but the green benches were gone so we would just skate the ledges. Some nights would be a bust – cop cars actually driving in, scattering everyone in all directions – but when we did get to skate there they were the best skates I have ever had.

This is the trip where Vaughan shoots the photo which would become his Slap cover?

He had Joe Brook’s number so most days we would wake up and get a skate plan for the day, that would start with him calling Joe to see if he could go out and shoot with him. On the days when he could there was never room in the car so he would go off on his own. On one of those missions he came back and told us that he had shot that frontside flip photo which would go on to be the cover of Slap. It was so banging, so amazing that happened. I think the footage was in 411VM.

So lots of skate tourism and places ticked off the list?

Definitely and I was also embarking on my own kind of literary pilgrimage too.

City Lights?

Yeah City Lights book shop and the whole North Beach area in San Francisco which was the epicentre for the Beat Generation, where a lot of my reading at the time was coming from. I actually saw Lawrence Ferlinghetti in City Lights the first time I went, walking in and muttering something about the rain. Anyway I had the opportunity to tick off some spots on the literary map as well; skating and literary tourism combined.

You come back and Waiting For The World is released shortly after.

There’s an Octagon Wheels connection. Magee started that wheel company and put Vaughan on the team when he was still on Unabomber. Through Vaughan I got on Octagon too. We had gone to Radlands for a comp and Magee was there which is when I got my first Octagon package. We were skating the new hip, not the classic Penny one. I did a kicklflip indy grab over that, which is stinking. The Octagon connection came to mind because you can see all these really badly placed Octagon stickers on my board.

 

“The Octagon section came on the screen and my trick wasn’t in it and I was just crushed…”

 

That’s how I ended up in Waiting For The World – through Octagon I was Blueprint affiliated in a loose way. Weirdly my trick wasn’t in the Octagon section, it’s in the winter skatepark section. So we went to the premiere in Sheffield. As you know and as has been talked about, the WFTW premiere in Sheffield was a monumental event for British skateboarding culture and history. Every single skater and industry member was in the same building at the same time for the first time ever, before or since.

You could feel how important this video was. The Octagon section came on the screen and my trick wasn’t in it and I was just crushed. Then the black and white indoor skatepark section came on and my trick was in that so I was instantly un-crushed. I was so stoked about that. That video confirmed the UK skate scene’s identity as being valuable while being separate to the US. It felt like it was the first time that had happened. There were loads of road gaps, gritty street spots. UK Skaters were using their environment and exploiting it to their advantage.

 

“Then the black and white indoor skatepark section came on and my trick was in that so I was instantly un-crushed.”

 

I think it was the first time that was documented in a really concise and comprehensive way. Anthems and A Mixed Media were both banging but WFTW was the apex of that. It was a privilege to have a trick in there, even if it was a stinking one. I’m sorry it was a grab, sorry to all Waiting For The World fans about that. It’s unforgivable that I’m grabbing my board but it’s Magee’s fault for putting that in.

You were in close proximity to the vert ramp we were just talking about though.

Yeah it was under the same roof so I’ll justify it that way.

 

Olly Todd lipslides a tall one. Photo by Leo Sharp
Lipsliding the battlement under the cover of night . PH: Leo Sharp

 

So finally through A Third Foot you’re no longer worried about boards but then you get a phone call out of the blue.

I had moved back to Liverpool from Worcester temporarily, skating a lot with Joel O’Connor and Kingy. I moved back because I wanted to shoot more photos with Kingy. I’ve always been really motivated to get coverage and that was somewhere I could shoot photos. No mobile phone for me at this point so I’m on the landline and I’m living in a house-share with some old uni friends. The phone rang and it was Toby Shuall. I had maybe met him maybe once at this point.

Toby explained that Fos was starting a new board company and wanted me to ride for it. He told me the team would be himself, me, Snowy and Joel Curtis. He asked if I wanted to be on board and I was instantly stoked on the idea of it, their ambition and ideas. At the same time I knew I was going to have to quit A Third Foot so I had mixed emotions but I took the opportunity. Quitting A Third Foot was really difficult because Ken and Joel are amazing dudes. That was the start of Organic which would become Landscape.

This new beginning prompted your move to London.

I moved to London to be closer to what was happening with Organic and to be near Toby and Snowy. Snowy had moved down and was living at Cawdor Crescent at this time, Magee and Massey’s house. After a short time Organic morphed into Landscape.

 

Olly Todd switch frontside noseslides just after moving to London. Shot by Wig Worland
Olly guides one of the first Organic boards through a Switch frontside noseslide . PH: Wig Worland

 

Off the bat you were filming for the Organic section in First Broadcast.

That was the first project. The experience was very similar to what that extended into which was filming for Portraits. That was all Chris Massey behind the lens. To reiterate the name of the company it was all very ‘organic’ for us to go out filming. We would meet up at Slam in Neal’s Yard. Massey was working there at the time but on his days off and after work he would be out filming. We would just go where the day took us, there were no spot lists and no agenda. Massey had his VX and we would just go and see what happened.

The first crop of footage we got went into the Organic section in First Broadcast. Then we just carried on gathering more footage which would become Portraits. The experience was amazing. It was childhood dream territory for me because I was living and breathing it every day which is all I ever wanted. Being around people who became really close friends at that time as well made the whole experience even richer.

It’s cool to have that First Broadcast part as a kind of intro before Portraits, it marked another seismic shift for UK skating.

First Broadcast was almost a refinement of Waiting For the World, it was more singular in what it achieved. The premiere at the Prince Charles just felt unbelievable, the atmosphere, the title sequence, the music and the level of skating. Being at that premiere was one of the most jaw-dropping moments for me in skating. The production, editing, the thought behind it all and the concepts, I had never seen anything like it so to have a small part in it was amazing. Premiere nights back then were amazing.

 

“It was childhood dream territory for me because I was living and breathing it every day which is all I ever wanted.”

 

Frontside half cab and frontside nosblunt slide in Mallorca in 2002. Shot by Sam Ashley
Portraits mission to Mallorca. Frontside half cab with Chris Massey behind the VX next to a Noseblunt slide. PH: Sam Ashley

 

Concurrently you were shooting your first interview with Dom Marley for Sidewalk. In the grand scheme of curating photos there was certainly a lot of artistry involved. How was that collaborative process? Dom said we should talk about how he launched your career in a nutshell.

Hahaha, the big joke between me and Dom is who launched who’s career. Obviously I launched his. I could have shot that interview with Wig or Leo or anyone but I chose to take a chance on a little-known photographer from Croydon, well Norwood actually. I was taking a big risk but I did it anyway. From that Dom was able to showcase his talents through me and got a career off the back of it, that’s how that happened.

I hope the readers can sense the sarcasm. We sat down and talked about it and it was Dom’s idea to shoot it all in black and white so it was conceptual from the outset yeah.

 

Frontside 180-switch crooked grind On one of the first Landscape boards. Shot by Dom Marley
Frontside 180 to switch crooked grind as Landscape begins. PH: Dom Marley

 

So Massey was working all day and filming all night when in London. But there are also a few memorable trips built that video too.

We had a really productive trip to Mallorca, we went and stayed in Paris, we went to Sheffield haha. We would travel around the UK but some European trips too, they were amazing times.

Did you meet Benjamin Deberdt in Paris or London?

I met Benjamin in London actually but then later on I went back to Paris to shoot with him. This was when I was getting on Stereo and we worked together on an interview for Kingpin. I already knew him at that point though; awesome dude.

 

Frontside tailslide at Creteil. Shot by Sam Ashley
Frontside tailslide in Créteil while working on a Kingpin interview . PH: Benjamin Deberdt

 

Portraits was such a rad cohesive video with four distinct styles and visions of what video part should be. I remember you shouting “Massey you’re a genius!” at the premiere.

Probably, that’s obviously me at my obnoxious worst but I was just really impressed. Back then you wouldn’t really watch your footage back and I certainly didn’t see anything edited together. We had no input into the title sequence, the graphics or the editing. That all came from Massey.

I was experiencing it all for the first time at the premiere and I was just so impressed by Massey’s vision and how he tied it all together. The music, how the parts fit together, the use of 16mm, it was all so rad to me that I had to shout and tell him he’s a genius. I felt like a member of the audience because I was seeing it for the first time.
 
That video premiered in 2003 and you turn pro shortly afterwards. How did that change things for you mentally?

The work towards turning pro was so motivating, having that carrot at the end of the string. Turning pro happened but there was no immediate project following that. So there was a bit of time after that of not skating as much which looking back on it isn’t a good thing. I probably skated less in the aftermath and wasn’t filming much that I can remember. But it felt great to have achieved my childhood dream.

 
Olly Todd's kickflip nosewheelie ender from Landscape Portraits. Filmed by Chris Masseyt

This Kickflip Nosewheelie at Euston Bank closes Olly’s Portraits part. Filmed by Chris Massey

 

That kind of contradicts my next question. You always had a skating alone discipline. More than anyone I knew, it was part of your routine when you weren’t filming. Do you agree with that, you had a need to do it, to maintain progress?

It’s true, I did have a discipline and I would skate on my own, it always felt natural to me because of how I’d grown up skating. I’d go and skate Moorgate carpark. I’d take the 76 bus down there from Stoke Newington and spend hours in there. What I meant from the answer before was that I wasn’t skating for a project straight afterwards. I was skating just as much afterwards but not building anything so it felt like a dip. I would skate as often and if need be I would skate on my own fuelled by that self-discipline which I always had.

 

Olly Todd varial heelflips a staircase. Shot by Leo Sharp
Long distance Varial Heelflip over a staircase. PH: Leo Sharp

 

Explain how Slam in Neal’s Yard felt at that time.

It was crucial to me and my connection to skating. The moment I understood its importance was the moment I knew that it wouldn’t last forever. I instantly wondered what would happen when it was no longer there. When that shop was no longer there it coincided with a bit of a drop off in my participation in skating. I’m not very good at keeping in touch with people unless its via face to face.

Slam was a youth club; you would just go there every day, you wouldn’t have to make any plans. Someone would be there face to face in front of you and you’d go skating. When I didn’t have that anymore and I had to make actual plans, it’s just something I’m not good at. As a result I skated less. Slam was vital and fun and just an amazing place to hang out; it was super important for me during that time.

 

“To this day Slam was always my favourite sponsor because it is something which has been around since I first started skating.”

 

When you moved to London Pulman was fully looking out for you and you were on the Slam team straight away.

Pulman was great. He was avuncular to use that word again, another kind of uncle figure for me. He recognised something in my skating that he liked I guess. He put me on the Slam team. To this day Slam was always my favourite sponsor because it is something which has been around since I first started skating. It already had this iconic status to me, the most iconic skate shop in the country. It’s always been a kind of brand to me rather than a skate shop and had such strong imagery and ads. I was always in awe of it so getting on the team, despite all the other sponsors I’ve had which may be more high profile, it’s always been my favourite sponsor.

 

Frontside Bluntslide in Coram's fields for the cover of Document magazine. Shot by Sam Ashley
From getting a pair of early samples from Geoff Rowley to skating his shoe on the cover of Document magazine in 2002. Frontside Bluntslide in Coram’s Fields. PH: Sam Ashley

 

Skating for Vans was another part of your story at this time. How was that? They were making your favourite shoes.

I had gone through all of the shoe companies via distro flow. I rode for DVS, and Lakai, and I think even Circa. None of them really fit my personality. When I was in Huntington Beach on that trip was when Geoff Rowley was designing his pro shoe for Vans. We actually stayed in Geoff’s condo while he was away on a Flip trip. He had some of the samples of a Vans shoe there which would become his first shoe.

When he came back he was kind enough to give me a pair of those samples and they were just the missing piece. That waffle sole was so amazing to skate in, it was like a lightbulb moment. I realised I needed to skate in waffle soles. It became my goal to get on Vans from that point and I was lucky enough to get on Vans UK shortly after I moved to London.

What experiences grew from that relationship?

Just super fun trips with Christian Stevenson as team manager at the helm. This amazing larger-than-life character would organise incredible UK tours and they were always super fun. We’d do demos and laugh at Christian’s crazy antics. It felt really homely and he created a great atmosphere. He forged a good relationship with all the riders and made us feel welcome. He made it really easy for us to get our expenses paid, our shoes sent out, flights paid for. He worked really hard to make that Vans team at that time a well organised and fun team to be on, it was great.

 

Olly Todd backside flips in theParis suburbs. Shot by Benjamin Deberdt
Waffle soles on display. Backside flip on a Vans enabled trip to the paris suburbs. PH: Benjamin Deberdt

 

Then just a year after turning pro you get another unexpected call out of the blue.

I knew Benny Fairfax and we had skated at Southbank together a few times but we weren’t close friends at that point. He called my landline at my flat in Stoke Newington and said Chris Pastras wanted to talk to me about riding for Stereo, and gave me Pastras’s number. I called him in LA and he said they wanted to fly me out to meet the rest of the team and see how I gelled with those guys.

What had happened was, Pastras and Jason Lee had been in London on a WeSC trip with Benny. They were in Slam one day and Portraits was playing on the ancient tiny little TV above the stairs. They saw my part and off the back of that they wanted to look into the idea of me joining the team and start the ball rolling.

Before flying out to LA I spoke Fos at Landscape about it, and told him this offer had been put on my table and asked him what I should do. He told me ‘you’ve got to do it’. I spoke to Lev about it too. I guess I was a bit apprehensive as it was such a big step. He said go for it. He was like, every time Benny comes back from the States he’s learned all these new tricks and stuff. That was all the encouragement I needed.

To be clear Stereo was also your favourite company of all time.

My favourite things in skateboarding are the three ‘S’s: San Francisco, Slap and Stereo. Stereo for me in San Francisco in the mid 90s, the Visual Sound video and the ads they ran in Slap are all of those things tied together, just the epitome of skating for me. So getting an opportunity to ride for Stereo was something I couldn’t turn down. You can add (Carl) Shipman to that list of ‘S’s too.

 

“My favourite things in skateboarding are the three S’s: San Francisco, Slap and Stereo.”

 

Olly Todd announced as a Stereo Sound Agent. Shot by Dom Marley
Southwark surrounded Frontside 180 Fakie-5-0 announcing Olly Todd as Stereo Sound Agent LT-73. PH: Dom Marley

 

So from growing a new company to being integral to the re-birth of another. Then begins a five year period of living in LA for three months at a time. That must have felt like living the dream.

It was another dream come true moment. I was doing the 90-day tourist waiver which is how long you could spend there without a work visa. I’m not sure why I never looked into having a work visa. Benny had one but I never did. I would spend three months there at a time. Prolonged skate trips basically, skating every day, filming and trying to shoot photos. Then coming home and maybe not doing so much in the UK. I was proactively trying to go and shoot stuff in London when I could though. It was a constant cycle of Transatlantic travel for about five years.

You led parallel lives but the time you spent back in the UK diminished at a point.

There were definitely a couple of years where I was there more than I was here or at least it felt like that. What used to happen was I’d miss London when I was in LA and miss LA when I was back here. There was always a pull in either direction, quite a strange tension to have this feeling wherever I was. I could never just settle, I always wanted to be in the other place.

 

Olly outside our oldNeal's Yard shop with two new Stereo boards hot off the presses
Back on home turf when two new Stereo boards arrived. Shot outside our old Neal’s Yard shop

 

How was it working with Jason Lee and Chris Pastras? Did you have free reign to do your thing?

Not in terms of graphics, I didn’t really get involved with any graphic stuff. I was such a fan anyway that I wouldn’t have wanted to. I would much prefer it to come from its original source which was those guys. What do you mean as far as free reign?

I meant there was no specific video deadline looming from those guys so you made your own schedule.

There was no deadline for a video because it just kept on getting pushed back for whatever reason. We were trying to film a video but the footage I had ended up being used as a 411 profile.

How was your schedule out there? This period was super productive in a pre-Instagram world.

Mine was the traditional route to coverage which is magazines and video. I think I did alright. I was certainly conscious of trying to get as much done as I could. I came away after that five year period with a Slap interview, a Skateboard Mag interview, a Skateboarder interview, a Transworld cover, a 411VM video part, and a Static III video part. That’s the tangible result of the work but if I’m totally honest the quality of that wasn’t up to par.

I just wonder if my real level was Portraits, riding for Vans UK and going on Vans UK tours in terms of my own ability on a skateboard. I’m asking this question to myself now, interior monologue style, but was I out of my depth in those terms? When I was out in LA trying to compete with the level of skating out there? I just wonder how happy I am with the quality of my output. I know there was quite a lot of it. I gave it a good go anyway.

 

Olly Todd on the cover of the TWS photo issue in 2005. Photo by Scott Pommier
Landing the cover of the Transworld photo issue in 2005. PH: Scott Pommier

 

“Mine was the traditional route to coverage which is magazines and video. I think I did alright. I was certainly conscious of trying to get as much done as I could.”

 

I feel like you were on the cusp of a more creative kind of street skating emerging.

The corner of skateboarding I carved out for myself was niche even then. It’s just a case of working to your strengths. I just didn’t feel that well-rounded when I was out in the States. Everyone was skating handrails and stairs and stuff. What I’m trying to say is maybe I wasn’t out of my depth, but I felt limited. I’m very much a spot-driven skater so the spot dictates what I’m able to do on a skateboard.

We’d go to a schoolyard where there’s a set of stairs and a handrail. I’m not going to be able to skate that, so I’m limited, maybe I won’t skate that day. The way I skate is dependent on the spot being conducive to my ability. That meant I had to just sit out a lot of sessions.

 
Olly Todd's 360 flip ender from Static III. Filmed by Josh Stewart

Olly’s far from limited inconceivable ender from Static III. Filmed by Josh Stewart

 

But I guess at that point Josh Stewart enters the picture with a video which is the antithesis of that.

Josh is a huge advocate for that type of skating and a pioneer when it comes to representing it. It was really lucky that he wanted to work with me because at that time he was the only filmmaker really doing that.

Then that West Coast drought you were feeling leads to East Coast exploration.

Super well put, it did feel like a drought and considering LA is in a desert geologically that’s an even more pertinent point. It did feel like a bit of a drought for me when it came to spots on the West Coast. But then we would do trips on the East Coast, all the way down to Florida and back up to New York. We skated all these different places, North Carolina and Atlanta. These amazing cities full of character. That was definitely a productive time filming for Static III.

 

Olly Toddin London and Miami while filming for Static 3. Photos by Josh Stewart
Filming for Static III. Two photos of Olly in London sandwich him in Miami with Danny Renaud. PH: Josh Stewart

 

What do you miss about America and that time period?

I miss the West Coast way of life I guess. This will sound bad but I don’t miss the skating. When I think about my time on my board in LA it wasn’t hugely satisfying overall. Thinking back, it was too freighted with pressure. You only enjoy the finished product – the video part or the mag photo, because that relieves the pressure for a minute. The actual act of skating becomes less enjoyable. But as for time off the board, the lifestyle, the atmosphere of the place, the road trips, the beaches, the food, I miss that stuff. There was a feeling that every day had endless possibilities. It all felt very spontaneous and that was exciting.

Also a 411 profile just before that came to a close. Did the gravitas of crossing that one off the list hit you? You got the cover too, fully treading the path Carl Shipman trod.

I don’t think it did hit me really because 411’s status had dwindled by then. It’s importance had waned because there were other media outlets. It just wasn’t on so many people’s radar. For a slightly younger generation than us who were prominent at that time, they hadn’t grown up with 411 like we had. It would have hit me if it had happened during the prime of those videos. That being said it was still amazing to have that, and amazing to have an opener with the ‘da da da da da da’ [411 theme tune].

Was the wage from Stereo, Carhartt, Dakine, Krux, enough for you to cut it or were you hustling?

Hustling. There were periods where I was buoyant financially but they were fleeting. Most of the time I had to hustle and it was tough. I spent a lot of that time pretty broke. At least when I was back in the UK because the dollar to pound exchange rate wasn’t great. It’s not a sob story though because I was living my childhood dream.

When did the American dream start wearing thin and why? Were you tired of being a nomad?

I think so. I was approaching thirty and I think deep down felt I was too old to be pro anyway. It felt like I wasn’t justifying that status and I started to question it. It felt like me being on Stereo had run its course, as had being in LA. When Lev (Tanju) started talking about Palace it was an attractive proposition. To be able to have a board sponsor without going through all of the travelling seemed perfect.

Obviously being a part of Palace from the very first ad must have been the craziest company to have been a part of and watch grow.

It’s been beyond my wildest imagination and there was certainly no way of predicting that and, that wasn’t the motivation to do it anyway. Thinking it would grow to the size of a normal UK company was a normal expectation, but not to what it has become. It’s been surreal to witness it’s growth from the beginning.

 

“It’s been surreal to witness it’s growth from the beginning.”

 

Olly Todd's first pro boards for Palace Skateboards plus Olly with his first board at Westminster Road Gap. Photo by Sam Ashley
The first pro board ad for Palace / Olly with his first board before Big Ben. PH: Sam Ashley

 

What stand out to you as the craziest achievements Lev and Co have made happen?

In a general sense it’s this crossover from skateboarding to wider culture, this wider zeitgeist. You can’t learn how to do that and there’s no formula for that. It comes down to personality, and to Lev. It is crazy what they have achieved.

What are you happiest about putting out there while on Palace?

That’s an important question to me because I’d like to feel like some of my output for Palace was valuable. In the grand scheme of things I was just treading water with a pro board for years and really not contributing. It’s difficult for me to reconcile that with myself. There were a few years with no output. I kind of lost skating for a minute. Put it down somewhere then couldn’t find it again.

I think the best stuff would have been on that trip to Sweden and Denmark. I filmed some stuff on those banks in Copenhagen, a frontside flip noseblunt on that weird double-banked bank. I did pull some decent skating out of my arse on some fleeting moments while on Palace but I wasn’t productive enough if you ask me.

 

An early Palace trip to NYC in 2011. Ollie into a makeshift cellar door and a quick footed fakie flip. Photo by Sam Ashley
An early Palace trip to NYC. Building cellar doors where there are none and some quick footed fakie flip choreography. PH: Sam Ashley

 

What’s your favourite footage from the Palace squad or moment in time?

I always think of Chewy’s stuff when he first got on, his stuff in Gangbanging At Ground Zero. He showed up in New York from Brazil or somewhere after an Adidas trip. It was the first time he had skated with all of us as a Palace skater. He got off the plane and just fifty-fiftied one of those big circular bike lock things, bombed down the hill and frontside noseslid this out-ledge, then did a nollie 360 and kept going. It was unbelievable, he just absolutely fucking killed it on that trip. He’d continue his lines through traffic doing nollie flips between taxis with Lev trying to keep up with the VHS camera.

Chewy’s impact when he first got on Palace has been one of my favourite moments. Also the absolute tear Lucien was on that summer at Viccy benches filming for Palasonic. The authority he was skating with on those sessions was unbelievable, so much personality coming through. And the segment Lev edited it into for the video with the nod to Toby was just so rad wasn’t it? But then, the whole team are amazing.

 
Olly Todd frontside kickflips into noseblunt for the Place 'Endless Bummer' video. Filmed by Lev Tanju

Olly Frontside kickflips into noseblunt for the Palace Endless Bummer video. Filmed by Lev Tanju

 

You had a pro board for almost ten years, you’ve been single-handedly keeping those 7.75’s on the wall.

I might have had some 8-inch graphics I think but yeah, they were mostly 7.75s. It’s a small market place, populated by you and me Jake.

Let’s talk about your ideal set-up quickly. 7.5”, insanely loose Krux trucks, 50mm wheels. That was always just the dream equipment right?

The dream equipment was actually a 7.5-8 board, my first Landscape board was that size. Then 50mm wheels and whatever Krux trucks fit that board width. Then Bones Swiss bearings with the shields off. That would be the board, it’s just super nimble. It evolved itself and adapted to the spots I was skating, the trucks got looser. It adapted itself to what I needed it to do and how I needed it to perform. Boards that were 7.5-8 became extinct and the smallest I could get was a 7.75 so that’s what I’m stuck with.

 

Olly Fakie 360 flips on a boat which would end up as his second cover of Document. Photo by Sam Ashley
Olly’s set-up is Kryptonite to most but not for him. Fakie 360 flip on a boat which would become his second Document cover. PH: Sam Ashley

 

Seth [Curtis] said Gonz is the only person you’ve ever seen successfully tame your board?

Yeah everyone who gets on my board pushes away and are just all over the place, they can’t not wobble and they just get wheelbite and fall off. The other day Tommy (Richardson) got on my board, granted after a couple of pints. He threw it down and immediately slammed into a parked car, phone fell out, so funny. Yeah we were at Brooklyn Banks one time and Gonz rocked up with some of the Krooked team. They had a plan with this massive manual pad made out of wood. They were going to position it over the two handrails, across the stairs, bank to bank, making it a raised angled manual pad as high as the handrail to get on to.

They couldn’t get the contraption to work for some reason. We were sitting down and Gonz came over, my board was there in front of him on the floor. He just ran onto my board and skated off, did a kickturn on the bank and came back. He didn’t flinch, not a wobble or anything. No signs of movement in his body or anything, he just skated this thing like it was his own board. My jaw was on the floor. Everyone else struggles to stay upright on that thing and he just cruised it, it was absolutely amazing. Just a golden Gonz moment.

 

“I’ve seen everyone else struggle to stay upright on that thing and he showed no signs of that, it was absolutely amazing. Just a golden Gonz moment.”

 

How was it juggling the dual existence once you started to work ‘real’ jobs? Your first foray into that world was teaching, right?

I managed to get a position as a trainee teacher at a high school in Blackheath. I did that for a year, and it was really rewarding, but very challenging. I have so much respect for teachers, honestly such a gnarly job. But that was just it, there was no juggling really. Skating started to subside as it naturally would, it had to take a back seat. I was working conventional hours so I could skate at weekends but that led to a dwindling in any skateboarding output.

Shortly after that you got the copywriting job, how was that? A different type of travel re-entered the picture.

I was super lucky to be able to travel again as part of my job, just like skating. I was a copywriter and content manager for a luxury travel company. As a result of that you get to do these familiarity trips or ‘fam’ trips. You would get a call to go on a fam trip and you didn’t get a choice in where it was. But because I worked for a luxury company they were always to amazing locations. So it would the Maldives, or Sri Lanka, or Thailand or Dubai or wherever. Incredible locations I was sent to.

I would always fly first class on the plane and the hotels were always 5-star. You would be hosted and treated to this amazing holiday experience which I would then come back to the office and write about. In seven years of working for them I went on a handful of trips, it wasn’t every month or anything. Still it was a huge privilege and I’m very fortunate to have experienced that. The day-to-day was an office job creating content for a website but it was a great job and I loved it.

 

Olly Todd Noseblunt slides at Southbank in 2006. Photo by Dom Marley
Olly repping his favourite sponsor during a noseblunt slide at Southbank in 2006. PH: Dom Marley

 

Palace trips peppered some of the rest of the time.

Yeah and when I asked for time off from my manager he knew I was still connected to skating and would be quite lenient when it came to that. He’d let me take the time off or have un-paid leave to go on those trips when they came up. I still got some skate trips in.

But having a serious job left very little time and you asked to retire the pro board?

I asked to retire it because I knew I wasn’t justifying it as a skater. But because I trust Lev’s judgement so much, each time he would say it was cool and to leave it for a bit. I wasn’t in a position to question that because Lev’s business mind, decision making and instincts for Palace are proven to be amazing obviously. So I didn’t question it and if Lev wanted to do it there was obviously a reason behind it. It got to a point though where I felt I needed to retire it because I wasn’t comfortable with my output so eventually I did.

Then your first daughter was born mid-pandemic, the copywriting job ceased to exist, and you moved house. That’s quite a lot for anyone. You found a job back at Palace during this time?

I came full circle. The couple of years leading up to that were so uncertain because of the pandemic. The travel industry took a huge hit as soon as that started and my company lost 40% of revenue overnight. So they therefore had to lose an equal amount of staff and I was made redundant during that first summer. Our first daughter was born in February a few weeks before the pandemic started and then I lost my job. It was a very uncertain time for everyone.

I was lucky enough to start working freelance for Palace which then became a full time position. Kate and I started to want to move out of London because we wanted to raise our family somewhere with a slower pace to life. So we moved down to East Sussex and that timeframe coincided with us having our second daughter in April this year. So that’s where I’m at now, back on Palace but behind the scenes.

It’s amazing to have that universal support.

Indeed, forever grateful.

With family responsibilities now you have less time to skate right now which will change. Do you find not having that outlet problematic?

It is slightly, just not having that opportunity to be active, get a skate on, get a sweat on and let off a bit of steam. I’m definitely a happier person if I can get regular skates in. It’s difficult not having that outlet as often as you’d like. But there’s a banging skate park here in Lewes which I can sometimes go to after dropping my eldest at nursery in the mornings, for an hour or so before starting work. Back to skating solo, which is my default setting anyway. Plus I have the creative outlet of writing when fatherhood duties mean I can’t be out of the house.

 

Olly Todd's two books of poetry so far, Odeum Spotlights and Out For Air
Olly’s two books of poetry (so far). Odeum Spotlights and Out For Air

 

So it’s given you more time to explore that. Out For Air was just published by Penned in the Margins (a different publisher than your first book of poems). That must have been exciting.

Yeah my first full collection of poems came out this May. It’s been super exciting, another teenage dream realised. It’s a real privilege to be published by a publisher I admire, just like riding for your favourite board company. One of their author’s recently won the Forward Prize which is one of the UK’s most prestigious poetry prizes, so it’s like being teammates with a SOTY or something.

No longer copywriting on the daily have you found increased bandwidth for personal stuff?

This is an interesting one because I used to resent having to write for my day job, thinking I’d be exhausting that muscle in my brain each day. So the last thing I wanted to do after work was sit in front of another screen and work on my own writing. But what I didn’t realise at the time was that obviously all that writing practice, thousands of words a day, was helping to improve my writing in the long run. Even if the copy I was writing for work was totally different in style to my own work.

We interviewed you about your writing process when Odeum Spotlights was released. It seems like you have also freed up the connection with your skateboarding experiences as writing inspiration.

That was a difficult one for me. I always refused the impulse to write about skating. For want of a better word I thought it was cheesy. There was no way I could do it and read it back and it not sound cheesy so I resisted that urge. When I finally did allow myself to write about skating in my poetry it was a really liberating moment. I gained a lot of freedom in my writing from there on. It was kind of the missing piece of the puzzle.

 

“When I finally did allow myself to write about skating in my poetry it was a really liberating moment. I gained a lot of freedom in my writing from there on. It was kind of the missing piece of the puzzle.”

 

There are a few skate-related poems in Out for Air that will be of interest to skaters – one about the Visual Sound video, one about the ‘Rubber Boys’ section in Ban This, one about skating Goshen vert ramp, a few others. I don’t know how prevalent skating will continue to be in my work, I’m not going to force it, but I won’t have to resist it anymore.

You said now reflecting on those times you realise which ones were formative because of how much detail you recall. Does it feel, having freed up that area of experience as fodder that you have an immense body of memory to draw from now?

I suppose you’re right, you don’t really realise which experiences are storing all the detail until you look back on them. For every poem I have written about skate experiences, there’s another one I didn’t write if you see what I mean. You do have all of that memory stored and tapping into it is, not necessarily cathartic because you’re not working through negative emotions, but you’re still delving into your lived experience and it just helps to have a balanced understanding of that. For me it’s been beneficial from a mental health point of view. In the same way skateboarding can be really meditative, writing can be similar; not meditative because you have to be completely engaged actually, but therapeutic.

Let’s talk about skating kerbs in 2022. Do you feel that will be inspiration for the coming years or do you feel a mini ramp revival in the tea leaves?

It depends how high the mini ramp is! Once you get to five foot it’s a bit much now. The weird thing is if I’m skating a five foot mini I’ll still skate the coping and do some lip tricks and stuff. But if there’s a five foot quarter pipe in the skate park with loads of run up to it I won’t hit the lip because I’ve had too much time to think. I’ll overthink myself and just do a kickturn and go and skate something else. If it’s a mini ramp and I’m down one wall and faced with another with no time to think, I’m more comfortable. But yeah, kerbs are fun. During lockdown I started skating with Tommy and Seth and we’ve kept that crew going, which is a blessing. And a curse!

Looking back what filmers and photographers do you think you had the most intuitive relationship with?

I’ve been lucky to work with so many amazing ones. Chris Massey and Josh Stewart for sure. Cole Mathews. Photographers… well I’ve got to say Marley innit? Also Kingy, Percy, Wig, Leo, Jamie Owens, Rodent.

 

Olly Todd kickflipping the Meanwhile gap in a frontside direction. Shot by Stephen King
Olly harnesses his Sheffey memory and kickflips the Meanwhile gap in a frontside direction. PH: Stephen King

 

“It wasn’t a groundbreaking trick because it had been done before but it was a big thing for me…on a personal level that’s the best thing I ever did I think and my favourite photo.”

 

In retrospect what do you think was the gnarliest trick you ever rode away from?

For me personally, the kicklflip over the Meanwhile gap. It wasn’t a groundbreaking trick because it had been done before but it was a big thing for me. Kingy shot a sequence but only the middle frame worked because the flash glitched. Luckily that middle frame is there to document it because there was no filmer there that day. Even though it had been done before, on a personal level that’s the best thing I ever did I think and my favourite photo.

I would have bet on the tre flip in New York from Static III.

I think I just looked up to the Meanwhile gap as a UK skater so much, so that trick is just more meaningful to me. That was three trips going back to get that tre flip in Static III. It’s weird that that is also the same movement though, travelling frontside bank to bank on both of those tricks. Right after I made that tre flip I was going to the shop to get a drink. I stepped off my board to walk to the shop and stepped straight into dog shit. The lord giveth and the lord taketh away.

Thanks for talking us through what really is the remarkable journey of a veteran. 30 years of magazine coverage. We talked about it being the same kind of timeline as Shier although you are younger. Do you think it was all those years skating alone at the start which gave you the drive to do what you have done?

Shier is the man, I’ve always been so impressed by his commitment to skating, but yeah it’s been a long old journey. I think probably, yeah, all those years skating alone I think it taught me self-discipline, or was the result of self-discipline I already had. Either way I think that’s a fair assessment.

You have achieved such a lot within skateboarding and are beginning to do the same with your writing. Are you able to feel fulfilled by these things at the time and enjoy the moment or is it onto the next?

I think it’s onto the next because the satisfying thing is having a project to work towards. In terms of writing, quite simply, the writing is the reward. It echoes that old cliché that the journey is the destination. That’s all true. It’s difficult to understand that as a young writer or a young skater because you’re impatient. You learn patience as you get older.

What are you excited about that’s happening in skateboarding right now?

The inclusivity in skating is something I’ve always been really proud of about our culture. Compared to other sports we were always ahead on this front. I think it was always skating’s destiny to be this place where disillusioned or misrepresented or marginalised people could belong and feel welcome.

Last words?

My journey has only been possible through the people I’ve been lucky enough to meet along the way and to connect with, and share skateboarding with. Shout out to my OG Whitehaven crew, Cumbria & Barrow crew, Teeside, Liverpool, Worcester & Birmingham, LA, London, PWBC.

 


 

We’d like to say a huge thank you to Olly for taking time out of his busy schedule to share his story with us. We highly rcommend you buy his new book Out For Air from Penned In The Margins. His first book of poems Odeum Spotlights is also still available from Rough Trade Books.

This interview is dedicated to the memory of Dean ‘Bod’ Broderick, Steven ‘Bingo’ Binks and Chris Massey.

Thanks as always to Science Vs Life for mag scans and moral support. Thanks also to Wig Worland, Leo Sharp, Dominic Marley, Sam Ashley, Benjamin Deberdt, Josh Stewart and Stephen King for delving into their archives for this.

Previously by Jacob Sawyer: Paul Shier Interview: “If someone is paying you to skate and you can travel the world, you’ve got to appreciate what you have and put all you have into it.”, Benjamin Deberdt: London / Paris / New York, LIGHTBOX: Karl Watson by Mike Blabac, Ode To Victoria Benches with Dan Magee, Nick Jensen and Toby Shuall, Dominic Marley: 5000 Words, Daewon Song Interview: “It’s never too late to progress and never too late to come back when you think that’s it”.