Two tenners, a now almost gone (but never forgotten) spot and a style inspired by a local legend.
In this interview we spoke to Conhuir Lynn to talk about sleeping on floors, sneaking into Glastonbury and a phone call that changed everything. Enjoy –
Interview by Stephen Cox
Photography by Stuart Robinson and Chris Johnson
Let’s start from the beginning.
I’m from Belfast. I started skating in 1998, just after the Koston backside noseblunt cover came out. I was completely oblivious to how good that was. I started skating was because my brother Denis had a board. I was eleven and he was about five. He was just rolling around on a board that I previously owned. I begged my mum for a tenner and I had to call my dad who lived across town for another tenner and I went to Argos and bought this little crappy board. It took me the whole day of begging to get those two tenners. We just started skating around the street. It was amazing. My mum was doing a course near St. Anne’s, she would look out the window and she would see these skaters in the square and suggested that she would take me. A couple of days after, Denis and me went down. We met everybody and from there we were addicted. It was unlike anything else you could experience in Belfast. You only had the mainstream sports thrown at you. Because I played, football, Gaelic and Hurley my whole life it was such an eye opening experience to be involved with something where you make your own rules. I loved it instantly.
St Anne’s has always been a big part of skateboarding for Belfast.
St Anne’s was in my opinion one of the best spots I have ever skated on the planet. It rivaled Love Park in many ways. It was a lot smaller though and set into two circles. There was a main circle at the front and it had edges going the whole way around from and outer ring to an inner ring to another small inner ring with a marble sculpture in the middle. There were gaps, stairs, and ledges. At the back there was a set of stairs with ledges and there were perfect benches. It had everything that you needed to learn. The only problem with it was that skating at that time wasn’t as advanced as it is now so it wasn’t fully utilized. Back then it was just pure skating, no one was competing or anything, there was no flip in flip out stuff. It was the kind of spot that people would travel far and wide to come and see. This was before the Internet so no one had seen it. I remember when the Unabomber guys came over they thought it was unbelievable. Vaughan [Baker] came over and skated it and thought it was incredible. We grew up there. I only had about two or three years of it and then they knocked it down. It attracted a lot of skagheads and gluebags.
Did you run into a lot of trouble?
It was so sketchy man. We used to get chased all that time; they were just bored out of their heads. We had our own little culture and they couldn’t understand it. They used to ransack the place. Denis and me would be there – two children – and they would just chase us through town. If they caught you, you were fucked. In that respect, the council couldn’t have that. At that point in time, that part of town was no man’s land. You were pushing the boat out a bit going there. There was a lot of drug taking going on there, fights, vandalism and shit like that. Skateboarding always tends to lend a hand to that sort of culture too. It shines a bad light on us. In saying that, I did feel safe too because of the guys I was with. They made my childhood safe and secure. They took Denis and me under their wing. I think that’s missing from skating these days. We still do it, but because skateboarding is so big now it seems like it’s lost it’s personal touch.
The Waterfront used to be a better spot too.
I loved it. It was just a square with a two block; on the other side there was a small three block and a big one. Back in the day I just wanted to jump off anything I could find. The same thing happened there, the difference was that you had problems with security too. We used to get kicked out all the time. Luckily I never ended up in any fights but I have seen many a skateboard being swung at somebody’s head.
There have been a few parks over the years before Bridges.
No one ever took any of the skateparks as permanent. You would go in, think it’s amazing then just know that one day it’s going to stop. It started with Ballygowan, which was just in a guy’s shed. There was no official opening time. It was so small but it was amazing at the time. You had to call the guy to go but know one knew his number. If you drove twenty miles to get there and he wasn’t in, you had to leave. Then Bangor skatepark appeared out of nowhere. The first night I went I was just said, “what the fuck is this?” It had everything. We rinsed that place. It was open for two years maybe. The guys couldn’t sustain the rent. Eddie Irvine owned the unit, once it was realized how popular it was, the rent kept going up. They guys then had to shrink and shrink until the point where there was a fucking go-kart track open which then attracted more attention and the park had to close. All credit to those guys, they then opened a place on Boucher road.
The DVS team visited back then.
That was the first time I’d ever seen any American pros. It was Jereme Rogers, Steve Berra, Jeron Wilson and Paul Shier.
What impression do you think they had?
It’s hard to say really. The good thing is that they skated all night. I know from experience that if you don’t like somewhere, you’ll just do what job requires you to do. You won’t really skate and enjoy it. But they showed up and actually skated. We weren’t asking them for autographs or trying to drink their sweat or some shit, we were just honored that they were there and we wanted to watch them. It was amazing because they didn’t feel overwhelmed or that it was a demo, they were just skating with us. I was in there skating as well, and was in my element. Still to this day, there aren’t that many people visiting Belfast. A lot Kenny Reed’s footage from Static 2 was from here though.
Who inspires you right now in Belfast?
Big Stu and Ryan O’Neile have inspired me. Big Stu has overcome a turbulent medical condition, he overcame a kidney transplant and I respect that. He’s skating again and it’s been such a hard time for him. Ryan went through the same surgery that I have too.
Can you tell us about Dee Corr?
Dee was and still is an amazing part of the Belfast skateboarding scene. I knew him from when i was a kid. He had a very troubled upbringing but was always nice, humble and kind. He was an incredible artist. He had an amazing style on the skateboard and loved it. He’s the only person I know who loved skateboarding to the point where it consumed him. He’s the kind of person that if he lost his legs he would still be on the board somehow. He became homeless after getting thrown out of his mum’s house. He started drinking very heavily and it was a downwards spiral from there. My mum works with a lot of alcoholics and has a lot of firsthand experience of what it takes to help people in that situation. She tried to help him too. I helped Dee try and get a house under the Housing Executive every day at the same time and he always had the best intention but alcohol gave him a way to deal with a situation that he couldn’t deal with. He became more and more emotional towards his death. He would stay off the booze for a week or two and he was doing well which was an amazing achievement. But the he would slip up. He eventually got a home after about nine months of living on the streets through sheer persistence – and he made some mistakes along the way – but he got there. He got set up in a sketchy area in the New Lodge flats. He would play music full blast and put his mates up from the street in the flat. The guy above him didn’t like it. He complained again and again then one night – it was about eight in the evening – the guy above him lost his head and went at him with a knife and stabbed him twenty-two times. He stabbed him in his hands, his arms, his legs but it was the final stab to his chest that killed him. I know the guy has been sentenced but at what point do you realize after stabbing someone that many times to stop? Does it take someone stabbing twenty-two instead of twenty-one times to realize? He was so defenseless, it wasn’t a fight. It was an attack. It was pre-medicated murder.
What was the guy sentenced?
Fifteen years minimum, which was fuck all. Fifteen years for murder in cold blood, what the fuck is that?
How has the skateboarding community in Belfast reacted to it?
It has brought a lot of people together. Dee’s memorial is in the park; people show respect by not spraying over it, which I think is amazing. I really like that. It’s nice to see it untainted. That park was his home when he had no home; he was there every day.
Why was there such a big surge of skateboarding in Belfast at one point?
Honestly, I think it was computer games. Any time skating touches mass media, there is a boom. Justin Bieber has been “accused” of skating [laughs]. The other day I saw one of the Beckham kids wearing a WeSC backpack. I know it’s a fashion brand but it was initially a skateboard brand. Skateboard culture is now cool, it’s taken a long time to get there but it’s now fashionable. Kids nowadays are going to school wearing Vans and they have no idea of the origins involved.
Is it a bad thing?
No I think it’s great. Fair play to all the companies who have worked so hard to get where they are. Most people say “sellout, sellout” and that shit but keeping it real doesn’t pay. You have to understand that. Keeping it real yeah, but do you have any food in your cupboards? Are you going to be stoked when you’re sixty and you have arthritis and you can’t walk? One thing is the passion and the passion never goes away. The love for it stays. You get to the point where you make an entrepreneurial decision: “I can actually make some money out of this”. For all those guys who have pushed their brands themselves and got that far, all credit to them. They deserve it. The more kids that are into skating, the better. If skating were to go in the Olympics, that’s fine. The only problem I would have with skateboarding going really mainstream is that there would be a governing body, which would induce politics. That wouldn’t work. I have no problem with skateboarding reaching mass media. It stops people throwing stones [laughs].
Do Liam and Bernie Rae still skate?
They were the two shining lights. They were the brothers who opened doors for Denis and me. Bernard still is one of the most naturally gifted skateboarders I have ever seen in my life. He skates every now and again. He was out skating with me about six months ago. Bernie reminds me of Ronnie O’ Sullivan. He’s the most talented skateboarder ever just like Ronnie is with snooker. But they both struggle with form. Confidence was probably a big issue with Bernard.
Why do you say that?
Speaking for myself, confidence was hard to have. It’s hard to maintain. If you lose it, it seems impossible to get back.
Does that have something to do with being well known within your own scene?
No. Confidence is different from arrogance. When I was younger my dad would slap my face off my head if he seen me being arrogant. It’s not something I was allowed to feel. I appreciate his teaching in that. But confidence is simply from the sports perspective. You need to believe you can do what you’re gong to do. The guys on Street League are that good because they have the most amazing talent backed with supreme confidence. I think a lot of people struggle with confidence. Still in my eyes though, Bernard is my favorite skater and always will be. I have such high regard for him. He taught me a lot and watching him skate so effortlessly, I always tried to base my style on his. Everyone has in Belfast.
When did you first start getting product?
It all started with Ramp and Rail. It was a skatepark in Dublin. It was the pivotal moment in my skateboarding life. They used to hold little contests and invite people from the UK over. It was the first time Ireland was really connected to the UK. It was the only permanent park that we had. By this stage I was about fourteen and entering contests. I had won that, and entered some over eighteen contests, which I won and was over the moon with. Wayne and Mike who owned Borderco, they were riding for éS at the time and had a connection with Soletech. At the time the team manager gave a call to éS and said, “this little kid Conhuir is good you should give him a couple of pairs of shoes”. My toes were hanging out of my shoes and my mum was a single parent and couldn’t afford new gear all the time. I got hooked up through the park. I was getting Koston 3s and at the time they were the most amazing skate shoes ever. Then I got invited over to London for a contest at the old Playstation, which is now Bay Sixty Six. Liam and me went over a couple of days early and skated the streets. I filmed most of my Six Counties part in London in a couple of days. I entered the over eighteens contest and won. I met Pete Turvey then, he was the most welcoming guy ever. To this day, he’s still my team manager. He’s the best hands down. He cares and has your back. It’s really nice to have someone from when you are a child until now. That was shoes, then I was getting flowed boards from Boarderco. That was like “fuck!” because boards were so disposable.
What way exactly did flow work?
That’s an interesting one because there’s not a defined amount. For instance, I was on flow for Reaction and I used to get a board a month. But at that stage, my skating was progressing so quickly that I needed way more. I would snap it the day I got it then have to skate an old board and think, “is there any point in me being on flow?” Wayne put me on Borderco and then I got boards any time I needed them, which was the biggest thing ever. Shoes, clothes, everything else can wait. Boards are thing that change your skating life.
When did you start getting recognized beyond that?
It all escalated from there. Travel is the catalyst. If you travel, things happen. You just have to be willing to go, to say yes, go hungry and sleep on the floor. There’s a lot of time when you see the older guys – because they’re in a different position from you – eating a steak dinner, you just take the free bread. You have to do it. No one gives your free lunch. You have to earn it. You can’t expect someone to buy you something because you’re you. They’ve been in that position. It takes a long time to get there and it’s very easy to fuck it up. The main thing you need is social skills. You can’t be an asshole, you can’t show up and demand. You can’t talk to someone as if they owe you something. No one owes you anything. You owe them. A lot of people go out of their way just to help you out. It takes a long time to build professional relationships with people, through doing that you build strong friendships.
Having mentioned sleeping on floors, where have you been?
It starts off small; you go to your local cities, the UK. Then you slowly make your way to Europe. The first place I went was Linköping in Sweden. I got on flow for Quicksilver. They were going to Germany and I went to this contest beforehand. Turvey went out on a limb to get me to this contest and they paid for my flight out of the budget. I was stupid enough to bring Euros. I landed in Stockholm and was one hundred and twenty miles away with no idea how to get there. I somehow managed to get on the last train of the day. I was fretting the whole way; wrong currency, didn’t know where to get off, on my own. I got off and this pilot who was at the airport called me a cab, I got to the hotel and begged reception to bill the fare to my room and she eventually did. In Sweden they go out of their way to learn English, which is rarely reciprocated. I skated the contest, didn’t place too well. The best trick came along and I won, aged sixteen. I switch 360 flipped the stairs. After that ridiculous trip! I met all the Quicksilver guys and we went all around Germany. From Germany I went straight to Barcelona and lived there for a while. That was the biggest eye opener for me.
How long did you live there?
About six months. It was Arto’s flat, which Antton Miettinen was renting. I slept on the floor. While we were there Ali Boulala stayed with us for four months, Penny stayed for two. Appleyard came through, so did Herman, Strubing and Spanky. I was seventeen and being around all those guys who very quickly become your friends – and because they’re so talented – you just think, “I should be skating like they do”. You feed off them and get to know them. You hear about their experiences from when they were your age.
Were you starstruck?
Once you meet these people you realize they’re just people with personalities. One thing about skateboarding I noticed is it can be very stressful, there is a lot demanded off you but you’re also required to do little. It’s a very strange thing. The pressure of bettering yourself is a crippling thing. You’re constantly adding another stair to what you have done before. You torture yourself.
Are some skaters oblivious to that?
The way I define it in my mind the guys who are naturally gifted and are amazing don’t have a clinical mind and don’t find it hard to go that extra mile. That’s the difference.
Does where you are from become a factor?
You’re always second-guessing really. I know this is a silly thing to say but because of where I’m from, I have always been like “how have I got here?” There are a million other kids who are better than me. That plagued me for a very long time. You don’t believe it’s happening. I use many a vice. I used to smoke tons of weed. When the weed stopped I used to drink quite a bit. I was never a stoner or an alcoholic though; I cut it off before that. You shouldn’t second-guess yourself.
How did $lave happen for you?
It’s the thing that I’m most proud of. It’s the most profound achievement for me. It’s a funny story actually I was on a tour with Dominick Dietrich in Austria in his camper van. We spent three months riding through Europe. We went to London and wanted to go to Glastonbury so badly. We packed up the van and a guy called Bullet who worked at Bay Sixty Six was driving. There were four security checkpoints when we got there. We rearranged everything in the people carrier, I got in the back with three boxes of product. They emptied the bottom two boxes and cut a hole in the second box so the two boxes merged into one with a box of product on top. I was in the bottom two. We drove through the first checkpoint, and then through the next checkpoint – hadn’t moved in two hours – the next morning there were still two checkpoints to go. The idea of going back into the box….I drank some Stella and got back in. I nearly pissed myself. At the last checkpoint the guy was looking around and started rustling around the product and though he had made us when he found glass bottles because they weren’t allowed [laughs]. I got smuggled into Glastonbury in a cardboard box. I was buzzing on life, no drink, barely any battery on my phone and then I got a call from an American number. It was Jamie. He said “Conhuir, I have something new. I don’t know if you’re interested.” I said, “yes” straight away. If anyone is going to do something right it was going to be Jamie. I didn’t need to know what it was. He said “I haven’t told you about it yet” [laughs]. He told me about who would be riding for $lave. I just kept thinking “why the fuck have I been picked?” Starting off that weekend, I was buzzing. I was in the states a lot beforehand with Etnies and with Zero but then I started going to The States a lot more with $lave.
When should we expect a $lave video?
I’m not sure if there is going to be another video just yet. Let’s keep our fingers crossed. I want to see another Pat Burke section. He put that one out online recently which was amazing! All the guys rip, I’d love too see another video!
Is style something that you consciously think about?
Style is the only thing in my mind that matters. I don’t think about it when I’m doing tricks though. If it doesn’t look good, I’ll try it again. I think style is a very natural thing. You can’t change your style. It’s cringe to watch fake style. Bu it’s just people trying, you have to admire the determination.
What about trends?
If I’m honest, these are the years that I’ve enjoyed skateboarding most because I’m not paying attention. I don’t watch videos religiously and I don’t poke holes. I go skating and learn what I want to learn. I used to always have an opinion. I was a mouthy little fucker. It just made me look like a cock. I couldn’t help it and I always had an opinion. Over the years as you get older you just realize. The more I have disconnected myself with the likes of YouTube and every video part that is dropping every other day I have been more inspired to skate. I will watch certain things but it’s so saturated now. You can’t find what you want to watch. I find myself watching video parts I watched years ago. Sight Unseen. I don’t look for what is currently happening in skateboarding. I don’t want to know what the new trick is.
How do you look at skating as a full time occupation compared to other employment that you have?
There’s a fine balance. If you let one thing devour you then you’re in trouble. If you let work or skateboarding take over your whole life then you’re in Shit Street. It has to do with self-gratification. I want to figure out what else I am good at apart from skateboarding whether it is learning a new instrument or building a chair.
How did the injury happen?
The injury was a nightmare. I was at a DC contest in Bristol, at Lloyds skating the big three, and the competition was best trick down the stairs. I went straight into trying a nollie cab down them. It was grand at the start but I was getting tired and frustrated because I’d put a couple of them down but not rolled away. Eventually I decided to just stomp one and when I came down it went wrong and I twisted as buckled. I ended up tearing my ACL, my meniscus and stretching my MCL. It was shit. Worst pain I’ve felt. The doctors at first were shit. They told me there was no bone damage and I was fine. So they sent me off and refused to give me crutches. I came home and got an MRI and took it from there.
How has it been since?
I got the surgery six weeks ago. Everything is repaired. So I’m deep into physio at the moment, building my whole leg back up. It’s on the mend and I’m going to be back skating by Autumn. It’s a long road but I’m glad I’m close to the finish line.
Let’s finish up with your thoughts on the opinions of people that don’t see skateboarding as a serious hobby or career path.
Once you tell people where skateboarding has taken you they take it a lot more seriously. Skateboarding will always define my life. I remember Mumford said in The Reason: “You’re always going to be skateboarder” You will never look at a set of stairs the same again. I’ll be ninety years old telling my grandkids about skateboarding! It’s an awakening experience to walk around and look at everything differently because of skateboarding. It’s not only very difficult, but it’s an avenue for people to be every creative. It’s still very unexplored.
Follow Conhuir Lynn on Instagram : @conhuir_mb
Follow Stephen Cox on Twitter: @stephen_coxy