Filmmaker Guy Thomson discusses his history with skateboarding, the man who inspired a short film, and how the industry and sport have developed since he first picked up the board back in 2001

GROWING up, it seemed inevitable I’d become a skateboarder.

Nurtured through a steady stream of second-hand clothes and cultural nods via my ­influential older cousin Colin, it was simply a matter of when, not if.

The first skateboard I owned was from Index which was one of the high street catalogue stores that existed back in 2001. In hindsight, it was brutal, it weighed a tonne, had cheap grip tape, and wheel bearings which seemed to rust before your eyes. The only thing it had going for it was its alien graphic, which was tolerable at best.

As with entry into most new activities ­growing up, you’d have to prove to your parents you weren’t going to abandon the project within a ­fortnight for them to even consider making a serious investment.

As it went, I picked up skating relatively quickly and began coasting around the neighbourhood with my two partners in crime who had decided to follow suit.

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There was another group in our year who had ­already begun their skateboarding journey. They had progressed from beginner skateboards and were ­generally considered to be socially superior to us.

Time went by and as I improved, my cheap ­skateboard disintegrated. It had served its purpose, and I could now confidently approach Colin for my first “proper” skateboard. Although second hand, it was a massive improvement – a semi-worn blank red 7.5” deck and Venture Trucks, with mystery wheels and bearings. Everything I had learned up until that point became easier which led to a heightened ­enthusiasm and determination to learn new tricks.

For whatever reason, I learned to kickflip at a much earlier stage in my development than most. Once word got out to the “cooler”’ skate crew that I could kickflip, I was summoned to one of their parents’ driveways after school to prove the legend was true. They were, of course, highly sceptical, but I managed to perform a standing kickflip on my second or third attempt and immediately, the mood changed. I had graduated to the “cool crew” which regretfully meant waving goodbye to my once fellow catalogue skaters.

Back then there wasn’t really a proper skatepark in Glasgow, The current incarnation of Kelvingrove wouldn’t appear till 2005, which meant we all graduated in street skating. We would have to make do with all manner of stairs, ledges, rails, and the custom fun boxes which people would assemble themselves.

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Around this time, skateboarding was seeing an upturn in interest thanks to the success of the Tony Hawk Pro Skater video game series. But despite this, the skate scene largely clung on to its ­subculture status where outsiders were met with suspicion and skateparks would often be seen as intimidating ­places for those seeking acceptance.

In 2004, I finished school and turned 18. This ­resulted in new avenues to explore and regretfully my skateboarding fell by the wayside and entered a period of extended hibernation.

I spent my 20s partying, working in kitchens, ­studying film, and picking up freelance camera work along the way as I began to develop my craft. Although I never seemed to find the motivation to skate, I was always among people who did. I shared one flat with the skateboard videographer Paul ­McConnach, who was editing his film Dalriada (2018) at the time. This gave me an insight as to what it might be like to combine my passion for filmmaking with my love for skateboarding.

Then 2020 came along and everything changed for everyone

Despite a first home purchase falling through and a long-term relationship ­ending, I came out of the pandemic with my family and friends intact and a secure job which I was grateful for.

As lockdown began to loosen its grip on society, the “new me” was seeking a past time to take advantage of this ­newfound freedom. The pandemic made me ­realise how much I hated going to the gym, so the hunt was already ­underway for a new and inexpensive form of ­exercise. ­Skateboarding would enable me to improve my health and socialise with people whilst adhering to distancing guidelines, so it seemed like a no brainer.

I was slightly nervous at the prospect of revisiting skateboarding following a 15-year absence and harboured doubts such as, am I too old and will people take me seriously? Fortunately, my good friend and co-founder of Treatment Skateboards, Kashif Saghar put my mind at ease as he encouraged me to ignore any negativity and simply pick up where I’d left off.

As I went about the business of plotting my return and investing in a new ­skateboard, I discovered that everything had changed since 2004. The clothes were skinnier, the boards were fatter, the spots were different and of course, the people I skated with back in the day were no longer around.

I was pleased to discover that in ­Glasgow there were many more skate spots than before.

Kelvingrove, the Riverside Museum and several DIYs had popped up ­including The Arches, Kingston, and Burnfield. Glasgow now had an indoor skatepark – The Loading Bay – which I was overjoyed at, although admittedly a tad bitter that it had not existed whilst I was growing up.

My go-to spot was the Riverside ­Museum as the people who hung out there were open, friendly and there was a pleasant atmosphere. To my surprise, there were now loads of girls skateboarding too. Girl skaters barely existed in the early 2000s so this was a notable ­development. Gone was the cliquey air of intimidation, replaced with a sense of encouragement and optimism.

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As I began to meet more people, I ­noticed there was always this older dude taking photos of the skaters. I asked around and discovered his name was Kerr Melville (above) and he had an ­Instagram ­account called Art Of The Valley Boy which hosted ­hundreds of skate pics. What instantly struck me about Kerr’s work was the diversity within his ­collection, it encompassed the entire scene, and I could see no barrier in terms of age, gender, or ability.

A passion project involving skating had been at the back of my mind for a while, but I didn’t want to produce your ­typical skate film focusing on just the tricks. There were plenty of other people doing that within the scene already.

I wondered whether a mutually ­beneficial collaboration could be on the cards. One where I would get to explore the scene using Kerr as my vessel, and he would acquire a film helping to gain recognition for his photography. I think I had said hello to Kerr once or twice in passing before I made my approach and asked if he fancied working together. To my delight, he enthusiastically agreed.

We really didn’t know the first thing about each other, so it was certainly a blank canvas for the both of us as we became acquainted. We decided that I should shadow him over several days ­incorporating an observational/cinema vérité approach.

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The first day of filming was at ­Burnfield DIY in the southside of Glasgow. I had a wonderful day meeting everyone and ­observing their different methods of ­skating. As Kerr went about the business of taking photos and his quirky character ­began to surface, it was then that I knew I’d stumbled upon the perfect lead for my film.

As the days of filming continued, I met more and more people and ­uncovered many new spots to skate. I began to ­realise how intertwined Kerr was with the scene and that he shot all his ­photographs for free. His dedication was quite incredible, he’d travel back and forth from Balloch first thing in the morning then last thing at night several days a week. There was no way I could possibly keep up, so it got to a point where I needed to prioritise and think about how to structure my film.

Despite Kerr’s often cartoonish ­behaviour, he is quite shy around ­people he’s unfamiliar with, so it took a little convincing to let me interview him. Route One and Loaded in Glasgow and Fife kindly offered us their stores to ­conduct our interviews. Everyone I ­interviewed had nothing but good things to say about Kerr – we had a great time sharing ­little anecdotes and tales of his hilarious ­behaviour.

What had begun as an idea for a short film had grown arms and legs. It was after the interviews that I realised there was more to be documented than simply Kerr’s story alone.

The changes I’d witnessed within the scene impressed me to such an extent that I decided to commit myself to a long-term project. The plan was to feature Kerr, his method of skate photography, the DIY scene, and provide an insight into the world of Scottish skateboarding for those on the periphery.

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This was by far the largest ­project I’d ­undertaken, and it was quite ­overwhelming at times, given the vast amount of footage I’d have to sift through. Despite the daunting nature of the task at hand, what kept me ­motivated was the scene itself. Everyone was so ­supportive, and I was confident Kerr was the right person to front the project given his standing within the scene.

Skateboarders are very determined ­people who demonstrate a level of ­commitment that I’ve found can be found lacking in other circles. This trait originates through the time and dedication it takes to learn tricks and is applied to their other creative endeavours. An ­example ­being the DIY skateparks ­dotted across the city. These ­Frankenstein skateparks have grown over many years, funded through the generosity of those with links to the scene. However, their future is ­never certain, and they can disappear overnight which was the ­unfortunate fate suffered by Burnfield DIY in October 2023.

Without warning, the site was ­demolished, leaving behind a trail of ­resentment and frustration that so much hard work and dedication could be ­cruelly swept away. Our spot at Riverside suffered a similar blow when sections of the park were demolished to make way for the new Govan-Partick footbridge, which is documented within the film.

Besides the evolution of skate spots, the biggest change within the scene has been the culture and the diversity with which it welcomes people however they chose to identify. Skateboarding is now an ­Olympic sport which attracts people from all walks of life. The rise of social media has enabled minorities to find their voice, resulting in queer skate crews such as the Edinburgh-based SkateBoobs collective, and jams and competitions now tend to include male, female, and mixed sessions.

In terms of developing the scene for the future, Scotland has several notable organisations.

Skateboard GB, the home of Olympic skateboarding in Great Britain works closely with Skateboard Scotland to ­harness grassroots skateboarding across the country. Scotland hub and operations lead Jonny Paterson, who features in the film, is based at the Loading Bay in ­Glasgow, and works to identify, create, and shape a pathway for long-term ­success.

Skateboard Scotland – a membership-based organisation formed in 2003 – aims to encourage the development of world-class facilities by helping community groups get skateparks built, run events, and attract international interest. Their website includes an interactive map detailing every skatepark in Scotland, and you can find regulatory guidelines if you were looking to build a skatepark within your own community.

Livingston Skatepark has recently achieved listed building category B status and the newly opened Passion Park in Dundee offers skaters in that city a safe space throughout the winter months.

However, with no indoor facility in the capital city and many skateparks ­being built without the consultation and knowledge of skateboarders, Scotland is a long way off catering to the ­growing demand around the country. A

s the scene continues to develop and grow on its own regardless of government budgets or spending, the evolution of independent brands such as Clan, Loaded, Re:ply, and Treatment confirms that where there is a will, there is a way, and skateboarders will certainly find a way.

Guy Thomson is a videographer and documentary filmmaker from Glasgow. Valley Boy is available now on YouTube, for more information visit here.