I can only think of a few things in life that I enjoyed as much as riding a skateboard and watching skate videos. However, that has changed a bit by now and one out of many (!) reasons for me, personally, is the current development of skateboarding. Before there were video games, X-Games, and the 900, skaters were outcasts, who were doing their own thing, generally unobserved. First and foremost, there was less of everything and I think this was good for the culture that we built over the years. Nowadays, I have the feeling that our scene defines itself too much on the basis of fashion and brands. At least this aspect seems fairly present to me. A white shirt that has Supreme written on it is sold for almost 500 dollars on eBay and a label like Palace sells its jackets for a shitload of money to celebrities or people with inferiority complex. Skateboarding has arrived in the mainstream of society. The critical mass which makes us interesting for big corporations has been reached, skateboarding will be Olympic in 2020 and the independent companies, which have established a counter-movement in bigger cities, are used to distance oneself from the less savvy skaters. That seems pretty superficial and from time to time even surreal to me. But the climax of all the unimaginable things – and this is where Tom Knox comes in – consisted of those people that actually thought it would be a good idea to buy a company that is deeply rooted in London’s skate scene, put some American skaters on it and exploit it as much as possible. What did Max Liebermann once say? “I cannot eat as much as I would like to puke.” What’s really good news though, is the fact that the no longer required skaters from the mentioned company Blueprint turned their backs on the new owner in order to (among other things for the sake of Tom Knox, who represents pretty much everything that I love about skating) found a new, vivid, and free home in the form of Isle Skateboards. Here is our interview with him.
Hey Tom, it was difficult to get you on the phone. Where are you right now?
I’m on the road in Spain with the entire New Balance team. But since the team is fairly large by now, we have split up after a couple of days. One half went south and I’m up north with the rest of the guys.
Are you working on a video?
Not on an official full length video, but we are filming for a new edit. I don’t really know for sure what kind of edit it will be, but we try to put out good footage constantly. We just skate and Russell [Houghten] takes care of all the rest. I think it’s pretty good this way.
So New Balance is not planning on doing a full length?
No, not for now. We want to take it easy and consistently put out good content. A full length is a lot of work, you know? And while you are working for a project in those dimensions, it is hard to put out anything else on the sidelines. I think that it doesn’t make sense for a company to do nothing for two years in order to put out one big thing. Nowadays, it seems like it’s just not worth it, because people forget about full lengths fairly quickly.
Is that a problem that big companies have to deal with or would you say that all the hard work for Isle wasn’t really worth it after all?
I think, as for Isle, it was definitely worth it, but Isle is a much smaller crew, which is mainly based in London or at least England and the rest of Europe. So it’s a lot easier to meet up with no budget necessary. With the New Balance team it’s totally different. You have to put a lot more effort into it and it involves a lot of flying around and you have to get all the rights for the music etcetera.
Can you tell me what New Balance is planning concerning their skateboarding division?
It seems like they want to take it easy and take a proper route. I think they try to produce really good and durable skate shoes and put together a solid team in the meantime. They don’t want to rush anything and do it step by step without overstraining themselves. The way I see it, they didn’t come to conquer anything. They try to make a good product with all the experience they have from making running shoes.
You became a father around the time that Vase dropped. What has changed for you since then?
Wow. A lot has changed for me, that’s a pretty crazy change in life. Rosie has been born five months ago and it’s incredible! At first it can be tough because you don’t really get a lot of sleep. But it’s great. You suddenly have a task, a purpose. There’s someone who really needs you and that is a great feeling. You have a lot of responsibility for sure and don’t drift through life unburdened and only think about skating or whatever, but this can also be a good thing. You are rising to a challenge. Forasmuch a lot has changed. But my lady Kelly is unbelievable. She’s at home right now and taking care of the baby girl and does a great job!
"A lot has changed for me, that’s a pretty crazy change in life"
You’re riding for the Lost Art Skateshop in Liverpool, but have always lived in London. How did that happen?
Because of Dave Mackey. When I got on Blueprint, I went on a trip with him and at the end he asked me. It was an honor. And because I haven’t been riding for any other shop, it was for sure that I’d say yes. He’s a true skateboarder and the shop represents what it’s all about for him. There are people from all over England, even the whole world, who ride for the Lost Art Skateshop.
Can it be annoying because everyone gets at you for stuff?
Nah… it’s all cool. I’m just happy that I can represent such a sick shop, which does so much good for skateboarding. But you’re right, they have the best shirts and everything. By now it has almost become somewhat of a clothing brand.
Back to London. Southbank was really close to be torn down. What impact would that have had on the scene?
It is really important that we were able to save the Southbank. Sometimes I go there and even when the place can be really strange, I see a lot of good skating. And for the kids it’s really important to have a place in the center where they can learn to skate and explore the city from there on. If you only go to local skateparks, this is rather difficult. From Southbank you can push along the entire river and hit up all the street spots. It’s really good that they were able to save the spot. I can’t really believe it, it was a huge success.
Vase was a pretty big success as well. You have gotten a bunch of awards for the video and the team. How do you feel about it in retrospective?
Fuck. The whole project was just great. The dude that’s behind it, Jacob, is my best friend and I lived with him for the time doing it. We have been skating together since age 14 or 15 and it’s great that the story has continued like this and developed the way it did. While you film a part, you go through different phases. Sometimes you’re always with the same guys, then you’re almost on your own for some time, but it’s always fun. Ok, not always, but that’s part of the deal and makes the whole thing so beautiful and to work on this project with Jacob was simply the most natural thing in the world. If you invest so much time in a project like this, it’s just really nice to have a physical memory of the time doing it. I watch the video all the time and still dig it. It gives me a good feeling. When I watch the intro, I’m hyped straight away. And it was crazy to get all those awards. Best Video, Best Brand, Best Videographer, they even gave me Best European Part and it is extremely cool to know that people really liked the project, which you have been working on so hard. You always find yourself doubting for a long time and then you get to know that the people think it’s sick and that it motivates them to go out and skate.
"As a kid I grew up watching the Blueprint videos"
How long were you on Blueprint before it started to suck?
To be honest, I think that it started to suck right at the time when I got on. [laughs
] As a kid I grew up watching the Blueprint videos. My friend had First Broadcast on VHS and I watched this video every day and same with Lost and Found. It was my religion. When I got on, they just finished Make Friends with the Colour Blue and after that video there wasn’t really much going on anymore. You could feel that the people who were involved got more and more frustrated. That’s why I have to admit that I missed the glory days, which is really unfortunate. But it’s alright, at least they made something good.
That would have been my next question. After all, do you think that it was good that Blueprint died so Isle could be born?
Well, the way it was at the end, we can be glad that it went down. But it would’ve been nice, if it would’ve just stayed the same as before.
But do you think that Blueprint, as it existed before, would have gotten as much attention as Isle did?
I think that Blueprint was bigger back in the days than Isle is today. But we owe all of this to Dan Magee. I mean, skaters were really good back then, but that wasn’t the only reason why we loved Blueprint. This feeling, this atmosphere was created by Dan Magee. Regarding today it's hard to say as it's all context, when Blueprint was at its peak there wasn't easy access to videos, so to see such a high quality video coming from a scene that was not that well known probably shocked people. The way Magee represented English skating was amazing. I do think people still appreciate a well thought out image and videos. So in that sense, yes, I think it could still be great today. It is always good to start fresh though, and Isle now has freedom to do what they want. It's an amazing crew with no previous image to keep up, I'm really stoked on how it's all going.