I started freestyling in 2001. Back then, finding other freestylers was nigh-impossible – and getting proper freestyle product was even harder. When the first British “new era” (read: post-90s) freestyle competition was held in 2003, there was only something like seven people there. Hell, the event was so small, it didn’t even make it into LateTricks’ contest database.
Honestly, at points it felt like freestylers were fighting a losing battle. I remember literally walking into shops and emailing company owners throughout the 2000s and early 2010s and asking for some support for freestyle only to be told, over and over again, that freestyle was “dead”. That no one was interested in it. Or, worse still, that they “liked freestyle, but we don’t want to scare away our market by being associated with it.” This was the way freestyle was treated. The way it was talked about.
If you’re only coming into freestyle now, this might sound strange – but you have to understand the context. Freestyle was last seen by most skateboarders in the mass cull of the early 90s, when anything which wasn’t street skateboarding was taken out back and summarily executed. The re-emerging freestyle scene in the early 2000s consisted of two groups: former pros and sponsored ams from the late 80s who were dusting off old boards and relearning old tricks, and young kids like me who were largely having to reinvent the wheel in isolation. The skill level of most freestylers back then was low, and if we’re honest, consistency and style was rare. Freestyle wasn’t in a good place.
But one country really bucked the trend. The Fujii brothers had managed to keep freestyle alive in Japan, and the skating in Japan was above and beyond anything else happening worldwide at the time as a result. By the time they hit the mid 2010s, they not only had an established contest circuit, but they had managed to nurture up-and-coming skaters and create some of the best freestylers in the world. They showed what could be done with proper organisation and scene-building.
You might have heard of this Japanese prodigy: Isamu Yamamoto.
Meanwhile, here in the UK, my generation was finally finding its feet. Alex Foster had started a website called LateTricks and, along with Matthew Smithies, was arranging UK meets, sessions and demos to bring the few British freestylers together, documenting it all on his YouTube channel. Denham Hill started travelling around the country, teaching the first fully-accredited skateboard coaches before finally settling in at LS-TEN skatepark in Leeds, spreading freestyle everywhere he went. Moonshine Skateboards, a US/UK vert company, started producing freestyle boards, bringing freestyle product into the UK and making it accessible for the first time since the 80s. And I, for my part, was working for a couple of American skateboard companies, co-hosting a podcast and building up a library of trick tips and other freestyle info. And all of this was working. Slowly, but surely, attendance levels at sessions were rising. The UK scene was growing; the old joke of “there used to be five of us. Now there’s six!” was rapidly becoming outdated (if still referenced heavily between Alex and myself).
One of the earlier LateTricks jams: Southbank, 2014
By the end of 2019, it was rapidly becoming obvious that something more coherent needed to happen to pull the UK scene together – especially as organisations like Skateboard GB and the UKSSA had no point of contact for freestyle in this country, and we had no way to formally interact with other national and international freestyle organisations like the JFSA, GFSA and the WFSA (those are the Japanese, German, and Worldwide freestyle associations, respectively). And so a freestyler in London named Aaron Watts hatched a plan, we met at the start of 2020 to fill in the paperwork, and the UKFSA was born.
And then a pandemic appeared.
Immediately, all our best laid plans went awry. The contest location scouting stopped, the UK Round Up for the summer went straight out the window, and the first AGM went from an in-person meeting to a hastily organised Zoom call. Everyone hid in their back gardens and garages and did their best to keep their railflips on lock, and we agreed to reconvene when things were safe.
Well, at the time of writing, things are finally starting to look up. Vaccines are being rolled out (at least 50% of the UKFSA Management Committee is now fully vax’d up), lockdown restrictions are being rolled back, and case numbers are down. Obviously we still need to be hesitant, but if 2020 has shown me one thing, it’s that interest in freestyle in this country has never been higher; freestyle board sales at Offset Skate Supply have absolutely exploded, and Instagram feeds are filling up with fingerflips, Caspers and pogos (but mostly railflips) as people across the UK figure out what to do on their new boards.
As such, let me introduce you to the UKFSA.
You can read more about the UKFSA, who we are, and our goals here, but in short, we aim to not only help freestyle in the UK continue to grow, but to provide a way for freestylers on this island to connect with each other and improve as the years go on. Japan has shown what can be done when the current professionals and leading amateurs in a nation put the time in to raise the next generation, and historically, the UK has had a great tradition in freestyle; some of the all-time best freestylers hail from Britain, and we’re hoping that the UKFSA will help to create and support many more.
Pandemics, Brexit and rain aside, there’s never been a better time to be a British freestyler, and I’m excited to see what comes next.