Nick Smith, The Man Who Catalysed India’s Evolving Skateboarding Culture - Homegrown

Nick Smith, The Man Who Catalysed India’s Evolving Skateboarding Culture

In our country, we’re used to the mammoth representation of a few sports, while others linger in their shadows. Cricket and well, cricket steal most of the spotlight while motor sports, football, hockey and other more traditional sports also enjoy their 15 minutes but when it comes to the less recognised—the surfers, the skateboarders, the rock climbers and the likes—we’re talking closer to zero awareness. People assume that the volume of people indulging in the sport is too little to create any impact however, given the magnitude of our population alone, if we were to bring all the performers from all the cities together and give that sub culture a platform, you’d realise just how sizeable that number is. And this is exactly what we did with skateboarding.
Today, we will be decoding skateboarding in India and tracing its journey from sub-culture to bonafide movement. Not to mention the man who catalysed it all— Nick Smith. I came across Nick around 4 years ago when I was delving deep into India’s skateboard scene for my ex agency, when we were pitching for a VANS account. At the same time, I uncovered various kids who were skating across the country, including an american kid from Bhopal who knew about a skate park being opened in Bangalore by none other than Smith. The more research I did, the more apparent it became that Nick was positively instrumental in both building the play arena skate park (India’s only proper skate park) and forming the Holy Stoked Collective, a name synonymous with skateboarding in India today.
Though we didn’t get off to the best start 4 years ago, having interacted with him closely over the past year thanks to our association with the Third Eye Tour, suffice to say we’ve come a long way. I’ve been able to gain keen insight into this man’s amazing story as well as his incredible vision for spreading the stoke across our country and that time has been invaluable.
Nick will soon be Homegrown’s skateboarding correspondent/contributor for India, wherein he’ll be chronicling the country’s best skaters and the movement itself. So before that rolled out, we thought it would only be fair to uncover more about his own skateboarding journey.
Read on for the full script of the interview:
1. HG: Nick Smith, a name synonymous with skateboarding in India. Tell us a little bit about yourself and your initial foray into the world of skateboarding here.
NS:  The bug bit me when I was 10, we didn’t have any boards in the UK then so I stole this pallet with wobbly wheels from the back of a supermarket and used to throw myself down slopes on it!
Guess that’s why I’ve been so passionate about seeing skateboarding thrive in India, as it reminds me of those times which where so pivotal in my life and forever etched in my memories. I’ve been to a lot of different countries to skate and have skated and hung out with some amazing people since then but I still get hyped when I get mails from Indian dudes who are learning to skate or struggling to even get hold onto a board to start learning. Things have come a long way in India and it’s such a trip to see pockets of skaters popping up all over the country now.
I came from a background of building our own ramps etc, simply because there weren’t any so I really understand the challenges facing India’s emerging skate culture.

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2. HG: You were instrumental in building a bowl for VANS in Goa almost a decade ago. Was that your first journey to the country? and what was that experience like back in the day?
NS:  Firstly, I built built this for myself. Vans did bring a bunch of skaters for an event there once but they didn’t have any other involvement. I’d been to India quite a few times before I chose to build that skatepark, always loved the country but never really thought of skating there as the conditions were so harsh. Guess I was having a midfield crisis or something like that but it occurred to me that it would be possible to create a kind of skate ranch / retreat in Goa so I set about finding a suitable property to make it happen.
When I did the deal with the landlord I remember telling him that I would rent the place for 4 years and when I left, he’d have a pool! That’s pretty much what happened too. The place became a Mecca for skaters from all over the world and it wasn’t uncommon for there to be 30 or so skaters living there at any one time.
We had events, all night skate sessions, films made there and loads of simply amazing times. It wasn’t all plain sailing though and sometimes it was tough to keep it going as I’d paid for the whole build myself and the place never made any money beyond a few hundred rupee donations for accommodation.
Still, without doubt the most amazing period of my life (so far) though and I’m so stoked the place still gets skated from time to time and it’s touching how many skaters still want to make the pilgrimage there.
3. HG: I remember getting in touch with you during my stint at Jack in The box, to find out about the play arena skate park you built. Could you tell us how that happened and what was it like to work on India’s first proper skate park?
NS:  Sure, I remember those calls man, we didn’t get off to the best of starts but stoked to have you as a friend now. Not blowing smoke up your hole but I have a lot of respect for what you’re doing and the energy and passion you put into it.
That leads neatly into how the Grind Park came into being, as in it took a lot of both energy and passion! I met a sports consultant on a train to Tirapur and we got talking about the potential for skateboarding in India. A few months later he starts calling about this project and I didn’t really think it would happen. But then I got confirmation that it was on and a ticket (didn’t know at the time it was only one way hehe) and it all began. Seeing as the Goa build was entirely organised by me and took 6 weeks, I mistakenly thought that working with professional contractors this would be a breeze.
I won’t bore you with all the details but pulling this off was the toughest thing I’ve ever had to do. As I say, far too many issues that had to be overcome to detail here, but skateboarding makes a person very resilient as you get used to having to dig deep and keep picking yourself up to accomplish things and the end result far outweighs the struggle to get there.
I’m so stoked that this park exists and building it, I believe has been far more instrumental in spreading skateboarding in India than the Goa park ever was. From the moment there was something to skate there I had a crew of local dudes driving half way across Bangalore every night to skate with me. It was a magical time and seeing as the first feature was a skate bowl which is used by one person at a time, the fact that we all skated my board didn’t detract from the fun!

Nick bringing the Play Arena Skate Park To Life
Nick bringing the Play Arena Skate Park To Life

4. HG: During that time, you formed a skate collective called ‘Holy Stoked Collective’, which has now progressed to one of the biggest and widely known skateboarding groups in the country. What were the early days with them like and what do you think of where they are now?
NS:  It was those dudes that used to show up in the early days that formed the nucleus of what was to become Holy Stoked. At first, the idea was to produce a magazine to promote the growing skate scene, then when it became apparent that the owner of the skatepark wasn’t down to push skateboarding forwards I suggested we find a backer and begin importing boards and shoes! Not much happened for awhile as the guys wrestled with Indian bureaucratic red tape for ages trying to get import licenses and sort the paperwork to move forward.Eventually, we got our first shipment but I couldn’t afford to keep coming over and nothing really happened business wise.
What did happen was that whenever a group of skaters came to India they give me a shout out as to what was happening there and I got to introduce the Holy Stoked guys to people like Patrick Walner and his Visual Travelling crew as they where travelling through India when they where making the skate documentary ‘Holy Cow’. One of the Holy Stokers got some photographic work from this hook up and it was great to show the Indian dudes how skateboarding can have secondary benefits and opportunities!
Later the 2er guys came to India and I introduced the crew to them and the spark was lit that went on to result in the Epic Build where India’s first free for public use skatepark got built by a team of volunteers in less than 3 weeks!
Although it was awe-inspiring to be a part of that build, It was a bittersweet time for me as I could read where Levi’s were going with this and the hype they wanted to create from their investment in creating the park. It’s cool now, and I even said to Eric (the main man at Levi’s who signed this off) that I knew that my face or involvement in setting up Holy Stoked wouldn’t work as part of their marketing campaign to launch their Skateboarding Apparel line.

The Crew That Built The Levis Skate Park
The Crew That Built The Levis Skate Park

So as Skateboarding in India went Global through the Levi’s ad campaign it was weird to find myself left out of the story that I’d played such a big part in writing! Even more surreal was being in Copenhagen for the premier of the short film about the build, surrounded by skaters from all over the world watching the Disney-like tale! I came over to Bangalore for a month after the Copenhagen trip to see if there was a way forward with Holy Stoked but I guess everyone was giddy with all the hype and free skate product and we couldn’t agree on a way forward so I quit and moved on starting the Advaita Collective.
Haven’t done too much with Advaita yet, although collaborating with yourself, ALIS and Abhishek Khan on the Third Eye Tour was a great start.

 
Third Eye Tour: Bangalore
Third Eye Tour: Bangalore

5. HG: Our country has seen a series of collectives & groups forming across the nation and also groups of people who are helping in spreading the stoke amongst the youth. Where do you see this heading? I remember you mentioning that this is what the skate scene was like in its early days in the UK & USA in the 70’s.
NS:  It’s hard to say where it’s going, its great to see new crews popping up and because of the internet and the availability of cameras etc. we get to witness the progression almost live. I’d love to see more projects like the Kolkata one and the recent build in Kovalam as these kids, much like the young street kids that started skating the Holy Stoked park, really add something raw and exiting to skating. They are just into going fast and having fun, they’ve got no money for cameras, are pretty much unaffected by what’s supposed to be cool or not as their access to social media is limited. Sure it’ll be great if these kids can earn money from coaching etc. but for now they just wanna skate and have fun.
To put this in perspective, I got a message the other day from a young Indian skater from one of the newer crews informing me he was the ‘media guy’ and I even got a mail from another skater asking me could I share his crews page and suggest any other ways they could get 1000 likes, apparently he’d been asked to achieve this...
I know it’s just a reflection of how everything is commodified these days but it kinda saddens me a little that young skaters are missing out on the pure exhilaration and raw fun by already looking out for how to present, package and sell themselves!
So as to where this is heading I don’t know, I guess there will be more crews, more hype, more awful newspaper articles with hilarious headers but then this all paves the way for more actual skating and the fun and freedom that offers.
6. HG: You have helped the sport grow from a grass route level in the country. What according to you should be done in the next few years to take this movement to the next level?
NS:  I think it’s exiting that India has a window of time in which the skaters themselves will be able to shape their own scene. I say this because the scene isn’t big enough to attract too much attention from international skate brands. Sure there’s a couple that have set up here, but their focus is more about marketing the lifestyle than developing any kind of scene.
Things will take a little time to mature but it’s great to already see Indian skaters going off to Europe and even Bolivia lately. This sort of thing is invaluable in the development of things here as skaters meet other skaters from round the world and get a better feeling of what works for them.
It’s also super cool that Steve in Delhi and Spandan from Mumbai are both experimenting with pressing boards as availability and price of skate product has always been an issue in India.Personally, I think that this is the way forward for the Indian scene, I can’t see the skate brands doing much for the skaters of India.
So as far as the way to go now, I’d say the development of skate product manufacture in India would be key in making skateboarding available to more people and if this was done by skaters then the scene could really flourish!
7. HG: How do you think Indian & International brands can help grow the sport in the country?
NS: Like I said, I don’t think International brands will play too much of a part in developing the scene here until there’s a market for their products.
There will be Indian brands who want to associate with Skaters, I don’t think any of them will play a role in things other than helping the skaters get by by paying a few bills. What could work out well is having skateboarding at events like the NH7 weekenders sponsored by the various beer and energy drink brands. I’ve recently done some work for Red Bull and I have to say I was treated better by them than any other brand I’ve worked for in India. 8. HG: You are part of the Third Eye Tour which happened in Jan. How do you think this property can help the scene and how would you like it to evolve?
NS:  Yeah the tour really kicked off. I’d like to see it develop into an annual event that leaves more than just memories! The vision I have in mind is to be able to leave behind a skate park in a different Indian city with each tour. 9. HG: You have been keeping a tab on Indian skaters across the nation through facebook and other channels. Could you name a few skaters in particular who you think should be given more support? Or a few people you believe have the natural talent.
NS:  There are so many skaters coming up in india but the three that have blown me away are Abhishek, from Holy Stoked, Sagar from Meteoric crew and Utkarsh from Ranchi who rides for Advaita currently.
Every time I come back though my jaw drops in seeing how much progress everyone is making. Especially kids like Devapa and Ankit who are the next wave of skaters coming up in Bangalore..!!

Nick at the Bombay Sklate Spot
Nick at the Bombay Sklate Spot

10. HG: Give our readers a little insight into what they can expect from your association with Homegrown as a contributor on the skateboarding front
NS: I’d really like to cover the different crews and interview the individuals that skate with them. I’ve met most of these guys and they’re all skating like they’ve been doing this for ever.
I’d also like to cover how to lobby municipalities and use other influences to get more skate facilities alongside articles on how to build your own skate features. It would be great to include a section reporting on any skate events and making people aware of upcoming events or visiting skaters headed from abroad.
Most of all I want to focus on the fun aspect of what skateboarding is about, as that’s what keeps me skating after all this time.
Words: Varun Patra

Image Credit: Nick Smith & Holy Stoked Collective Facebook Page


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