Nigel Cameron: Sydney’s forskateable future
Co-founder of the Sydney Skateboard Association (SSA) and head coach at Totem Skate School has been working around the clock to change the negative attitude towards skateboarding as a sport so that Sydney can morph into Melbourne’s skater friendly scene. After almost 30 years of frustration, a few weeks ago Nigel Cameron from the SSA team (with Trent Evans and Cameron Sparkes) gathered hundreds of skaters outside Town Hall where the city council voted in favour of building new skate parks in the CBD and attending to existing ones. There has also been promising talk of lifting the 5km skating ban around the inner city.
The kind of dedication it takes to pull off a public change like this is enormously under acknowledged - creating an Association from scratch, writing letters, getting signatures, trying not to piss off the council, attending meetings – it’s all done as this amazing side project in their own time. And all for what? Some concrete space and a few ramps for kids to break their arms on? I hope that’s not what you’re thinking, but if it is, it’s exactly the attitude Nigel wants to change.
“Melbourne is a really great example of where Sydney could be,” said Nigel, “In Melbourne it’s, ‘Skate Safe’, you know, there are signs up that say that and in Sydney it’s, ‘No Skateboarding’ - you get fined, there’s no place for it and I think that’s what needs to change. Before even getting a skate park, is giving skateboarding the recognition that it deserves. If someone see’s a ‘No Skateboarding’ sign they think, ‘Oh those skateboarders, they’re out of control’. Acceptance is going to help the attitude because skateboarders are outlaws at the moment. It’s all about trying to get the council to understand, or ask them why it isn’t allowed.”
Nigel formed the SSA about a year ago after researching promises made by council for 4 new skate parks and maintenance in 2 that were never kept.
“It was the only way the council was going to listen to us, so we just have to kind of play by their rules,” said Nigel.
Council did listen, and Nigel, Trent and Cameron have already been meeting with the Town Planner and Youth Facility Officers for the city to put the motion into physical action. Getting the council to accept skateboarding in the CBD is going to be a long haul, but it’s something Nigel is particularly passionate about.
“People appreciate skateboarding because of the skill involved but I think there is still a stigma there and if we can get the council to say, ‘this is a really great way of transport and really good exercise’ then obviously it’s not going to be so, ‘get out of here – you’re not allowed.’ Changing the mentality of the council, I think that’s going to be the hardest bit but I think it’s going to be the breakthrough step.”
In Sydney it’s not out of the ordinary for security to get called on ten-year-old kids harmlessly skating the city and there are spaces in the CBD where it seems a little ridiculous to keep skateboarding off-limits.
“Martin Place for example - nobody uses the middle section because why would you use stairs that are there for not even any purpose? And there’s a slight incline next to them so everybody walks up the slight incline and skaters use the stairs in the middle. It’s like someone’s thought it through 50 years ago when that was designed and went, ‘yeah skateboarding would probably be good here!’
On the other hand, there’s the obvious level of difficulty in skating around the CBD. As head skate coach and owner of Totem Skate School in Sydney, Nigel believes that the city also needs to cater for skaters of lower ability levels, so they aren’t so intimidated and so that skating is seen as a pleasant sporting activity, not a huge menace to society.
“You do have to be quite good to skate the city because it’s not designed for skating – so you have to be able to ollie up gutters, dodge through traffic and do a lot of things that are quite difficult. That’s why it’s crazy because there’s two skate parks in Sydney – one’s a metal ramp that kids use to slide down their bums and that’s it in Glebe, and the other one’s a 4-star street orientated difficult place to learn – if it’s accepted into the community people won’t be frightened to have a little patch of cement to have a skate around.”
Implementing free introductory lessons to skateboarding is another important item on the agenda for the future.
“There is an unwritten law to how kids use skateboards and how they use skate parks. Just say at Bondi, if you don’t know what you’re doing you’re going to get hurt because it’s quite a difficult skate park to use. Skate park etiquette. It’s so necessary – I just want kids to have a fun, positive experience. If that means getting hit by somebody else and falling off, they’re not going to want to do it.
I really think it’s crazy that you have snowboarding lessons, you have ski lessons, driving lessons, tennis lessons… all these lessons that are really important and accepted, so why is skateboarding different? It shouldn’t be because it is such a difficult thing to master. I will wonder why forever. “
Nigel grew up in the small town of Leeton and he coaches kids out in rural NSW and in Aboriginal communities - it’s his passion to see skateboarding take off in those areas too.
“I know for a fact that it’s a need out there. If you jump on a skateboard and you’ve got no idea how to use it, it’s one of the hardest things to learn, ever. But the thrill you get out of it, knowing that you’ve overcome that difficult side of it is so rewarding, and I think if kids don’t know how to skate anywhere, we are doing everybody a favour. When I first started coaching it was really fun and exciting to be able to travel but now it’s coming to the community event side of it… it’s grown to be beyond having fun on a board and it’s actually getting into the fact that’s it’s so important to these kids. That’s why I’m so overwhelmed with the support that we’ve had and how it actually affects these kids so deeply as well. I’m bloody tearing up.”
“One of our biggest and best events we do in a town where there’s maybe like 50 kids,” said Nigel, “but they’re all at the skate park! So it means a lot.“
Skateboarding should be seen as a sport that inspires confidence and encourages perseverance. It’s a change in attitude for Sydney’s future that Nigel agrees is going to take a while, but the first step – the hardest step – is already behind them and it looks like Sydney will become a lot more skateable over the next few years.
“We’re not calming down until we are actually skateboarding on that skate park… We want to be involved every step of the way,” said Nigel, ”I understand that people have been signing petitions for 30 years but I hope that people recognise that we aren’t just going to go away. I don’t want people to think that we’re like, ‘Ok sweet, the rally was fun, see you guys later.’ We are already doing back up work to push this thing even harder than before. It’s kind of like we just got a big fire lit under our butts and now we’re got to work even harder to keep the momentum going.”
By Lauren Della Marta