Growing up in Harlow through the 70s and 80s was good. I was a normal kid, bit of an idiot at times, but never went out of my way to break the law. Did a bit of football and fishing, but I was more inclined to latch on to the latest craze that hit the town –breakdancing. It took the town by storm. Being just kids, the older generation of breakers kept a watchful eye over us, while me and my mates challenged each other to battles and burns on our lino offcuts. We were ambitious too. Even the older crews didn’t have their crew name (ours being ‘Electro Breakers’) emblazoned across matching tops – we were quite a sight.

Skateboarding was the next massive craze that flooded the town. For myself and others empty concrete paddling pools in the park, slopes, steps and kerbs (a hotspot being beneath the tall office block in the town centre) all became unofficial skateparks. Come Saturday morning market traders would often arrive to find a makeshift skatepark – ramps’n’all – that we’d hastily assembled from their plywood sheeting we’d ‘borrowed’ the night before. Our actions resulted in the odd thump from narked stall holders.

For a town of Harlow’s size we churned out a larger than average share of good skaters, with many, me included, featuring in skate magazines and some getting sponsored or turning pro. I’m sure to many we were a right pain in the backside, but without a designated park we had little choice. On the whole it kept us out of trouble; aside from those few occasions when an unruly skateboard made contact with a pane of glass.

When the older generation of skaters moved on, it became our responsibility to take the reins and try to bring about a more permanent location for the town’s skaters. On the whole the council were supportive to us, funding in the late 1990s a string of skateboarding festivals in what was the old Water Gardens location. Our first attempt at a designated, albeit temporary, skatepark was in Nicholls Field. Metal sheets extended the life of the heavily used wooden ramps that we’d built. But nothing could avoid the park being condemned once the tarmac surface wore away. The next evolution was at Spurriers. Again we built the ramps, bowled halfpipe, cast concrete blocks and kept up with the maintenance until around 2003, by which point, despite our best fundraising efforts, we started to struggle raising any further money.

 

To the council’s credit, they stepped in and funded contractors to build us a more heavy-duty, though smaller, skatepark on the same site. 

Throughout this time we attended council meetings and pushed hard for a proper, designated skatepark. Our motivation wasn’t so we’d get a pat on the back or boost our egos, but because we knew the town needed it and it would benefit many. It paid off when in 2008 (after twenty years of campaigning) the purpose-built 650-square-metre concrete skatepark was opened. With the skating communities input it became a permanent amalgamation of parks we’d built and locations we’d skated over the decades. 

The skateboarding scene has dropped off somewhat recently, with other urban sports becoming more popular. But, like most things, it’ll come around again. I’ve not skated for a few years now, but it’s good to know that I’ve left a positive mark on the town – a legacy of sorts. Especially with one of the concrete skate blocks named after me.

I get a lot of misconceptions about my tattoos, which at times can be useful – with people giving me a wide berth based on an assumption that I’m trouble. However, if people took the time to talk to me they’d quickly realise it is, in fact, quite the opposite of who I am. As for my future, well ... I just take each day as it comes. Settling down isn’t for everyone and at this stage in life not for me – having a good life is what motivates me. It’s the way I’ve always been; floating around doing this job and another while mingling in some travelling. The tattoo on my head – ‘get busy living’, a line from The Shawshank Redemption – fits my ethos perfectly.

As for the current state of the town ... well, I see it in much the same way as I’ve always done. I don’t see it being so wildly different to when I was a kid – just more intensely reported now. What I have seen an increase in is people taking pleasure from slagging off Harlow. And what really gets me is those who leave the town and then come across as if they’ve got one up on you for doing so. Proclaiming that having left the town was the best thing ever – which I doubt is the case. Bad things happen in all towns – not just Harlow. So granted, at times you might have good reason to knock where you live. But in my opinion if you surround yourself with s**t people your gonna have a s**t time – it’ll warp your outlook on life for sure.

© 2018 CHRIS HADDON

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