The local skatepark, a school night, and the tricksters are showing off their skills.
BMX bikers with handlebars spinning, perched on one wheel at the top of a sheer drop ramp, even a back flip or two; skateboarders flying past, grinding along rails and defying gravity.
It’s typically regarded as strictly teenage territory. Until septuagenarian Kenny Omond drops in to show the youngsters how it’s done.
The 70-year-old is still a regular at the Livingston skatepark he helped establish nearly 40 years ago. And while the tricks might not flow quite as easily – “My knees start to go and I can’t run it off as well if I have a fall,” he admits – Kenny still jumps on his skateboard for a whizz whenever he can.
“I just love it,” shrugs Kenny, who lives in Livingston with wife Eleanor.
“The simplicity of these four little wheels, this magic rolling board. You see some of the things skateboarders do on YouTube and think ‘Holy s***’, it’s high energy and it’s totally amazing.
“I’ve never stopped skateboarding, but there are lots who did and are now coming back into it because they realise how much they miss it.”
Indeed, dubbed “middle-age shred”, a whole new old generation of skateboarders and BMX riders are now elbowing their way into the local skatepark to rediscover the thrill of the ollie, the 360 and the grind.
The trend is being partly fuelled by improved indoor and outdoor skatepark facilities – Edinburgh Skatepark at Saughton has boosted the sport since it opened two years ago, while under-cover ramps and bowls at Transgression Park in Peffermill means boarders and BMXers can play in any sort of weather.
And older tricksters are being encouraged back by the advancing years of some of the biggest names in the skatepark world, such as Tony Hawk, whose name is emblazoned over the front of skateboarding video games, and who is now 44.
According to Ali Menzies of Skateboard Scotland, there is a growing number of older skateboarders returning to the sport. “Some of us started skateboarding at 12 and never stopped. I’m 35 and I know quite a few my age who have kept on going.
“Others drifted away when they hit late teens. Now they’re back into it, often because they see their kids doing it or the better facilities.
“The age group spread is greater than it’s ever been,” he adds. “If someone my age had turned up at a skatepark when I was kid, they’d probably have been laughed at. Now it’s pretty much accepted.”
The downside, though, is that advancing years and injury fears can dampen down even the most enthusiastic skateboarder or BMXer’s efforts.
“Injuries will happen,” shrugs Ali, who when not at Livingston skatepark or Transgression works as an assistant pricing manager for a corporate bank. “The body doesn’t heal as quickly as it used to. But the ones that hurt themselves occasionally are the ones that tend to progress and get better at it.”
As for Kenny, having helped build Livingston skatepark in the late Seventies, he’s now helping teach the next generation how to use it, among them his grandson Kade, six.
“I think there’s a wave of nostalgia at the moment and people are going back to the sport because they remember how good it was when they were young,” he says.
“I started skateboarding when I was 35. Today I’m 70, going on 16.”
n Skateboard Scotland runs competitions and provides information about the sport. Go to www.skateboardscotland.com. For details of sessions and lessons at Transgression Park, Kings Haugh Road, go to www.transgressionpark.com
• GAVIN O’NEILL, 35, has two daughters, aged nine and six, and works in advertising. He’s single and lives in Corstorphine.
Gavin cut his teeth as a skateboarder when he was growing up in his home town of Belfast.
“I was about nine or ten when I first started,” he recalls. “I kept at it for a few years but gave it up when I was around 17 and dislocated my ankle.
“It was right in the middle of my A Levels and it didn’t go down well at home at all.”
When he moved to Edinburgh to study at university, Gavin slipped into a student lifestyle and swapped skateboarding for snowboarding.
He returned to skateboarding five years ago by chance, after hooking up with his brother-in-law for a random visit to the former indoor park at Ocean Terminal, and finding himself once more addicted to the buzz.
“I went to see how the legs would hold up,” he explains. “I wasn’t planning on doing anything that would result in injuries, but as I went along I got into it again. Now I keep wanting to learn more and improve. I’ve gone from just roaming about to doing what I used to do.”
While far from “over the hill”, he admits that age plays a part on how daring he can be on his board. “It takes a bit longer to get back up after a fall,” he says, nodding, “but I enjoy it, it’s like therapy, for a couple of hours I go off and skate and it’s good.”
• DEREK MARSHALL, 44, is a father
of two and works as a plant operator. He lives in Tranent with wife Fiona.
Derek recalls being filmed as a youngster on his BMX, showing off the brand new sport. “It was when BMX first came to Britain,” he recalls. “People hadn’t even seen BMX before then.”
Back then he’d perfect his tricks at a track at Musselburgh and another at Danderhall, but mostly on the streets around Drummond High School close to where he lived. He was so hooked, he went on to join Scotia BMX, the same club that a slightly younger Chris Hoy raced with.
“He was younger than me,” recalls Derek, “and probably a bit faster.”
It ended when Derek moved on to motorcycles. BMX drifted out of fashion, skateparks became dominated by skateboarders again and mountain biking become a more fashionable cycling pursuit.
However, the skills Derek perfected in his youth flooded back when he found himself at indoor skatepark Transgression in Kings Haugh Road, Peffermill, watching sons Lewis, 17 and five-year-old John try out their bikes.
“I thought instead of standing there watching, I’d be as well having a go,” he recalls. “I was a little wary. In your head you think you’re still capable of throwing yourself about on a BMX but the body thinks different. But once I got back on, I really enjoyed it.”
Even Derek, whose job as a plant operator is physically demanding and who packs in regular 14-mile round-trip bike rides to and from work, admits a session on the BMX, pushing up steep ramps and fighting to control tricks, is a punishing workout. “You really feel it,” he agrees, “the sweat starts lashing off and it’s pretty hard work.
“I’m really glad I’ve got myself back into it.”
• CHRIS DARROCK, 39, runs C&A Building Services. He lives in Bonnyrigg with wife Karen, son Reece, 13, and daughter Abbie, ten.
When Chris’s son Reece decided he’d like to have a go on a BMX, it was a case of “back to the future” for Dad.
“I used to ride a BMX when I was 11 till around 14, then I got into road cycling,” recalls Chris. “Then 18 months ago Reece said he fancied a BMX.”
Chris found himself wishing he could have a go too. “I figured there was no harm in it,” he laughs.
“I followed Reece around, tried to do some of the things I used to do, fell off, hurt myself. But I thought it was good and, above all, something I could do with my son.”
Now Chris has rediscovered his inner BMX dude and, just weeks away from his 40th birthday, he gains respect from the younger generation for his astonishing backflip tricks.
“I’d been trying to find time to exercise, and to spend time with the kids, and this is ideal,” he adds. “I’ve lost a stone since I started back on the bike, so it’s definitely a good way to keep fit.
“Lots of older guys are getting back into BMX and skateboarding. There’s no jibes or comments from the kids, they’re more likely to go off and moan at their dad, saying ‘look he’s doing it, why can’t you?’
“It keeps me fit, I spend time with the kids, I leave the phone in the van and forget about everything. I go off and I’m 15 again...”
• SEAN BIRD, 47, is a civil engineer.
Sean’s flowing greying hair stands out among the teenage skaters at Saughton skatepark.
He returned to the sport around eight years ago after watching internet videos of modern skateboarders and marvelling at their tricks. Now he calls himself a “born-again skater”, goes by the handle “Bud Gee” and regularly gives youngsters a run for their money at the Saughton park.
“I was mad for skateboarding throughout my youth. I stopped skating, went to university, had kids, worked long hours and never had the time for it,” he explains.
“When I watched modern skateboarding on the internet, I was truly amazed and inspired by what was being done.”
Age is no barrier to taking part, he believes, arguing that the nature of skateboarding means there are “no rules”.
“There’s the freedom to do whatever you want, however you want. There’s camaraderie/egalitarianism.
“Whether you’re 15 or pushing 50 everyone sees each other as fellow skateboarders no matter where you are from, everybody is equal in the skatepark.
“We all want each other to go bigger, faster, higher, longer, gnarlier. It’s hard not to give it your all when all the lads are barking encouragement from the side.
“There’s the obvious adrenalin buzz from rolling around at speed, defying gravity and always the risk of ‘slamming’ – falling to the ground.”
He says the sport brings added enjoyment with age: “The satisfaction when an old dog learns a new trick is way more than I got when younger.”
“The health benefits? Cardiovascular etc, great, but the concrete is unforgiving when you slam.
“But seriously, I’ve never been fitter.”
• EWAN KASPAROVIC, 32, works as a chef and lives in Saughton.
Ewan learned to skateboard in the early 90s while growing up in the north of Scotland and says “old school” boarders often have a distinctive style that differs from today’s generation.
“The younger dudes are more technical. They do more flip tricks, ledge and rail tricks, that require a lot of control, whereas the older guys – myself included – we hammer around and do carving and airs and ramps.
“The sport still hadn’t developed much when we started out. There weren’t facilities like there are today and where I stayed all you could do was skate on the pavements. Edinburgh’s a rubbish place for street skating with its uneven cobbles and paving slabs. It’s a death trap for skateboarders but the facilities at Livingston, Saughton and at Transgression are world-class.”
While others drifted away from the sport in their late teens, Ewan remained hooked, skateboarding even when work took him to Australia and America, and despite bumps and scrapes, including broken ankle, broken wrists and so many knee knocks that he now needs surgery to ease a case of bursitis – caused when tiny “shock absorber” sacks in the knee become inflamed.
“But even now I get excited when I know I’m going off to the skatepark,” he says. “I know there’s a chance that I could hurt myself so maybe I’m more cautious than I used to be, but still after a session my heart rate is through the roof and the sweat is pouring off me.
“You get that adrenalin pumping and there’s a great feeling of achievement. There’s definitely more older guys getting back into it. There’s no comments from the younger ones. Everyone’s just stoked to see someone having a go, doesn’t matter what age.”
Could skateboarding and BMX tricks be the key to improving the health of an older generation?
Both are an ideal way of getting the heart pumping – the effort required to push a board or pedal up ramps will get the cardiovascular system pounding.
Tricks require participants to crouch down and then power up, not unlike gym “lunges”. And the sports help develop flexibility, work various muscle groups, require co-ordination and balance.
There are mental benefits too – each stunt mastered raises self esteem and a sense of achievement.