For some people, snowboarding on their home turf is normal. If you live in Minnesota, Finland or Quebec, you’re pretty much guaranteed to get snow on the ground. If you live in the UK, that’s far less likely to happen. It’s probably got something to do with the proximity to the ocean, but I didn’t pay enough attention in school to fully understand why. Whatever the reason, if you live in the UK and you want to snowboard on the streets, you don’t have much of a choice but to travel for it. for people like Will Smith, this is business as usual. He’s been jumping on planes and putting out heavy street parts for over ten years. He’d planned to do more of the same, then covid hit, and no one was allowed off the island. Some countries were more tolerant of people crossing borders, but the UK had it bad. Lockdowns were long, restrictions heavy, and access to testing was expensive and difficult. Then January came around, and they were blessed with the rarest of things, snowfall on the streets.
Extracted from Method Mag issue 22.3
Interview. Theo Acworth
Photos. Nauris Putenis, Craig Robinson, Will Smith
Ay up lad. When did you last leave the UK?
About a year and a half ago, maybe longer. This is probably the longest I’ve been in England since I was fifteen, so for twelve years. I tried to go to Finland last winter, and because of fucking Brexit, my passport was invalid. It hadn’t expired, but the new regulations meant that you had to renew it earlier than usual. It took six weeks to get a new one, and in that time, all the rules in Finland changed and no one wanted to accept travellers from the UK. I think this break’s been good for me to be honest. I was feeling a bit burnt out. I’ve filmed so hard for so many years, it was actually nice to step away from snowboarding for a year. The passport thing was a blessing in disguise, really. If I’d gone to Finland, then I wouldn’t have got to snowboard and film street at home.
When did it snow in the UK?
It was January 9th. There was no snow at my house, but there was snow three miles up the road. It was bizarre. But it all melted by four or five in the afternoon. I thought, oh, ok, that’s the end of winter!
Season done in under twelve hours.
I was still hyped that we got one day.
How early were you out and riding?
Normally I wouldn’t be out too early, but I took my girlfriend Josie to work, and it was just dumping. I wouldn’t have even known about it unless I’d driven her. So I drove home, rang Albie [Edmonds] and Ian [Thrashmore] and asked if they were going snowboarding! It was sticky though. You’d go downhill and be slowing down, but it was still fun.
Was this still lockdown when you weren’t supposed to leave the house?
Yeah, that was the weird thing. Up until then, no one was doing anything or even leaving the house. I thought fuck it. I’ll take a fine if it means I get to go snowboarding.
Were there many people out and about?
Mate, the park was full! I think everyone just decided they needed a break from the lockdown shit. It was really nice. That was the first time in so long that life felt normal again for a day. Then I think it was about a week later that it snowed again. Joe [Allen] lives just around the corner, which is a blessing. He was down to come out and film. I really like filming with him, and we have a good thing going. I was hyped that he was down. He’s a skate filmer, but he gets snowboarding now. It worked really well.
“That was the first time in so long that life felt normal again”
Did you have spots ready to go?
We had too many. The last time it snowed here was ten years ago. That was when I got on Vans and had my first ad. It was mad to be out again. But I hadn’t snowboarded for ages because I fucked my ankle skating, so I kind of eased into it with some mellower spots. There was a downrail down the road in Burley park that I’ve dreamed about hitting, and we had a great session on it.
Did it feel weird to be snowboarding at home?
It felt easy mate. It made me jealous of people who get to snowboard at home. You wake up in your own bed, have breakfast with your girlfriend, ring your mates and your filmer, pick them up, you know where to go and where everything is. There’s no confusion. You go do it, and then you come home. It’s the nicest feeling. It’s like skateboarding. For me, snowboarding has a different feeling because you’re always on a trip. This felt more free.
How were people reacting to what you were doing?
Everyone loved it. We didn’t know whether the police would be pissed if we were out because of COVID. Most of the spots in Leeds are on really rough estates or big blocks of flats. A police van showed up at one spot, and we thought we were getting busted, but they didn’t even bat an eyelid. Not bothered at all. Young scally kids who would normally be giving you shit were hyped. I was trying to get them to pull me in with a shovel, but they couldn’t do it. Everyone was just friendlier because it’s so rare that we get snow. Everyone had a day off work or school or whatever and was just happy. That same day some younger lads were filming us from a balcony. Ian was snowboarding behind his house about four miles away from us, and some lad ran up to him and showed him the video of us which his mate had just sent him! Just some random scallys on Snapchat.
“Each day, I thought that was the only day I was going to get.”
Who were you mostly riding with?
It was Feesh [John Weatherly], Nauris [Putenis], and Nuddsy [Andy Nudds], and Albie who I skate with. He snowboards a bit, and I got him to come out for a few days. He hit a rail for the first time too. It was such a fun experience, it just felt like being kids and messing about. It wasn’t serious at all, but it was productive. When it snowed, I tried to do three spots a day. Each day, I thought that was the only day I was going to get. When you get another one, you just keep going for it. In the end, I think we got twelve days.
For the UK, that’s seriously good.
We did three days in Leeds, and then we also went up to where my mum and dad live in Denholme. It’s a few hundred feet higher up there, so there was more snow. But it’s so rural, it’s just farms and drystone walls, so there’s not much to find. We drove up there and just rode anything that we could, just making the most of whatever was there. It wasn’t about finding the biggest or gnarliest shit. I might not ever get to do it again at home, so we just made the most of it. My mum and dad also came to a spot! They’ve seen my parts, but they haven’t seen me snowboard in person since I was about sixteen, and they loved it. There’s a rail in the village that I grew up in, and I’d never seen it. Nuddsy actually found it. My dad was helping shovel the spot too.
Nice! I guess when your whole career is based on travelling away from home, you don’t get to share it with family too often.
They get snowboarding. I think because I’ve just been talking their heads off about it for so many years. My mum would say stuff like, “Oh, I like that spot!”.
That’s rad. What do the other guys do for work? How much time were they able to ride?
Nuddsy’s a postman. He had to work a day but came riding a lot. Feesh is just an enigma. He does the Booby Trap, which is a coaching thing. Trying to make kids learn and progress while having fun instead of being super serious. He’s got this van, and he has two boxes in there that the kids ride, and we basically turned those into a DIY drop-in. It worked sick, we propped them up and bungee-corded them together.
“We were pretty much riding through dog shit.”
How long have you known him?
Since I was thirteen or fourteen, he’s the one that got me into the Grindhouse movies back in the day. I’ve known him since the beginning. I love him. There was one day where it was just him and me. It was raining loads. If you were on a normal trip, there’s no way you’d be outside. I filmed him doing an ollie into this cobbled bank. We were rolling tiny snowballs and patting them down just to make a landing and pretty much riding through dog shit.
That sounds terrible, but awesome. Are you making a clip?
Yeah, I put it all in the timeline but sort of left it over summer. I’ve just started piecing it all together. I think it’s probably going to be about five or six minutes. Not too long, but a nice length. Everyone got shots. Nuddsy has some really sick shots. He’s the most underrated snowboarder that I’ve ever witnessed. He’s always been so good. He doesn’t even snowboard much anymore, but he can still just do stuff instantly. Really impressive.
I was never a part of the UK scene, but I know it used to be big. Is there much going on around your area, and were other people out doing stuff?
I feel bad, but I have no idea. Feesh has definitely got a scene going at Chill Factor in Manchester. They do indoor sessions every Monday. He’s started getting people riding dryslope again at Rosendale, which I think is amazing. Without dryslope, I would never have been able to snowboard. The cost of the domes is insane compared to the dryslope. You can just get a pass and ride every day, and it’s feasible for kids to do that. A dome is about £50 for four hours. There used to be loads of contests in the UK, but it doesn’t happen that much anymore. It isn’t how it was before. There are people still trying to make stuff happen, though, which is sick. That’s why I try to do an event at least once a year, so kids can go to something and see some sick riding. That’s what makes you want to snowboard as a kid, seeing stuff that you couldn’t imagine. It’s important for kids to see that stuff.
Definitely. Were there any standout spots or moments from the riding you got last winter?
Just everything, mate. The day on that downrail I mentioned was great. Me, Albie and Joe went to set it up, and it was the rainiest spot. For some reason, everywhere else had more snow than that. We got to the top of the hill, which is huge. We dropped in and didn’t even make it to the rail! Nuddsy showed up, Feesh showed up with Nauris. It was sick. We just had a session on this rail, and everyone got some clips. The landing was pure mud, not even snow. That day was sick. We were all piss-wet because it was raining. We got changed, had some food, then drove up to Middleton, which is a bit higher up, and it was puking. I’m not joking, there must have been a foot of snow. We found another spot, lit it up and had another session. We were pretty much dropping in on this woman’s doorstep. She came out and was so hyped. Bless her, her husband had died the week before, or maybe it was her brother, and apparently he was really into snowboarding, which was random. But she was so hyped, just sat out with a cup of tea, watching and chatting with us. It was a really surreal experience.
“She was so hyped, just sat out with a cup of tea, watching and chatting with us.”
Must have been nice being able to talk to people in your own language for once?
It was so nice. You can talk your way into stuff when you’re away, but there’s a limit. Whereas here you’re in full control and you know what’s going on, you can read people a bit better. Also, my accent definitely helped us with spots around here. I definitely don’t sound Southern.
Open and easy communication definitely makes so much of a difference to the experience of shooting street. Also seeing British architecture and in these shots is really cool, because it’s just so rare.
Anyone reading this who isn’t from the UK probably won’t know what the M62 is, but we were snowboarding next to it. [Ed. It’s a British motorway]
Should we call this story M62?
Yeah, lots of the spots we hit are just off that, so that’s kind of a sick title.