CHIN WAG WITH LUKE BROWN

Imagine if you had the motivation to get two of Australia’s best parks built in the same year? How ‘bout if you had the zest to run a self-funded magazine? What if you had the energy to be the ACT Hub Manager for Skateboarding Australia? Fancy heading up the Canberra Skateboarding Association perhaps? Picture making DIY skate spots on the regs? What about shooting photos in every other minute of your spare time? How would it be if you had all these projects on the boil at once, whilst holding down a full-time job? Surely no one could pull this off right? Wrong: Canberra’s Luke Brown aka ‘Vagabond’ has got to be one of the most driven units in Australian skateboarding. Feeling lazy in comparison? Don’t worry, we all do. In between his multiple projects we managed to pin down Luke for a Chin Wag.

interview: morgan campbell
photos: luke brown (except where noted otherwise)

(click on all photos to enlarge)

MC: I don’t suppose you would be so helpful as to tell me your age?

LB: Twenty… with thirteen years experience.

Where were you born?

Hawick, Scotland.

When did you move to Canberra?

I moved to Canberra from Brisbane in late August of 2003. I went from wearing shorts and a t-shirt to scraping ice off my windscreen before driving to work. It was a bit of a jolt.

How did you discover the magic rolling board?

My Dad bought me and my brother Isaac some skateboards kind of like the Penny boards you see today. Mine was fibreglass, I think I was like six. I remember the tic tac and then figuring out how to go round and round in a circle ‘til I was too dizzy to stand up on it anymore. Later I got a fat AP setup and got my first decent chalkie on its plastic wheels bombing the driveway.

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luke and his brother isaac have been down since day one

Now my understanding is that you worked for the National Archives in Brisbane is that correct?

Yeah, I was working doing some graphic design and had been retrenched due to downsizing. At the same time my bro was working at the Archives, but was bailing to travel. I got an interview and slotted into his position. Pretty classic.

What did you do there?

Photographic Preservation. Basically digitally capturing analogue prints and negatives, glass plates, maps and plans and other collection items. I got to use all sorts of equipment from scanners to large format cameras. I was sorting, repackaging and describing them to the cataloguing system as well. Later, I became a project manager scoping entire projects to preserve aspects of the collection. It was really interesting discovering aspects of Australia’s pictorial history.

How did you manage to leave such a rad job, in other words: how did the ACT seduce you?

The ACT didn’t seduce me initially. They knocked down the cold room that housed all the photos I was working on and shipped them to the national office in Canberra. They said, “You don’t have a job anymore, but we have something down here for you if you’re keen.” I’d met Jim Fowlie before and I liked Weston Creek and Belco. I knew there were plenty of drains to skate. Not long after I met my beautiful wife, so I’m glad I moved.

Which parks were your locals in Snoop Brizzle?

As a younger tacker my brother and I used to skate out to Underwood Bowl when we lived in Springwood. My first rock to fakies and tailtaps were there. Then we moved to Loganholme. KP, Kuraby, Beenleigh and Woodridge were regular haunts. We hunted out the ‘crete lip, Hunt Park, Pizzey. Pirate Hesh Crew Por Vida!

So from what I know, you were a major part in having Woden built and Belco’s facelift, is that the case?

I’ve had some good mates that have helped me. Potty gave me the keys to revitalizing the Skateboarding Association when he moved to Victoria. Monkz and Fowlie have been awesome, Mat Rat too. I used what knowledge I had from working in the Government to lobby the cause.

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woden’s eddison park is nothing short of incredible

So most skaters would have no idea what-so-ever on where to start with the formalities for such a project. How did you know what to do?

We heard that the Government was asking about what the public thought of the current state of our skateparks and for ideas on upgrades. I knew we needed a united voice to get anywhere. Potty told me where to look to establish a group. I called together a bunch of people who were keen and everyone said that I should lead it. I was like “OK let’s do this!” We knew that the main thing we wanted was a new skatepark.

I also remember that the turnaround on both these builds and re-builds was pretty short right? How long did Woden and Belco take from start to finish?

The condition on K-Rudd’s stimulus money was that you had to use it by the deadline or you didn’t get it. It was a blessing in disguise. Woden was downright ridiculous. I think it’s been the fastest proposal, to design and construct ever (for a park that size). The proposal was accepted in February 2009, design consultation happened and then the building started. The drought had broken in Canberra and it was just raining… and raining. It was finished and opened in October 2009. Crazy. The flipside was that we had a brand new park in record time.

Belco was a little different. We were a little more experienced. Although the deadlines were tight, there was a little more leeway. It didn’t rain as much. Heaps of landscaping had to occur after the skatepark was finished, so the fences stayed up and the concrete had lots of time to cure. It’s wearing in really well.

We’ve had two new cutting edge skateparks built within two years of each other. Guarantee you that won’t happen again in a hurry!

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belco at dawn

What else do you get up to? I hear you might have a cheeky little magazine is that right? Can you explain your foray into the wonderfully complex world of print?

I might give it a half arsed attempt ha ha! Yeah, I’ve been doing a little mag on the side for a few years. I’ve been shooting skate photos more seriously for about six or seven years and it just started as an avenue to print stuff that wasn’t getting used. I’m stoked on how far it has come and how it’s still going, especially with how much is on my plate. I’m grateful for the support of all the contributors. I’ve never actually broken even with an issue, it’s a labour of love. I’m starting the next one shortly with a mate who’s a sick designer who will spice it up. So you might see another issue in about three months… if ya lucky!

What do you feel is the future of print?

Less frequent publications at a higher quality seems to be the current state of play. It’s really hard to say. I was bummed when SLAP went digital, and more recently watching good Aussie publications come and go. Kudos to anyone who’s dealing with the challenging world of advertising. I do know that as a skater having something published on the web, whether it’s a photo you’ve sent in, or a trick you’ve done, doesn’t come close to a photo published in print. I love something tangible between my fingers. But I know lots of peeps love the digital subscriptions too. So we’ll see.

It is rare to find a skater who is involved on so many levels. Another thing I remembered is that I saw an interview with you in Acclaim regarding your DIY builds. Is this something you would like to talk about? Who has been your primary force of help when it comes to these?

You know what? It’s really hard to motivate crew to build! It’s usually only me and one other mate. Darcy and Woody to name a few, sometimes others help – but rarely. I went to Sweden and saw what could be accomplished with a crew and I was stoked. I’m keen for more this summer. My mate Nello in Melbs is quietly working away on a project. What comes out of it will be pretty rad.

Any dos or don’ts regarding the DIY?

Try to find spots where stuff will have time to get built without being destroyed. Don’t start too late in the day because you’ll be doing it at night. Don’t use bog. Tile glue is good for joins. Don’t do it by yourself if you can help it because a second opinion is always good when you’re not sure what you’re doing. I’m winging it most of the time.

You must have been one of the first Ozzies to be rocking the DIY gig… did anyone on a local level inspire you?

I wouldn’t say that. Lots of crew have done stuff way before me. My mate Noah Phillips inspired me initially. Here in Canberra: Josh Darcy was one of the first dudes I built with. He’s an apprentice chippy and actually taught me a bit. One of the smoothest trannies I ever made was with Scott Brown, it lasted a few months then was ripped out. The sketchy ones are the ones that last for some reason!

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belco is the only aussie skatepark visible from outer space

What are you doing for a crust these days as most of these skate-related projects we have talked about are extremely rewarding, but I’m not sure how much bank juice they would squeeze for you?

I work full time in local Government in the Health and Safety field, which is a bit of a contrast to a lot of the other stuff I’m involved in! When I first started in my role some years back as an “Injury Prevention Advisor” I was on crutches with a busted ankle. People gave me funny looks when I showed up to assist with “safety improvements”.

My voluntary role in the Canberra Skateboarding Association has meant that we have had to try and run events without consistent staffing or finances. This year I’ve come on board as the ACT Hub Manager for Skateboarding Australia which has opened up a whole new world of opportunity. Glenn (General Manager) and I worked on a proposal last year that saw us win some 2012 Sport and Recreation funding from the ACT Government. This combined with funding from Skateboarding Australia has meant we’ve now got some coaches trained up to run free Streetwise “Learn to Skateboard” clinics most Saturdays at skateparks in Canberra. With this program and also the support of local skateshops, we’ve run some successful free to enter events including Trilogy’s Belco Bust Out comp and the Shifty’s Game of Skate. We’ve got plenty more exciting events and clinics coming up. I’m psyched to have a framework behind me to deliver a consistent program to get kids and adults alike psyched on skateboarding.

Now being from a smaller city myself (Perth), I grew up hearing many a human complain about how it is boring, there is nothing going on etc. From what I gather this could also be a common attitude in Canberra. What do you think is the key factor into turning complaintitive mindsets into constructive attitudes?

I’ve never suffered from a lack of things to do! I wish there was more hours in the day! I’m psyched with how much opportunity there is here. If crew come to visit we can always find spots to skate unbothered – even during the week. I love how Canberra is a big country town with a bit of a city feel. I’ve noticed that crew in Canberra are more laid back and are keen on skateboarding for the right reasons for longer because there’s less bullsh*t. With the hype we’ve received about our world-class skateparks and spots, the ‘Berra is certainly on the map. We’ve got a bunch of sick photographers and filmers here too that give us a lot of good exposure. I figure that if you’re bored, you need to try a different approach! Get involved.

Now, just going back to your parks, and I call them yours because you almost single-handedly made them happen. How does it feel when you are at a comp or demo at one of these and there is an electric atmosphere? (you must feel pretty proud)

As I said I had the support of good friends and colleagues to do what we did. I feel blessed mate. What a privilege to have been able to be a part of something as amazing as this! The opening at Woden was nuts, there was so many crew. Heaps of peeps at the park, be it skaters or whatever, for months afterwards were just saying thanks to me. Kids would stop me and just say, “You’re the dude who got the park built, thanks so much.” It was really humbling. Then we had a ton of demos and tours that confirmed crew liked it. Lots of overseas crew still can’t believe Reece Warren’s back dee went down on the crazy tight vert wall.

Similar stuff happened with Belco but on a much larger scale. Seeing the coverage and recent tours come through and shred the place has been mind-boggling. Gravette’s back to back 360’s over the super jumps in the snakerun was pretty legendary. Lizard King’s demo was off its head. A year after its opening and the hype is still growing. And it’s my local park, what more could you ask for!?

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luke backside smiths on his own doing (photo Nathan Mollison)

Now if you could orchestrate the dream session at … say Belco and you were allowed five contemporary Australians skaters, two international pros and one veteran (from anywhere). Who would you pick?

Todd Webster, (Jim) Fowlie, Dorfus, Brodie, Noah, Steve Kelly, Reesy, Anton (Jeandet), Shauny (Eaton), Flaz (VB), Reece Warren, Saul Bell, Ben Hmelnitsky, (Jake) Duncombe, Isaac Brown (lil bro), Jackson Pilz, The Fardells – oh wait that’s just a Bowl jam! Nah, seriously I couldn’t choose mate. I’m down to skate with anyone that’s in it for the fun.

If you could choose three bands / musical acts to provide the tunage who would they be?

They’d be playing on the platform, and dudes would finish their runs and join in singing on the mic: AC/DC with Bon Scott, Motörhead and the VeeBees would be epic!

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