053: Don Brown/The Serendipity of Skateboarding

“I always wanted to skate on a freeway”. Skin’s classic Go Skateboarding Day picture of Don.

“I think that when you are really love with something and are really passionate about something, you attract certain things, and that will take you a certain direction. You know when you’re obsessed with something that’s how you look at your worldview. And things will come to you because of that”.

I’m back after a couple of weeks podcast downtime – and my guest this week is the legendary Don Brown. You might not be familiar with the name, but Don, a Brighton local, has had one of the most quietly influential careers in skateboarding. How? From world champion freestyler to the man who came up with Go Skateboarding Day, Don has been there, seen it, done it and probably sold you the t-shirt.

1984 – Don’s first trip to the States.

Don was part of the early generation of UK skaters, who very early on headed over to the States to pursue his absolute love for skateboarding and along the way found himself at the heart of the global skate industry. And that’s where he’s been ever since, giving him a ringside seat for every significant development in skate history since the mid 1980s. It means the man, a brilliant raconteur, has stories to burn and in this episode we get plenty of those.

A slappy dressed as a donkey? Why not?

We also get a glimpse of Don the romantic, a man for whom fate is real, and who has always been guided by his passion for skateboarding and by a burning desire to spread the skate gospel as honestly and funnily as possible. As he says himself during our conversation, “I just loved skateboarding. It was all I knew and that was passion that really drove who I was as a person. So I followed the path of where that was rolling”.

Don and freestyle pals, HB pier 1986.

The result is a funny, gossipy, rollercoaster of a chinwag that touches upon every era of skateboarding and just might have the most extensive Show Notes yet. So if you’re struggling to keep up with all the names and references dropped by Don then head on over to my website for the full breakdown.

Massive thanks to Don for coming on the show and knocking it out of the park so entertainingly. Enjoy!

If you only have five minutes…

Listen to this section - Turning pro and the role of fate.

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Show Notes

  • Brighton heatwave.
  • Looking back at Brighton after 30 years.
  • Don’s first time skateboarding in the late 70s.
  • The original Brighton skate scene.
  • 1981 – first emotional connection and formative experience with skateboarding.
  • Progression and early Brighton spots at this time.
  • ‘Skate And Destroy’
  • Early influences back then.
  • ‘It was a way of going against the grain of English culture’
  • First US trip – one way ticket.
  • Ian Deacon calling up people from random state industry ads.
  • On the hustle around the States.
  • The importance of serendipity in shaping Don’s life.
  • First sponsorship deal with Sims.
  • Early years in California – and first ‘industry’ job.
  • Starting to get a feel for the way the industry worked.
  • A south coast surf interlude.
  • Skateboarding starting to pick up in 86 and create its own identity away from surf culture.
  • The ten-year cycle of boom and bust in skateboarding – and how the late 90s bucked the trend.
  • How Don turned pro – and the pro years between ’86 to ’91.
  • The late 80s crash – and how it affected the ‘big 5’ companies.
  • Influence of Steve Rocco, and how early 90s skate culture developed.
  • The ‘Cease and Desist’ period.
  • A sliding doors moment with Pierre Andre
  • ‘I don’t have an actual job. In my head I’m still helping out a friend’.
  • How the relationship with Pierre evolved.
  • Coping with the influence of bigger brands in skateboarding today.
  • ‘We can define ourselves by not acting the way those bigger brands do’.
  • ‘Skateboarding’s not this little thing any more’.
  • Why the Olympics is moving in on action sports, and how skateboarders can try and retain some control.
  • The influence of English skaters on the world skate industry.
  • Don’s standout memories from the 90s heyday.
  • The impact of the 2008 recession.
  • Cult of Tom on Instagram – and the legend of Tom’s hiking boots.
  • How Etnies developed organically…
  • …and how they also made the first DC shoe.
  • How Don invented International Go Skateboarding Day.
  • ‘I always wanted to skate a freeway.’
  • How Don sees skateboarding today.
  • How skate shops are the frontline of skate culture – and how they can evolve to meet changing times.
  • The joy of being out of control.
  • Don’s skate life today.
  • The strength of Swedish skate culture

People Mentioned

  • Mark Baker
  • Simon Levine
  • Jock Patterson
  • Steve Caballero
  • Steve Kilner
  • Ian Deacon
  • Neil Hackett
  • Adam Brinkworth
  • Julius Brinkworth
  • Justin Ashby
  • Smeg
  • Nick Spearing
  • Jeff Newton
  • Johnny Schillereff
  • Jeff Phillips
  • Craig Johnson
  • Jim Thiebaud
  • Brad Dorfman
  • Tom Sims
  • Simon Worley
  • Per Welinder
  • Bob Schmelzer
  • Mark Gonzales
  • Tony Hawk
  • Sean Rous
  • John Grigley
  • Paul Schmitt
  • Monty Nolder
  • Joe Lopes
  • Steve Douglas
  • Steve Rocco
  • Mike Vallely
  • Sean Clevert (check)
  • Tod Swank
  • Jeremy Fox
  • Sal Barbier
  • Nick Phillips
  • Pierre Andre
  • Alex Moul
  • Ed Templeton
  • Rodney Mullen
  • Daewon Son
  • Shiloh Greathouse
  • Mike Carroll
  • Hugh Jackman
  • Geoff Rowley
  • Tom Penny
  • Brian Sumner
  • Rune Glifberg
  • Eric Koston
  • Chad Muska
  • Jeremy Wray
  • Mike Escamilla
  • Jeff Brushie
  • Colin McKay
  • Danny Way
  • Ken Block
  • JP Walker
  • Scott Stevens
  • Chris Grenier
  • Steve van Doren
  • Tony Hawk
  • Skin Phillips
  • Elissa Steamer
  • Candy Jacobs
  • Jose Flore
  • Stefan Johansen

Places Mentioned

  • Brighton
  • Hove
  • West Pier
  • New York
  • Dallas
  • California
  • Bournemouth
  • Munster
  • Florida
  • Huntington Beach
  • Farnborough
  • Crystal Palace
  • Newport
  • Shoreham
  • Huntington Beach