Below is a 10 question interview with one of my favorite current freestyle skaters, Denham Hill. This interview was meant to be for a print/digital magazine (the return of Luchaskate Zine after a few years hiatus). I was quickly reminded , after starting work on the layout of the zine) that zine making can be a thankless, time consuming task. I owe Denham a sincere apology that this hasn't been printed before now.
From what I understand you gravitated to freestyle as a means of progression because you lived in a small town and there wasn't a great amount of things to skate. Who, during those early days, inspired your skating and what was it about them that inspired you?
Yeah, so the skatepark where I lived was pretty bad. There was perhaps the most brutal mini ramp that ever existed taking pride of place there. It practically went to vert, had coping that stuck out around 3 inches, and in summer it’d buckle as it was made almost entirely of black plastic. If you could skate that, you could skate any ramp at all. I was interested in “old school” skateboarding and mainly skated transition, and used to have a fairly hell-for-leather approach when I skated, throwing myself off anything and everything.
The skatepark was torn down for a full refit, and in that time there was just a huge area of flat ground. I already had looked at a bit of freestyle and was into it, so I pursued it more and more and then eventually it became all I wanted to skate. I like the idea of being able to skate however I choose to, and freestyle kind of epitomizes that. My earliest influences in skating weren’t really freestylers, I used to buzz off Duane Peters and Jay Adams, I liked their uncompromising and irreverent approach to skating (didn’t much care for some other aspects of their character though). Of course when I first started skating, Tony Hawks Pro Skater was a big thing so I’d be lying if I said that didn’t have an influence. I think you could ask any kid skating around that time and they’d cite it as something that got them fired up on skating!
Your first contest experience. I read that you jumped straight to the pro division. Can you tell us briefly about that experience?
Oh God yeah, what an absolute shower of shit! So I’d only been back on freestyle for a little bit. I quit freestyle (and pretty much skateboarding as a whole) in 2009(ish) and got back into it in 2014. I was speaking to Tony about the contest (Paderborn) and wasn’t sure what division to enter, and he recommended I enter in pro. I was not ready, not even in the slightest. I think I landed one trick, and spend the rest of the time flapping my legs around like a dick hoping they’d land back on the board at some point. I was nervous to the point where I couldn’t at all focus on what I was doing, I hadn’t spent enough time on my run and didn’t know what to expect. It was truly, truly awful. The worst I’ve ever felt about skateboarding.
I’ve always had an issue with competition in that I never really enjoyed it, and at the time was still incredibly anxious in general. Skateboarding was (and is) something very personal to me, so sharing it with a bunch of folks I never met who are looking at how good/shit I am at it wasn’t a great experience.
How did it prep you for future contests?
Pretty badly in a way! I was embarrassed at how I’d skated and the few contests after weren’t great either. That initial baptism of fire fucked me up a bit for future contests.
It was after a couple of years that I decided I really needed to do something about it. I started putting a lot more time into my runs, drilling consistency, and then back in 2018(?) I started working a lot on mindfulness and building mental toughness and focus, basically doing everything I could to overcome any mental blocks that might be in place. I had to re-wire my mindset and teach myself to enjoy the experience rather than dread it. I still aren’t happy with how I skate in contests, but it’s a journey I’m on so I’m working on it daily. It’s been hard work, but it’s helped me out in my personal life too. I don’t really chat to folks about how I’m doing so I looked for ways that I could help myself as I feel that change starts from within. I felt incredibly ready for contests this year, and went sober again (hopefully for good) while pouring a huge amount of time and effort into my skating. I genuinely felt like this year I could have bridged the gap between my skating in practice and skating in a contest. But then some dude ate a bat, loads of folks died and I messed up my ankle. Ah well, best not to worry. Everything gets worse forever.
You are currently riding for Moonshine. How did that sponsorship happen?
Yeah man! So way back in 2015 (or 16? Sorry I’m terrible with dates) we were at NASS Festival in the UK doing some freestyle demos. For those unfamiliar, NASS is an extreme sports festival dominated by vast swathes of crackheads and farmer’s sons and daughters high off their tits on all manner of mind-bending drugs. Anyways, if I remember rightly (this is a period of my life where details are very sketchy) Jim Fairbrother got chatting to Chris Hudson, who was running the European arm of Moonshine at the time. It was the year when Hawk was there, and of course the Moonshine Vert Team was in attendance. I think Jim basically marched up to Chris and said “you should make freestyle boards”. Chris agreed. Shortly after the festival I think Chris and Tony were getting chatting and making things a little more concrete. Tony was asked to put a team together, and put me forward right away. The rest, as they say, is history…
So basically, it’s all Tony’s fault. Ask me for his address and you can send him dog turds in the post.
You have spent a lot of time coaching skaters. Can you tell us a bit about a coaching session. For instance, do you get to know the person your going to coach and then teach them specific things or do they show up and you look at their skating and see what you can improve from there?
Yeah a fair amount of my working life has been spent coaching skateboarding or similar skate-related pursuits. That and working with fish, but so far attempts to teach them how to skate have failed so I quit a well-paid job with good prospects and security to chase a ridiculous dream of skating for a living.
I try to get to know a bit about the person (mostly kids, but some adults too) and assess their motivation for skating and to gauge their interest and passion for it. I’ll chat to them a fair bit before we even stand on a board, as there’s some kids that are super nervous and the board is a barrier so it’s sometimes worth spending that bit of time having a bit of a laugh and a joke with them. Basically, you’ve got to go back to that time when you first showed up at a skatepark. Remember how nervous you were and how intimidating it was with all these dudes flying around. Skateparks were a different place when I started, but kids will still be nervous even in today’s welcoming and positive skatepark environment.
If they’re a complete beginner, even getting them to stand on a board can take time and I’ll have to take them from absolute basics upwards. If they’ve done a bit of skating and are getting into it, I’ll let them lead the lessons and let me know what their dream trick would be for the session and take it from there based on their ability.
Every session is different, and every kid is different so I do my best to be as dynamic as possible. Most of the kids I teach want to skate park and street, so that’s what we do. I rarely teach freestyle, and though I desperately want more kids to learn it I’m never going to push my agenda on them.
It’s an incredibly rewarding job, and I deal with a lot of kids who suffer with behavioral issues or problems with their mental health. Seeing the difference skateboarding can make is rad.
Can you share a few thoughts on winning the Spirit of the Round Up award this year?
I was stoked man! However I didn’t really feel like I deserved it as I feel I’m just doing what is right and what’s necessary. I live by a reasonably strict code of ethics and feel that a sense of duty is vital in contributing to the “well-roundedness” of an individual. In this case, the duty being to contribute to a lifestyle and hobby that has offered me limitless opportunities by giving back to it in any way possible. It’s given me new friends, a lifelong passion and a means to feed myself and keep a roof over my head (just!) so it’s only right to do all I can to preserve it and promote it to the next generation, and to be a fun dude to have around at contest who will definitely dress in drag at the after party and make sure I embarrass myself as much as possible.
Despite not feeling worthy of the award, I’ll accept it with the upmost gratitude.
Outside of skateboarding, what are your interests?
Well I used to play in a few bands, so I still sing, play guitar, bass, drums and play gigs very occasionally. I do a bit of artwork, most of which was being used for “Terror-Firma” but of course that’s gone quiet for a bit, but it’ll be back very soon. I restore vintage skateboards too, mainly pre-80’s boards. I remember getting my first skateboard for Christmas one year and how stoked I was, and some of these battered old pieces of wood will have stoked someone else out back in the day so it’s nice to get them looking like they’re fresh out of the box again. Breathing a bit of the magic back into ‘em!
I also collect a load of taxidermy and natural history items. I’ve got all sorts of stuff. A human vertebrae, a bunch of shark related items (I wanted to be a marine biologist when I was really young), all sorts. All of them are either ex-study models, accidental bycatch or really old, so I’ll never by something recent that’s been hunted purely for trophy purposes. I have morals, I promise!
Ten years from now, where do you see skateboarding, freestyle skating in particular?
In ten years’ time, judging by recent events, we’ll be too busy kicking the living dog shit out of each other in the Thunderdome to care about skateboarding. On a serious note though, I don’t really like where skateboarding is right now, or where it’s going in the future. I’m happy to work at grassroots level so that at least I can let kids know they don’t need the latest high fashion shit to be a skateboarder.
I think though, for every horrendous hype-beast trendy-boy you see on a skateboard behaving like a twat, there’s a core of dudes hacking away at the ankles of the industry keeping things more “real” as it were. The thing is, we know the skating that’s shoved down our throats daily by the likes of SLS and most social media based outlets isn’t our skateboarding, it’s a money making exercise. The issue is, it’s the next generation that watch that shit religiously, and when it dominates every skateboarding outlet you can think of then how are they going to find an alternative? They’ll just perceive that as skateboarding, and that’s it.
Freestyle offers the alternative. For those wanting to be part of the subculture that is skateboarding, freestyle is about as underground as it gets. It’s accessible, lacking in pretense (generally), and has its own community of individuals who couldn’t give a shit about how hairy/not hairy Nyjah’s bollocks are on any given day.
Freestyle will do very well, I’m sure. And if it doesn’t, we made it this far and we deserve a warrior’s death.
I think there’s a lot of things that hold freestyle back in a big way, but that’s probably another few pages of text and people are sick of me talking by now anyways. We’re doing okay though.
What is your advice to young skaters?
Be brutal with yourself and become a hard taskmaster, but accept that bad days will happen and some days you won’t land a damn thing. Remember that skateboarding is a celebration of your individuality; push mongo if you’d like, mall grab your board until your knuckles are white, do ugly tricks, have brightly coloured horrible griptape. The opinions of others don’t matter at all when it comes to how you skate, and your individuality and self-expression are both too valuable to be stifled by the thoughts of naysayers and nobodies who will contribute nothing to skateboarding, but everything to the inflation of their own ego by making you feel like crap.
The best revenge is success.
Your parting thoughts or personal motto?
“Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.”