Si Coburn: Life After Handrails
Si Coburn has remained a face, an effective cog even, within the UK blade scene for the best part of twenty years, with his skating following the conventional path for quite some time. Sponsorships from BHC wheels, Remz and a constant slew of increasingly fast-placed, skillful clips and sections placed him at the forefront of a sport that was hitting its peak. But Si always maintained a huge love of blading even when its popularity dwindled. The thing is, when you do the same thing for too long, it’s an inevitability that the fire that once burnt so bright might begin to dim slightly. For a few years it was obvious to me that the social aspect kept him coming out more than his actual desire to blade. Looking at him now, it’s amazing to think back to then and how part of me thought he was on his way out. But here we are now, with Si possibly more active on skates than he’s ever been. The fire burns bright once again, but why is this?
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Hey Si, Let’s start with some of the basics. What’s your name, age, and whereabouts?
Hi there. My name is Simon Coburn, I am thirty-seven years young, and I’m from good old Gloucester, the land of cheese rolling.
How old were you when you first started skating, and what was it about rollerblading that first drew you in but also kept you committed to the sport?
I must have been around twelve or thirteen years old. At the time I was heavily into football, and one of my friends suggested we try skating, but I was a bit sceptical. I can remember the first ever day out on some cheap plastic wheeled skates. Pete and I had taken out the middle wheels so we could try grinding a curb. I’m pretty sure it was at that point that I fell in love with rollerblading. It helped that lots of people my age were doing it as well; inclusivity is a very important thing at that age. Beyond that initial exposure to the act of skating, I remember seeing Hoax 3 being quite a huge moment — it blew my mind in all kinds of ways. The music, the tricks, the styles, and all the different personalities adding to the pot. That sealed the deal for me. I kicked that football into the hedge and didn’t put the skates down to this very day. From then to now skating has taken me places, introduced me to some of my best friends, opened my ears to so many types of music, gifted me both great and tough times, life long injuries, an appreciation of different ways of life, sponsorship, and has kept me both in the outdoors and fit. It’s all these things, and many more, that have kept me committed.
Back in those early days, who or what inspired you? What were your main influences?
All of my friends that I skated with were my biggest inspiration as we would all be pushing each other and learning new stuff each day, but most importantly, just having a good laugh together. Special shout out to Sam Davies, he was the local pro and I remember seeing him on the front cover of Unity mag. It’s fair to say I lost my shit at the sight of this. He’s still one of my favourites to watch. Obviously influence also came from the videos that I religiously watched every day. Spending so much time studying pros, their style, and tricks has an effect. Josh Petty was my first big influence that came from the pro world of skating. He had the swag, tricks, style and was basically just a badass. I would try all this tricks, watch all his sections on repeat after school, then head out skating listening to “Daytona 500” by Ghostface. If you know, then you know!
What was skating to you back then? What did you want to achieve with it?
I think like any kid I wanted to be sponsored like all my favourite pros. The status and position was always something to aim for because one thing that stuck with me was that I wanted to be a well-respected skater. I would look at people I knew were good and would think to myself that it would be amazing to be at a level where you got respect off other great skaters. To me that’s what really stood out to me and anything else was a bonus. I just wanted to be good on skates and be able to skate most things really.
Do you think you achieved those initial goals that you set yourself as a young person?
Hmmm, I think it took a fair amount of time before I began to make those goals a reality. I was about 17, but at that point I was also starting to place well in competitions — that obviously boosted my confidence. I was also regularly skating with some of the UK’s best skaters. The likes of Mark Trebble, Al Jones, Guy Crawford and Sam Davies made up the crew, and when I was getting props from those guys it made me feel like I had arrived, I felt that I must have been good as I was hanging and skating with the pro guys. That was the closest I came to feeling like I had achieved something, though, at the time, it all just felt like a natural progression of things happening that I was happy with. It’s only been years later when I look back that I can see the whole picture, the things that drove me and when I achieved them.
It’s fair to say your skating has evolved quite dramatically over the last three to four years. What happened, and why?
About four years ago I was still heavily into aggressive skating, actively spot hunting for rails, ledges and gaps. It was while out shooting some clips for my Signature Lade wheel promo that I seriously blew my knee out. I was down for the count and it seriously sucked. I couldn’t put any weight on it, and even once I could, it was so weak. At this point I was already a UK ambassador for Rollerblade, and with grinds and gaps off the cards they were kind enough to send me a pair of Twister edge 3x110mm skates. These proved to be a great way to get back onto skates and rehab my knee back to full strength. The whole process helped me from going mad without skating, but also opened my eyes to big wheels. I was blown away by the instant speed and manoeuvrability. Despite that though, the plan was always to get myself back to full strength then back onto aggressive skates with a little bit of big wheeling for shits and giggles. The along came the RB80 skate — a 4x80mm wheeled, super light and comfortable skate that left like no other. Despite being a big-wheeled skate, for me, they had an aggressive skate feel to them. Seeing what Danny was doing on them only sold me further, and once I had a set that was it, I was fully converted to big wheels. I could still blast around skateparks doing gaps and stuff, going hella quick (which I love), and it was strengthening my knee in the process. I then began to open my mind and explore all the different ways I could skate on these amazing blades. I still love aggressive skating, and have so much appreciation for it, but these big wheels almost felt like they had given me a new life with skating. The new approaches to what, or how, I could do things. Being able to go out for sunset cruises or nocturnal blasts in the city made me feel like I had discovered so much of skating that was not there with aggressive. Plus, it was making my body stronger than ever. It was just the start of falling in love with skating all over again and loving every second of being on blades.
Who, or what, would you say are your main influences now, since all of this personal development in your skating?
Since getting into the whole freeskating scene, the main influences from an actual skating point of view have come from Nic Swan, Danny Aldridge, Brett Davies, Nicola Torelli, Ricardo Lino and the whole LSLife crew. But it’s not just that, everyone who is out on skates, no matter what the level of skill or discipline, inspires me. I get juiced just seeing people out enjoying skating, especially when it’s new faces to the sport. Seeing someone learn how to stop or jump or turn is amazing. It takes me back to my first days on skates and the buzz I felt then, but I also feel a part of that now as well. I’m discovering so much more about skating now that I’ve opened my mind to all the opportunities.
What do you want to achieve with your skating now? What are your renewed goals?
Good question. The first thing that comes to mind is to live up to the role of an ambassador and showcase just how much fun skating can be. So I hope my videos can be a gateway for all those beginners to keep skating, or total newbies to pick up some skates. Basically, just spreading positive vibes and all the good in rollerblading, because I want to get as many feet in skates as I possibly can. I’m looking to get involved with Rollerblade much more in an attempt to boost the brand and blading overall within the UK. 2020 has been such a strong year for blading and I want to build on that with more videos throughout my social media channels, full parts for those who want more than 20 second clips, and, personally, to just keep pushing myself and to expand my boundaries of what I think blading is. I would also like to work more with brands outside of the sport that have shown an interest in it, as I feel this will be a huge part of the sport going fully national again.
Did the self sufficiency of the Insta360 help push your move from aggro to freeskating, or was it just a bonus that such equipment was a option while you were rediscovering blading all over again?
I had seen a few clips of people using one of the cameras and thought it looked quite cool, like a great way of documenting what it felt like to tear about the city, but I wasn’t initially desperate to get one. For quite some time I had my eyes on a Gopro, and when it came time to buy it, I saw they had the Gopro Max available. So I just went for it, thinking it was a little bit different. From the very start I realized it was so easy to stack clips and create content all from my phone! I suppose in a way it probably did guide my move to freeskating a little bit, but it was never intentional. I was just enjoying pushing more content out of what I was doing without having to rely on a videographer or photographer. It made me enjoy just going out on the big wheels and skating around. I found myself doing way more miles than before and enjoying the experience, and skates, even more.
Your following on the Socials has grown incredibly over the last year. Why do you think this has happened and how do you deal with this sudden increased visibility?
I’m not overly sure myself to be honest. It’s not like I’m up there as one of the best skaters, so I do find it strange that my following has grown so much and continues to do so. I’m sure consistency in posting content has helped, along with tagging and hash tagging all my posts. One thing I did notice was that the bulk of the new followers were freeskaters, or beginners to the sport, and people showed more appreciation for simpler stuff. Trick after trick wasn’t cutting the mustard but a simple cruising video through a city got great interactions. This came as a bit of a surprise to me, after fifteen plus years of aiming to do my very best thing on skates, here I was being given kudos for doing what felt almost like nothing. I continued to test this theory and it worked, but while doing so I discovered that I was simply enjoying myself way more on skates than if I was out filming an aggressive clip. My freestyle mind was starting to develop into a new way of skating. I’m now at the point that I just love skating so much that I want to promote every thing about it. Hopefully this gets more people on skates, enjoying it as much as I do.
It’s been mad dealing with all the DM’s and comments. I used to be able to keep up but there came a point where I had to start dedicating time to responding to everything. It’s always a blessing to hear from people who are inspired by what I do or just want to connect. I will always reply to anyone who takes the time to contact me. Maybe this is also why my following has grown so rapidly; the truth is I don’t know really. I’m just out having fun on my skates filming whatever I come across. So I’m going to keep on trucking and see where this all takes me.
I suppose the really big question on everyone’s mind is what are you now? A influencer or a skater?
I still label myself as a skater, that’s what I do and what I want to keep doing. If I can influence people to get skates or try to progress, then to me that’s just amazing.
I’ve been involved with skating for so long now that it’s nice to give something back. At the same time though, the more following you get, the more you can show the world what skating is about. I guess both those go hand in hand? Maybe I’m a influskater?! Ha, ha.
I believe you’re a fully certified skate instructor now. Does this play a big part in your plans for the future?
I am indeed. Last summer I took part in the level One ICP course to put a certificate to my name. I figure it backs up my five years of experience coaching at Rush Skatepark. It was a no brainer to sign up, but unfortunately with Covid being a massive bell-end the whole course had to be done over zoom. This had its pros and cons: having more time to think about what you have done wrong and study a bit was great, but then there was no one-to-one physical training. It all worked out fine in the end and I would like to give a big shout out to Kris and the gang at ICP for doing an amazing job. So coming away from this as a fully qualified instructor means I can now do lessons outside of the skatepark, but it’s also opened a new exciting venture. I can’t go into much detail, but the course I did was based around the basics like stopping, turning and balance, and now Kris and I are working together to build a course that is aimed towards becoming an aggressive skate coach. It’s all really cool stuff so keep your eyes peeled for that.
Are there any elements of aggressive skating that you miss or are you more than content with what free skating gives you?
At first I was missing grinds, but I think that was mainly down to the fact that I hadn’t discovered all the other cool stull I could do on the free skates. My frame of mind had not changed after years and years of aggro skating. What is for sure was that I didn’t miss the smaller wheels, and I was enjoying skating without battering my body as happens with aggressive skating. I feel as I’ve progressed over to free skating that I now don’t really miss it any more. I still watch it, and get inspired by what other people are doing, but for myself I feel really at home on the freeskates right now. That doesn’t mean I’ll never aggressively skate again, I actually strapped them on for a photo the other month. Both are such totally different experiences so it’s nice to be able to switch it up, but do I feel I have a lot more to explore in the freeskate world. I just love the speed, comfort, responsiveness and total freedom of the freeskate. I like to think it suits my style of skating a little more. I was never the most technical aggressive skater; I used to just love going quick and gapping stuff or grinding long handrails. Now I like to still go quick and jump stuff, but instead of a rail I’m on the hunt for a massive hill bomb or a big ledge to roll down.
At one point you were a part of the UK Remz team. What happened there and what’s your relationship with Rollerblade now?
Yeah, it was a bloody good run with Remz. I was on the team from around 2008 to 2013 perhaps. I got to have some super fun times with the brand, crazy tours, and met some incredible people. Eventually the budget changed and I was dropped. Fast-forward five years and Rollerblade has hooked me up, thanks to Danny Aldridge who was key to getting me on the brand. I had a random voice message from him informing me that my name had been brought up a few times in meeting; it all just went from there…
Are there any other brands who are currently supporting in your blade mission?
I’m being support by The Blade Clothing, which is run by the man, the myth, the legend that is Sean Partridge. This guy has put his heart and soul into the brand and rollerblading. He’s always coming out with new garms and supporting events or creating them. I’m super proud to be a part of The Blade Clothing, big up to all the fam.
A guy called Phill who is from my hometown and just started up a speaker company called Birdie Audio approached me. He really liked some of my videos and got in contact asking if I would be keen to help push the speaker. Being a homegrown company I was more than down, plus he loves music and skating, which goes hand in hand. Respect to Phil and the gang, keep doing your thing.
Although not a sponsor, I very recently had Brad from Endless Frames reached out. He sent over some of the cyber pink 90mm/100mm frames for testing, and I got to work straight away. I can’t say enough good stuff about the frames, and the fact you effectively have a two-in-one frame is amazing. I high recommend them and hope I can continue to work with Brad and Endless in 2021.
Even more recent than that is something that hasn’t even been announced yet, but I’m sure it will be by the time this comes out. I will be riding for Slick Willie’s skate shop in London, which I’m heavily juiced on. The shop has been around for fifty years! FIFITY YEARS! It’s a staple of the London scene, especially for the now growing London freestyle community, most of which is thanks to London Skate Life. Massive shout out to those guys, they are doing great things for rollerblading in the capital.
What’s your current set up and how does differ to a typical set up from back in the more aggressive heavy days?
My current set is the Rollerblade Danny Alderidge Pro Boot with cyber pink Endless frames and 90mm Rollerblade wheels. I would say the main difference would be the lightness of the freeskate boot over any aggressive boot and the manoeuvrability as well. It’s insane how much better the free skates feel over the average aggressive, the control and speed of movement is so good. One disadvantage can be the shock absorption on freeskates, which is nowhere near as good as what is standard in aggressive skates. But both skates are designed for what they are used for, so there will always be big differences between the two — both are equally as fun. It’s just more a case of what you want to do with them I suppose.
Considering your age, the amount of time you have spent on skates, and the type if skating you’re doing, do you do any other kind of conditioning to keep yourself in shape?
Funny you asked this actually. Up to now I have only ever really used skating as my means of exercise. I dabbled with the gym here and there, but I never really knew what I was doing just wanted to be out skating instead of doing weight training. But everyone goes through their fair share of injuries, so aiding your body to recover properly and become stronger is key to longevity in skating. I joined a company called Ruroc about two years ago, and since then they’ve grown massively and wanted to help their employees get healthier and more motivated. So they built a gym and hired a personal trainer for everyone to have once a week, all for free! The gym is now complete and honestly it is amazing! I jumped at the chance for free personal training. And being able to use a gym on my lunch break doesn’t eat into my personal time. So I’m now training five days a week with lifting weights, working on my legs, and just getting stronger for skating! This has made a massive improvement so far, I’m feeling better about myself and stronger. If you’re considering doing workouts then I strongly advise it, especially for skating injuries.
What was your favourite era of blading? The big wheel/ freestyle stuff now, or the aggressive skating back in the day?
That’s a really tough question. There have been so many great highlights throughout my skating and they all bring their own memories, with the different eras having their own nuances. If I put my mind to the task though, I think the late ‘90s or early ‘00s was my all time favourite era in blading. The FP days with the likes of Feinberg, Petty, Latimer and Sagona were the best days. They all brought their own unique style and personality to blading. These were the guys I looked up to and watched regularly, and they produced some of the best sections to date. It was that period before the Internet took over and everything became way more diluted. Pros were pros and you could only see them in a video or magazine. During that time I was making regular trips to California with the lad, creating memories that will last a lifetime. Saying that, I also love where skating is going right now, the diversity and inclusivity is a beautiful thing. I feel right now is a very exciting time in blading, but without those deep set roots and history, it wouldn’t be where it is now.
Okay, Si, lets wrap it up. Thanks a lot for your time. Do you have parting words or thanks you wish to dish out?
I want to say a big thanks to Sam, more than anyone, to be honest. He does so much for skaters and skating, and I don’t think his efforts in documenting the sport are recognised as much as they should. It’s always a pleasure going out with him and getting shots, the results are always on point and he never expects anything in return. He’s a proper legend. I also want to thank Jan at Big Wheel Blading for his efforts with the website and showcasing freestyle blading. Thanks to my dam, my girlfriend Kat and also my dog Shady who likes nothing more than getting his red rocket out way more than he should. Big up all my mates and everyone at work, and to anyone who I have met or spoken to along the way. Big up to anyone who made the Jurassic Park films, hahaha. Keep skating and just doing your thing, promote skating and show the world what we’re all about.
Interview and Photos by Sam Cooper