NEVER NEVER LAND
The Story of the Fitzy Bowl – Part One
I grew up in Ascot Vale, in the western suburbs of Melbourne and spent my younger years playing footy, cricket, hockey on rollerblades, and riding around on my BMX, like most kids do. Back then, at around the age of ten, it was all about bikes with good stickers, light frames, gyros (allows handlebars to spin whilst still allowing front brakes to work) and lighting stuff on fire. My younger brother Ben and I started to fool around on skateboards from quite a young age; bombing the hill we lived on on our hands and knees and rolling down the verandah front steps, ruining the green paintwork arms, much to our mother’s dismay.
I remember rolling down the front step with Ben watching on the old one kickboard we shared and seeing it snapping under my feet. We just laughed, but soon nagged Mum for a new board. I was ten at the time. After a week, Mum agreed to an upgrade from a old soggy one kickboard, to a new shitty double kicked ‘new age banana board’ which I remember being very excited about. That lasted about a week, before I snapped it doing an Ollie on the flat (stoked) and I guess having a double kick opened my mind up to the possibility of tricks on a skateboard. Up until this point, skating was really just something I thought was kinda fun; I didn’t know of anyone else in my area who skated, so I was oblivious to the fact it had a very recent and vibrant history, and a bustling subculture.
I met ‘up the hill big Ben’ a nineteen-year-old shralper who had moved down from Queensland the same week I snapped my shitty Sportsmart board, and he offered to sell me his board as he was upgrading. I nearly creamed my pants when he told me, because he had an awesome, nearly new setup with a birdhouse board, thunder trucks and cozmo wheels. I could have never afforded it new, not if I saved up all year. I was so excited to be getting my first real setup, and even more excited that ‘up the hill Ben’ showed what was possible on a skateboard. Backside flips over bins, double kickflips, impossibles.. this dude could really skate and it wasn’t until I progressed as a skater in later years that I realized how good he really was. I became fascinated with skateboarding as Ben showed me magazines and pictures of ramps, and this soon to grew into an obsession.
I had toyed around with building a few ramps when I was younger, as we were lucky enough to have a really long, smooth driveway. This grew into a fully-fledged skate park, with a massive quarter pipe down one end of the drive, two fun boxes in the middle, and a removable bank at the other end- not to mention all the kickers and grind rails we had as well. I used to build a new obstacle every month and switch up the setup. The 472 bus went right by our house and packed after-school buses of kids would all watch us skate as the bus stopped across the road.
We were soon known as ‘the dudes with the ramps’, later changed to ‘Murphy’s skate park’. I have fond memories of having twenty-plus dudes rocking up (half I hardly knew) for a Friday afternoon sesh with the boombox blaring and Mum bringing out toasties and Coola cordial. It seems skateboarding and having ramps is a very good way to make friends. I remember starting at a new high school and recognizing people who had already come to skate in our driveway.
“After a week, Mum agreed to an upgrade from a old soggy one kick board, to a new shitty double kicked ‘new age banana board’ which I remember being very excited about.”
At the age of twelve or thirteen, after starting high school and having spent countless hours of training in the driveway (we skated every single day it was dry), I was starting to meet other skaters who talked about the sailyards and the ‘Fitzy bowl’. These spots were soon aired on a skateboarding show on Channel 31 I used to watch religiously each week called ‘To Air is Human’; a low-budget showcase of Melbourne skateboarding.
I had a friend who used to live in Carlton, close to the bowl, so we used to visit regularly, trying to get a run-in between the older guys. This was often hard and quite intimating, as we had never skated a bowl, were scared of the bowl itself and the guys skating it, as well as the speed they were all going! As little sailyard street skaters, we had to take a step back and watch the guys carve and turn and air and pump to try and get a handle on how skating a bowl worked.
The locals didn’t make it easy. Jude [Hemley], one famous local, was known for dropping in on other guys while they were skating and ‘burning’ them by performing much harder tricks. We also used to watch the Buchanan brothers- Pat and Spike- as they were also always ripping. We spent many an afternoon skating there and watching the older guys really skate well, inspiring us to skate harder and better in the bowl, on the streets and at the sailyards.
“As little sailyard street skaters, we had to take a step back and watch the guys carve and turn and air and pump to try and get a handle on how skating a bowl worked.”
I think I was about fourteen when I received a ‘Nude with Jude’ flyer at the sailyards skate park in the city where we often skated. It was a party at a Fitzroy bowl on a Saturday night, with a few local, sponsored guys. I went there with my best skate buddy Rory, and I think we would have had a few Stolis or UDL cans in the park before we got there. There was a DJ and guys flying every which way, lots of guys drinking beer and girls watching on. There must have been at least one-hundred and fifty people there, all partying and watching the skating, cheering for the guys busting out. It wasn’t long before Jude, and another particularly inebriated overweight young man, took their kit off and skated carving around the bowl…cocks out, waving around as they pumped the bowl’s corners.
Jude seemed fine with one-hundred-plus people looking at his junk while he skated, and the other guy was so drunk he pumped and pumped until he went so fast, he just hit the curve and face-planted straight into the transition…naked. God, it was the funniest thing I had ever seen. As much as the whole thing was a bit of a spectacle, I think it really felt like we were part of a scene, so to speak. We knew a few of the older guys now and we really felt like we were part of the action; skating with the older guys and having a good time.
“All the old school blank clothing riders were cool; Jaff C, Jase Ridgeway, Will stoyles (aka Styler). The place just always had good friendly randoms.”
I’m currently a carpenter / builder, which stemmed from building ramps. Many of my friends, even those who don’t skate anymore, I met though skating and hanging out with. Skateboarding instantly means you have something in common with every other skateboarder; it’s a sure way to make friends and have great times. It has opened my mind to what was once an underground subculture, and I guess I have seen it peak, fade a little, and peak again…
It’s crazy to see so many new parks being built now as a result; there only ever used to be a few and they were pretty average. The kids have got it easy nowadays! Skating has influenced my attitude, friends, opened my mind to a lot of music and people that I never would have come into contact with. It continually takes me to suburbs and parks and people I never would have crossed over with, both beautiful and ugly. It has made me sweat, bleed, cry, laugh, and has continually provided an outlet for anger, creativity and expression. I have skated in New South Wales, Queensland and all over Victoria- from the dodgy suburbs to the country. We try to do a road trip to a new park every month, or revisit an old one. I’m sure, sooner or later, I’l be skating something overseas.
Fitzy Bowl is one of the most iconic skate spots in Melbourne of all time. There are replicas of this bowl all over Australia, and they are still putting them in new parks today. It’s a place where, as youngsters, we saw both local and international sponsored skaters travel to specifically to skate and film. It’s the place we saw on the videos; it’s a place where people get noticed and take notice of others…a proving ground, of sorts.
Any iconic skate spot, particularly skate parks, have iconic locals and stories to match. Fitzy is up there with the best of them and has cradled generations of skateboarders from all walks and streets of life, young and old. A skateboarding melting pot- or, in this case, bowl. It might be hard for someone who doesn’t skate to understand why a concrete hole in the ground would be so special to so many people. I guess they really have no idea how much time we spend there…
Long Live Fitzy.
Words and Photography: Sam Dickson