Concrete action hits the Dublin quays
The Kings of Concrete festival has found an unlikely partner in the Tall Ships Festival, and this year, taking their cue from the Olympics, the organisers are hoping to leave something major behind when the urban party is overTUCKED AWAY among the glass-panelled office blocks and apartments in Dublin’s Hanover Quay looms an old print factory with an imposing image of a dog plastered across its front door. Inside, ramps and grind poles are being welded, nailed and sanded, in preparation for the Kings of Concrete festival, an event which celebrates the skate community and provides an outlet for those with nowhere else to take their boards.
Starting out as a one-day event six years ago and created by a troupe of musicians, carpenters and engineers, this year it is being held over four days in the “urban zone” of the Tall Ships Festival.
Kings of Concrete is now an established part of Irish skate culture, which has been evolving ever since Clive Rowen first opened Clive’s of Hill Street in Dublin in the mid-1980s, a modest shop considered the birthplace of Irish skating. Sixteen years later, Ramp’n’Rail skate park in Drumcondra, north Dublin, found itself at the epicentre of a skating boom, and was packed to the brim with fresh-faced boarders and rollerbladers, as well as an older group of seasoned amateurs.
For many, the best skateboarding took place in the city’s streets, where aspiring amateurs could spend an entire day grinding marble ledges or perfecting their kick-flips down stairwells. Regarded as a way of avoiding the hefty entrance fees demanded by indoor skate parks, street skating has also provided an alternative route for those that have an aversion to traditional sports such as rugby, soccer or GAA.
Anyone looking to make use of these spots – which were usually located outside banks, offices and car parks – would be well used to dealing with irate security guards who viewed the freesport as a nuisance. “People used to come from all over Europe to skate at the Bank of Ireland on Baggot Street,” says Mark Brew, one of the skaters behind Kings of Concrete.
By the middle of the last decade, anti-skating sentiment among office tenants and commercial landlords in Dublin and elsewhere had reached boiling point, causing councils across the country to “skate block” some of the best-loved street-skating locations. This involved soldering chunks of metal on top of ledges, handrails and benches, as well as installing jagged paving stones at the top of flights of stairs in order to obstruct the so-called “anti-social use of hard landscaping”.
“We noticed the city council were spending money skate-blocking the city and there was a failure to recognise the need for appropriate facilities,” says David Smith, the main organiser of Kings of Concrete. It wasn’t long before Smith and his cohorts began lobbying the authorities to build the much-needed infrastructure for young skaters, BMX riders and rollerbladers.
“We ran a campaign, which ended up with the government providing €2.1m to fund 21 skate parks around the country. That really was the beginning of the festival,” he says.