Director: JJ Rolfe
Cast: Clive Rowen, Rich Gilligan, Tony Hawk
Running Time: 82 mins
Release Date: May 23rd
Skateboarding today is a multi-million dollar industry, with the most famous skaters being household names like Tony Hawk, who even have their own wildly successful computer games. Transport yourself back to a grim 1980’s Dublin, however, and things were very different.
Far from the sun drenched sidewalks of California – the spiritual home of skateboarding – in a small shop on a dirty street in the wrong part of town, one man saw the potential for skateboarding, and whether he knew it or not at the time, was to become the father of the Irish skate scene.
Clive Rowen opened Clive’s of Hill Street in 1984 and proceeded to make a niche for himself in the Irish market, being the only shop to cater for a growing, yet much maligned, subculture of skaters. Hill Street follows the growth of this movement in Ireland. Starting with cobbled together ramps illegally placed in front of the shop, Clive later managed to secure space twice every month in the Top Hat Ballroom in Dun Laoghaire, where they managed to get away with nailing their ramps to the solid oak wooden boards.
The high point at this growth period of skating in Ireland was managing to get the infamous ‘Bones Brigade’ to come to Dublin to put on a demo in the Top Hat in 1990. Tony Hawk recounts the tale, saying that while Ireland didn’t have the largest scene, they were some of the most enthusiastic, going crazy for every trick performed, no matter how small. As one skater puts it, “It was like getting Muhammad Ali over to Dublin to box.”
With a good selection of original footage from the 80’s right through to today, we’re given a window to their world and are treated to interviews with legendary Irish skaters from that era. Their tales range from the early days of cutting up rollerskates and nailing the wheels to planks of wood, to confrontations with security guards across the city, and the struggles to find places to legally skate. With no funding available and an ambivalence verging on hostility from the then Dublin Corporation, skaters were forced to ride street illegally or start their own skateparks.
It’s great to see footage of Dublin from back then; it may not be that long ago but it really makes you feel how much has changed in Ireland in such a short space of time. As for the skating, well, things have improved, and the DCC have realised that building skateparks can have a positive effect on local communities, and the future seems bright for Ireland’s next generations of skaters. One interviewee notes, “It’s like a video game that’s never complete, every generation brings a new level to it.”
The complaint with Hill Street is that it feels a little long and could have done with a bit of trimming, but after 30 years of trying to gain legitimacy and recognition for their sport in Ireland, who is going to begrudge this compelling cast of characters 20 minutes of my time? A hat tip must also go to composer Gareth Averill for a wonderfully evocative synth-driven soundtrack.