Helena Long: Skate Escapades And Gnarly Injuries

We talked to the skater in depth about where she started, where she’s going, and slicing her palm open

Helena Long has been skating for over a decade, and in that time she’s seen a lot happen in the world of skating. This includes an explosion in seeing other female skaters around the parks in London. Not that she’s ever really felt like the “girl skater,” and it’s not like she’s afraid to get down and dirty when working on her tricks. As any skater knows, injuries are going to happen, and Long doesn’t let a little knock or two get in her way. We talked to Long at length about her skating career, from her first time getting on a board through skating in the world of COVID. It was a lot of fun chatting with Long, so why not delve into our interview with her? Thanks again, Helena!

Hi Helena, cheers for doing the interview with us! Let’s jump in with the first Q, it’s pretty generic but I feel like it’s a question that people always want the answer to! So how old were you when you first started skating?

I started skating properly when I moved secondary schools. So I guess quite late at 13/14.

What was it that got you into skating?

Ummm, good question, well I kinda used to roller blade a bit, lol! No one should know that- just kidding- haha! And then I think it was a combination of seeing skaters around and playing Tony Hawk’s Playstation game.
 I moved secondary schools in year 8 and a bunch of kids used to skate outside school. I was like “ahh sick I'd like to do that!" I started skating with them after school and that was about it really!

Sick, cool. I picked up a skateboard at 14 and put it back down and didn’t pick it back up until I was 21 hah! I wish I’d stuck with it.

I know what you mean, it’s one of the hardest things to stick to in the beginning but I feel like if you do then you’re kinda stuck forever! 

So do you find that as a girl, when you first turn up to a skate park, people try and suss you out? Or that you feel like the attention is kind of on you to perform as if everyone’s thinking “I wonder how good she’s gonna be”?

I think that was the case a few years ago before the boom in female skaters. That was really quite recent which is amazing, and it’s definitely got something to do with social media. But I was always really supported by a bunch of guys I used to skate with and we were always in our little bubble, in our little crew. So I never really felt any pressure to perform. 

To be honest though, later on in life when I was working a lot I just never had the time to meet up with my skate mates, so I would just go by myself. I would roll up the park and be the only girl there for sure. It’s a very different story now- I’ve been to every park under the sun in lockdown, ones that we’re not even allowed to go to- and every single time there’s been girls there. Every time. Which is incredible.

When I would go by myself I think that the general expectation was “nah she probably can’t skate”, just because I was the only girl. So sometimes I would just do a kickflip on flat and land it in a way that would make people realize “oh actually she does skate, she’s not just hanging around holding a board”. There was a little bit of pressure there but to be honest, over the years once you get to know the scene, you become a familiar face to everyone as well.

So just to kind of touch on that, have you experienced sexism at a skatepark?

Uhmm, no. Actually, I dunno. Maybe unconsciously? I’ve never encountered any sexism that I've been aware of. I’ve maybe had some people approach me and give me tips on how to do something but I always welcome that. Someone once gave me a tip for a trick that I could do but that for some reason just wasn’t happening that day. I don't think that it was intended to come across as patronising! That is probably the mildest example haha!

I think if anything any sexism I’ve encountered has been from lads that don’t skate, outside of the skatepark shouting “she was a skater girl” or something. But they shout it at boys too haha!

That’s cool cos dudes I think, generally now are actually pretty supportive of female skaters I know that there have been times where maybe people haven’t been as welcoming at skateparks, especially to beginners. Anyways so I saw a video on you Insta feed of the palm of your hand all cut up, how did you do that?! Looks gnarly!

I actually do it ALL of the time. I’ve got a soft spot from where I put my hands down when I fall. Obviously, if the floor is kind of rough it marks, although saying that I’ve still done it when the floor is smooth. Now I've got kind of a weird callus or lump on the palm of my hand. Sometimes if I catch it, this gross flap of skin just comes up. I’ve had that since the very beginning. 

It looks soooo painful!

Yeah man, I remember when I first did it and I thought “hmm should I get stitches?” and everyone said, “no, it’ll be fine”. But now it looks quite gross! 

Yeah it looks bad! 
So right now, the UK is slowly starting to get back to normal after COVID right? 

I mean… yeah, everyone acts like normal so… I’d say so.

During quarantine were you able to skate? You said before that you were going to skateparks and stuff but were there police coming round or anything?

I feel like in classic-British-style there were sort of some rules in place but then not in others. It was up to whoever was around police-wise to make a fuss or not. I think it’s just that funny grey-area with skateboarding. “Is it a sport? Is it not?” “Are you actually exercising or are you just sitting around having tinnies in the park?” Haha!

I went to my local where there’s no fence, there’s just a very low wall and they hadn’t locked the gates for a while. I would go food shopping and take my board with me then head to the park when no one was really out. The majority of people were being pretty cautious. I think quite a few people were going too but going early in the morning. We were all only going for the dedicated hour of exercise that we were allowed. 

Police cars would go past but they wouldn’t stop, it was like they had better things to do. And then there was a really contradictory sign that got put up that said “this is not a place for picnics, barbecues or hangouts. This is a place for exercise only.” Then there was another bullet point that said, “all skateparks in London are closed”.  Eventually, some tape got put around the park but no one really did too much apart from that. 

There was another park that I went to called Royal Oak near Ladbroke Grove that has a sign saying "please keep 2m apart". Police would come by, have fag breaks, and just watch us so that was chill. It was more about weighing up which parks to go to.

I went to Peckham Rye Park at one point when all the gates were locked, there were a few of us that climbed over though. A policeman came past on a bike, asked what we were doing in there, and did we know what the law was (even though we're all spread out over 2m apart) He said "the park’s locked up...you shouldn’t be in there!” We were like “sorry we’re doing our exercise, we know it’s locked up… we have broken THAT rule but this is our thing! We’re being cautious." So he suggested we went to skate in Stockwell instead! Haha, telling us that this park was closed but sending us to another one instead? It just made no sense! So yeah, there was always a way.

When we were finally allowed unlimited exercise I would go on some street skate missions around central London. There was no one around, there wasn’t even security in buildings at times. It was absolutely dead. It was amazing because it was one of the first times that I'd got to skate some spots which are normally an absolute bust. They were tucked away though, so I couldn’t get kicked out which was great.

Craaazy man! So which is the trick that you’re most proud of?

Ohhhh, I don’t know! I’ve been skating a lot of streets which I’m really enjoying as I haven’t properly gone on missions for in a long time. I tried skating this ledge the other day which had a curb in front of it. I was kind of bonking my wheels on the curb on the way up to the ledge -sort of like a mini Wallie- it’s really hard to explain! I’ve never really done that before, so I guess that? Haha!

I find it really hard to learn new stuff now because it’s so easy to just do what you feel comfortable with.

I think once you have that flow and you can go round a park or spot and you have a good few tricks you can do that you can do well, it just feels so good to do them and land them. I’m like “I don’t wanna do stuff I can’t do now” I think I’m just impatient!

Oh my God totally. If I sometimes do ‘this trick’ and land it more than ‘that trick’ then I’m gonna do it again. It’s so stupid but yeah it’s exactly that!

For real, nothing beats that feeling! So last question, where do you think skateboarding will take you in the next few years?

Uhm, I guess I hope it will continue to take me around the world, traveling, and meeting friends. Whether I’m fortunate enough to be on a skate trip -or even if it’s not any specific project- I’ve just worked a lot and saved up to go away. I’d like to continue to do that and travel to places that I’ve never been to before. And that’s it really! Discover lots of street spots. I would obviously like to improve but we’ll see, haha, you know, injuries, getting old, all sorts!

Haha why, how old are you!?

I’m 29 now! So I feel like there's a bunch load of amazing little children that are just gonna pop up and completely knock us out the park!

It is crazy to be fair, kids starting at like 2, 3 years old!

It’s ridiculous! I wish I’d found it at that age! It’s just a totally different generation, I’m stoked though to see how it’s progressing, I guess I’ll just move over soon! 

Haha oh no! Well I mean look at Tony Hawk… He’s still going haha! 

Don’t get me wrong I’m gonna keep going but I don’t think I’ll have a legacy like Tony Hawk haha but I’ll still be around! I’ll still be rolling!

Just get some yoga in, drink some healthy smoothies, you’ll be good!

Exactly! Exactly.

Awesome, well thank you so much Helena, for talking with us, it’s been a pleasure! 

No problem, thank you!



Related: Interview , female skater , London based skaters .