Tom Knox interview18.05.2020 - Exclusive
So we are in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic with lots of European countries in lockdown and rumours the UK is soon to follow. How are you coping?
I’ve just been going for walks in the woods and trying to stay positive… and playing Dobble a lot, that game is so good. It has gotten very serious though. People are under a lot of stress.
Your wife Kelly is a nurse. How has coronavirus changed her working life?
It’s completely changed. The kids’ nursery is closed but she still has to work. She works in paediatric A&E. Guidelines are constantly changing so it’s all very surreal and there’s a lot of anxiety. If you work in hospitals you really can’t be seeing other people. I think that’s a big struggle for her and her co-workers in the health service. The prospect of not seeing your parents again is becoming a reality.
How is she coping?
She’s fine for now but maybe not by the time this comes out. We will see. We’re just trying to get quality time with the kids without losing the plot. We do have a garden though, so we’re fortunate.
What about your job as a professional skateboarder? How has the pandemic affected you in the short term?
All my trips have been cancelled and no one is really out skating but that’s about it for now.
How do you see this affecting the skateboard industry longer-term?
It’s so hard to gauge right now what the long-term effects of this will be. I think it will have a huge effect on the world and of course that will seep into the skateboard industry.
On a more positive note, I hear you are expecting a third child. Congratulations! It looks like you’re planning a big family like your parents’. What made you and Kelly decide to have a third?
Thank you! I guess the main reason was to give my kids another sibling who they can play with and enjoy everything together with. The two girls I have are inseparable. They do everything together and are best friends. I just wanted to put a nice big spanner in all that (laughs). Really though, I do feel people learn a lot by having to deal with others around them, people that they have to care for, share with and all that. Being from a big family myself I can’t imagine having grown up without people constantly around me to mess about with. I’m not sure I’ll have seven like my parents did though. I’ll see how three goes. I’ve heard it’s a shitshow (laughs).
To what extent are you aware of being a wholesome, family-focused role model within skateboarding, the opposite of most people’s view of skaters in their 20s?
I guess it’s not too common so I do get asked about it a fair bit. Maybe people view me as that kind of role model and I’m proud of that but within skateboarding I am just trying to be as productive as I can with the time I’ve got. As a skateboarder I have to be away quite a lot, but I’m also very fortunate that when I’m home my schedule is flexible, so I can spend a lot of time with my girls and pick days to skate.
I’m aware that people who aren’t getting paid to skate are probably sacrificing more than me when having a child.
I also have a wife who sacrifices a lot so that I can do all this. She arranges all her shifts around my trips and handles weeks on end with the kids on her own. When I am home I’m also lucky that I film with my best mate (Jacob Harris). I leave the house, get the blood flowing, film, maybe have a cheeky pint then I’m off home to do the bedtime routine with the kids. So I am blessed. It can get tough when I’m hurt, as I’ve built most of my socialising around skateboarding but for the most part the skate dad life works well for me.
In your Thrasher interview you described how starting a family effectively meant turning your back on the “eternal youth” of skateboarding. Can you explain a little more about this?
When I was younger I spent so much time out skating, dicking about, at Jake’s house watching skate videos, listening to music… I do sometimes get sad that it’s not like that anymore. When I’m down I feel like skateboarding – at least my small world within it – has turned its back on me. I see photos on Insta of all my friends together, partying and all that. But when I come around I’m fully aware that this isn’t true. All the boys – especially Jake – make a big effort to make me still feel included. We’ve been filming in London lots lately and it’s been lovely.
In the same interview you mentioned worrying about being judged for starting a family at 24, about your position in society. How do you feel about that now, with a third kid on the way?
I’m definitely less worried about it these days. I feel quite comfortable about it all. I know other parents will judge me when I tell them I’m a skateboarder. It can feel strange, but fuck it. I was at a playgroup the other day and the lady running it asked me if I was: “still doing the juggling” (laughs). Most people just don’t understand it, but that’s OK.
I think a lot of friends my age – around 40 – who have just started families would love to be sending their kids off to university and getting a bit of peace. You’ll be able to relax a little at a relatively young age. Was this one of the reasons you started your family so young?
No, that was not a reason, but I guess it’s true. People always say that doing it young is easier. I’m fearful for your mates starting families because I’m knackered!
Recently you’ve been on The Nine Club and been the subject of two documentaries, one – Out There – released by Thrasher to a huge audience. Does this stuff give you anxiety at all? I remember you saying you haven’t watched your Nine Club episode.
Yes it does. I definitely don’t like watching and hearing myself. The response to all that stuff was good though, which was a relief. I like being able to hide behind my skateboarding as it’s easier to control things that way. I can be hyper critical of my skating and make sure everything I put out is up to the standard I’ve set for myself, but then fuck up all the hard work by dribbling in a documentary that 100,000 people watch or being drunk and jet lagged on a podcast and saying some dumb shit. It’s harder to control that.
Have you been recognised out and about more since your Thrasher cover in December?
People definitely have been stopping to congratulate me, which is lovely, but so many people talk to me about The Nine Club and Out There, way more than any part I’ve spent years of my life working on, putting blood, sweat and tears into (laughs). Then I spend a few hours drinking beers and chatting on a podcast and people mention it so much! It’s a strange one. I remember after that (The Nine Club) came out I was in LA and people in bars were coming up to me asking about it. Even random people who didn’t skate were stopping me in the street.
In your Out There episode, Jacob spoke about wanting to help give you some security when he heard you were having a baby. How important has he been to your career?
Without him I don’t think I’d have a career in skateboarding. He did want to help me out after I had Rosie. Being the GOATfather and my best mate, he wanted to figure out how he could elevate me to a place where I could support a family. It’s strange because as soon as I had my first kid, my Vase part went up and all this hard work Jake and I had put in for all those years actually starting having an effect. That would have been a lovely time to indulge and enjoy but I was putting everything into being a dad by then. It’s nice to celebrate when it all works out but it’s hard to find the time. We’re actually still overdue a Thrasher cover party. Casper (Brooker) said he’d get the sack of Becks in. You’re invited too mate. I do really appreciate our friendship, now more than ever. I also understand that lots of people who put as much work in as we do don’t always get the kind of success we’ve had. I’m very grateful that we’ve been able to have that together.
Jacob has strong opinions when it comes to skateboarding and filmmaking. Do you feel like he has guided and / or changed your approach to skating over the years?
Probably (laughs). It’s hard to say because I’ve been hanging out with him for 15 years, but I’m sure it rubbed off on me. As a kid I remember him saying: “You shouldn’t do that it’s a bit stinking,” on a few occasions. I quickly started forming my own opinions on things. We always had discussions and debates about it all. Back then we were just so into skating and making videos. It was such a naïve but lovely time. It’s crazy to think we’re still doing it.
Things are quite different now but Jake still lets me know his opinion. It’s really healthy to be able to be honest and open about what you think in a creative relationship… as long as you’re up for discussing it and figuring it out. And don’t get it twisted Jake has some dodgy ideas himself (laughs), but I’m always up for hearing them because every now and then there will be an absolute gem.
While you’ve been filming for the Atlantic Drift edits, you’ve also been filming / saving lots of stuff with Jacob for your own part, which is out soon. Am I right in thinking this part was how the whole Atlantic Drift project started?
Well initially Jake and I were going to start filming another part (after Vase), then Tony (Vitello, Thrasher) hit up Jake seeing if he wanted to start a series loosely based around me. We wanted to film stuff for the episodes and save bits for a part but I got injured a lot that year. When I could skate, I was just trying to make sure I had footage for the next episode. I’d film some stuff then get hurt again, so the part just got put on ice. By the time I finally got on a healthy streak, me and Jake were both travelling so much there just weren’t many opportunities to film. We only had a couple weeks in London here and there. It’s hard to work on a part that way, but I think we made it work. In the last year we’ve had some good patches so we stacked up.
You described being anxious about your new part because it’s your first in four years, which I think would surprise a lot of people.
It’s always scary when you put something out, especially if it’s just you. Lots of things have changed since my last part. When I was filming for Vase it was so instinctive. Jake and me were super focused, always in London and without many distractions. For this part we’ve had to force it a little more at times, but that’s just both of us getting older and having other responsibilities. To some extent that makes it more satisfying. We’re sitting on a full part we’re both happy with.
Speaking of anxiety, as a pro skater how do you feel about the recent focus on mental health in skateboarding since Ben Raemers passed away?
I think there has been such a great coming together of the community since Ben died. I really believe it’s changed people’s attitudes, mine included. The biggest change I’ve noticed is that people are talking more. I’m having conversations and getting things off my chest that I probably wouldn’t have spoken about before and I’m trying to listen to others who are doing the same.
It was such a tragedy (Ben’s passing), one I still think about every day. Personally, it was my first time dealing with those kinds of emotions. Seeing what Lucy (Raemers, Ben’s sister), Rob (Mathieson) and everyone else at the Foundation (The Ben Raemers Foundation) is doing is so amazing. I genuinely believe it’s going to help people.
Do you ever worry about what you’re going to do after skateboarding?
Yes, for sure I find myself thinking about it, but I also have contrasting thoughts telling me to immerse myself in it as it won’t last forever. I want to do the best I can while I have the opportunity.
Who is your favourite skater from the Atlantic Drift crew?
They are all my favourite skaters, but my extra favourite right now is Max Palmer, also known as Stacks Palmer and on occasion referred to as Mad Max. You can’t stop that boy! He’s on a constant rampage wherever you’re at. He will literally will try a trick for six hours straight, then keep skating until the day’s done, sleep, then do it all again while slowly attaching more tape, bandages and tiger balm to different parts of his body. He keeps going no matter what. I don’t think we could have found a more perfect fit for the Drift.
And who is your favourite skater in London right now?
Kyle Wilson. Apart from stealing his pop from me he can do no wrong, he’s setting pace. I’m looking forward to seeing what he’s going to do.
Finally, do you have any advice or words of wisdom to offer?
Skate, be nice, stay off your phones and don’t take advice from me.