Tom Knox's "Atlantic Drift" Interview
Photos by Henry Kingsford
Since his breakout part in VASE, the skate world can’t get enough of Tom Knox. His singular approach to tackling the crustiest UK spots while managing a full adult life at home makes his magnetism undeniable. Get an in-depth glimpse of the international star as he talks with longtime best friend and collaborator Jacob Harris from our Feb. 2020 interview issue.
Tom takes advantage of the empty streets with a heavy switch 50-50
How does it feel to be dropping a full part in 2020?
It feels good! I mean, it’s at a strange time to be putting something out, you can’t even go to a pub to celebrate, but as anyone who does this knows that full parts aren’t that easy. It takes a lot of time. I’m proud to have made another one with you that we’re both happy with. And I'm also proud of still doing it while being a dad, having that extra pressure and responsibility. Finishing it up feels like proving something to myself. I’m not quite sure what, though.
Was it challenging trying to finish the new part when the pandemic hit?
Not at all. When everything first went into lockdown I just stayed home with the fam, skated a little flat here and there. When the restrictions started loosening, we got back on it and it was lovely. We were all out on bikes, everywhere was empty and having no tourists in London is great for skating. More than anything it’s rare to be home for that amount of time. I'm usually getting a week or two here and there, and suddenly we were both completely free.
You and I have worked together a lot. Do you remember the first time we met?
I do. We met in Moorgate carpark. That’s my first memory of meeting you. We must have been 14 years old. I definitely remember you vibing me out that day.
See the benefit of burying the hatchet with Jacob and Tom's new mastepiece
I definitely would have vibed you out. Carpark skating was pretty central to skating in London, right?
Yes, especially when we were kids because we only got the weekends to skate. I remember you guys had a secret carpark no one knew about, that became a huge spot. We met in a carpark. I definitely remember you were against me.
I was against you because I was a mean kid and because of the TV show.
Yeah, just before I met you I went on an English TV show. It was a program called RAD. It was me, Raemers, my little brother Sparrow and some other English kids. We basically traveled around Australia for a TV show and it was an amazing opportunity but I was a very keen kid and I can see why if you’re not into that shit you could have taken a disliking to me.
Kids are mean.
I actually think I wasn’t a mean kid.
Nollie flip in, innit?
You were very much not a mean kid. So, we’re drawing to the close of a decade. I’d say it’s been an eventful ten years for you. Give me a rough outline of the past decade if you can?
When I was 18 I got on Blueprint, left school and just skated for awhile, mate. You were in university. I didn’t do that. You’d moved out of your house. House parties and potato waffles and all that at yours. Then in our early 20s everybody finished university and started getting jobs. We kept on doing our thing, filming mostly. Then when I was 24, we finished filming for Vase and I had a kid. After that video part and having a kid everything changed for me in a lot of ways. At the premiere of Vase it was announced I was going pro and Jensen gave me the mic and I told everyone I was having a kid! My mum told me to do that. She made sure I mentioned Kelly. So when I grabbed the mic that’s all I said, “I’m having a baby!”
Where does that take us up to then, 25?
Yeah that’s 25. That part came out, then Thrasher hosted it and everything kind of popped off from there. Before then we kind of did our own thing. At the time, English people didn’t get parts on Thrasher very often so it felt like a big deal. I think people still felt like there was some kind of wall.
Then another daughter, getting married and here we are doing Atlantic Drift still?
It feels like being a professional skateboarder based in London is something that might not have been sustainable until fairly recently. What do you think has changed?
The Internet, of course. You don’t have to be in a particular place to be filmed. People maybe got bored of the normal things that had been happening in skating for a while. People wanted something different maybe, so that’s why Europeans came up a little bit in the last five years or however long it’s been.
Front board, on the up and up
So it is possible to be remote from LA or wherever the epicenter of skateboarding might be, but how does it feel? Do you struggle to feel relevant at all?
Sometimes. Personally it differs from week to week. I’ll feel good on my board, having been on a trip, but then suddenly it’ll rain for a week straight. When Kelly’s working, I’ve got the kids and I’m completely disconnected. A lot of peaks and troughs. I personally stay as physical as I can. If I don’t skate for a week I feel fucked, so I try and keep myself moving. I’ve got responsibilities with kids, but it’s not that physical—I try my best. I’ll wrestle and fight with them and all that as much as I can. But you end up being quite static a lot of the time. I try and exert myself as much as I can over a week. If I don’t do that I start to feel a bit down.
Somewhere like LA, you’re surrounded by professional skateboarders. The job makes sense. But London…
So there’s pros and cons to that. It’s great surrounding yourself with people who love skateboarding and do all that every day because it makes you feel like you’re sharing your life with people who have similar vibes or ideologies as you. But I do like the way I get to do it where I get to dip out from that identity for a bit and do my own thing at my own pace. I would personally struggle way more being surrounded by skateboarding all the time. I think I need less opportunity in order to feel motivated. Living in London, I’m used to having gaps because of weather and because of family stuff, so it keeps it fresh. Right now I’m in London, it’s cold and it’s dry and it feels perfect.
Tom goes off the bike lockers and onto the awning with no margin for error
Tell me about the first time you ever visited the US.
That was in 2001. Literally just after 9-11 happened. My parents had five kids at the time and as soon as that event happened they looked online and there were flights going both ways for $100, so all of our family got to California and back for $700. I have some Indian family out there who run some shops and stuff. We went and visited them, went on a month-and-a-half trip. Our parents took us out of school. They didn’t really give a fuck about that stuff—they wanted us to travel. I’d just started skating and I skated Pier 7 with a helmet on. I was trying to kickflip off the ledge. I was getting in the way of some dude. I kept getting in his way. I had this Pro-Tec helmet on with ear flaps that hung down. I’d been skating for about a year and this guy was stressing and at one point he threw his board and started screaming and I was like, “Who the fuck is this guy?” and some American kid turns around and is like, “That’s Henry Sanchez. Don’t fuck with him.” So I was always like, Fuck Henry Sanchez, obviously not now, but at the time. If I meet him again I’ll put him in a headlock.
Do you think your large family had any impact on you deciding to have kids early? What was your reaction when you found out you were having your first?
I was shitting it. I was scared. I don’t know, people say, “You’re from a big family. You’re fine,” but it was the same as any 24 year old having a kid. I was really worried about being judged.
Yeah, judged. You don’t feel like you’re in a position within society to be having a kid. I got over that quickly but it is scary. It’s scary to sit people down and tell people those things and not know how they’re going to react.
But it turns out you’re an adult. You have a lot of adult things in your life. You’re not the kind of person who would actually shit themselves.
Unless you have a story about that.
What, New York? Yeah, I definitely have shat myself recently. That was Jesse Alba’s fault. He took me to a sketchy bar with dodgy taps and didn’t tell me until I’d ordered a drink that I shouldn’t drink draught. Then I shat myself in the pouring rain in the middle of Brooklyn. That was awful. But back to shitting myself about having a kid—I felt guilty. Skateboarding is so much about eternal youth and I felt like I was turning my back on something. And I was scared of being miserable. I never wanted to be miserable for my kids, realizing that I just need to try to be happy. Shit’s going to go bad sometimes no matter what and that’s always the case and there’s no point in feeling sorry for myself and not being present with my kids.
Do you have any other dad mates?
I have the best dad mate of all, Nick Jensen. My second kid was born on the same day as his first. He had a boy and I had a girl. They hang out all the time; it’s great.
When your interview came out in the mag, I asked if you thought you would have more. What happened since?
Yes, I had another baby! I had my third kid Jasmine. She’s an absolute dream. Felt pretty crazy having a baby in the middle of a global pandemic, but I got pretty lucky. I was able to be there for the birth which was not the case for a lot of people, and I had plenty of time home after she was born. With the other babies, I went on trips not too long after so it was definitely nice to have that. After you have one or two, you start to think what you want your kids’ relationship to each other to be and all that. I think it’s fine if you want to have one, but I loved having siblings around me. It made life for my parents easier in a lot of ways, too.
Are you going to encourage your daughters to skate?
I think about this all the time. They seem interested in it, so I will encourage them. I picked up Rosie at the nursery, with my skateboard. I bombed it back with her and she loves it. They love the skateboards. It would make my life easier! And skateboarders are cool, you know? They’re much more likely to be unique people
I think about how if I never skated how much of a close-minded neek I might be.
Maybe. Maybe we all would.
I’d be totally fucked.
So hyped seeing what’s happening in London with the girls’ scene, doing their own thing and making their own brands. Especially in Brixton with Brixton’s Baddest and stuff. For me, I have little sisters, too, and I just think it would be so good if they got into skating and had these role models. It’s a better culture than a lot of things. They don’t seem to give much of a fuck what anyone thinks and that’s what you want your kids to be like.
Backside flip, then get some sun on those legs
Tell us about your stag do.
Oh wow, it was pretty epic. You were my best man and it just so happened we were doing a Drift in Hawaii. We skated for two weeks then the last two days was a surprise. We got in the van and drove to this insane Airbnb. It was really fancy, had a huge pool and all this stuff, kind of Wolf of Wall Street vibe. Then we took some mushrooms at the Airbnb and went on what was supposed to be a ten-minute walk to a waterfall that ended up being a two-hour hike through the jungle and we were all coming up on the mushrooms. It ended up kind of being the best part. Kyron had his fresh white TNs on and we were hiking through pure mud and rivers. We got to this waterfall and it was this huge cliff jump into a small bit of deep water. We were all tripping out and jumping off this ten-meter thing and it was probably one of the most memorable experiences of my life. It was so surreal. Then we hiked back down in the pitch black and went on a whole night out. I wore some swimming goggles the whole night for some reason. We stayed next to a volcano and watched the sunrise. As far as bachelor parties go, I think that was pretty decent.
If you could have anyone as a guest on an Atlantic Drift trip, who would you pick?
Cheers to that.
We did have him in New York for a bit. Some of my fondest Raemers memories— kicking those posh guys out of our house at four in the morning. “What are these geezers doing here? I’ve been out here for a week and a half and I’ve spent $3,000” He was the best to travel with, always in some kind of minor predicament.
Whilst on that subject—skateboarding maybe lacks some of the components of support that more traditional ways of working or living provide. What would your advice be to anybody trying to build their life around skateboarding as a job or whatever, as somebody who’s struck a balance quite successfully?
Always have something going on. If you put everything into one thing then that’s risky. Make sure you keep yourself busy. It gets dangerous trying to be a professional skateboarder when you’re not doing anything. Take the positives, like the time you get from it, and make that work for you, otherwise it might get hard.
Handrail hammers in the garden
What are your feelings about the future? Considering you’re now a father of three and there’s so much madness in the world?
I’m feeling positive about the future. Shit's just been taken back down to basics. As long as my friends and family are healthy and happy, then all is well. The kids definitely make you take everything one day at a time, otherwise I’d lose my tiny little mind. But it’s a good thing and I think I’m happier because I have that purpose. As for skating, it seems like it’s all popping right now. I hear skateshops are doing really well and hopefully that can continue. I’m able to skate every day thanks to my amazing wife Kelly who’s on maternity leave and holds it down while I dick about with my mates. So I’m excited for what the future's going to bring—more of the same I hope. We've been doing the same shit for 15 years now and we’re still enjoying it, at least I am.
Can we expect another Tom Knox part in the future?
There’s talk of a Dickies full-length, so we’ll see. Maybe you and I will work on another one for 2040.
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