SULIS – Interview + Full Video


After feeding a few parts from the video to the web over the past few weeks, to accompany our hosting of the entirety of James Whitlock’s Bath scene video SULIS we caught up with James to discuss the video, Bath’s skating history and more. Put the kettle on, read about the effort that goes in to creating a scene video of this magnitude and hopefully take some inspiration to go out and film your own.

James Whitlock + Zach Smith ~ Photo by: Tristan Buckland

Interview by: Jono Coote

Photography by: James Whitlock

Videography by: James Whitlock

Photo by: James Whitlock

Sulis Minerva was the deity to whom the Romans dedicated the temple at Bath – a syncretism which saw Sulis, a deity worshipped by the local Celtic Dobunni tribe before the Roman occupation, grafted onto the Roman goddess of wisdom. A syncretic approach to the West Country skate scene can similarly be found in James Whitlock’s Bath scene video SULIS, in which an appreciation for such classic videos as Jus Foolin and Bristol in Bloom can be glimpsed within his own personal vision. Bath, a small town often overshadowed by its larger neighbour to the west, has nevertheless had in the past a presence in the UK skate scene much larger than its physical footprint. The likes of Ben Nordberg and Jasper and Charles King-Harman have been raised skating its parks and streets, its spots have graced magazine covers (Nordberg’s switch back smith on the old vert ramp is still mind melting today), but it has been quiet in the last few years with regards to media output. It is safe to say that James’ whopper of a scene video, clocking in at just under an hour and featuring plenty of established heads alongside lesser known rippers, does a lot to redress this balance. After drip feeding parts from the video to the web for a few weeks, to coincide with our upload of the full project I caught up with him to discuss Bath’s storied skate history, what went into the video project itself, and what Bath has to offer the visiting skate tourist.  

Hi James, the name of the video comes from the name of a goddess worshipped locally by pre-Roman Celts, right?

That’s right, the Romans used to call the city of Bath ‘Aquae Sulis’. It was known for its hot springs and Sulis was the goddess of healing. Being a “scene video”, I wanted the title to have some link to the city. It was called The Bolts Video for a few years, as we were part of a WhatsApp group called Boltsonly. I think around the time Austin Bristow’s Portions came out there were a few other videos with just one word titles, which I liked the idea of. I did some research on the history of Bath, I already knew it used to be called Aquae Sulis but when I saw SULIS on screen it just clicked. 

Will Mallorie – Gap Nosebonk ~ Photo by: James Whitlock

Ross West – Heelflip ~ Photo by: James Whitlock

And this is the first full length Bath scene video in a very long time. When was the last one, and how prevalent has it been in skateboarding media over the years? Because a lot of well regarded skateboarders have come from Bath, right?

So the last one came out 19 years ago! It was called Yellow Brick Road and filmed by a guy called Josh Sutterby, who was a uni student at the time. Myself, Jasper King-Harman, Ben Nordberg and Dave Butlin all had footage in it. He released it on DVD but I haven’t seen a copy of it in years.

I’d say Bath had its fair share of coverage over the years, especially the early 2000s. The rugby rail has had two front covers (Leo Romero and Colin Kennedy) and there’s also a couple of clips in Jensen’s part in Lost and Found. I put out a few YouTube edits around 2008/09 which seemed to get a bit of attention as they featured Nordberg and Jasper, but I think since then Bath has been pretty quiet. Hopefully SULIS will put it back on the map.

Zach Smith – One Foot ~ Photo by: James Whitlock

Kai Ohlsen – Ollie ~ Photo by: James Whitlock

Did you plan on putting together a proper full length release from the beginning, or did it coalesce as you were out filming? And, following on from that, what made you want to release it on USB?

Yeah I did; I hadn’t filmed anything from 2010-2016 and then did the In Transition edit with Nordberg, after that I filmed a little one minute edit with Will Mallorie at Bath Skatepark, which was when Matt Osborne put a message in the group chat saying we should do a “big” video. I think when he first suggested it there were only four or five guys who were keen, and the initial idea was to only have two minutes of footage each. It was never really full on filming sessions, I would go out filming with Will a lot for the first year and then people would say, “He’s going to have so much footage” etc., so then more of the guys would come out filming. As time went on more and more people started to get clips. Francis Peters was a student in Bath at the time and he was getting a lot of footage so then it was like, “Well, I guess you’re going to have a full part now.” As time went on that was the case for a lot of people and it went from a planned four or five sections to having 13 full sections. I put out a teaser in 2019 saying it was coming out then, I think to just try and create a bit of hype around it, but it was nowhere near ready. Four years later, we have a 53 minute video that I couldn’t be more proud of. 

As for the USB, growing up skating from 1999 onwards, all the videos used to be on VHS or DVD. Like I said, Yellow Brick Road got released on DVD. So it’s almost like a nostalgia thing… and scene videos don’t come around very often, especially not in Bath. It’s just a bit more special having a physical copy that you can put in the player anytime and watch. I also didn’t want to put five years of hard work in and just throw it on YouTube straight away, it just didn’t feel right. The USB also has a few bonus bits on which won’t be going online. 

Indi Russel – Wallride Nollie ~ Photo by: James Whitlock

Indi Russel ~ Photo by: James Whitlock

I definitely feel you on the idea of a physical copy feeling like it does the amount of time spent on making a full length video more justice than just having it as an online watch – maybe it’s that having a physical copy of something means that watching it becomes more of a ritual than just scrolling down the side bar to find it? And either way, the downfall of the Mpora player and the amount of footage from that era that got lost with it would probably put me off keeping something that I’d poured that much energy into just online. Y2K has got to come around at some point, right? 

So with regards to people in the video, was there anyone who particularly surprised you with the amount of footage they got, or the level of skating that they reached during the filming process?

Yeah for sure Mpora had some quality UK footage on it, but it’s good to see people like Matt Swift (swift_blazer) uploading so much old footage on YouTube and Instagram. 

I think Zach (Smith) surprised me the most, the level of his skating has increased so much over last year and he’s got a solid style for a 15 year old. We filmed his whole part in less than a year. He’s always super keen to go out filming and he can look at old spots and think of new ways of skating them, or even create spots out of nothing. 

Will (Mallorie)’s ollie at the start of his part surprised me, quite a few people have tried it over the years but never landed it. It’s a horrible spot, the angle of the run up pushes you towards a wall and you have to ollie out at a weird angle. You also can’t see the landing until you’re over the wall.

I don’t think the amount of footage people got surprised me, it’s sort of like they got out of it what they put in and I don’t mean that in a bad way. Half of the crew moved to London which meant I could only film them on weekends and I definitely couldn’t afford to go every week. Kris Jalowiecki would have a lot more footage if this wasn’t the case, he puts in a lot of work when filming and he’s only getting better with age. 

Tristan (Buckland)’s part speaks for itself, he still lives in Bath and was pretty much always available. That’s why his part is one of, if not the, longest. 

Kai Ohlsen – Crooked Grind ~ Photo by: James Whitlock

Zach Smith – Ollie ~ Photo by: James Whitlock

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Going back to what you said earlier about nostalgia (and not to get too Ron Manager about it), the video had quite a ‘classic’ feel with the Wu Tang and Mazzy Star and Super-8 moments. Who influenced you in terms of filming and editing?

I found picking the music the hardest part. I’ve seen a lot of videos come out where they use ambient music and it works really well, but if I listened to a track like that then in my head I couldn’t see it working. Saying that, Francis’ intro track worked but it wasn’t until I put it down alongside the clips that I was really feeling it. 

I heard Battle by Blur in 2018 and I instantly said to myself that it would be the intro to the video, so that was the first thing I started editing. That goes onto the influence question; growing up in Bristol I was obviously seeing all the stuff that 5050 put out, I remember going to the Jus Foolin premiere in 2003 and the intro to that just blew me away. I mean the whole video did, but I remember when I got it on VHS I would literally play it frame by frame to see what was going on in each clip or where it was. That’s what I did with SULIS, it’s short sharp clips which show you a little bit but almost not enough, if that makes sense. 


So I was heavily influenced by Jus Foolin and Bristol In Bloom, they were both videos which were way ahead of their time. When it comes to filming I don’t think I’m necessarily influenced by anyone in particular. Of course there are so many sick filmers out there, I’ve been filming since around 2004 so I guess I’ve developed my own style and not tried to copy anyone – which you see a lot with HD edits and the whole Strobeck angle thing, which personally is too much for me, especially when you can’t really see the spot that well. 

Ross West – Frontside Tailslide ~ Photo by: James Whitlock

Stan Daizy – No Comply Tailside ~ Photo by: James Whitlock

A quick Wikipedia scan tells me that the Emperor Haile Selassie spent four years in exile living in Bath. Was there any temptation to edit this video full Supernaut/iPath style in homage? Following on from this, does Bath have any distinctive modern celebrities, local legends or humans of note who you came into contact with during the filming of Sulis?

The park is sick, I don’t think it’s necessarily changed the scene but it’s definitely bred more ramp orientated skaters having the massive bowl, fly over ramp etc. Back when I was 15 or 16 a lot more people were skating the ledge and manny pad. There is still a solid scene and a few different crews which is nice. The Bogus crew are the up and comers, full of little ramp shredders, keep an eye out for them! It’s also sick to see a lot more girl skaters out there, when I was younger there were none about.

Matt Osborne – Backside 180 Kickflip ~ Photo by: James Whitlock

Kris Jal – Switch Kickflip ~ Photo by: James Whitlock

You travelled quite a bit for this video by the looks of things, where did you end up filming and are there any good stories from the road? Bristol is an obvious choice for street spots when you’re out filming your way, but I guess after filming locally for so long you’ve also got plenty of hidden gems in Bath itself?

Yeah we visited a few places; Barca, London, Oxford, Gloucester, Bristol and Cardiff. Bath has a few spots, obviously the rugby rail that everyone knows of and the seven stair down the alleyway. I think the spot that got hit the most was the wooden ledge at Bath University. It’s really long, slides and grinds really well and there’s both frontside and backside ledges. It’s the one Tristan does the frontside noseslide flip out on. 

I’ve not got many stories on the road as such but we had to go back to spots quite a lot, we went to Oxford seven times to get Tristan’s nollie tre nose manny. We had filmed it on the third visit but the long shot angle I got made it look like one of the back wheels tapped and we also decided it would look better fisheye. I think we filmed one more fisheye and had the same problem so we had to go back, I think we would spend two to three hours there each time but it just wouldn’t happen. We decided to go back one more time a week before the premiere. The plan was for me to drive straight from work and Tris to get the train. I got there around half 6 and the trains were delayed so he didn’t get to the spot until 20:30. Again we filmed for about two or three hours and he hadn’t landed it, so we just thought it wasn’t going to happen. We packed up and sat down and chatted for about 40 mins, when we were about to leave Tris said “I’m going to try one more” so I said that if he got into it I would get the camera back out. He got straight into one and we carried on, 20 mins later he landed it perfectly and said “Was that it?” so we checked the footage and it couldn’t have been better. I remember feeling a little emotional as we had spent so much time on that one trick. It felt really good getting that one, for sure.

Akeem Campbell – Hardflip ~ Photo by: James Whitlock

Indi Russel – Backside 180 Kickflip ~ Photo by: James Whitlock

What five reasons would you give to convince someone to visit Bath?

Damn, you’ve put me on the spot! It’s really hard because I love the city. I like how small it is, I like how the buildings light up during sunrise and sunset. It all depends what you’re into I guess, we have over 6 million tourists visit a year so there’s clearly something to see. 

1 – The Roman remains and its architecture. The Royal Crescent and The Circus are quite interesting.

2 – The Thermae Spa, I know a lot of couples come for that. 

3 – Its view points. Bath is tiny and there’s a place called Alexandra Park which looks over the whole city. I recommend a hot air balloon ride, as the city is stunning from above. 

4 – The skatepark, especially if you like skating bowls. It’s good fun and there’s good vibes down there, especially on summer evenings. 

5 – Skate spots, there’s some decent ones and if there are any you see in SULIS that you don’t recognise… they’re probably Bath spots. If you visit, hit me up on Instagram and I’d be more than happy to point you in the right direction.

SULIS by James Whitlock

Filmed + Edited by: James Whitlock