The very rad Tommy May turned pro for The National Skateboard Co. this weekend just gone, so we thought it would be great timing to upload his full interview from Issue 21 of the mag. Find out more about this illusive man by reading the piece below by Ryan Gray! These two are undoubtedly some of our faves! Big congrats to Tommy for going pro alongside teammate Michal Juras and big ups to The National Skateboard Co. for adding yet another sterling addition to the team in the form of Dee Collins! Belter stuff. Get involved below!
Tommy and Michal’s pro boards will be available soon from here.
Introduction & Interview by: Ryan Gray
Artwork by Tommy May
Photography by Reece Leung
Back in 2014, Andy Horsley and myself were whisked off to Finland to cover one of the Helsinki Hook Up events. Tommy May was on the list of skaters in the ‘pro comp’ category, and I remember being genuinely excited at the prospect of seeing this fiery haired enigma skate. Tommy had emerged out of the Norfolk scene a few years earlier, only to seemingly vanish completely before turning up in Barcelona where he’d grown into a phenomenal skateboarder. But alas, we never laid eyes on him that weekend, and – in my mind at least – his reputation as an international man of mystery grew tenfold.
Fast forward to 2019, I got a message off of Chewy Cannon that simply said, “You should give Tommy some boards”. It turned out that, unbeknownst to me, Tommy was living in Nottingham, and hadn’t had boards since Frank prophetically went out of business a year or so earlier. It was one of the easiest decisions I’ve ever made. Over the course of the coming months Tommy integrated himself into the fabric of The National Skateboard Co., and now I genuinely can’t imagine what we’d be doing if our paths hadn’t crossed. Not only is his ability on a skateboard otherworldly, you couldn’t wish to meet a lovelier human and I’m grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to document some of his ballistic skateboarding over the course of the last two years.
I’m aware that what you’re about to read probably raises more questions than it attempts to answer, but – truth be told – if it didn’t, it wouldn’t be a Tommy May interview.
Let’s start at the beginning. Tell us about your hometown, Toft Monks.
There’s not much there to tell you about, really. It’s a little village in Norfolk. We lived in a bit that was separate from the main village, up a track next to the village green, in a farm cottage.
What’s the nearest big town to Toft Monks?
Norwich is half an hour away; Yarmouth is probably half an hour away as well, but in a slightly different direction. Beccles is a little town where I used to skate, where Ash (Lever) opened Smash Skates.
Growing up in Toft Monks, how did you first end up on a skateboard?
I was going shopping with my mum in Beccles, and I saw someone do an ollie outside of the supermarket, then I got a board from a toyshop; I think I was about 11. When I started high school, I met one other person who skated; he was ginger too, that was nice. Him and his brother both skated, and they had a ramp in their garden.
The first time I saw you skating would have been on one of Chris Allcock’s Yarmouth scene videos, back around 2007.
The first Yarmouth video I was in was called Rolling Like Kings, which is a pretty funny name, I think (laughs).
From what I remember, you had skinny trousers and big hair, doing shove-it heelflips down stairs.
Yeah, that sounds about right; I used to get my jeans from the charity shop. Then there was another video a year later; that one was called GY Borough. I’d grown a bit by then.
And got some bigger clothes.
We made videos with my friends before that, but I suppose they were of a pisstake, whereas with the Yarmouth guys, it was a bit more serious. I think I kind of liked that, I guess. It was a bit more like they were making ‘a video’. It’s nice if someone is doing something like that, and they want you to be part of it… it’s encouraging.
I thought after GY Borough, that was the point you were going to start getting coverage, but then you dropped entirely off the UK radar.
That’s when I went to Spain.
Why did you flee the country?
I finished college and I didn’t want to do anything apart from go skateboarding, so moving to Spain seemed like the thing to do. I suppose it’s nice in Barca, isn’t it?
If you were 18 back then, and all you wanted to do was go skate, Barca was pretty much the best place to go.
I think it might still be, even now. I lived with Chewy for a month, and that’s when I started to learn how to skate. I don’t think I knew how to skate before that; I could do tricks, but I didn’t know how to actually skate. I decided that, after filming those two parts in England, I wanted to go to Barca and just skate, not film anything. So I spent ages following Chewy and Laurence (Keefe) around, not doing any tricks, just trying to keep up with them and not fall off of my board.
For a year I just went as fast as I could and did boardslides, then rode around in circles at MACBA, doing wallrides (laughs). I figured out what I needed to do to make skating feel nice for myself, then – once I’d done that – I started to work tricks back in from there.
Then didn’t (Thomas) Winkle tell you to slow down?
When I started filming with him, I was still trying to go as fast as I could at everything. “Yo, yo, yo. Take two pushes and chill” (laughs).
How did riding for Perus Skateboards come about?
I met the Perus guys through Winkle. We skated together through the winter in Barca, then I went to Finland the next summer and stayed with them. I stayed there until the winter again, then when all the Finnish people went back to Barca, I went with them.
Migrating south, like a flock of skateboarding birds.
Yeah (laughs). It was after that I started getting boards from them.
So I’m assuming it was riding for Perus and skating with the Finnish guys that eventually led to you living in Finland?
I was in Finland for two summers, and I was seeing a girl there, then we went to Barcelona for a Perus trip to skate in the DC Embassy, and I hated it (laughs); it was horrible in there. The girl broke up with me whilst I was in Barca and I was going back to Finland without anywhere to live, so Pirkka (Pollari) said I could live in his house with Sami Miettinen. His house was in Martinlaakso, which is another town outside of Helsinki, so I moved there. Living there was brilliant, everybody just wanted to skate.
From Perus, how did you end up on Frank Skateboards?
Dallas (Rockvam) had started Frank around 2014, and he asked me to skate for it. I said I didn’t want to because I had a strong allegiance to the Finnish guys. It got to the point where Perus wasn’t really working any more, so I asked about skating for Frank. Then I had to send Dallas my sponsor-me video (laughs).
Is that something that Dallas asked you to do, or did you do that voluntarily?
He made me. Well, it was half a pisstake, but I kind of liked it. I’ve been asking everyone at the market (Sneinton) for sponsor-me tapes recently, but no one takes me seriously.
I got a sponsor-me tape off you as well.
I know. Of course you did. I think it’s important if somebody is going to give you stuff for skating, you should show them that you actually do skate. You can’t go around asking people for stuff and just assume they think you’re good at skating, and you can’t be asking for stuff out of skating having maybe done something notable once, years ago.
When you were living in Finland, how often did you come back to the UK? It seemed like we started to see more and more footage of you in London as the years went by.
My dad lives in London now, so I came back a few times. I think I came back to go to the dentist, because I couldn’t figure out how to go to the dentists in Finland (laughs). One winter I went skating with Henry (Edwards-Wood) for a couple of months, and then I came back in the summer and stayed longer. I was in the UK a long time actually, but I was staying at my dad’s so I didn’t feel like I lived here. I still felt like a tourist.
You’ve said several times recently that you still feel like a tourist.
I think that might be important, somehow.
There must be a thing called ‘tourist syndrome’.
Maybe. A little bit like imposter syndrome, perhaps.
It might explain why you never feel like you belong where you’re living.
So when and why did you decide to move to Nottingham?
I came back in the winter, over 2017 and 2018. My sister was living here, in this house, with Fallou (Tommy’s nephew) and Susanna (Tommy’s fiancé). We came and dropped them off here, and when we were leaving, I felt for the first time that I didn’t want to live far away from my family any more; it hit me that I’d been away for so long.
I went back to Finland, but I came back to London in the summer. I was at my dad’s for a bit, then I came to visit my sister in Nottingham, and I decided to stay. I didn’t know anyone, and I was just wandering about and painting all the time. My sister said, “Maybe you should go to university”, so I enrolled on a Fine Art degree.
This seems like a good point to ask you about your art…
I think I have always drawn a bit. When I was in Finland, it felt like I really needed some other activity for my brain; I needed something that wasn’t connected to skating. I had a job in a bookshop. Before I started working there I showed Ian, who owned it, my drawings, and he said, “Right, now you’re going to draw every day” (laughs). It’s scary, but since then I’ve just done it. It took me a while to not be scared to try and paint too, but now I paint every day.
How do you find life in 2021 with only a £12 Nokia phone, as far as technology goes?
Well, did I tell you about my dad giving me an iPhone recently?
You mentioned he was trying to. Has that happened?
He’s given me one, but I actually can’t handle it (laughs). I don’t feel at all disadvantaged by not having a smartphone. I’ve got a computer and, if I go on that, I look at the internet; I’ll look at it for about five minutes, and I’ll get bored and turn it off again. All I want to do is go and paint, and skate sometimes. I’m not anti-technology, I just feel a bit like I can’t deal with it. And that’s fine (laughs).
I’m stealing this from other Vague interviews, but it seems like a good way to round things off. Recommend us a…
Book: Carlo Rovelli – Seven Brief Lessons on Physics.
TV series: Have you seen the new Alan Partridge, This Time? That’s good, it’s very awkward.
Song: Everything I Own by Ken Boothe.