Fresh young faces come and go, but every once in a while, someone's quiet confidence and authority makes them stand out on their own. Blondey McCoy is that diamond in the rough. A 16 year old skate kid from South London, with the world at his wheels.
“How do you know my name is Tom?” says Blondey McCoy, somewhat flummoxed. I explain, I Googled him.
“Did you? I don’t think I’ve been Googled before,” he sniffs. “At least I didn’t know about it…”
It seems clear that many of the pernicious goings on of the contemporary digital world seem to have passed Blondey by - and let’s call him Blondey, his reaction to Tom says it all. While he has been living and constantly skating in the physical contemporary world since he was 13, such digital diversions have held little interest for him. This is, of course, quite unusual for a 16-year-old boy. Then again, he is not your usual 16-year-old boy.
Blondey McCoy is a rising skate star - and no doubt he would hate that description too - and he likes to exist in the moment, rather than constantly documenting it like a lot of people seem to do these days. “Most skaters do exist in the moment,” he explains. “It attracts people who feel that way.” He also cheerily explains that skating is full of people with a disdain for things, full of people that ‘Don’t like’ as opposed to those constantly pressing ‘Like’ buttons. “I seemed to be into quite a lot of things before I started skating. Now I’m more about being not into things,” he laughs. “Everybody hates everything in skateboarding.” Yet in a world full of people seemingly being into everything at the touch of a button, the physical devotion to skating and being hypercritical about the world makes a refreshing change.
“I remember when I first noticed Blondey there a couple of years ago, he was having a go at someone on a BMX who was fucking up the ramps. I remember thinking I wouldn’t have had the confidence to pull up somebody like that at his age,”
In fact, this being ‘positive in its negativity’ seems to have kept skating alive, rather than being completely dissected and marketed out of its mind. For instance, the slightly curmudgeonly attitude of a brand such as Supreme, has kept its credibility intact - yet that does not prohibit a proclivity to kindness, genuineness and wit by the brand. And real skaters, like Blondey, know it: “They’ve made sure so many of us have jobs. They are skaters. They’re great. When you’ve burnt your bridges by skating, when your education has gone up in smoke, that’s important.” Existing in the moment has its price of course.
In fact Blondey McCoy can usually be found skating under a bridge - a non-burnt one this time - at London’s legendary Southbank. He’s a distinctive figure: tall, slim, and half Lebanese but a natural blond. He’s young yet a gifted skater, old and wise beyond his years. Today, for fashionable shoot purposes, he’s in Soho and not on a skateboard. His off-duty attire betrays his British skate roots and the kinship he has with Palace, the London based company who have gone further than most to shape a unique identity and aesthetic for British skaters. Today he’s wearing a spin on the England Italia 1990 shirt with the distinctive triangle logo instead of the three lions, together with the new red, white and blue Palace Reeboks. Blondey is now in the enviable position of skating for both Supreme and Palace. He has a quiet confidence and authority of his own, no doubt shaped by his time at the Southbank.
“I remember when I first noticed Blondey there a couple of years ago, he was having a go at someone on a BMX who was fucking up the ramps. I remember thinking I wouldn’t have had the confidence to pull up somebody like that at his age,” says Lev Tanju, founder of Palace Skateboards who at 31 is an established skater himself. “As well as having that confidence Blondey is a great skater, he can do things that I can’t do and I’m almost twice his age! You’ll see him there day and night. He’ll be wearing a T-shirt that was once white but has gone black from all the skating.” He adds, “His name is going to appear in the triangle.” Being a total ignoramus about the mythical Palace triangle and reading the quizzical look on my face, Lev clarifies: “that really means something.”
Southbank is the Mecca, in that almost religious sense of British skating and you have to be good, really good, to go there, hold your own and be recognised for it. That is why the idea of moving the skate park and redeveloping the space for ‘retail units’ that was proposed earlier this year is downright sacrilegious for skaters. It should also outrage everybody else. If there is one place where the notion of ‘the street’ actually does genuinely exist in the capital now it is here. If the plans go ahead in one fell swoop the communities and the creativity established over 40 years will be killed: by an arts centre of all things.
The future of Southbank is a concern for Blondey who is also a budding skate entrepreneur himself, with his own nascent brand Thames. Although being an entrepreneurial figure is not a great preoccupation for him - it is about living in the moment again and doing things he feels like. This might mean having a go at the powers that be at the Southbank this time through his brand, as opposed to a BMXer who has not complied with the etiquette. Instead of lionising figures such as Lev for their business acumen, they are friends who are great skaters who have “let me stay on their sofas overnight.” They are people who have looked after him - for non-marketing reasons. “It is not so much what they do, but the way that they do it that means something,” clarifies McCoy. The Southbank might be one of the only places that still exists with this genuine spirit of camaraderie and altruism intact.
It is that spirit that has attracted the photographer Alasdair McLellan to Blondey as a subject. “Blondey is who he is. There are no pretensions,” says Alasdair. “There is a young photographer called Finn who first showed me his picture. It was a really good photograph of him with a bloody nose…”
“I had a black eye,” corrects McCoy. “I was wearing a Tom Waits T-shirt and I was 14.”
“I later met him in person through Lev at the beginning of this year,” continues Alasdair. “We’ve done quite a few things together since. His hair is brilliant. He has perfect skin. And he is a great person! What more do you want? I just try not to change him when I shoot him.”
Blondey sits being slightly bemused by all of this fashion attention. Although we explain having hair that good is the equivalent of being a doctor in the fashion world. Meanwhile Blondey excels at being exactly who he is. He is the real McCoy.