Pro Skateboarder and presenter James Threlfall is giving back to the community that made him.
Words by Simon Tiblick
At age six, James was hooked on American skating superstar Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater video games, using his older brother Mark’s Playstation to do virtual 360 flips. He got his first skateboard when he was 12 and a few years later began landing footwear and drink endorsements while still at school. At age 18, sports clothing brand Animal called him “one of the country’s most progressive skaters”. “I’ve always been into competitive sport,” explains 24-year-old James. “My brother Mark is now a professional tri-athlete and does presenting for the Global Triathlon Network. Back when we were kids Mark was a national swimmer. That made we want to do well at sports too. So when I saw the world of professional skateboarding I thought, ‘That’s what I’m going to do’.”
Fast-forward to the present, James still competes in competitions but has also moved into radio and TV presenting. His new TV series, Now Boarding, is already showing in 60 countries around the world. He has thousands of followers on social media, including Tony Hawk and UK garage star Craig David. Oh, and he is a CALM ambassador too.
To be honest, I’ve never felt like I’ve made it. There’s always room to improve. I still get jelly legs before I compete in a competition.
“To be honest, I’ve never felt like I’ve made it. There’s always room to improve. I still get jelly legs before I compete in a competition and that is something I’ve been trying to get on top of more. When I take the pressure off myself, I skate a lot better. But when I get so caught up in my mind I don’t do so well. It’s interesting, there is a real psychological side to the sport which is often underestimated.”
2017 has been a good year for James so far. As well as the radio and TV opportunities, James saw victory after backing a long-running campaign to build a new skate park in Melksham, Wiltshire where he grew up. It officially opened at King George V Playing Fields this August, on the same site as the original skate park where James mastered his moves as a teenager.
“I basically owe everything to that skatepark,” says James. “If it hadn’t been there I probably wouldn’t be doing the things I’m doing today. So a few years ago, when I saw how the park was falling apart, I realized we needed to take action or we would lose it.” James worked on the design of the new park with construction company Canvas Spaces who built the new facility. The park is popular with everyone from kids, 40-something dads to James himself.
In football you’d never have a situation where you were playing football with your mates in a field and a Premier League footballer would come on down. But in skate parks that literally happens.
He believes this is a good example of how skateparks across the country create a super-sociable skating community where everyone is welcome regardless of experience. “In football you’d never have a situation where you were playing football with your mates in a field and a Premier League footballer would come on down. But in skate parks that literally happens,” James explains. “You’ve got younger guys learning to skate alongside the guys who are already competing in all the big contests. There aren’t many private training grounds for skateboarding. So we all use these great public facilities.”
With this issue of CALMzine focusing on identity, what kind of reaction does James get when folk find out he’s a professional skateboarder? Is there still a stereotype of slacker skateboard dudes wearing baggy clothes? “I think the perception has changed,” reckons James. “It’s an interesting time in skateboarding. We’ve just been included in the 2020 Olympics Games in Tokyo, although lots of people would prefer skateboarding was kept underground as this niche thing while others want to make a career of it and hope the Olympics will be the next big step for them. But whatever the opinion, skateboarding definitely has a bigger profile now. Who knows, maybe the Olympics will help show the world there is more to skateboarding than that stereotype?”
Unfortunately, some things haven’t changed enough, including the pressures of competing in largely male-based extreme sports. Last year, Dave Mirra, a champion BMX rider from America took his own life at the age of 41. And earlier this summer, news of the suicide of a young male skateboarder shocked the skating community. "
In skateboarding you have this amazing network of people who could be a big support. But there’s still this manly, competitive culture where guys are afraid to show weakness.
Extreme action sports still have this macho persona,” says James who is working with CALM to raise awareness around male suicide in the sporting world. “You’ve got to be pretty tough to take the falls and tumbles. In skateboarding you have this amazing network of people who could be a big support. But there’s still this manly, competitive culture where guys are afraid to show weakness. It stops them talking about the issues troubling them. Someone could be battling with something terrible inside and you might never know until it’s too late to help,” James says. “If you had a physical injury you would go to hospital for medical help. So if you’re battling something like depression why should you have to go through that alone? We still need more high-profile athletes to share their own stories and help raise awareness. Even if it saves the life of one person it’s worth it.”