(Featured: Welcome Skate Store blog, 24th April 2017.)
If I had to pinpoint one consistent theme about growing up as a skateboarder in West Yorkshire it would be that if something is worth doing then it’s already been done fifteen years ago, and in switch, by Paul Silvester.
To anyone outside of the Leeds skate scene that might seem like the usual hyperbole given to a local hero but it’s the truth as Silvester’s ambidexterity and general disregard for self-damage has echoed through generations of West Yorkshire skateboarding folklore.
Pick a spot and it’s likely that Man either laid the first or most frightening claim to it. Put simply: Silvester’s legacy lives on even if his namesake flat-bank doesn’t…
Now enjoying family life in Canada, we sent these questions over to Silky last summer and until recently, the interview has laid dormant on Tom Brown’s hard drive… With our shop video wrapped up and Paul’s part from Sidewalk Magazine’s ‘In Motion’  unearthed – we couldn’t think of a more fitting time to let you catch up with one of Yorkshire’s finest.
First off, where did the nickname ‘Man’ actually come from?
It originated from my mate Bez in Huddersfield. Not 100% on why he started it – maybe if this ends up linked on Facebook he’ll read it and post the story behind it…
Most people associate you with Leeds even though you’re actually from Huddersfield. What year did you move to Leeds and why?
I think it was in 1995. My brother’s now wife was pregnant and we lived in my mum’s old house together for a few years. When she fell pregnant I ended up moving to my mum and stepdad’s for about six months but spent most of the time in Leeds on Rob Burn’s couch. Eventually I just ended up staying.
Who were the first people you skated with and what was the skate scene like in Leeds at the time?
That would be the G-Dogs [Paul and Alan Rogers] and Rich. I think Nathan, who I skated with from Huddersfield, met them in Air the main skate shop at the time and I met them through him. Three months later I was flying out on my first trip to the US with them for a week in SF.
I started to get to know the guys in Air; Rob, Smiley John, J and Lord Snowball just to name a few and then Matt Hartfield and Cully moved over from Accrington. The scene was rad and the city at the time was filled with so much stuff to skate with very little hassle if any at all. Plus, Rehab [Wakefield’s indoor skatepark] was fully established and that brought everyone together not just from Leeds but all over Yorkshire. Good times.
You’re pretty well known for being one either the first, or only, people to step up to certain spots back in the day. Most notably, the wall to bank at Leeds Uni. Those spots have become pretty standard now; Foz has rifled off tricks into that bank and Dale [Starkie] kickflipped into it over FaceTime. Is it strange seeing those spots get so much attention, and especially to be approached so casually, when years ago you were the only one to skate them?
Not really, it’s just the progression of skateboarding. I guess I opened the doors to some spots in Leeds but someone else will always look at the architecture around them differently and open new doors at some of the old and new spots.
Did your reputation for that kind of skating ever start to getting annoying or were you usually just up for it anyway? Tom Brown was saying people would find something gnarly and everyone would just be say: “Oh, Man has got it.”
No, I was young and generally up for it. Although some folk did take it a wee bit too far with ridiculous suggestions…
In your ‘Last Orders’ for Sidewalk Magazine you said: “It’s pointless saying ‘never again’ because I always end up doing it again.” Any particular Leeds spot or trick you can remember having an ongoing battle with?
I’m not sure I was talking about skateboarding, [laughs]. I can’t think of any specific trick but I’m sure I had a few. I’d always try to get the trick on the day so I wouldn’t have to go back again or just smash the shit out of my body until I couldn’t try anymore. Sometimes the battle wasn’t the trick or the spot – it was trying to find balance from having drank too much…
Ben [Powell] and Chez [Neil Chester] would know all about that from when we filmed, In Motion . The two tricks in that video on the Lloyds hubba in Leeds were after a bottle of wine and a can or two of Stella. Not sure how I pulled that one off as I was having trouble ollieing down two steps when we got to the spot.
How did you first meet Ben Powell and Andrew Horsley and what’s the story behind either of those encounters?
No real funny stories from the first meetings with them – all the daft funny stuff came later. I met Ben first in the streets of Wakey around ‘93. I don’t think many words, if any, came out of my mouth – probably just a nod. He talked to Nathan and Sean who I skated with from Huddersfield. Things are a bit fuzzy from them days but I remember the first time I met Horsley was at Rehab when it first opened. He asked me my name and shoot a photo that was in an issue of RAD with Mike Manzoori on the cover – stoked! I do remember Horsley and Ben coming around the punks’ residence when they started coming to Leeds more but I passed out pretty much as soon as they had arrived. It had been a long day skating and getting wasted. It might have been after a Rehab comp.
Kickflip, Rehab Skatepark, Wakefield. Photo: Leo Sharp.
You had the first ‘Haunts’ interview in Sidewalk Magazine, how long did you spend shooting that?
Two weekends in total and it rained, or was wet, for the best part of it. The 360 nollie was a random spot in Wakefield that was dry. We were on our way to the park and Ben probably pointed them out. I had a few tries, Wig [Worland] set up his flashes and then as we got booted off the spot I ran up, had one last try and made it. Can’t remember much about the other photos apart from it was cold, wet and I was probably hungover or stoned…
How did you feel about Sidewalk going from print to online only with the exception of the Redux books?
Kind of mixed feelings about it. I was still getting issues sent out to Canada and looked forward to my monthly sit down with a brew and a copy of Sidewalk. Plus, knowing what it’s like to have a photo published in a mag and physically having a copy is something folk would miss out on. But times are changing – if it’s a step in the right direction for Sidewalk to continue doing an amazing job of repping the UK skate scene then so be it.
Switch frontside 5050, Leeds, Sidewalk Magazine Issue 28. Photo: Wig Worland.
You had a bit of footage in In Progress  and one your tricks was a nollie backside 360 into the uni bank. As I mentioned before, because people relate that spot to you so much, did you want to get another trick into it for old time’s sake?
Yup, I did. It was on a second visit down to Leeds that I finally got it, due to some jobsworth security guard from the university parking his car at the bottom of the bank the first time around… The way that I did the trick stank a bit but I was stoked to have done another NBD fifteen or so years after the kickflip into it – and that it went into Harrison’s section in the video too.
Nollie backside 360, Leeds, as seen in Sidewalk Magazine’s ‘In Progress’.
As you’ve got a family and job that keeps you busy, do you still keep up to date with skateboard media?
Skate Line NBD – every Tuesday.
Who from the UK, or in general, do you pay attention to?
UK-wise I’ll check the Sidewalk site once a week or see something on Facebook and check it out if it has someone I know in it. As for the rest of the world of skateboarding – I don’t really pay attention to anyone in particular anymore. The internet has diluted skateboarding so much that I just watch something once and think: “Yeah that was rad” or shit. The next time I’m on the net looking at skating it’ll be the same thing but someone else pulling the stunts. It has to be something fucking amazing if it gets a second look.
Now that you see it from an outsider’s perspective what impression do you have of the UK?
For a small place the UK has a massive amount of board companies. I’m not trying to be lame, just pointing out a fact… I’m stoked to see that a few of the olds ones are still about like Death and A Third Foot after all these years.
Half-cab, Leeds, photo courtesy of Unabomber Skateboards.
Getting more up to date, you moved to Scotland for a bit and now you and the family are settled down in Canada. I saw you comment about the EU referendum on Facebook and you were in favour of remain. How have you been feeling about the aftermath of the vote – are you glad to be out of the country now because of it all?
I’m glad to be out of the UK but that has nothing to do with the UK being a part of the EU or not. We moved to Canada to get away from things like the booze culture and to give our kids a better place to grow up in. It was a bit of a shock that the vote in the referendum went the way it did. I’m sure with time the UK, if it sticks together, will get it’s shit together and hopefully come out better off. Time will tell. The number of Google searches for emigrating to Canada from the UK has gone up considerably. As it has started to in the US in case Trump gets in. The world is a messed up place these days.
Was it because of work you ended up out in Canada or something else? Can you explain what your current job is and how you ended up doing that?
Something else – or should I say someone else… Kerry [Paul’s wife] had always wanted to move to Vancouver after living here for a year in 2000. I came out for a ten-day holiday and was down for doing it. We planned to have kids in the UK first then move out and that’s what we did. I decided to have a career change and went to collage to become an electrician. I had a setback in my new career due to some shit hitting the fan but I’m back on it now and ended up in an amazing job working as a marine electrician. The company I work for, Bluewater Rigging, is so rad and all the crew including the boss-man are into skating, mountain biking, snowboarding, skiing, hiking, etc so it makes it a way better place to work for compared with the few other places I’ve worked at since moving out here. And the work I’m doing for the them is more interesting and challenging than working in the construction industry.
How often do you manage to get out for a skate? I remember you mentioned how so much of the downtown areas around where you live are skate stopped. Is it just skateparks for you nowadays?
Once or twice a week. Twice if I’m lucky… Mostly skateparks these days but Vancouver has a massive range of parks from plaza and street stuff to ten foot bowls and DIY so I get to roll on a bit of everything. I’ve street skated a few times but it’s hard to organize going out for set times and days because plans can change so quick and I could be looking after the kids.
Any chance of a return visit to Leeds to get a few clips for the Welcome video?
If you haven’t finished it by 2018 then yes. Or you’ll just have to use the stuff from last year’s Barcelona trip if any of it’s any good…
Just a few favourites to round this off. Top five Leeds spots – still standing or otherwise?
Polly benches – RIP.
Pig and Whistle – RIP.
Leeds Uni when you could cruise around and hit up loads of spots without much hassle from security.
Henry Moore Art Gallery before it was skate stopped.
The two feet high micro ramp in Snoz’s garage.
Favourite Leeds or Yorkshire based skateboarder?
Felix [Owusu-Kwarteng], I met him not too long after starting and he’s one of the nicest dudes I’ve had the pleasure to meet through twenty-five plus years of skating. Legend.
Best memory from filming for Unapromo ?
That’s a tough one as I didn’t actually spend that much time filming for it but it was probably getting to hang out and meet the rest of the OG ‘bomber crew.
Best motivation to land a trick from Ben Powell?
“I’ll buy you a pint if you make it this go, dick ‘ed.”