12 Jul 2017

How Auckland’s changed through the eyes of skateboarder Levi Hawken

2:16 pm on 12 July 2017

The streets as a playground.



Levi Hawken skating Aotea Square in the 1990s.

Levi Hawken skating Aotea Square in the 1990s. Photo: Stjohn Milgrew

We skated Aotea Square mostly.

Generally because the skate shop was at the top of town, you would get the bus to the top of the hill, it was like 10 cents back then, then you’d skate back down.

Everything changed when the Aotea Square monument moved. That’s now at the top of Parnell. I had a priest telling me off last time I was there, which I kind of took offence to.

I have spent so much time with that monument in the 15 years I had growing up skating, I kind feel like it's not their’s. It doesn’t belong to the church, it belongs to the people - but mostly to the skaters.

There were a couple of notorious spots, like across the road from Eden Terrace Cheapskates there was this spot called The Bubbles. Auckland has hills, and bombing hills is the number one most fun you can have on a board.

After hanging at the shop you might skate down through Newmarket and Ponsonby. This was in the late '80s. In the '90s, it became about bombing Queen Street.

People have changed too. Most of the people I grew up with skating with have settled down and have kids, and if they do skate then they generally go to a skate park. But there’s still a crew, the West Auckland skaters … when I see a group of them, there will be like four or five of them just skating through.

I get stoked when I see that.

In the 2000s things started changing, for the better. They had a thing called the Auckland Skate Strategy 2001, and it was all about incorporating skate-able architecture into public spaces. Lots of benches in Aotea Square have now got metal edges on them, and the Auckland Library has those stone ledges at the front which were designed as a skate-friendly spot.

Levi Hawken.

Young Levi Hawken. Photo: Stjohn Milgrew

Attitudes have really changed. Which is really positive. I think the more kids out there skating, the better it is for our communities. It means they’re less likely to be out there drinking and doing drugs you know. And if they are partying, they don’t get too messed because they still want to skate.

When you see how many skate parks there now, there is just so much more to skate, you know? There are a tonne of new kids skating Aotea Square hard-out, they’re really into the way it’s changed. I say there are more people skating now than there ever were.

It's not all good though. One thing about Auckland is that despite what they’ve done to make things more skate-able, building skate parks and all that, they’ve spent a lot money ruining all the sidewalks.

They’ve made them this rough concrete, mostly in the areas which have been gentrified. It’s this rough, exposed aggregate concrete …  It’s harder to skate on, you know? It makes skate boards a lot noisier too, if the pavements were smooth it would be a much nicer sound for residents.

I first started skating when I was seven. When I started I couldn’t do it very well. It was just a challenge. I saw someone do an ollie, and I was pretty fascinated.

Once I could do that, I didn’t have to stop every time I got to a curb, I could just keep going.  The streets just became more of a playground, and everything became accessible.

When you are encouraging pollution free transport and keeping the roads from being congested. Seems like a dumb move to make the pavements unfriendly for the skaters.

There has always been bad public transport in Auckland, that hasn’t changed, and we used skate to get everywhere. It’s a shame, really.


Skaters hanging out in Aotea Square.

Hanging out in the square. Photo: Stjohn Milgrew

Boardslide as the Sky Tower goes up in the background.

Boardslide as the Sky Tower goes up in the background. Photo: Stjohn Milgrew

Kickflip down the stairs in Aotea Square.

Kickflip down the stairs in Aotea Square. Photo: Stjohn Milgrew

Riding the Aotea Square.

Riding the square. Photo: Stjohn Milgrew

*As told to Perry Wilton. Edited for clarity and brevity.