Interview & portrait: Steven Cahill
First, talk to us a little about what got you into skating initially.
Sure. Well, my older brother had a brief encounter with skateboarding. In his days, it was all about the ramps at the local skate park and vert skating. Street skating was nowhere near as popular as it is today. He kind of stopped skating after a couple of injuries (it later transpired that he had developed arthritis in both his knees and had severe vitamin D deficiency). This made the recovery period to even the smallest of injuries much longer than the average person, resulting in excruciating levels of pain and he just eventually completely stopped. He did however take his board for a cruise here and there just to the local shops on the odd occasion but it was never anything that appealed to me. On my 14th birthday, my brother bought me a 7.75" Santa Cruz deck complete with Bones Swiss bearings and I think some Indy trucks as well - it was definitely not some cheap sh*t from Sports Direct. He really splashed out on it bless him!
But ye, it just kind of sat there collecting dust because I stood on the board and instantly thought to myself "nah this isn't my thing". It was later on in my life after gang violence became rife in our area, that I was completely banned from going out with friends. I mean, all my friends got into drugs and gang violence and my parents simply would not let me hang around the area because almost all of the local boys were involved in some kind of illegal sh*t from shotting heroin to card fraud and stuff. It was one summer that I got really bored so I asked my brother to take me to the local skate park he used to visit which was the Cantelowes park on Camden Road. I literally just wanted to go out after feeling sick of being stuck at home over most of the summer holidays. By this point, I knew how to balance on a board having messed around in our garden and doorstep but that was about it. Once I hit the bowl in Cantelowes, I was simply hooked! The adrenaline rush I got - my goodness! I thought to myself, man I've been missing out all this time. From there, I just could not leave the skate park. The whole summer I would be there from the moment it opened till late evening when they close. I later ended up becoming good friends with a couple of lads that were sponsored by the local skate shop Three Amigos. They taught me how to do some flat ground tricks and introduced me to a whole new world of skating out there on the streets.
So skateboarding literally saved me from being involved with the wrong crowd! This is precisely why when I teamed up with Joe to support him in making Ça Va a proper brand. The main thing we pledged is to give big back to the community generously if we're ever in a position and to promote skateboarding. If more youngsters got into skateboarding, they'd soon find out just how much excitement this hobby can bring and would quickly connect with amazing people from all races and backgrounds that bond through skateboarding.
First Kickflip in Michigan, USA
So now you're in the US for treatment. Tell us a little about your health condition and what lead to the discovery of this.
Well, it all started with a dark slide. Me and Joe just fell in love with this old clip from 1993 where Rodney Mullen runs on to the board to attempt a dark slide for the first time. It just looked so darn gnarly, like something never seen before and we couldn't get enough of that clip. So when I started getting better with the boneless tricks, I started feeling the confidence to attempt dark slides. After a couple of tries, I slipped and took probably one of the worst falls I have ever had. I fell on my back and hit the back of my head on a bench on the way down. I blacked out and remember waking up with my friends surrounding me and seeing paramedics at a distance. I wasn't in any pain, just confused because I thought I'd just woken up from sleep. All was good at this point with a small scratch on the back of my head but the paramedics decided to take me to A & E to check me further just to be on the safe side. At the back of the ambulance I begun having seizures. The seizures continued whilst I was at A & E and I was sent for an urgent CT scan.
The scan revealed a mass on the left side of my brain. When the doctors first broke the news to me, I was like; "f*ck Adam, you've really screwed up!" But I was shocked to find out that doctors didn't believe this was the result of the injury. In fact, they believed I had been living with this cyst my entire life without being aware of it which would actually make sense looking back. I mean, I've struggled with migraines most of my life. Sometimes the migraines would be so bad that Paracetamol would simply not do the job and I'd have to resort to stronger pain killers. This was way before I ever started skating but I never thought it was anything sinister. It's crazy to think that had it not been for that fall, I would've not ended up having that scan and would have no idea that I'm living with this cyst in my head.
Brain scan 11/10/19
Earlier on, before commencing this interview you said to me that it’s quite easy for skaters to overlook serious health conditions. Please elaborate a little on what you meant by this.
Man, you know how it is. When you’re someone that skates regularly, you became accustomed to pain. Falling and injuring yourself as you very well know, quickly becomes the norm. So it’s quite easy to overlook a health condition or a serious injury.
What would you advise them?
Just don’t ignore anything. If you suspect a bone is broken, go and check yourself out immediately – there’s no harm in doing so. If you’re like me; it’s not normal to have constant headaches so go and get yourself checked. If you’re experiencing constant pain anywhere in your body, go and check it out. I remember seeing a documentary once about a very athletic girl in Jordan that would often go for long distance runs. She started developing pain in her shin which she ignored and put down to shin splints. She was ignoring it for close to a year I believe until it eventually became unbearable. That’s when she told her father who after examining it, discovered a lump. Further hospital tests revealed that she had developed a form of cancer which had metastasized spreading to various parts of her body. The girl sadly, didn’t survive.
So it’s very important to take your health seriously, and as for people like us that skate a lot that are prone to more injuries, think about it – if you ignore symptoms of these easily treatable injuries or conditions, you risk not ever being able to skate again! With some injuries you can’t always tell the extent of how bad it is initially. We all remember Jaws as a kid in Happy Medium. The nutter went home and slept it off initially!
You’ve been in and out of hospital a lot and now you’re talking to us from across the pond where you’ve travelled to for ongoing treatment. Spending so much time at hospitals and not being able to skate, how has this affected your mental state and how have you been dealing with it?
Bro, this was hard initially. Seeing my parents worry made it even more difficult to deal with.
At first, I was like; “how on earth am I going to cope? I can’t just be bed-bound like this.” I literally had to stop watching skate videos at one point and I remember Baker 4 was released when my seizures were at its worst levels and I just couldn’t watch the video because I knew it’d make me feel depressed being unable to skate at all. Everyone was talking about it and I just refused to watch it until like almost a year after it was released. It was hard dude and still is. But I think as humans, we can adapt to any environment as long as we don’t allow ourselves to be consumed by our emotions. So I started to meditate and pray. My family are Muslim but we’ve never really been religious to be honest. But for me personally, connecting with God, Allah, Jehovah whatever you want to call it – that really helped! And it’s funny but because I spend a lot more time indoors thinking, I’m able to come up with a lot of ideas and have discovered a creative side I never knew I had. I use my time to read a lot of self-help books too. This is a topic I knew nothing about before coming to the US, but I’ve now discovered some real gems here and I’m currently reading some of Norman Vincent Peel, Napoleon Hill and Earl Nightingale’s works.
What do you think is the best way to deal with mental health problems which can quite easily be triggered for people in a similar situation to yourself?
Well, I would advise stay off’ social media. I had two accounts on Instagram. Obviously Ça Va London which was initially just posting and sharing skate clips initially but now it’s become the face of the brand which I have nothing to do with and no longer manage. I also had another personal Instagram account which I deleted and stopped using social media altogether because it can make you feel down and depressed very quickly. It's not the same for everyone but this was the case with me and my mental health. Actually, this was in fact my brother’s advice who was never too keen on social media and I’m glad I took that advice!
The other thing is, you have to remind yourself that you are in control of your own mind. You can choose to be upset over a situation that you can’t change and sit there feeling down continuously or take advantage of the situation and look at the positives. I believe every situation has a positive side but if you’re sat there with your head down and upset, you can’t spot the positives. If I skate now, I risk hurting my head which could easily burst the cyst in my brain causing irreparable damage and this naturally was hard to accept. But I soon realised that sitting here sobbing and feeling down wouldn’t get me anywhere. In fact, physically I’m starting to feel better because I’ve been watching what I eat. I quit smoking and once I‘ve recovered from the upcoming surgery, I have so many ideas I’ve been working on that give me butterflies just thinking about them. If it wasn’t for being ill and inactive, I wouldn’t have had time to sit and think to come up with these ideas. Nor would I have contributed towards Ça Va London with my ideas in the manner that I’ve been doing so far.
Lastly, what are your plans post recovery? We would love to hear about some of your ideas if you're willing to share them yet of course.
Can't mention everything just yet because they're still ideas noted on my computer and notebook. But ye, we're collaborating with a world renowned skater which I've been working on for months. We're also hoping to launch an online magazine that'll be separate from cavalondon.com. My homies in Camden are in the process of opening a skate shop which will probably take a little over a year to complete setting up. I'm looking forward to returning to the UK just in time for their grand opening and helping them in whatever way I can. This is important because there's only one other proper skate shop in the whole of the Camden & Islington area and also because the shop is founded by 3 lads that are all from ethnic minority backgrounds which is something very rare. But ye, there's a lot more I'm planning to do once I've fully recovered and am able to return to the UK bro.
Well, we wish you well and hope you make a speedy recovery. Thanks so much for speaking to us this evening Adam. Much love.
No problem my brother. Take care and speak soon!