Nick Jensen talks about the new Isle x Slam capsule he created in this quick catch-up. The following interview explores the process behind the beautiful boards and T-Shirts he put together, his emotional ties to Slam City Skates, first getting sponsored by Slam through to right now, and what lies in store for Isle skateboards.
Words and Interview by Jacob Sawyer
Nick Jensen is our longest-serving team rider and we are proud to have been able to support him on his journey. As you will find out from this conversation, Slam was part of his story even before his Southbank Seven prowess landed him a place on the Blueprint squad. It has been amazing watching everything Nick has achieved over the years, from perfecting the art of the video part to carving his own path as a creative. His skateboarding contribution speaks volumes, on and off the board.
Watching Isle evolve and solidify its place in our consciousness is a ride we have been on since the first drop of boards in 2013. When the prospect of Isle putting out some boards in conjunction with the shop arose we were elated. To see this project come to fruition and to have Nick so thoughtfully curate it all is an honour. We hope you are as stoked on the visuals as we are. Read on to find out more about this capsule and for further insights from one of our favourite skateboarding visionaries…
The Isle x Slam City Skates Decks Nick created
We are super stoked on this collaboration happening. Was it fun getting to put the graphics together?
It was really fun but also a bit of a challenge. I love Slam so much, how do you put all of that love and time spent there into one rectangle? It was a bit overwhelming in that respect.
What was the process involved?
The process involved printing things onto two sheets of fabric. Two separate pieces of fabric were hung in my studio against a white surface and I got Sam Ashley to photograph them. I then made crops from those images and selected them for the boards. I collected all of these photographs from old friends. Some people in your life have so many photos of things from our past. Sam Ashley had loads, you had some, French had them. We got them all together and laid them out on a piece of fabric.
I worked closely with Jan Thompson, he has been working with Isle now from before Covid times. Me and Jan selected images from friends and then collaged them on two pieces of fabric. Jans’s idea was to vary the transparency on the fabric so that when Sam Ashley photographed them (thanks Sam!) you would get a layering of different images and textures. Jan also inverted and did cool things to the imagery to give it this very unique otherworldliness. We also included old and classic quotations from people who either worked or spent a lot of time hanging out in the shop. We thought this was the best way to convey the essence of slam through the lens of Isle.
Studio shots of Nick shrouded in the fabric which he created for the collaboration
Were there any other ideas in the running?
I was always thinking of doing it in an Isle style which is very much 3D. Originally I thought of using some objects from Slam but they had all been thrown away. Things like the old fan, or the little TV which was beneath it on top of the staircase. I considered re-sourcing things which were similar and making a sculpture out of them. In the end I thought the layering of photographs was better. We layered some quotations in there too. Slam had this notorious Quote Book where you guys preserved funny quotes from staff and visitors to the shop. It was a better way to incorporate more characters from the shop.
What was the funniest moment you came across in the old quote book?
There are so many good ones. I absolutely love your one which chimes with my sense of humour which is simply “I like giraffes, a lot”. [Andrew] Brophy saying “this hoover sucks” is a good quote. I like Charlie Young saying “I’d rather be bone and getting stuff than actually good and not getting stuff”. There’s all sorts of funny ones. “Let’s just say that’s me on the cover” was Casper Brooker’s one. Just jokes stuff where we would muck about and pretend we were really successful interesting skateboarders. Basically just a schoolboy vibe preserved.
The print details with Quote Book scrawls scattered throughout
Can you explain what Slam means to you?
I would say Southbank was my second home when I was growing up, that was the place I would think of going to the most. Then Slam became this really lovely, friendly, warm place to visit and hang out. It was somewhere you could have a break from Southbank, a pause. As I grew older I ended up spending more time there through having better relationships with the staff. It was where I would go to watch videos and read magazines.
What’s your first memory of going into the shop?
Probably from when I was about twelve. I remember going there with my dad and my brother. Dad bought me a Planet Earth board which was really beautiful. I remember seeing the board wall and being blown away by how cool it was. Being in a shop that sold skateboards just felt incredible.
Do you remember first getting sponsored by Slam and how it happened?
Not really to be fair. We were all such good friends that it was just one of those things. After a while it was more a matter of “am I sponsored by Slam?” and realising you were. You got invited in the nicest way possible, I always felt supported. If I needed bearings, or griptape, or whatever it was, I knew Slam would always hook it up.
Nick setting up a board outside our old Neal’s Yard shop before a day out filming
Before that there was also the Playstation connection which led to your Circa hook up through Slam distribution.
That’s true, I used to go down to the old warehouse and get Circa stuff. So yeah, Slam have always supported me. Mark ‘Fos’ Foster worked at the Slam warehouse at that time. I remember visiting there and making him a cup of tea. He told me it was a really good cup of tea. I wasn’t a tea making type of person and had no idea what he meant, it’s just a tea bag in a fucking cup. Now that I’m older I know what he meant.
Give us a funny memory from the shop?
I have fond memories of trying to skate that bench in the shop. There was carpet on the floor but the office carpet you can still just about roll on. Charlie [Young] was the funniest when it came to that. My favourite memories are of games you used to set up. You would have a table tennis ball and the challenge would be to bounce it and make it land in the éS Koston shoe or something. Just stupid shit like that, you’d come in and a table tennis ball would fly over your head. Then you’d spend an hour trying to do the same thing. It made me realise how fun work could be and that you don’t have to take things too seriously.
“You got invited in the nicest way possible, I always felt supported. If I needed bearings, or griptape, or whatever it was, I knew Slam would always hook it up.”
Nick’s welcome to Slam advert in Sidewalk, long after he was part of the team. This coincided with his first pro board for Blueprint in 2005. PH: Dominic Marley
How important do you feel the physical presence of the shop is?
So important, it couldn’t have been better then for a kid like me growing up. Especially with how the world was then, you weren’t buying things over the internet. I think it’s easy to sometimes take those things for granted. There’s something about the old shop with Rough Trade downstairs, it smelt a bit like incense. It was exciting, mysterious and weird, and it was so different to anywhere else.
I remember [Chris] Pulman and Seth [Curtis] doing this thing with their boards. They were holding them and moving them back and forwards really fast. It was some kind of density test to see if it was going to be a good board or not. As a kid seeing all of this stuff you realise that it’s an art, and a madness.
“Certain imagery holds a special place in my heart but I wouldn’t want to try to regurgitate it for that reason.”
Can you think of any imagery or aesthetics tied up in Slam’s history which inspired you as an artist?
I think it’s quite nice that it sits parallel to what I do but hasn’t inspired it directly. Certain imagery holds a special place in my heart but I wouldn’t want to try to regurgitate it for that reason. Also I wouldn’t want to try to understand it too much, there is an essence there I don’t want to de-construct too much.
What board series are you happiest with having produced in Isle’s history?
The first series we ever did was the most exciting for me I think. I was taking pre-conceived ideas in my own head about what graphic design meant and challenging that. Figuring out that making really simple 3D graphics could translate and look good. It was a good feeling proving that my instincts were right at the start and we could run with that. Every series of 3D installation boards like the ‘Curiosities’ series followed that atmosphere and formula. Different content but a similar process. The first run was just an exciting time and that’s inspired me ever since.
The first series of boards for Isle which has inspired Nick’s creativity ever since
There’s no laziness involved in producing those graphics and everything is so well thought out, from standing alone as a graphic to existing within the framework of a series. Do you enjoy that challenge, the parameters of the canvas?
I do, I think of each one as a piece of art and I want to respect each board and graphic in it’s own right. Rather than trying to quickly get to the bottom of something and doing some repeat pattern. I always think of each board as an object by itself and the dialogue with [Paul] Shier, [Chris] Aylen and Jan [Thompson] is also what makes them what they are. More recently it has become a strong collaborative effort with Jan Thompson.
Has doing that informed your own work in any way?
No, but I was talking to Jan [Thompson] about this. He’s also a teacher at Gerrit Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam. He talks about by-products. When you’re a painter sometimes there are other ideas which don’t make sense within your painting. But those other ideas allow you to play in another space. You do a bit of one thing and that in turn makes you want to do the other. I don’t think of paintings as board graphics or vice versa. One is obviously printed and the other is textural, but the intention to describe a physical space is the same.
Do you think you’re always going to be looking at things in terms of how they would translate to a board?
Weirdly no. Sometimes you will spot something. Maybe you will see a beautiful pattern with flowers growing up it and it’s the same dimensions as a skateboard. Something you just happen to see on the street. That will maybe end up logged in the back of my head.
Nick’s retirement board for Isle featuring his first Sidewalk cover and a Blueprint ad both shot by Oliver Barton
This drop of boards coincides with an official retirement board for you, what prompted that decision?
For a year or longer I had decided I didn’t want to be pro any more. I don’t skate to that level any more, I was humbled by the amazing career I’ve had and felt it was the right time to finish, I have been pro since 2005.
Who put together the graphic?
[Paul] Shier and Chris Aylen sorted the graphic out behind my back. I put together Shier’s retirement board which follows the same template. I had no idea I was having a board made specifically for me. I suppose I retired a few years a go but I didn’t announce it. It’s not big news, nobody really cares but I wanted to put a video out. I had been working on something with Jake Harris but we procrastinated and it didn’t come together. More of a retrospective than a video full of new tricks, Jake had some funny ideas. It’s a way of saying to the world that next time you see me skating at Mile End and I’m useless, don’t worry, I’m not pro anymore.
“It’s a way of saying to the world that next time you see me skating at Mile End and I’m useless, don’t worry, I’m not pro anymore.”
Does that change how you think about skating?
I haven’t been thinking about skating in the same way for about the last five years. There hasn’t been that magnetic pull towards a trick I want to do at somewhere specific. That makes things a bit more relaxing for me because I’m getting into different things in life. At the same time I do miss that feeling of a fun challenge, the process of piecing a line together. Having no obligations in that regard makes things more relaxing. As a skater I always fed off being productive, Tom Knox is the same. Some people complain about filming and don’t like the camera coming out but I enjoy the whole process. So not being in that world any more is a bit sad, I will miss putting something together with someone else who is equally motivated.
These T-Shirts from the collaboration could be our favourite Slam shirts of all time
What is on the cards for the next chapter of Isle skateboards?
There are lots of things I’m excited about. We are working with a curator who is going to make a series of boards as if it’s an exhibition. She is picking the artists which is exciting because no-one has ever done that before. She isn’t from the skate world but I’ve explained to her how it works in skate shops, how boards can work together on the wall and bleed into each other. This way she can think about the project as a space. We are also working on a publication.
I’ve discussed it with Paul [Shier], Chris [Aylen] and Jan [Tomson] and we have all agreed that we want to work on things which are different and exist outside of the traditional output from other companies, even if they are slightly confusing and weird. Sylvain [Tognelli] had this idea years ago which I thought was really funny. Getting a therapist to come on a skate trip and writing a prognosis for everyone at the end of it. Obviously that wouldn’t work because of confidentiality but it outlines that no-one is out of the question when it comes to collaboration. We are just keen not to adhere to any kind of existing formula.
“Working with people from other fields creates new relationships, new ways of looking at things and new directions which can be mutually inspiring.”
We are interested in people and stories, not overly concerned with the competitive side of skateboarding. I will always keep an eye out for amazing skaters but am less caught up in the who did what where, and who did what next. I don’t have that attraction anymore so to keep things fresh and interesting I want to extend it to looking outside the world of skateboarding. Working with people from other fields creates new relationships, new ways of looking at things and new directions which can be mutually inspiring. We’re excited to be in a space where we are exploring new territory.
We don’t make a great deal of money from Isle and that isn’t a driving force in my life or reason for doing it. I’m secure and content with my painting practise. Isle is much more about having this reach with all of these amazing people in the world, having this connection versus churning things out because we have to.
SHOP FOR THE ISLE X SLAM COLLECTION HERE