Sheenagh Burdell

Sheenagh Burdell may not be a household name in North America, but her impact as a British skateboarding legend is being recognized in the U.K. and needs to be represented here. Dave Arnold in his interview with Sheenagh for The Skateboarder’s Companion explained that “in the UK in the late 70s there were virtually no female skaters. I’m sure there were others that dabbled… but I can only think of Sheenagh who took it a step further. She spent three years at the forefront of the first wave of UK skateboarding.”

Sheenagh was a “Northern England girl” who pestered her parents for a skateboard and received one for Christmas in 1976 at age 11—a blue Surf Flyer Deluxe. She had been infatuated with all things American, and possibly saw skateboarding while watching an episode of Charlie’s Angels or on a Snoopy cartoon.

Her hometown of Southport (just under 5 hours north of London), with its seafront and promenade became a hotspot for skateboarders to gather. And then the Solid Surf Skatepark was built in 1978, where Sheenagh became regular, even jumping the fence before the park was actually open. On the official launch day, Sheenagh was selected to be a skatepark marshal along with some friends. “We got t-shirts and even got paid. It was beyond our wildest dreams! Free entry, free drinks, and we got paid to skateboard all day.”

There were two other girls named Jackie and Julie “Inch” Lee who skated the park, and Sheenagh also saw another girl in the town of Bolton, but she was mostly skating with her older brother and his friends. And because she was at the skatepark from day one, none of the guys gave her any hassle or questioned her presence as a skateboarder.

In a 2015 interview with Girl Is Not a 4 Letter Word Sheenagh gave her friend Julie acknowledgment as someone who inspired her, not for her skill, but for her perseverance and laughter. As well, Sheenagh recognized Terry Lawrence as the only person she actually saw skating pools while visiting California in 1978 and inspiring her. “The skateparks out there were so much smoother and easier to skate… We went to the Big O, Lakewood, Runway, Upland, and maybe a few others. We went with my mum and dad. Our nextdoor neighbours moved out there, and we went to visit them for a month.”

The family’s other neighbour was a guy who owned “Wheeler’s Dealers” skateshop in Liverpool, and gave her parents the inspiration to open “Freewheelers” skateshop just before the skatepark was launched. Initially the shop wasn’t successful, but once they moved closer to the train station in the town centre on London street, business picked up. Both Darren and Sheenagh worked at the shop, and while they weren’t given a wage, there were some perks.

And, in an interesting reversal, it was Sheenagh who first introduced skateboarding to her big brother Darren, but she did note that “he was my main influence and coach, always pushing me to try new things and making me really go for it!” Darren was also the reason Sheenagh was so well-documented, as he took photos of her progress.

In August 1978, a news clipping in the Liverpool Echo featured Sheenagh and how she was “snapped up by Canadian skateboard manufacturers who are to sponsor her in national competitions.” This Canadian company was called Lan skateboards. In the news article, “Marketing manager Bernie Cluett said: ‘As soon as I saw her in action I knew she was what we were looking for… She is probably the best girl skateboarder in the country at present and on a par with some of our finest American girls.’”

Sheenagh was only 13 at the time, so her family had to accompany her on these trips with Lan, but she did recall to Dave Arnold the time she had the chance to attend a party at Seth and Shane Cutts’ house in Islington. Seth and Shane also had a little sister named Thea Cutts who took up skateboarding. I wonder if the two skaters connected?

Lan skateboards wasn’t a great sponsor, and only gave Sheenagh some decks, although they did offer her the opportunity to attend a few competitions, including the televised Saturday Banana Show in 1978! The show pitted Sheenagh’s northern team against a southern team. “I took my run and got a high score. The presenter then asked if they had given me that score because I was a girl, and the judges said, ‘no, it’s because she was good.’” In the UK, the skateboarding scene was thriving in the 1970s but according to Sheenagh “there was a lot more opportunities if you lived down South as far as sponsorship and coverage of the sport went!” And perhaps Sheenagh might have met UK legend, Sue Hazel if she had had the opportunity, but strangely their paths never crossed.

Sheenagh’s parents and their Freewheelers skateshop were her ultimate sponsors, and she was fortunate to have access to different board set-ups and loved Sims and Dogtown, along with Tracker trucks, Independent and Megatrons. Sheenagh admitted to finding it hard to resist trying all the new wheels that came into the shop, even washing a set of Powerflex 5’s after using them (and not liking them) and putting them back on the shelf to be sold.

The skateshop also cultivated community. According to Sheenagh, “I’d say most of the customers became our friends and so it was like all your mates were always popping in. People would meet up at the shop, and then head over to the park.”

Sheenagh received a photo shoot and coverage in the UK magazine Skateboard! including a December 1978 “Starshots” feature after she had been skating only for a few months. The caption explained, “13 year old Sheenagh Burdell is the first hot girl skater on the vertical that we’ve seen in Britain and she proved a real match for the boys at Brentford’s Rolling Thunder park where she was pulling off classy rail-grabs and tail blocks.” It was also mentioned that there may have been other girls skating freestyle, but Sheenagh was the only one challenging herself on transition.

A highlight was when Tony Alva visited Southport (Sheenagh joked that he even inspired her to get a perm!), as well as Shogo Kubo who came over to Sheenagh’s house, and was served tea and cakes by her mum. Sheenagh’s parents were big supporters, and arranged for a bus tour to other skateparks, so that kids from their community all had the opportunity to visit other places.

Sheenagh considered the Arrow indoor skatepark in Wolverhampton, near Birmingham as being her favourite. “It was an old warehouse crammed full of weird and wonderful wooden ramps and pipes, you could easily have got lost in there!” Sheenagh was grateful for her local Solid Surf skatepark, but because she practically lived there it wasn’t as special.

“I used to love to elevator drop into Colnes massive pool! I don’t think many people actually had the bottle to do that! I think I was the only girl who ever skated that pool… I used to try and copy a friend called Stef Harkon – he had a great surfer style! I was an aggressive skater. London skater Marc Sinclair recently told me that they used to call me ‘the go for it girl.’ I mainly skated parks, pools and pipes! Although I did do some freestyle, it definitely wasn’t my favorite thing! But I did enjoy slalom!”

Unfortunately, when Solid Surf skatepark closed in 1980, the scene fizzled and it was difficult to get new product, so Sheenagh’s parent’s shop also closed. And then, “I regrettably stopped at the age of 16, but took it up again at 49.”

Sheenagh eased back into skateboarding with a Fiberflex slalom board that she found in a rummage sale and started out with stealthy solo missions. Then, for her 50th birthday she built a halfpipe in her barn with her partner Edgar, with the option of skating a concrete bowl not far from her home. As a skater in her fifties, Sheenagh gave props to Judi Oyama as an OG woman skater who inspired her.

During her pause from skateboarding in the 1990s, Sheenagh would drag race her motorbike in the Supertwins Championship and cultivated a serious collection of motorcycles.

These days, Sheenagh is blown away by the talent of the young girls skateboarding. “Sometimes I wish things would have been different for me, but then again, my time in skateboarding when I was young was one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life.”


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