Sue Hazel

Sue Hazel is the UK equivalent to Cara-Beth Burnside considering her long-standing skateboarding career from 1977 to the present and her role in supporting the progression of female skaters in Britain. While brief interviews of Sue appeared in UK magazines Sk8Action and Skateboard! during the 1980s, a more thorough interview was conducted in 2010 by Christine Cauble for the “Rock Rip Roll Girl” website. Sue had just been featured in Jenna Selby’s fantastic full-length documentary called “As If, And What?” (2008) showcasing the UK and European female skateboarding scene, and the audience wanted to know more.

Note: Photo bottom left features the “secret new forest ramp” with Mark Futcher and Mark (Dog) Fry

Sue shared that she was born in New Forest, Hampshire and her family included sister Nicky and brother Tim. Even though finances were tight, her parents made athletics and being outdoors a priority. When the skateboarding craze hit the UK in the late 1970s, Sue stated that “I saved up and got my first board and was the immensely proud owner of a ‘Surf Flyer.’ This board would be seen as the pits now, but to me at the time; it was the first magical step into something which would change my world and shape my life for years to come” (Cauble). Sue was quickly consumed with mastering her skateboard and would skate any chance she could get. Eventually Sue made her own decks based on a “How To” article that was printed in Skateboard! magazine. “I made a concave board press with my dad which produced many decks” (Sept. 2022), as seen below.

Sue shared with Christine that, “There were no videos, DVD’s, internet or anything like that, we had magazines though, and they were the only source of written published communication with any skaters from outside your own area.” The challenge was keeping the peace with her neighbours, since skateparks were just starting to appear and trying not to make noise in her laneway or streets that would trigger a call to the cops. Sue suspected her parents might have been embarrassed by her efforts as like most parents were concerned with respectability and whether or not it was a “worthy activity to pursue, in spite of the great effort it took to master it.”

The photo below (c/o Sue Hazel) shows Sue at age 15 skating an aluminum deck with home-made elbow pads and gardening gloves. Sue shared, “I practised ’til I got this handstand the entire length of my cul-de-sac going downhill.”

Sue’s approach to learning new tricks was by breaking it down and visualizing. She might start a trick low down on a ramp and then try it higher or faster. “Lots of analysis, frustration and bails, then it starts coming together. Persistence is the word.” And, Sue also had her sister Nicky to document her progress!

Even after the skateboarding craze started to calm down, Sue persevered. She didn’t know any influential skaters but “every fortnight, I’d put my pocket money towards a bus ride to Southsea Skatepark, to meet other local skaters and learn to ride bowls… Seeing any other female skaters was always an inspiration, there weren’t too many” (Cauble). Sue noted that during the first phase of popularity there had been a mix of genders, but everyone ditched their boards not long after.

By the 1980s, Sue started competing in freestyle and ramp. “The English Skateboard Association [ESA] Comps at this time though were mostly about fun, so a lot of people did all the disciplines for a laugh. It was the era that most of the public thought that skateboarding was dead” (Cauble). Sue considered 1983 to be a good year for her, competing well in both freestyle and pipe.

In 1984, Sue competed at the Farnborough Contest (with a funky arm that had been broken earlier in the year due to a skiing accident in Italy) taking first place in the “B Group.” The event was covered by Thrasher in a small article called “England Skates” in the October 1984 issue and failed to mention Sue’s performance, besides the results. Instead, the author Billy Runaway emphasized the “girls under 16” who were lurking around the ramp in creepy fashion.

When Christine asked about how she was treated in the early days as a female skater, Sue replied, “I can’t really remember any particularly bad vibes from other skaters, I was just one of the crowd; albeit a girl. I loved traveling and visiting different scenes, and still do.” Sue was mainly focused on learning new tricks. “I remember the first time I really committed to coming in backwards out of a rock fakie on the Farnborough vert ramp – I slammed so hard on my back! After a while sitting out recovering, I got on the board again to get it wired, just made darn sure in future attempts I didn’t let my wheels hang up on the coping.”

Sue’s practise paid off! In 1986, the ESA “through the organisational genius of Derry Thompson, managed to obtain funding by the Sports Council to take a team from England to compete in the Transworld Skateboarding Competition in Canada. It was a real attempt to legitimise Skateboarding in the eyes of the governing body of sport and was a tremendous opportunity to attend a major event that we would otherwise have never managed to be able to fund by our own means” (Cauble). The event was coordinated with Expo ’86 in Vancouver, an international festival. For most of the UK team, the Expo trip was their first time in North America. “The theme of the Exposition was transport of all things, and they used skateboarding as a showcase for it. The parade at the start was good. Olympic style, with all these skaters representing their respective countries, flags and team colours, and of course, being skaters everyone mixed themselves up because they were friends with each other. It was a howl!” (Sidewalk, 2001).

The event was featured in the Transworld video called Radical Moves (1986). Sue’s freestyle performance was included, and shared below:

In Vancouver, Sue placed 2nd in Freestyle behind Switzerland’s Corina ‘GoGo’ Spreiter and ahead of April Hoffman, Sophie Bourgeois, Michelle Sanderson and Stephanie Person. A photo of Sue was also included in the December 1986 issue of Thrasher in their coverage of the event. It was noted that the organizers decided not to count the women’s contest as part of the team points like an Olympic-style format, suggesting that their efforts were simply a sideshow.

Sue shared that with Cauble that, “Competing in Freestyle was always a bit more nerve-wracking than vert, you always felt more likely to fall over your feet. When they introduced the jam format for vert contests, it made it much more like a good heated skate sesh, only without the snaking.”

In 1986, when Sue was 25 there was a brief introduction on her in a magazine and the following year at age 26 she received a tiny feature in the UK Sk8Action magazine. Sue described her worst nightmare as being injured and not being able to skate for a long time. She hoped to travel to places like Brazil, or even Texas as long as it was somewhere different. And, Sue encouraged girl skaters to “hang in there, have fun and ignore rude comments.”

Sue’s sponsors in the 1980s included Brand X, Santa Cruz speed wheels, and Southsea Skateshop thanks to Joe Burlo, Mark Abbott, and Don Brider who reached out to offer sponsorship, and Vans shoes via Pierre Andre and Don Brown when Sue was in the U.S. for an extended period (Sept. 2022).

Sue went on to compete at events all over England and Scotland, France, Germany, Sweden, Canada, and the U.S., in particular New York, North Carolina, Texas and California. During one of her trips to the U.S. Sue remembers skating JoAnn Gillespie’s backyard mini ramp and meeting Cara-Beth Burnside. When Burnside was interviewed for Thrasher in October 1991 she made sure to acknowledge other women she admired. Burnside mentioned that Sue was someone out there ripping and had inverts and airs on ramp. This statement was important because any awareness or evidence of female skateboarders from overseas was difficult to track in the 1980s & 90s – it was challenging to even know if there was a skater girl in your neighbouring city!

In 1988, back home in England at the Southsea Skate Contest, Sue placed 5th out of the guys in freestyle on a cold winter’s day, illuminated by floodlights. The contest was covered in an article called “Double Your Money,” in R.A.D. Magazine for the January 1989 issue but again there was no mention of Sue’s presence besides the results. Fortunately, the zine Equal Time initiated by Lynn Kramer and the Women’s Skateboard Network rectified this lack of acknowledgement, including Sue in their 1989 publication and making a connection.

Sue shared by email that, “I visited Lynn and JoAnn Gillespie, and Stephanie Person. It was a great opportunity to actually find other women that skated. It was rare back then to find any! I’m also indebted to Aerial Ann; a relative of a good skate friend (Mark Fry) who put up with me staying at her house in California for far too long, and Mike Siegfried and his lovely family” (Sept. 2022).

The UK magazine Skateboard! finally highlighted Sue in the November 1989 issue, in a feature about female skaters. When asked about changing attitudes towards girl skaters, Sue suggested, “perhaps more coverage in magazines. When a girl opens a mag she just sees all these guys and it gives skating a real macho image. You don’t have to be all macho and aggressive to skate so I think there is a place for girl skaters.” Sue shared that “It would be nice to compete against more girls. The first time was in ’86 in Vancouver. It was really enjoyable, a good atmosphere of real camaraderie.”

For the Skateboard! interview, Sue made sure to acknowledge Equal Time zine and how great it was for putting you in touch “with other girls for travelling around and somewhere to stay,” and fellow female skaters including Stephanie Person, Cara-Beth Burnside, Rhonda Doyle, Julie Sack, and Michelle Ticktin (often misspelled as “Picktin.”) “Michelle has a really good attitude. I want to go to Scotland and hang out with the girls up there… Not many people realise there are hundreds of girls worldwide.”

Here is some footage of Sue a few years later, in the summer of 1991 competing at the Botley Bowl fun contest:

In 2001, when Sue was 40, she received another proper interview in a UK skateboarding magazine called Sidewalk. Sue remembers rushing to the venue after work for a photo session with Wig Worland on a sweaty hot evening.

The interviewer was insightful explaining how the attitude towards Sue by magazine editors like Tim Leighton-Boyce of R.A.D. magazine in the 80s and 90s was strange, even fearful, as though by giving her coverage it would imply they were biased. “So Tim L Boyce stuck with boys and played safe. Rad [magazine] stayed away despite her prowess at vert and freestyle, and the woman consistently rated highly in the ESA’s amateur freestyle contests and apart from her name in the results gained not one ounce of credit for it. The well meaning reissued (but ultimately doomed) Skateboard Mag finally gave her some time in the latter part of the eighties as did the likes of vert masters like Lance Mountain and Neil Blender. They were struck dumb by her ability… Where have you been hiding this woman? A similar reaction was from Santa Cruz’s Stephanie Person: Sponsor her!” (Sidewalk, 2001).

In the Sidewalk interview, Sue stated that, even though her focus on skateboarding meant she might have missed out on things like nightclubbing and going to the pub, “It’s nice to be into something a bit different. Making your individuality and getting on with it. Not feeling like you have to be a sheep.” Sue acknowledged that skateboarding is challenging. “It’s hard for anyone, but it’s a harsh sport for a woman to get into. You notice that I pad up pretty well, I don’t like getting hurt. It’s not a macho thing and I don’t want to end up looking like I’ve been hit by a car!”

There are some great quotes by Sue in an interview called “A Grand Day Out” with So Skate Zine #2 (2018) where she discusses the attitude towards skateboarding in the 1980s. She said, “I didn’t feel I was an outsider in terms of being part of a skateboard crew because I was just treated as another skateboarder by all my mates, but as far as everyone else in society I definitely felt ostracized because your parents didn’t understand it, your colleagues, or your schoolmates just thought you were immature, it was definitely not on the radar of being cool at all. It was a nuisance, and it was to be banned!” There was simply no concept of how skateboarding could be a creative outlet or something positive to give kids to pursue.

And yet, Sue found her community within skateboarding. She concluded her interview with Cauble saying, “Meeting people from vastly different backgrounds from my own has I hoped developed a humility and appreciation for people who have alternative beliefs and attitudes than my own, an acceptance of people’s differences.”

Sue continues to be very much involved in supporting the evolution of women in skateboarding. She appeared as a surprise competitor at the Annual Girls Skate Out (GSO) contest in the UK which originally launched at the Epic skatepark in Birmingham, as reported by Jenna Selby within Check it Out magazine (#15) in 2003.

Selby explained how once the beginners had their session, “a lady who seemed fairly familiar asked to sign in. There was a sudden realization that it was Sue Hazel. Sue, who is now 43-years-old… It turned out that she drove to Birmingham the night before and spent the night in her car just to participate in the 2nd Annual ‘Girls Skate Out.’ After getting padded up, Sue headed straight for the vert ramp. Despite the fact she hadn’t skated in six months, it was really impressive to watch her drop-in straight into a frontside air then eggplant. This is a skater who still uses rails on her board to slide!” Apparently, Sue won the GSO mini-ramp contest two years in a row, as well as the vert.

Sue is now recognized as a British skateboarding legend, especially through social media like Instagram with documentation of her past and current skateboarding experience being shared. There was footage of her supporting a young Alice May (age 6) in 2016 learning ramp, a photo of Sue in Hong Kong skating the Tseung Kwan O skatepark, and in 2020 of Sue enjoying the bowl at Kings Skatepark, Boscombe in her late fifties!

Sue has now relocated to the seaside town of Weston-super-Mare in the UK’s south-west. Her other passions include rock climbing, kite surfing, cycling, running, and yoga. And when she witnessed some of the Olympic skateboarding coverage, she shared that “The standard has gone through the roof. So impressive. Skaters growing up these days have a very different introduction to the sport. There was such public hostility to us. It seems a bit ridiculous now to look back at the massive shift in public opinion” (Sept. 2022). Fortunately, Sue endured an era of condemnation from the public and has even been called “The First Lady of UK Skateboarding” online, and the title seems fitting.

Photos: Nicky Tidman, Tim Leighton Boyce, Wig Worland, Sean Goff, Stephanie Person, Pete Saunders and Jenna Selby.


Back to Top

Enjoyed the post? Check out these features:

, ,