It is not often when somewhere that could potentially be an illegal street spot becomes a sanctioned skate zone. When the ledges got waxed up (nearly quarter of a century ago) there is no way we would have envisaged the spot still getting skated today. Not only is it still being skated, but it has made international legend status via several classic videos. This an accepted skate zone in Fremantle; pedestrians know to walk past either with haste and caution or on the other side of the road. A council worker even comes by every other day and empties the makeshift bins, which are merely drainage holes in the ledge. If you are a street skater from Western Australia, if you added up all the hours spent there, chances are you will have literally spent years at Woolies. It is an isle of progression, it is a gallery, it is a school, it is a metal-capped portal to happiness. If you haven’t skated it yet, get with the program.
Words: Morgan Campbell
Video: Josh Roberts
Photos: Aidan White (click to view larger)
Archival photo: Fremantle City Library Local History Collection [#1529B]
james ahern with a backside nbs pop out on the rarely seen harbour side of woolstores
Before the ledge was really properly sessioned there was a curb that saw much more of the action. It was on the inside of the sidewalk island and it was just as long as the ledge. Over time the ledge got ‘smaller’ you would learn a trick on the curb, and then try take it to the ledge. The curb is long gone, but of course the ledge remains.
The first person to actually wax the ledge at Woolies was legendary all rounder Mr Brett Margaritis. Brett waxed the ledge in 1989 and then moved on after a few minutes to skate a kinked bank to curb up the road. The ledge wasn’t waxed again for a couple of years.
c'wise from top right: night falls, rin smiths, dangles jams and crooks gouge trucks
The first trick that we ever heard of getting made at Woolies was a backside 50/50 to 360 shuv-it by powerhouse Matt Andrew in 1990. Although I guarentee he made it, no one really believed him at the time, as we didn’t think that popped 360 shuv-its were even possible. They simply couldn’t spin like that with out the flip. This was a decade before Gino proved us all wrong with his effort over the Queens grate and two decades before we were inundated with the 'three-shuv' plague of today.
It is particularly hard to lipslide the ledges at Woolies. Most people don’t even bother trying. There is not much room. The wall doesn’t really allow enough space for them. The first person ever seen doing kickflip backside lipslides at Woolies was John Butler (yeah that John Butler), t'was early 1996. In and out without the end, tip of the tail grinding against the wall.
swisstralian technition severin von ow with a fakie flip fakie 5-0 pop out <click to animate>
In the late 90’s there were a couple of guard dogs that were kept inside the building. Occasionally your smith grind screech would be accompanied by some gnashing of teeth through the window. As legend has it one of the poor doglets fell off the roof to flat and died. Pretty sure the RSPCA rectified the situation and the remaining dog was removed.
Everyone knows that the Woolies ledge used to be twice as long, but did you know that it was in fact over four times as long? As illustrated in the birds-eye over here. The part that is colourised is the only bit left today. The bit south of and across the road from it went years before it got skated, and the bit up above the colourised section was removed and replaced by apartments in the early 2000’s.
justin lloyd smiles upon harry clark's tailslide entry and josh roberts' zonage: poise for days
The park across the road from Woolies is often home to rumbles, celebrations and scuffles between inebriated locals. But on one afternoon in early 2006 it was home to a cricket match featuring the locals and the entire Lakai team including Mike Carroll, Eric Koston and Rick Howard. Mike O’Meally was of course the ferocious Lakai team captain. Hilarity ensued.
For almost as long as it has been skated there have been rumours that it is going to be demolished. When half the building was taken away in the early 2000’s the most northern ledge was actually capped. Whispers of the immanent demise of the rest of the spot went around the country. Luckily the investors got hit by financial constraints a few years ago (who didn't) and the movement towards destruction has seemingly ceased.
seeing justin lloyd do mach 420 back tails is worth the trip across the nullabor alone
Guy Mariano’s last wish before he left WA (just after shooting his comeback cover of Transworld @ Albany Snake Run) was to "skate the metal ledges just one more time." Guy had been seen earlier that week performing switch 360 flip noseslides on a seldom hit section of the ledge.
Woolies appears on more than one Fremantle wedding catalog for potential backdrops for wedding photo shoots. This results in freshly wed couples coming down on almost a weekly basis to soil their hired garb with truck shavings and wax. True story!
1979 cantoment street scene: back then woolies was nearly four times its current length
One common misconception people make when traveling to WA is that Woolies is going to be easy to skate. It might indeed seem so from the casual ripping of the locals. But for most people, having a jagged brick wall flicker past, millimetres from their face is a far from pleasant experience. Then there are the protruding pipes, the sharp windowsills and the sticky bits of ledge. There are only a handful of blow-ins that can actually skate it with ease. When you see an 'East Coaster' or a foreigner handling it you know that have got adaptability skills.
It is impossible to name a best trick ever done at Woolies but honourable mentions have to be made. Harry Clark nailed front shuv backside nose grinds to nollie flip (without the end). Wieger van Wageningen performed a twenty foot long backside 180 heel flip fakie nose grind switch fs 180 pop out in the middle: ludicrous! Barry Mansfield recently filmed a backside salad to frontside flip there. Ambidextrous power-snapper Froddo has done some of the hardest lines at Woolies for sure. A special power mention should go to Alex Campbell who grinded the window sill and ollie the sixteen footer out the back. Also Omar Salazar who performed the 50/50 gap 50/50. We can't go any further than mentioning Kye Stanley who did a pole jam backside 180 there in 1997 on a full sized stop sign.