Tuesday 24 January 2017

How U2's cover 'Boy' rocked the world of skating

Ken Sweeney Entertainment Editor

Published 24/01/2012 | 05:00

Peter Rowen in Clive's backyard in the 1990s
Peter Rowen in Clive's backyard in the 1990s
'Hill Street' poster featuring Peter Rowen and David Rose

HE's the 'Boy' that U2 made famous with the album of the same name. But cover star Peter Rowen grew up to be a teenage skateboarder.

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He and his elder brother Clive were part of the gang of pioneering skaters that sprung up around an iconic skate shop in Dublin.

The craze kicked off in the mid-1980s when 'Back To The Future' introduced skateboarding to a wider audience -- but the formative Irish scene relied heavily on imports and innovation.

Now the explosion in Irish skateboarding, and Mr Rowen's part in it, is recalled in a new documentary called 'Hill Street'.

At its heart is the skate shop Clive's of Hill Street which Clive Rowen opened in 1984 near Temple Street in Dublin's north inner city.

The former bike shop rapidly became a meeting place for skaters who built temporary ramps on the street and began doing 'flip kicks' outside to the astonishment of locals.

"There are seven boys in my family and we always loved things with wheels on them. And because my dad sold bicycles we would have had lots to work with. Lots of bits and pieces so I think that's where Clive's thing with skateboarding came from," said Peter Rowen (37), whose other brothers include former band members of the Virgin Prunes, Strongman and artist Guggi.

Soon the skaters had graduated to a temporary skate park in the Top Hat Ballroom in Dun Laoghaire, south Dublin.

But Clive Rowen (54), right, who still runs 'Skate City' in Temple Bar, cannot take all the credit for popularising the pastime in Ireland -- actor Michael J Fox also played a part.

Most of the now middle-aged skaters interviewed for 'Hill Street' revealed how they were first inspired by a scene in the 1985 film 'Back To The Future'.

"There's a moment in the film when Michael is back in the 1950s and creates a skateboard from snapping a trolley in two. The whole of Ireland was watching, and we have Michael J Fox to thank for all the skaters and skateboards parks we have in Ireland now, " said documentary producer Dave Leahy.

But with no skateboards on sale in Ireland, enthusiasts had to rely on shipping them in from overseas.

"Everybody seemed to have a relative in the US who sent them over a skateboard because they weren't being made in Ireland during the 1980s. Thousands of them must have shipped over," added Mr Leahy.

Whereas those skaters only had one or two parks to practice, there are now 37 around the country.

"The funny thing is that a lot of the young guys who began skateboarding in the 1980s are still skateboarding now, aged 40, in these parks, right next to young kids who are only getting into skateboards now," said Mr Leahy.

Legendary US skateboard star Tony Hawk visited Ireland to see the fledgling scene here during the 1980s.

He is among the skateboarders featured on 'Hill Street' which will be screened at Irish cinemas in the spring.

Peter Rowen, who featured on the cover of several U2 albums including their debut 'Boy' (1980), aged eight, is now an award-winning photographer.

Irish Independent

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