On June 3rd, Amsterdam saw the premiere of 'Lands End', a film by Barney Page and Ryan Sherman, documenting Barneys month-long push through the UK, in order to create more awareness for suicide prevention and mental health issues. Frederick Walker sat down with him after the screening for a little talk.
Frederick: What made you decide to do this?
Barney: It was during the lockdown when it was covid, and I got back to my house in Devon and I was going to visit my family. And I just got home and I had this big trip idea with Ryan that made the video, that I was going to buy this van and convert it and we’re going to do a loop around Europe. That was for a completely different project. Obviously, that folded because of covid, all the borders locked and you couldn’t travel. I was locked down in Devon at my family’s house. It seems I got there, and that week we went into lockdown so I was stuck at my family’s place. And I was going out as much as I possibly could. The closest skatepark to me that I wanted to skate was a good 3 mile push. I just kept doing that on most days, to go skate. I was inspired by my friends that ran it [John O’Groats - Lands End, ed.] before.
That is a thing as well, to run it. Ultra marathon kind of thing. And it was a sporadic idea, I was just walking home. I was always inspired by them doing it, and I thought it was such a cool thing. To do something like that is a big accomplishment in itself.
It’s even a bigger accomplishment than we get from skating, actually. Because then you put your body to the full limit, to the full extent of what you’re capable of doing.
And I was just walking home and I had this idea like, ‘wow I could actually just do something like that. I have the time now, because no trips are planned, it’s covid. What better time to do something for mental health than during covid because that’s when everyone was suffering most. I might just do this now.’ I went home that evening and I rang a friend, and asked, ‘what do you think about this.’ And they said I should do it. And I just started planning it from there. I mean, there wasn’t too much planning going into it. I still had to get everyone involved, and organize the logistics of it. I was just jumping into the deep end because I had never done anything like that before.
It gets pretty intense too, skating for 900+ miles. Yes, yes, The social networking with it, and the physical side. I didn't really know what I was jumping into. I sort of thought, ‘fuck it, I’m going to do it.’
F: I recently read somewhere that skaters, because they’re so good at what they do, they think they are automatically good at everything. You think in your head you think you can do it, but you don’t even know if your body is capable of doing it.
B: I think you always know, I think a lot of things you do and pursue in life, if you have the confidence and the drive to do it, you can accomplish it. You’re pushing yourself to do so. That’s what helps in skating, because you know how hard it is to do a certain trick. Even learning the kickflip for the first time, it takes a lot of time. And just purely based off of that I just thought I could do it because I believed I could do it, and I accomplished it. And you can relate that to anything in life.
If you believe it, you can do it. Yes.
F: How important are events like these where you come together and watch the same things about suicide and mental awareness. For people in general and for you as a person?
B: The whole reason why I did this obviously is because of my friend, and suicide is an untouched subject within everyone’s life. And it was a thing that felt natural and I think that now that it’s been released and seeing it and seeing how people are reviewing the subject and the film and talking back more, and it’s creating awareness. It’s a very good thing to feel and see first hand. And now we are pushing that awareness and the subject more and to see it firsthand coming together, and being premiered, and everyone watching it, it’s a good feeling. Now it’s come to life. Before that it was under the fingertips of my friend editing it and waiting for it to come out and now it’s out and now it's a thing.
Now you also see how people react to it. That’s what I saw in the film as well, that people along the road all also knew someone that had killed themselves.
That was very touching and very moving, throughout doing the pushing, because there were so many people that stopped us and shared their experience with mental health problems themselves. If it wasn’t themselves then it was someone that was related in their life.
A friend of a friend.
Yes, that was moving and touching and it just pushed you that much harder to want to complete it.
It also shows us it [mental health issues] is not just in skating, it’s everywhere.
Exactly. There’s a part with my grandparents in there. My uncle committed suicide five years ago. That hurt my nan a lot. Well, all of us, but more so for her because she was a lot more close with him than,say, I was because I was always on the road and I wasn’t as close to my family as maybe I should’ve been. And it helped her talking about it, it helped everyone talking about it. And the subject came up, and people were talking.
It’s so sensitive.
Yes, it is still very sensitive and it’s hard for people to talk about, but now people are more aware, so they feel a lot more comfortable talking about it. Whereas it’s always been a taboo topic, it’s always been hidden because people were embarrassed to talk about their feelings. Especially men.
I think the suicide rate is 60% for men. We’re brought up as a figure who has to be tough and strong and if you show feelings you’re a ‘pussy’, you’re not a man. And that’s so wrong.
We’re all the same at the end of the day. Whether you are male or female or trans or gay, whatever you are, everyone has the same feelings and thoughts.
F: What were some of the most unexpected thoughts that popped into your mind when pushing for so long?
B: I had a lot of hours by myself on the road. It was 25 days in total. It was a lot of hours each day, and when the road didn't feel so dangerous I just passed the time by talking on the phone with my headphones or listening to music. But it got dangerous, so then I had to have no music, and I talked to no one. And then that’s when thoughts really settled in.
It looked dangerous, at some points, with small roads and the curbs.
And then you really get inside your own mind, and you start to think about why you did it. I already knew why I did it. But then I also started to think about my own mental health, and what I need to do to help myself and help other people. I can relate a lot to this video with Ben’s life, because I led the same lifestyle with him and I’ve been traveling around and it’s all incredibly beautiful and outstanding and easy from the outside perspective, but when you’re in it, there’s a lot of pressure involved…
That’s what we don’t see as the audience, the normal skaters. For us, it’s the perfect life: you travel the world, you skate demos, you get money, you get to go everywhere.
But you’re so out of touch from the real world. Because it’s still a job, and you love doing what you do, and you have all this free time, and you get to do whatever you want essentially. You can go to the pub in the morning and not skate that day and then go to bed if you want.
It’s like they said in the video, get fucked up every night.
A lot of skaters can relate to that. It’s like if you’re not working on anything else and not pursuing anything else, you should go forward and look for something after skating. And that’s it, what Ben was talking about. I know Ben wanted this normal life, he just wanted to live a normal lifestyle. I know a lot of people crave that, who are in this world because it’s so unknown where you are at certain points in time, especially as a skater. Who knows what’s next? You get cut off, you don’t have your sponsors anymore, and then all of a sudden it’s ended and you need to find a different path. That’s worrying and that makes you anxious and that triggers depression and probably suicidal thoughts for a lot of people.
That’s what I took from it as well. You are at the age of 29, 30, and then all of a sudden it can change and then you have to learn a new profession which is super hard at an older age and all your friends that you made along the way they’re all gone as well.
They got on with their lives.
You’re taken away from that lifestyle. You’re all by yourself, you have to relearn everything.
A big part of me believes that society makes you feel that way, they apply that pressure. Because you can learn anything at any age, it doesn't matter the age.
Society puts the age on you.
You're never too old to learn anything, or pursue something that you want to do. You’re never too old but they make you feel like you are or can’t because you’re of a certain age.
There’s a Japanese island, where people live up to 120 or something because they learn something new everyday. Just by learning things at any age, it keeps the brain young so you can do anything you want. But that’s not what society is teaching us.
It’s like the beehive, you get your one job and stick to it. That’s not how the body works, you need to stimulate the mind. Anything can become mundane, when you do it everyday. Eventually then it becomes boring and then you’re going to hate it. And it happens even to something you love.
F: As males we have it hard but it’s because of how we’re brought up. Our generation could be the last of it, because of how it’s taught now to young adolescents. Going to see a therapist is easier as well now. Here in the Netherlands, it’s more common to go to a therapist. It’s not the same as talking to your friends about it, but it’s more awareness already.
B: I think therapy is perfect for anyone. You can talk to your friends about anything, but certain subjects it doesn’t feel natural, or comfortable, or right whereas with a therapist there is no judgment. Absolutely no judgment, it's a neutral room and respect there. That’s not going to be spoken about to anyone else. I feel like, within therapy you can express your true self. Whereas you have to pick and choose certain friends you can speak with on certain topics.
A neutral person to explain yourself without judgements and good insights.
It’s also a person that doesn’t know you.
For me, personally, talking to friends about it helps, but you have different kinds of friends for different subjects. For some people you can talk about this kind of problem and that is also good because you have multiple people to talk to about problems, but it’s still hard, even with all the suicide awareness going on. We know we have to talk about it but it’s still hard to talk about it as well. It’s getting better.
It’s not going to be overnight where you change something. We‘re going to keep trying and trying and trying until eventually it’s going to become a normal thing to talk about, and no one is going to feel a struggle to confront their friends with how they feel. That’s what we’re working towards as a group. This is my small part of trying to help.
It’s good to put it out there, because in skating it’s still hard. You’re out everyday, drinking beers. It’s hard to find the time to talk about it as well. [Brief interruption by someone saying goodbye]. This is good as well. They’re kids and they took something from the whole film. They know now.
And they might pass it on to their friends, and they might pass it on to their friends. And that’s what we set out to do. Hopefully that’s what will continue to happen, that’s what creates a broad audience.
F: How do you cope with Ben’s passing? Do you talk about it, do you write about it?
B: I've talked about it with a lot of my friends, because they knew Ben as well on a personal level. There is a lot of grieving involved when the passing first happened. And you see him around a lot; because he’s on video, he’s on camera roll, and this and that. When he was living in London and everytime I had been in London, the first person I messaged was Ben, everytime, as soon as the wheels hit the ground. Even now, even coping with that, it always goes in my head and I forget he’s gone for a second every now and then.
I can imagine it feels like a dream as well. You know he’s gone but your brain doesn’t realize it.
Yes, sometimes it is like that, but now, after time, it’s like, time heals. And I think it’s important to celebrate having had that time with him, above just being depressed and sad about it. It’s going to be sad, inevitably, because I can’t just call him up and speak to him or see him down the road or have a pint with him, or have a dig at him or he takes the piss out of me, and that’s what I miss. But he’s still in my head and in my thoughts. On paper, on video, on audio.
That’s the good thing about skating, it gets documented so much you’ll never get rid of somebody.
He had an incredible career where he was documented all the time… And there’s so much out there from him still. To see that, no one’s seen the footage in this documentary. There were friends of ours that didn’t want to give up certain footage of him to just anyone. They were just kind enough to be like, ‘with this project I’ll give it to you,’ and that’s really nice. And it’s in the right hands.
F: How was it for the body in the end?
B: Just tired, more mentally than physically. Physically tired, of course, but your body conditions to it after a while. The first few days were very difficult. I had that weird runner’s high, after I finished I felt quite depressed for a good few weeks after. Purely because I’ve been working on something so hard, and training for months before, and all of the sudden it just ended and I was like, ‘what do I do now?’ And my body felt used, like very used. And I was in the middle of filming a part in the middle of that. I Was over skating for a good few months. My enthusiasm just dropped for skating for a little while because I didn’t know what to do there. It was strange, I had never felt like that before. I thought, ‘am I going to like skating ever again?’ It did come back. I've had my own things to deal with myself.
Do you talk about it with your friends? Is it easy for you?
More so now, it is, yes. A lot of my friends are more aware, they're more open. We’re more open with each other. It’s helped just by doing this project and it’s helped me massively. Because I’ve realized that I can talk about these subjects that I felt were going to be a burden on people. I thought they didn’t want to hear and I was going to irritate them or they didn’t want to know.
That’s what we all think, we’re going to be a burden on someone else, but it’s not at all the case.
No, not at all. In your head, you don’t want to irritate people. … So it’s just like, I’ve learned that it’s not that, it’s really not. My ear would be there for any of my friends, or anyone for that matter, that want to talk about something that is making them feel sad, or upset or lonely. And You need to remember that, if I feel that way, then a lot of other people will feel the same way to receive this information from a friend or from someone they don’t even know just to make themselves feel a little bit better. I learned a lot.