ROM BOYS: Film Review | Ride UK BMX

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ROM BOYS: Film Review

All this talk about Rom Boys…  What is it?  Well, it’s a proper grown up full length documentary film about Rom Skatepark, several years in the making, much anticipated!  Let’s get into it.

We are told the whole story, starting in all the way back in 1978.  The film takes us through how the park came to be, how it was designed, where the influences came from, who built it and how it was built.  The most interesting segment I found in this is about G Force, the company that built it, and how Rom was their kind of ‘flagship park’, with all of their design elements present: clover, moguls, pool, performance, half pipe…  This is nicely illustrated in the film.  Rom has the full set – it was like G Force’s calling card!

The film tracks the park’s use in the early days, the wild rush of popularity and how that changed over the years.  It’s interesting to learn how the skateboarding boom faded at the turn of the decade and the BMX boom (after E.T.) rescued it for a while, despite many other late 70s UK parks being demolished.  Gladly, Rom survived the cull.

As Rom Boys gets going, it quickly makes you realise just how much history there is in that little pocket of Essex.  It also hammers home how much relevance Rom has in the UK’s skate and BMX culture, plus its inevitable impact on british skatepark design from 1978 onwards.

Zach Shaw riding the pool – like only he can!

“Rom Boys makes you realise just how much history there is in that little pocket of Essex”

The film does focus mostly on skateboarding history and how Rom plays its role in that culture as a whole, over the years.  BMX is in there but it’s not the focus of the story, not that we were expecting it to be.  There is a bike section about two thirds of the way into the film where we see a good chunk of Rom BMX Jam footage while Zach Shaw, Superbike Dan, Andy Ruffel et al share some stories.  Other scenes get a look in as well, with street art pretty well represented as the film follows the commission and development of a new mural by The London Police, now sitting as a backdrop to the Performance Bowl.

It’s fantastic to see UK BMX legend Zach Shaw on screen telling us of his experiences at Rom.  He demonstrates how the park will survive – by passing on the stoke to future generations.  Zach’s been riding there for decades and now he’s bringing his kids to each session and getting them involved, to let them appreciate and enjoy it like he does.

I was fascinated by a section about the English Heritage listing process, learning how they struggled to classify Rom since it’s not a building, nor is it a park.  It’s a ‘designed landscape’, like prescribed urban terrain.  I was also very interested to learn that Harrow skatepark was also on the list for potential listed status.  Another iconic park, although not as well preserved from its original format as Rom.  Still, an amazing park that has been under threat more than once before, so it’s promising to hear that it could one day be protected too.

The flow of the film was quite loose, I’d say.  I was expecting perhaps more of a chapter format, with clear sections about certain years, certain riders, etc.  There is an element of that and there is an overall narrative to follow starting from the early days, through to the present, and into the future, but it’s not as structured as it might have been.

Although it does end up looking forward, Rom Boys predominantly looks back – it is a history piece more than anything else.  Most of who we see on screen are what we’d call ‘the old guard’ but that’s to be expected, these are the people who’ve been there the longest and have the right to tell Rom’s story.  Bob Haro gets a look in, though his comments aren’t as profound as one might hope since it seems he didn’t actually ride the park.  Still, its impact on him doesn’t go unnoted.  It’s a treat to see skate legend Lance Mountain interviewed and hear him recall his memories from Rom, and even his nonchalant musings carry more weight than some of the other guys, just because of who he is.

In truth, the chat highlights for me have to be with Dion Penman and Ian Stokes.  Dion because he’s been skating there every time I’ve ridden Rom, he rips the pool like nobody else and the passion he has for the place is infectious.  However it’s Ian’s heartfelt pieces to camera that really steal the show, just because you can tell how much he means it.  I also know how much he means to the locals and it’s wonderful how that love genuinely comes through in the film.​

Rom has existed for 42 years and it wants to stay there for another 42 years, at least!  One of my favourite quotes comes towards the end of the film, when Spencer Smith speaks about how Rom must be protected and preserved.  He lays it down: there’s nothing else like it, if it goes, there won’t be another one.

Rom Boys premieres at Rom on 10th October – Details here.

Preorder the film here.


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