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deanparsons portside 950
Dean Parsons casually no complies at the iconic DIY. Photo by Cameron Markin.

A secret and very sentimental DIY spot in Sydney.

Words by Nat Kassel. Taken from Slam issue 217.

On Sydney’s Northern Beaches, nestled in a small quarry behind some sporting fields, is an old, burnt-out telecommunications building. It’s a quiet little slice of Crown land that’s usually either ignored or used as a dumping ground for green waste. But this sketchy-looking, derelict building is also home to Portside, which is arguably Australia’s gnarliest, and certainly its most photogenic, DIY.

The spot is a tranny-lord’s dream, housing a tight concrete bowl that’s about three-feet high in most sections and a ramped wall that goes up to the ceiling. The windowsills are skateable features and the coping was salvaged from an old trampoline. Outside, the local crew have planted a nice garden with a few trees and a passionfruit vine.

People have been skating inside this building for the past 20 years or so, but it’s taken a long time to get it this good. James Hoy is one of many guys who have orchestrated the setup, putting a lot of time and effort into making Portside what it is today. “We carried 50 bags of 20-kilo concrete up this 150-metre hill on my birthday, which was a fucking mission,” he laughs, reflecting on one of the harder days of the process.

Before the local skaters started working on Portside, “the old boys” from their area had built two separate wooden mini-ramps up there, each of which had its day. One of the ramps had a spine and a wallride, “But that’s going back like 15 or 16 years,” says James. In about 2006, there was a fire in the building during a party, which destroyed the ramp. According to a local newspaper, things got pretty loose – an article from back then begins: “Parents have been urged to be more responsible for their children in the wake of an underage party … that saw a policeman assaulted and teenagers playing ‘chicken’ with passing cars.”

This was one of the ‘Ramp Parties’, which apparently used to attract up to 200 people. On that particular night, the police, fire brigade and local mayor all came to the scene, after which the building was no longer a skate spot. All that was left was a burnt mini-ramp and tonnes of rubbish, including hundreds of smashed beer bottles, empty tins of spray-paint and “40 or 50 beugs made out of Gatorade bottles”.

Years later, somewhere around 2009, four of the boys – Adam Coule, Will Joseph, Oliver Wray and Nick Degotardi – poured the first concrete at Portside. They spent the next few years working intermittently on the spot, slowly chipping away at creating something great. But on the night of June 7, 2015, tragedy struck: Nick Degotardi, one of the lads who’d been working on Porters since the start, unexpectedly passed away. His obituary in The Sydney Morning Herald read, “Nick’s quirky, creative and kind spirit will be sadly missed by his wide circle of friends.”

Nick’s death was a massive blow to the community. Sydney skate zine Papier, put together by Cameron Markin, dedicated their second issue to Nick and included sentimental quotes from some of his closest friends. Local skater Andrew Silvester said, “Every time I go to Portside or to skate Avalon I’m half expecting him to rock up with that cheeky smile and a couple of longies … [he’s] forever going to be loved and missed.”

It was a tough time for all the locals and it put an immediate halt to further building plans. “When Nick passed there wasn’t too much happening up there,” says James. “Everything was overgrown and the focus was a little bit lost.” This lasted for a few months, but by October 2015, plans were reignited to build the final corner and a few other key parts of the bowl. They poured concrete, removed one of the dividing walls, created a drainage system, cleared the rubbish and painted the walls.

In January 2016, it was Nick’s first birthday since his passing, so the crew held a festival called Shralpfest in his memory (Nick had the word Shralp tattooed on his shin). They built a stage outside from pallets and organised eight punk bands to play. The final corner of the bowl had only just been poured, and with Nick’s death still fresh in everyone’s minds, it was a big day. The turnout was solid and it was cathartic for many of the Beaches’ skaters and Nick’s mates.

But it also pushed the limits of the space. Because it’s illegal, the crew who’ve built and maintained Portside don’t want to make the same mistake as the guys who used to throw the ramp parties. They’re happy to fly under the radar and keep it as their spot x. I ask James whether it’s hard to keep a lid on things. “Vogue [Magazine] wanted to do a shoot up there which we declined. When they’re trying to make money out of it, then it becomes too well-known and it starts getting sketchy,” he says.

It’s not that everyone’s unwelcome, but the boys aren’t keen for crazy amounts of coverage, especially from kooks, corporations or people who don’t even skate. Of course, visiting pros will rock up, as well as the odd skate crew from out of town. Most people get in touch through Instagram or through knowing the right people, but it’s certainly not public.

The place is constantly evolving and there are grand plans to build more, paint more and plant more trees. Another bowl outside the building is on the cards – they’re currently finalising the outside slab – but the crew will have to raise a lot more funds. For curious outsiders, the message is to avoid drawing unnecessary attention to the place, to bring your etiquette, and to take your rubbish away with you. And if you can spare it, slinging a few bags of concrete or some cold hard cash to the Portside GoFundMe page is a welcome contribution.