There’s a moment early on in Rom Boys that might well be pivotal to the entire venture. Various talking heads are discussing the building of a pool in the skatepark and how it’s a relatively unique structure for a UK skatepark, purely because not that many people in this country have this sort of back garden pool. Over this, we see time-lapse footage of the assorted members of Romford Skate Park, or The Rom as everyone knows it, just there, skating, hanging out, living.
When we describe something as ‘cult’ or ‘subcultural’ this is not to describe it as less than cultural but to make clear that there is no option really to dip in and out, you are either a part of the subculture or you are on the outside. This is what Rom Boys manages to display effortlessly, that skating might be seen by some as just another slice of imported American pastime but for those involved in it, the bond is as close as could be.
Rom Boys is the story of Romford’s best and only skate park. It is the story of its attempts to secure protected status and of the men and women that call it home. Not in the sense that they live there but in that it is their community hub and for many of them, a lifeline. We see how residents have come here to get away from their lives but also to build them and how this is all affected when the park is nearly, and might be set to be, destroyed.
The First question that inevitably comes up with something like this is do you need to like skating to enjoy this? While it’s hard for any skate fan to give a fully objective answer here, it would still seem an emphatic “yes”. For one thing, while Rom Boys likes to interrogate the mindset of skaters and especially those who have continued to skate into their 40s and beyond, it at no point seems to be any less accessible than, say, the Tony Hawks Pro Skater series and if anything is less filled with specific jargon than other classics of the skating documentary genre like Dogtown and Z Boys or Minding the Gap.
Beyond this, the overall enthusiasm of all the talking heads involved is thoroughly infectious, really pulling you into the world of the skaters. When you hear stories of these people that upon getting devastating news such as the loss of a parent and that they choose to go straight to the park to get away, it’s nothing against their family but more a reflection of the close bond that has been built.
It goes without saying that the cinematography is glorious. Cleanly shooting all manner of tricks and well utilising slow motion to highlight the skill involved without ever allowing flash to overwhelm substance. Perhaps the only major problem of the documentary is that the first act, while it is establishing the construction of the skate park, is perhaps less involving than the efforts to save it but it is possible to see this more as a sign of how strong the middle of Rom Boys is that it just can’t compare to the heart of the thing.
Ultimately, the film doesn’t end on the hopeful note you might want, but that is because this is a fight to preserve a cultural legacy that carries on to this very day. Do yourself a favour though, go and watch Rom Boys, if you enjoy it, why not research the campaign to save the park, get involved, spread the word, keep the faith. There may be more important documentaries this year but I can guarantee, there will be few more entertaining. If you can grab them with a smile, maybe that’s how it starts.
Rom Boys: 40 Years of Rad screens as part of Romford Film Festival is available now on all major digital platforms.