Shred, serve and protect

Originally published in Slam Skateboarding Magazine

You’d be hard pressed to find a duo more ideologically opposed than the skater and the authority figure. Clashes seem unavoidable – the skateboarder’s modus operandi is to skate fun, gnarly or new spots on the reg while the officer is employed to protect many of these spots from such flagrant disregard for public property. But in Adelaide there’s a third figure in the mix – a Blade-like vampire/hunter hybrid – who seamlessly drifts between both camps. Meet Todd Johnstone.

“I started at the [police] academy in October 2013 and my course went for seven months so I came out of that in May,” Todd, 33, says over the phone a few hours before his night-shift. “I’m still probationary at this stage, but after a while I’ll come out permanently appointed. It was funny because you need to get a police clearance to apply and the only thing they had on my record was four skateboarding [the streets] without a helmet fines back in the late ’90s and early 2000s [laughs].”

The question of why Todd applied in the first place was high on my list of questions for the former Daily Grind skate shop manager/team rider. “I’d been thinking about it for a while actually,” Todd explains. “I was all about skating for ages. I worked at Daily Grind for eight or nine years straight after school because it was quite flexible with skating. It was good times, but I dunno, man. You’ve gotta move on eventually. After that I came back from a stint overseas and just thought, OK, I’ve gotta try something different. I fell into landscaping, which wasn’t actually too bad, but I thought, yeah, I probably don’t wanna do this for ever. There are so many options once you join the police force. So many career moves. I guess that’s the beauty of it, that there’s that option to change. Whereas when I was in landscaping I was thinking this is really gonna take it’s toll on my body over the years.”

Todd says the application and subsequent training process “isn’t as physical as you think” and, of course, later involves fun stuff like firing countless rounds (which I’m assuming resembles some of the later scenes from Superbad) and driving cars really really fast. “You’ve gotta get a certain level on the beep test and get through an obstacle course in a certain amount of time, but it’s not too strenuous,” says Todd, who – it must be disclosed – is also a handy Aussie Rules football midfielder. “There’s an aptitude test, a panel interview, which is a bit daunting and a medical. If you pass all of that then it’s up to them to offer you the job.” Firearms training (Todd had previously only fired a few rounds at a firing range for a mate’s 30th) and a driving course followed a while later, where he passed with varying degrees of success. “I was definitely no hunter [before training] or anything,” Todd laughs. “So it was a bit daunting, but you become more comfortable as time goes on. They’ve got a range at the academy where we can fire off heaps of rounds. I’m not as good as some, but I’m not bad. The driving course went for two weeks and they take you out to do all these drills. I’m not a rev head so I wasn’t that good. You had to get around this track in four minutes-20 or something to get the qualification and I think I did it in four-nineteen [laughs].”

Todd says while his first shift was nerve-wracking the team he was stationed with were super supportive, which made the transition into life on the beat easier. Prodding him for some more juice from his first few months on the force it’s clear he can’t give too much away. “What, you mean like the stuff that happens on Cops?” he laughs. “On my first shift I had a dead body [natural causes] so I had to deal with that. Throughout the academy they do take you to the morgue so that you get used to it, but I guess you never know how you’re going to handle a situation until you get to it. But it wasn’t too bad. I’d like to think I’d be OK [in most situations] otherwise I wouldn’t have chosen the job. Some other stuff has happened, but I can’t really talk about certain cases. To be honest, I haven’t dealt with anything too crazy yet though. I’ve spoken to other coppers about stuff they’ve had to deal with and obviously… yeah, I’m gonna get put in some hairy situations.”

One of the most intriguing situations I can imagine Todd facing would be having to move on a bunch of skaters from skating private property. Wouldn’t it burn you up inside just a little, I ask. “I guess it’d be pretty interesting,” Todd chuckles. “Especially since I’m working in Hindley Street [in Adelaide’s CBD] now. That’s sorta around where everyone meets up. But my sergeant is cool. He knows I skate, so he’s been telling me I should go grab some kid’s board and start busting some tricks in uniform at the park soon. I actually asked him the other day [about troubles with skateboarders] and he said him and his team don’t generally have too many problems. I know Andy Walker and those guys have been doing some work through the council, trying to make it legal to skate [in Victoria Square]. I’m not exactly sure how far they’ve got, but it’d be really good if it was [legal] because it’s a good little spot, that’s for sure.”

Todd seems to relish juggling life on the force, domestic bliss with the wife and playing footy alongside skateboarding, but he admits he doesn’t see the guys he grew up skating with as much these days. “I’m actually catching up with them all this weekend though because Bryan Mason, who used to make all the Adelaide videos, is having a premiere night and re-releasing all the movies he has on VHS on to DVD,” Todd says. On whether he’ll be treated any differently, Todd laughs it off. “All my friends are fine obviously, but I guess there’s the odd person you see that thinks because you’re a police officer you’re a different person or something,” Todd says. “But yeah, I’m still the same bloke. Although I’m sure I’ll cop a bit of stick this weekend though, that’s for sure,” he laughs.

It becomes abundantly clear that skateboarding still runs through Todd’s veins despite the new uniform, particularly after I ask him about his fondest memories of the Daily Grind years. “I was no pro, but because I was sponsored by XEN I got to go over to Melbourne and skate with the Mapstones, Tristan Walker and Shane Azar, and all those lads,” Todd recalls. “My fondest memories were also just skating around Adelaide with my mates that I started with. God, it’s a long list, Adam Chan, Dion Johnson, Bryan Mason, Andrew Walker, Cale Nuske, Joe Sullivan, Matt Horne, Cody Spiers, Edwin Comey, Roy Dineen… We used to all meet up at the Myer Centre and spend all weekend skating the streets, filming and having fun. It was the best times.” He also counts his Slam cover (issue 77) – a Steve Gourlay-shot nollie nosegrind in Barcelona – as another highlight from his tearing twenties.

Today Todd says he makes sure he goes for a roll at least once a week – shift work sometimes being an advantage because it leaves his daytime free. “I skate by myself a lot, especially because of the shift work,” he says. “I’m nowhere near as into it as I used to be, but skating’s still as fun as ever and I definitely still follow it closely. I’m always downloading the new vids as soon as they come out.” Legally, of course, he’s quick to add.