I studied in the south of France for a semester in 2006. While there I took any chance I got to travel around with my skateboard, camera and some friends. The editor at Color Magazine mentioned that he’d heard rumours that Barcelona as the skateboard mecca was “over” and wondered if I felt this was true. I got to thinking about how traveling – whether it involves a two hour drive or a voyage around the world – has been so important to skateboarders. There something quite amazing about the flexibility of the act of skateboarding and its ongoing interaction with architecture and cities. The innumerable ways in which this interaction can play out with a given place, time, and individual is the really fascinating bit. Here’s a short piece that I wrote and co-photographed for Color while I was overseas.
EUROPE OR BUST
Out of the Bloom (Color 4.1 – Winter/Spring 2006)
by rhianon bader
What is it that makes us constantly search for the untouched, for the treasure chest that holds everything we could’ve ever imagined? The thing with skateboarding is that, like any passion, it cannot provide us with the same feelings of excitement, reward and adrenalin, always and forever. Skateboarding can continue to be the cause of some of the most enjoyable moments in our lives, but the longer we skate and the older we get the harder it is to thoroughly feel the same attachment that we felt in the beginning. I read in a National Geographic about how the ecstatic feelings we get from “being in love” with someone must end after a certain number of months simply because the chemicals our brain releases to give us that feeling will eventually diminish, basically for the sake of maintaining our sanity. The brain would be overloaded if it felt that good all the time. In the same way, the passions we have in life cannot keep the same hold on us as they did in the beginning. But if we are truly dedicated we find ways to make it work, to create “special moments” that reacquaint us with those initial butterflies… perhaps by simply reserving Sunday afternoons for beer/bowl sessions, using long-weekends to take short roadtrips to somewhere new, or skating around downtown solo late at night while the common folk of the world are sleeping. By circumstance and choice, some of us go further, less like lovers trying to keep the magic and more like an addict trying to relive that first high.
When seeking the initial novelty and sensation of genuine discovery, the most obvious route is to bring something old to somewhere new. Thousands of us have packed up our bags, said farewell to the old local spots, and taken off on a whimsical quest for the veritable Shangri-la of skateboarding. The process follows the same sequence each time… a few pioneers stumble upon the virgin territory somewhere in the world, and once the floodgates of documentation are opened a constant wave of travelers come to see and experience the new land for themselves. San Francisco in the early 90s stands as an example of this, setting a loose formula for skate havens to follow: plenty of street spots, skateable year-round, and an atmosphere that offers an agreeable life outside of skating (food, music, culture, etc…). The latest victim of our skateboard imperialism is Barcelona, rumoured soon-to-be-no-more. With its Mediterranean weather and vibrant atmosphere, not to mention marble ledge abundance, it’s no wonder almost every single skateboarder has dreamed of going there, and a considerable number from all around the world have succeeded in doing so over the past ten years. The novelty can only last so long. The spots get run down, the authorities get fed up, the locals get agitated, and, of course, the skateboarders themselves get the itch to move on, find the next high. Whether Barcelona has actually lost its charm as THE skateboarding city is doubtful in the eyes of the thousands internationally who have spent time there lately, but that is irrelevant. What’s important is this: all good things must end. Not because they cease to be good but because we have begun to take them for granted. So we move on, in search of something better… and though perhaps this is futile, it is our nature.
And so, what now? The scope widens, the viewfinders of various VX1000’s and Hasselblads scour the landscape for footage-worthy spots that haven’t been devoured by the ruthless media. Yet. Speculations begin about where to explore next: the thriving yet low-key urban centres of Latin America, the rapidly developing infrastructure of China, European cities previously overshadowed by Barcelona’s popularity, or sunny Australia? Basically it could be anywhere, and the search can only be limited by a reluctance to explore… Why not Turkey? Morocco? East Timor? There may be dozens of reasons why not, but we can’t know for sure what we might stumble upon without taking a look. Though it’s entertaining to wonder about the possibilities for “the next Barcelona”, it isn’t something that happens on purpose or with planning. When I consider the spontaneous nature of establishing a skateboard city, I can only think of a term used by a friend from Barcelona who was attempting to employ a common English expression to describe how incredible it is that the city has come to be nearly overrun by skateboarders from dozens of nationalities. “It’s just like, Poof! Out of the Bloom! Here we all are,” he said. Each one of us has our own way of keeping skateboarding fresh, and our own means of maintaining some of the uniqueness that first ignited the passion. And every so often it accumulates in one part of the world and at one time in such a way that a scene comes into bloom in random and surprising ways. There was truly no need to correct him.