By: Andrew Louw
“Denmark!? Do you even have hills there?!”
It’s the moment when you realize that the European education system is doing something right in regards to teaching young people geography. But it’s also a reminder for how far longboarding has come in the past few years. If it has such a strong hold on a place like the Netherlands (ie: Sick Boards) then you have to wonder, how is it that people with fewer hills than Denmark can have such a huge scene and also manage to produce top class riders for its team? The answer lies in travel. Skate trips build downhill skaters. Skating with better riders on more challenging tracks builds skaters. And this summer, the yellow tape is up and my skating has been under heavy construction.
I grew up in Cape Town and in Northern California…I should rip right? Nope. The horrible truth is that I only started downhilling once I moved to Denmark…last year. There’s a core group of guys who skate here, and the scene is going through growing pains. But hopefully it’s finally capturing more people than it loses. In an effort to bring more people out of the freeriding box, and get the campus cruisers to level up, I hosted an outlaw race last fall on a track we call TDF bakken (Tour de France hill). I believe it was named by aspiring hill climbing cyclists, but it’s more ironic in it’s similarity to a pancake than anything else. That little race had 11 people show up from all over the country for some close riding, stoke and bragging rights. None of us had leathers and none of us had even slid downhill wheels before. It was maybe the second time many of us had even met each other outside of facebook. This was the foundation for the DH scene in Denmark. Since then, most of the guys invested in leathers, full face helmets and have been stoked on DH ever since.
Due to an edit that came out of the TDF outlaw race, a random post from a random guy in Norway queried, “Hey! Is that guy talking in the end South African?”. This is how I met Terry Blanche, a Saffa residing in Oslo and neck deep in the Scandinavian race scene. In subsequent conversations he realized I was stoked on progressing my skills and was kind enough to invite me and some other riders to visit him for ExtremsportVeko in Voss, Norway. He gathered an awesome crew of skaters, affectionately referred to as “Team Hobo”…which was really Team-not-so-Hobo, since Terry rented a nice car, and organized luxurious hostel accommodations (complete with BBQ’s, terrace, sauna, banquet room and our own private wing) all so we could experience the race and freeriding locations that was partly responsible for his immigration to Norway in the first place.
Team Hobo was mainly composed of transplants, Alex Duss (a South African living in Zurich), Georges Siddiqi (a Swiss-American living in Zurich), Terry (a Saffa living ins Oslo), myself (Dutch Saffa-american living in Denmark), Matthias Tollefsen (straight-up Norwegian), and Phillip Ammann (Straight-up Swiss).
We all met each other on this pseudo-blind skate-date at Terry’s place in Oslo. Local hills were bombed, BBQ was eaten, beer was drank, and the air was filled with excitement for the following day of driving west.
Upon arrival in Voss we decided to not check in, or eat, but go directly to Stalheim, the steepest paved road in Northern Europe. We unpacked the car, and geared up while Matthias treated us to a little homebrew.
I’d seen the spot in videos before and was excited, but scared out of my mind of this impossibly steep and narrow road with its small guardwalls (that were smaller in real life) and the hairpins which dropped more than 5 vertical meters between the entrance and exit. I manned up and made the descent, sliding constantly, falling once and coring my G-form down to the spandex in a microsecond. Terry also paid some road taxes with a high side straight into a ditch. Luckily he was wearing his hard-shell back protector otherwise the aftermath would have been disastrous.
Based on what little was left of his t-shirt afterwards; it looked like an attempted bear rape. I could only manage two runs down Stalheim as I’ve never slid so much in my life. My legs were wasted and my introduction to Voss humbled me. But I was also proud that I managed to skate that road safely by applying what I’d trained at the few mellow drift spots we have in Denmark.
The next day we had freeride/warm-ups and time trials on the Veko race track at Skjervet. Throughout the whole day, we only had 5 runs. Three practice runs, and 2 timed. Team Hobo qualified decently, but Terry impressed us all by qualifying 10th. We hadn’t had enough skating that day, so we went and skated Donald (anaconda) with a number of people.
On race day I was trying to get into the zone, and went for an inside line on Alex (that didn’t really exist) during warm-ups which caused Alex to go down hard, and the entire pack to pile up. Luckily enough most of the guys laughed it off especially Georges. Sorry Hobos! I still feel bad for that one. During my heat, I was crashed out in the first corner by Lucas Krown due to an overzealous filmographer placing his camera 30 centimeters inside the apex, forcing Krown to falter in his line and lock his front wheels with my rear while exiting the turn. It was the worst racing crash I’ve had yet.
I didn’t know you could get roasties through your leathers, crash pants, and underwear. We checked on each other to make sure all was good, took an eternity to separate our boards and pushed off simultaneously. Fortunately, Lucas is a gentleman and he suggested a re-heat which was granted by the organizers. The second time down I may have been beat up and weak on the push, but it was clear that Lucas and Jørund Bratset outraced me and they both advanced.
The tale of Terry’s race day, is sadly the same tale that he tells every race day. He was crashed out in the first heat again. The dude rips hard and frequently skates with Norway’s best riders, but that’s just racing I guess.
Matthias didn’t race, since his knees aren’t what they used to be, as such he’s had to change his riding style to only standup and switch ( which he does with awesome symmetry). Alex and Phillipp had some tough heats and were knocked out early too, but were all smiles.
The race day was ended perfectly with a large group of skaters joining Lundberg’s traditional swim under the gigantic waterfall near the track. The sound and wind generated from all that moving water was like walking into a hurricane. It was a magical scene of grown men frolicking and screaming like school girls inside the magnificent waterfall.
That night we had a taste of the one thing we’d been ignoring since the first day: The legendary ExtremsportVeko party. We kicked it off with a big BBQ at the hostel and got friendly with the other guests who eagerly started our fire with enough lighter fluid to to power interstellar exploration. They laughed at the size of the fire, and told us to relax…they were firemen. I’m fairly certain that these firemen couldn’t put out a rowdy BBQ in the state they were in.
But no questions were asked, as they were very friendly, and built like they were carved out of stone. Eventually we migrated to the beach, where the downhillers we’re doing some high repetition beer lifting at their traditional sunset bonfire. Everyone was trying their hardest to save money by getting absolutely motherless before entering the festival area where beers cost 90NOK (11€) each. Shit was talked, beer was drank, and race stoke shared.
Eventually we went inside to watch Hoffmaestro, a popular Swedish rock band that puts on a great live show. They got the crowd well warmed up and the front man split the masses down the center like Moses, at which point, the music peaked and the opposing sides ran into each other like some sort of medieval melee. They also got the crowd to run back and forth until the center collapsed. It was a good bit of rough housing which got the everyone pumped for the club-style party afterwards.
As we got into the DJ tent, the dancefloor was a boring, musty tomb of smartly dressed, moused-coif styled party-goers waiting for something interesting to happen. The crowd’s initial response to drunk downhill skaters moshing was to create an insulating circle of stout and well styled men to protect their women from us. This proved futile as the women jumped into the mess more readily than the men, and started crowdsurfing on top of us…to a DJ. I attribute that night’s wild success to every downhiller in the tent actively winning that party.
The next day at the race track started with the Hobo crew missing warm-ups for obvious reasons, and showing up just in time for the first hungover heat of the “Veko Bonanza”. This was a loosely organized outlaw race theme, as leathers, and full face were optional, costumes were encouraged, home-made aero modifications were praised as a GOOD idea, and pulling your pants down to discourage drafts wasn’t as dirty a tactic as you would expect.
Godzilla, a giant monkey, spiderman, a viking, and a traditional norwegian gentleman (who may have been there to kick hats on sticks rather than skate) were all in attendance. The Bonanza was meant to be a random draw, race to qualify for the finals event. But instead, the fun vibe and the relaxed atmosphere caused it to degenerate into race heats starting from a surf paddle position, to holding hands on the start, no push starts, and other such shenanigans. It was all love. I’d met/skated with/and partied with enough people to no longer feel like an outsider, smiles were plentiful and people were more stoked on that day than any of the others.
We had some great pack runs with the Hobo crew and a handful of Norwegians, and in them we noticed that Georges has a way of talking to himself and swearing at others while he rides that just cracked us all up. Our Viking friend, Thorbjorn (TB) decided to join the fun and pack ride with us too, even though he had a good chance of winning the bonanza should he have tried. Overall, the Norwegian scene is truly awesome. This nonsense about scandinavians being stand-offish doesn’t have to be true if you’re simply the first to smile.
It rained later that evening but we held out hope that Stalheim was still dry. We arrived to gnarliest hill in Voss and it was soaking wet, and still raining. I’m not much of a rain-skater, and said “hell no” outright. But, a portion of the Swiss contingent, Phillip and Georges were absolutely frothing to skate it. Georges leathered up and went down first with a big silly smile on his face, while we prepped the follow cam to film Phillip’s run down.
Phillip’s wet run was awesome, he stayed really low to the board, switching rails effortlessly, and sliding for days. It was so controlled that it hardly appeared wet from the way he was riding…but it was fast enough in the follow car, and for him, that I was solidly gripping the “oh shit” handle and continually repeating the phrase for which it’s named. It was certainly the gnarliest bit of skating I’d been a witness to that week.
The following day, Georges left us in the morning and team Hobo went on to skate Donald (anaconda) for the second time, and vikafjellet, which ended up being my favorite run in Voss. A perfect way to end our pseudo-blind skate-date.
We left the next morning. After so many wonderful experiences, beautiful scenery, friendly people, and every downhiller you meet being so completely stoked on the hills and the vibe, I have to say that without a doubt, Extremsport Veko, and the riding around Voss, is enough to make me want to be a hobo for years come.
Now that I’m back in Denmark the local hills have sadly become less interesting to me. But if my training here can prepare me for the gnar in Voss, I’m confident you’ll be seeing more Danish riders showing up in your scene soon. And until we meet at an event, keep that construction tape up.