Grand Skate Tour 2021
Back in June some inside info on a large-scale skateboarding event in Russia reached me when I was in Rome for World Skate Championships. It was supposed to be a skateboarding forum for post-soviet countries with a goal to unite, discuss and exchange knowledge besides the regular skating. Then August came and that info transformed from inside to actual. I was already packing bags in my head, but unfortunately it got cancelled and rescheduled from September to December. As much as I know, the plans for September were mind blowing and the city would've had erupted from all of the skating. The late summer seemed to be perfect for such happening. Last thing I was expecting in the end of November is receiving a message form Russian Skateboarding Federation saying that there is a green light for the event and visa procedures are already under way. Next thing you know, after two weeks (and two years since my last visit) I'm landing once again in Nizhny Novgorod. Even though at the time it was around -10 degrees in Nizhny, the whole gathering turned out to be very warm and welcoming, the skateboarding was on fire and the whole event was a total success all week long.
I was accompanied by my two fellow Latvians:
- Arts Amolins was there representing Latvian Skateboarding Federation, but his main goal was to work on his Russian, stay away from any Russian trouble and leave with a good impression on mother Russia
- Edvard Gaba was invited as a main man behind skateboarding media in Latvia as he runs RajonTV and films most of the video content. Ed had no issues with speaking Russian although his biggest issue was the culture shock. It was hard to keep him chill. I will have to mention that he didn't take his VX2000 on this trip which was a culture shock for me personally.
Estonian delegation consisting of Liidia Maier and Romario Siimer also joined us, so the Baltic states were partly united.
At the airport we were awaited by our good friend and one of the most recognized faces in Russian skateboarding scene - Kirill Korobkov. Just like in 2019 at the European Skateboarding Championship here in Nizhny Kirill's outfit was on point and colorful all week long.
Kirill in Nizhny, 2021
Kirill in Nizhny, 2019
I was expecting this to be a relatively common skate event/trip where I manage to multifunction between skating contest, taking photos, forming friendships and working on my computer at the end of the day or early in the morning. Just with an extra of philosophical side of skateboarding. But this one was a little further from that. Mellow was only Monday and after that we had schedules packed with action. A term "spare time" appeared only on the second half of the week, but it actually meant the beginning of unofficial part - video premiere screenings and some partying. Before that we sacrificed a good amount of sleep on late night conversations. I’m pretty sure that 90% of us didn’t have more that 4-5 hours of sleep per night. But it was all totally worth it! One of the nights I was about to go to sleep early, but ended up talking to Nestor Judkins until 4 AM, because why the hell not?!
I hope you'll enjoy the words that I managed to put together by the side of moments that I captured both digitally and on film.
This time my path to the venue wasn't passing any sketchy areas. Everyone stayed at the same hotel and where migrated to the venue and/or skatepark and back multiple times a day by shuttle busses. Three meals a day kept the fast food away. I remember how in Rome we were expected to be held in a sports bubble; everyone was freaking out about that. But that didn't happen. However, here I felt like experiencing what a sport's bubble would be like. Though this one was far from forced, it was more natural. We were skateboarding fanatics from across the CIS countries, plus some pros like Madars Apse, Kenny Reed and Nestor. Such cast had never united before. It was a first timer that you rather lived to the fullest.
I remember this feeling on the third day, when you are doubting your ability of holding through the rest of the week, and then on the fourth day already feeling this little melancholy when realizing that it is soon coming to an end.
There were five directions up for grabs in the skate forum part - federation work, contest judging, skate schools, skate media. And also just riders’ section. Each day there were lectures, masterclasses, discussions and/or practices for each motive. Usually it was about experienced person sharing their knowledge. For example, Kenny Reed spoke on teaching kids in Palestine, Martin Karas talked about World Skate, Dani Lebron explained the contest judging standards, Alexey Lapin explained photography and situation with Asphalt skatemag, Madars Apse introduced his Skate Tales show and much more. There for sure will be more in-depth recaps on all of it so I will leave out the details. Also - it was super nice seeing representatives of Olympic Committees and governor of the city appreciating skateboarding movement.
Three evenings were dedicated to talk-shows with hot topics like “Should skateboarding be an Olympic Sport or should it stay in the streets”, “Is there any money in skateboarding” and “Insight on the world of skate media”. It was indeed good to hear on these topics from different perspectives. I’m pretty sure you can find the replays and listen to it in case you are familiar with Russian.
A part of 2019 European Skateboarding Championship side program was an exhibition of USSR skate museum which is originally based in Minsk and run by Gleb Bentsiovsky. That is when I got to meet him. I ran into Gleb a couple of times since then and it was a pleasure to meet him here once again with an even greater collection of skateboarding history. He shared some items with Nestor and Kenny so they can bring it to the other side of the Atlantic for Skateboarding Hall of Fame.
On the weekend photo/art exhibitions where displayed. I was honored to have my own stand with a couple of fresher photos. Make sure to follow the work of the rest of the artists:
- Alexandr Kotov
Skate action didn’t only include Russian Skateboarding Cup. We kicked off the extreme part with a snow skate session in a little alley. Different snow skates, different approaches technically and mentally. A brutal speed race down the biggest hill around was about to finish it all off. I will never forget the view of first start when pretty much every rider bailed after first 5 meters of the slope and bodies went flying. The view had some sort of World War scene taste. Then suddenly, a wild Fricis Strauss (fourth Latvian hero who had arrived late to the whole party) appeared with attempts to take a gnarly handrail in the snow. The sketchy improvised plywood run-up seemed to be working, but the rail was super long and frozen and the board wasn’t getting any dryer. He went away with a drop in 50-50 ‘til the very end and but slid away. Fricis immediately became an idol for most of the kids and grown-ups.
Winter type of action wasn’t over at that point. An evening before semi-finals and finals Red Bull Russia hosted a best trick contest on the ice hubba. The hubba was massive, but executed professionally. Even though many thought the hubba won’t last long, it was annihilated for an hour and witnessed some heavy tricks. Egor Golubev took the W with a beast frontside bluntslide.
The actual contest took place on the modified course from 2019 ESC. As much as I’m concerned the course was initially planned to serve as an indoor skatepark for Nizhny back then, but there where issues with the assigned space. The park stayed dismantled in the warehouse up until now, got put back together, upgraded and will be relocated once again to another place for permanent use. Egor Kaldikov placed solidly in first, followed by Egor Golubev and Max Ezhov (which I’m personally very happy for).