"What is it that Jake Phelps said? ‘Skateboarding got soft’, I’m pretty sure that happened," Samu Karvonen, one half of the Finnish Skateboarding Association says, as we sit in the shade, and watch other people assemble a kicker-car-kicker setup in the heat.
Whilst Helsinki Helride rallies against the softer side of skateboarding, “we don’t want to be seen in too good a light", the organisers are mindful that Sweden and Denmark have both benefited a great deal from convincing the municipality that skateboarding is a positive force for young people. By forming associations and galvanising their scenes these two neighbouring countries have become examples of best practice.
Though Helsinki still has some way to go before it can be considered among the top skate-friendly cities, it has a wealth of street and DIY spots, as well as a solid selection of skateparks. So here’s a street-level guide to Helsinki from someone who should know best - Helride organiser Samu Karvonen.
“Looking for spots is part of skateboarding so I won’t reveal our secrets. You’ve got to come and find it for yourself. There’s a Finnish saying, a direct translation goes something like, ‘the one who asks doesn't get lost from his road’", he tells me.
Samu recommends the Museum of Modern Art, Kiasma, as a good central meeting place. It’s the best known spot in the city (the one with the black ledges) and is next to the music centre’s slappy curbs. You won’t get kicked out, and will always find someone skating there.
Alternatively, don’t spend your precious time searching out street spots and instead head to one of the city’s fine skateparks. There’s Micropolis which recently got a renewed bowl and flat area, and Ponke’s in the south of Helsinki. “On a windy day you might want to think twice about here, but on a hot summer’s day you’ve got a beach just next to the park, for a refreshing Baltic dip."
There are a few DIYs too, Suvilahti being the most well known. “900m2 of hand shaped wonder with big transitions and a backyard pool." The vert extensions here are something else, so perhaps best to just sit back with some sangria, and watch others skate.
“We always build DIY bigger than we can skate ourselves, just to be able to learn it one day. So it’s always nice when people come who are able to skate bigger transitions, like Rune and Sam. We need better people to come and show us what can be done here."
Though not suitable for all abilities perhaps, a good place to learn how to cruise around nonetheless. “Day time it’s usually fairly chill but by the evening the speed starts to build. Collect your trash and respect the locals and we’ll respect you back, we’re really chill." Apparently, “this is the place to get localized."
Less than a kilometre away there is the free, self-service public sauna, Sompasauna. But if you’d like to go a little high end there are plenty of seafront pools and saunas willing to take your hard earned euros, such as Löyly. Prices are high, as is to be expected in a country that piles cherries and blueberries high on market stalls, and then flogs them in pitiable containers for as much as it would cost to feed my 21 year old self for a week in the 2010s.
Some more skate-friendly (cheap) food recommendations are as follows:
Restaurant Ani is a Turkish restaurant close to Ponkes park, with a buffet that will leave you unable to walk out. Near Suvilahti DIY there is Fafas, a falafel chain that has been helping the park. Mäkikupla is a “legendary pizza place. Take the Pinato pizza with sour cream." Onda offers fresh lunch and Peruvian brunch. The same complex is good for nightlife activities too.
If this sounds like fun to you, and you’re down to rough it at the DIY, or perhaps even take your girlfriend to some luxury spas, and forget skateboarding altogether, then head to Helsinki for next year’s event.
But before you click away into your own little echo chamber, please follow a link provided by Samu to save Suvilahti DIY from being demolished (it sits on land that is prime for redevelopment, sadly). The petition can be found here, and takes a moment to complete.