Portrait by Nils, interview by Gustav Edén.
Out of all the people in Copenhagen, Hjalte is probably the one who spends most time on his skateboard. If you’re going skating, you can always throw a text in Hjalte’s direction and be pretty certain he’ll pedal up to the spot in his Carhartt camo-pants. But Hjalte is much more than just one of Denmark’s best skaters. To tell you the truth, the man is so bursting with energy some might say he verges on ADHD. Aside from skateboarding, he plays football for “Motor 08" and wrestles the Atlantic waters on the schooner Opal. On board this fair ship, he has crossed the Atlantic, sailed the Caribbean Straits and swum naked with dolphins. If one day you find yourself in Copenhagen beholding a broad Viking with a red face and high-pitched laughter, hacking it full-speed, you can be sure it’s The Beast getting about. Yeppah!
- Nis Andersen
“If you’re pro and don’t have any goals, chances are you will get nothing done. With Hjalte, if you tell him you need things, like ‘We need photos, we have a deadline for an ad, we need an interview’ and so on, he focuses and thrives on it."- Pontus Alv
Walking into Bryggeriet Skatepark on a November Tuesday, I find the park in full swing. Leaving what appears to be a session at its peak are Hjalte Halberg and Pontus Alv.
Front Board. Ph: Emil Hvilsom.
Yep. We’re done.
We take a seat outside the teacher’s lounge of Bryggeriets Gymnasium.
I’ve been told you don’t mix skating and chilling.
That’s true. I don’t mind chilling with skaters, but I sometimes prefer chilling with other people. If I’m in a skatepark, it’s mainly to skate. If my board is there and there is stuff to skate, I can’t help but want to skate it. I skate until I’m worn out and then it’s time to go home. That’s the best, actually; when you kind of get into a trance and you just skate, skate, skate and you sweat more and more and you get more and more warm until you’re completely fucked and then… straight home. I love that. You switch off completely. It’s almost like meditation; you’re mind is a blank. That’s rad.
How old are you and how old were you when you realised you look older than your age?
I’m twenty-five now. It’s funny, because all the way up to tenth grade I was the smallest guy in my class, then, in tenth grade, I just exploded and became massive.
Did you have any scores to settle?
Ha ha. Revenge-time.
Want to talk about graffiti?
Not really. I guess when you start skating or when you start painting, you never think you’re going to support yourself by doing it. You do it because you like doing it. I never thought I would make money from skateboarding. Ever. I got sponsored really late as well. All my friends got hooked up, but I never did. I was the kid who was just going fast back and forth all day long. I never thought this would happen. I’m completely surprised.
Back three. Ph: Nils.
Well then: welcome to life as a professional skateboarder. How is it?
It’s good. In the winter, I’m not so hyped on pro life, but overall it’s good. I just had the best summer of my life, travelling and skating. We had the Polar v. Palace tour in Malmö/Copenhagen. I’ve been to Costa Rica and New York as well. We rented an apartment there for two weeks. Amazing.
We have been on a lot of Polar camping tours too. We bought some pop-up tents; the ones you just throw in the air and boom: Polar Camp. We travelled around Sweden filming for the Polar video. There should be a promo out by now actually. I went to London to film with one of my old Danish friends Emil Hvilsom for this really sick Danish project too. It’s called ‘Vores KBH´ which translates as ‘Our Copenhagen’. It’s out December 1st. Pontus and me will have a shared part.
How are you dealing with the winter?
This is my fist ‘pro skater winter’ and I’m not used to it. I usually work hard all winter, go on trips in spring and autumn and then stay in Denmark in the summer. This is the first time I need to figure out what the fuck I’m supposed to do with myself.
The truth is I’m really bad at doing nothing. I hate it. If two days pass where I don’t know what I’m doing, I get really foul-tempered. I really can’t do that whole thing where you sleep until two in the afternoon and think that’s cool. I need to have something that fills my day or else I go mental. So, lately I’ve been getting up on weekdays, thinking: “What are you doing? Get a job, earn some money. It’s raining every day. You can’t skate in the winter in this country." You wake up on Monday, it hits ten and you’ve got no one to call.
Pontus: Welcome to pro life.
Frontside 180. Ph: Nils.
So you’re getting paid from Polar now?
Yep. Together with money from Nike, Carhartt and so on I can pay my rent, but I’m not rich or nothing. I’ve been working for about two days a week as a substitute teacher, but committing to more regular hours is hard when you travel all the time. I’m interested in pedagogics, but I dropped out of high school, so I need to catch up on that. I’ve always wanted to work with kids, though. I worked almost three years in a kindergarten and have done skate-courses and so on. I never, ever wanted to work in a skate store. Never.
I guess I need to develop another interest. I’ve started playing guitar a bit. [ironically] Maybe that’s what I’ll do after pro life, be a singer/songwriter, ‘Oooooh Yeeeah!’ I’m getting my driver’s license too.
I kind of think this is a problem, actually. I need another life than skating, so I don’t drain the fun out of it. Pontus found his filmmaking; I’ll find something too.
In between trips when the weather is shit I’m just trying to stay in shape. I’ve been swimming a lot. Went to the sauna today, actually. Early in the morning. There is a really good sauna in Christiania. Unisex.
Actually, the first time I stayed over in Malmö after Polar was started, Pontus woke me up and said, ‘"Get up, you’re going to the masseuse." I thought he was joking, but nope, he was serious, so there was nothing for it but going down there. Before breakfast: Thai massage.
Tell me about your sailing trip.
My best friend Magnus’ parents spent their whole lives building a boat; a schooner. After sailing around the world seven times, they finally grew too old to sail it. Then their sons took over the boat and Magnus became captain. Two years ago he arranged a one-year round the world trip. It went along one of the classic trade routes: down to France, Portugal, then to Africa, Cape Verde, Brazil, the Caribbean, New York and then home. I was on the leg from Spain as far as New York and then flew home from there. Four months on board, working on the boat.
Front crook. Ph: Nils.
We did a lot of fishing there. Lots of fish. The biggest one was probably a 35 kg golden mackerel. We harpooned fish from the boat too, the water was clear enough to see the fish. And there was a pig called ‘Uffe’. When we crossed the Atlantic to Brazil, we bought a little pig that sailed with us from then on. Uffe got to eat the fish we caught every morning.
Did you eat Uffe?
We had planned to, but coming into Brazil, they are very particular about importing animals. Unless you’ve got papers on your pig, you could go to jail or end up in a hairy situation. As soon as we got in, we gave the pig to a poor family. They were so stoked to get a fish-fed-fat pig they could eat. Either that or it has fucked up Brazil’s pig community forever.
Pontus: Was it strange being away from land for so long?
It was a little sketchy sometimes. When you are in the middle, it’s at least eight days each way. You can’t escape. We were seventeen people sailing, though, and there is always something to do. You work a shift and then chill, then work another shift. I read a lot of good books, cooked food and enjoyed the weather; there was always something to do.
Did you bring your board?
The captain is actually a really good skater. He used to ride for City Fellas: Magnus Maarbjerg. Every time we went ashore, it was session-time.
So you like travelling?
I’ve become addicted actually. If I stay at home too long I get restless and start thinking, “I can’t just be in Denmark all the time, there’s all these places I need to go to." I’m going to Portugal on Tuesday.
Back tail heelflip out. Ph: Veldman.
What is it you like about travelling?
That it’s new. It’s a challenge. You don’t know what’s going to happen. At home you are so comfortable and in your usual habits, but when you travel, you constantly have to adapt and take in new impressions.
What’s going on in Copenhagen? There are so many new spots cropping up all over, it’s insane. What’s going on with that?
They’ve ben developing the new harbour inlet and the town-planning department is currently set on building trendy, multifunctional spaces where they try to combine everything. ‘Modern playgrounds’ around basketball-courts and so on. Around Nørrebro, which used to be a bit ghetto, they’ve been building all these squares and public spaces designed for children and young people. There is one square surrounded by all these white banks and another one with a massive quarterpipe. Just now, they built this massive hip, which is sick. There’s new stuff all the time.
Is Copenhagen in danger of becoming a new Barcelona?
Nah. The weather isn’t good enough. But after CPH Pro, a lot of people have started doing tours here. Because Malmö is right next-door, a lot of companies do combined tours. It’s funny, because they tend to stay in Malmö and then do Copenhagen as a one-day trip, rather than the other way around. I think Malmö has had more of its spots seen in videos so people go there. You know; from Pontus and all his D.I.Y. shit [laughs].
Frontside ollie. Ph:Irvine.
Tell me about Jarmers Plads.
Well, first there was always Faelledparken, but then, if you wanted to be ‘dope’ in Copenhagen, you had to skate Jarmers [Laughs]. At first I hated it; the ledges were so high and the ground so shit, but with time it got better and better and now I think it’s the best spot in the world. I skate there all the time.
People that come there react like I first did, but the ledges grind and slide better than anything. You just have to give it some time. It’s still the meet-up-spot. It’s all good vibes too. You can just come there and skate.
Since the bridge between Copenhagen and Malmö was built, the two scenes seem more intertwined. What do you think?
I think it’s because of the Bryggeriet skate-gymnasium. A lot of Danes come here all the time now because they go to the school. But there are still not that many Swedes in Denmark.
I was thinking about this yesterday and I think Copenhagen’s scene right now is really, very good. In Copenhagen, all the concrete-heads also skate with the ‘pretty boys’ and the nice kids. It’s mixed. There used to be a bit of beef between the rock kids and the hip-hop kids, but now it’s really good. There is no beef and a really good feeling of community.
Tre flip. Ph: Nils
How come everyone knows who you are? Are you ‘the face of Danish street-skating?’
Nah. That’s just in Sweden. Maybe in London too, from the connection between Polar and Palace, Jerome and so on, but not really. It’s true, though, I am one of the few who get any money from this. It’s me and Jonas Skrøder, apart from Rune, as far as I know. In Copenhagen I never get that “Ooooh, I’m famous" feeling.
Pontus: We’re working on it…
Well, Pontus has been pushing me a lot. Right when I got on Polar, he placed ads in all the magazines all over Europe, so of course you become a bit known, but I don’t think I’m very known, to tell the truth. It may also be that I was born and raised Copenhagen and have hung out with everyone who comes to visit, so that’s probably why people outside Denmark would know me.
How did you and Pontus meet up? How did you and Polar come about?
I’ve always known who he is. The first time I came to Malmö, I was crazy scared of Pontus. He was skating mad fast and doing nosebluntslides into people and screaming. He seemed crazy and I thought, ‘What a jerk," right? But then I got on Carhartt and we started running into each other and ended up on one of their events at Sibbarp where he asked me for some footage for In Search of the Miraculous. I ended up getting him some tricks that made it in, but it wasn’t until we went to New York on the Carhartt trip that we really hung out. That’s where he told me about the board brand and asked me if I wanted to be part of it.
Pontus: Hjalte was one of the first riders and it’s been good to get you out there and see you grow into it.
Yep, you’ve pushed me in a good way. When I got on, I was lacking a mission. I had Enjoi flow and it wasn’t clear where that was going. Carhartt is good, but that’s one tour a year, you know. But then Polar came and you were like, “We’re going to do this," which whetted my appetite and we just started filming like crazy.
Kickflip from the "bump" to the curb cut. Ph: Nils
Pontus: When you run a company, it’s your job to give the skaters you support, goals and direction. A professional skater without goals is lost.
[Hjalte] So they don’t turn into depressed alcoholics [laughs].
What does Polar add to skating.
Hmm. We just follow our own heart, really. We make it less complicated, less polished. It’s not just that we don’t do HD and all that, but it’s the approach to tricks and skating overall. I don’t think Pontus would put a mad-tech skater on or a ‘strictly hammers’ skater on. It’s about basic skating, good speed and stuff that you get stoked from watching. It’s hard to really put a word on what it is that is special about what we do. But I do think it is unique. I think we’re doing something genuine: The graphics, the riders; everything. I really do think the company stands out. It’s simple. That’s one of the things I like about it: It’s accessible.
The whole team are homies too. We’re not all like that guy [points to Pontus, laughs]. Nah. He’s cool. Everyone on the team are nice guys.
What’s Pontus like as a ‘boss?’
He is really dope. He is clear on the need to produce things. He is tight. And he is right to be too. He is a boss in a good way while he is also a homie.
Polar: The Movie. It’ll be my first real videopart, so it’ll be blood, sweat and tears. The Kingpin interview, of course. It’s been quite hard, actually. Photos are hard for me to pull together. It’s easier with video. I can get footage fast, but photos are always a battle for me. I skate more lines and skate fast. A lot of what I do is skating fast and doing manuals, ledge-tricks and so on. That’s fine for video, but not so great for images. I can get sequences, but I don’t want too many sequences. You can put that in: This is why it’s taking so long, Alex!
No worries, I’m sure. Cheers, Hjalte.
His section in VoresKBH:
A Japanse version of the interview can be found here.