Text by Kirill Korobkov Photography by Lev Maslov
You hear a lot about pros going to Russia these days, and about all the craziness they witnessed there. Moscow has been one of the most popular tour destination for many US and European teams during the last couple of years. And the interest in Russian skate spots doesn’t seem to be fading. There are more and more teams coming every year. Almost every skate magazine I know of has ran an article about Moscow. And in every single one of these articles there is something about problems getting visas, traffic, some fun made of the unpredictable Lada cars (funny and unpredictable they are), vodka, and so on… But you hardly read about the flip side of the coin. For Russian skaters going abroad it is even harder to get in to foreign countries. I’m not even getting into the financial troubles, there’s enough in just bureaucratic difficulties. First, if you want to leave Russia at all, you should get a thing called the foreign passport. It is not enough to have an ordinary “civil" passport. Usually it takes from a couple of months to half a year to receive this document. Military service is obligatory in Russia for all men over 18. If you don’t want to waste two years of your life polishing Kalashnikov’s and building country houses for generals you have two choices: to go to the university or hide away from the authorities. It is impossible for every Russian man over 18 to go abroad without solving this problem with the army. Another big problem for us is obtaining visas. We need to get a visa to almost each and every country in the Western world. Disposition and kindness of employees in the embassies strongly depend on the political relations between the Russian government and their countries. We quickly notice it becoming more difficult to get Schengen visas whenever the relations between Moscow and Europe plummet, like they did last Autumn along with the problems with natural gas supplies to the EU. Travel agencies can help, but they charge triple the price for visas and require you to book a hotel through them, even though they hardly ever have any good offers. So as you can see, it’s a real mission for Russian skaters to go skate abroad. That is why each trip of our riders to Europe or to some other region of the globe is still a big event for our skateboard industry. Maybe with time it will become easier for us to integrate into international skateboarding and travel around the world. Luckily we live in such a big country that we can easily spend half a lifetime cruising around our Motherland and not cover all its cities and spots. Russia, spreading from the Baltic Sea to the Pacific Ocean, really has a lot to offer. Hundreds of cities hide inside them thousands of spots just waiting for skaters to destroy them. It takes more time to fly from Moscow to Vladivostok than to New York. You can imagine the potential our country has for skateboarding. Our skaters from Moscow and Saint-Petersburg (85% of Russian skateboarders still live in these two cities) only started systematically exploring Russia about two years ago and they’ve already discovered a vast number of spots in different regions of the country. Cities such as Sochi, Perm, Novosibirsk, Yekaterinburg and Chebokasary are really attractive for skaters. Traveling inside the country instead of going abroad is a great possibility for us, of which inhabitants of small countries are deprived. Perhaps the Russian regions will become some of the most popular destinations for all skate trips in the years to come.
Alexander is from Saint-Petersburg. The last couple of years have seen him progress like crazy. His sponsors wanted to pay for him to travel to Europe long ago but Alexander was not allowed to leave the country. After he reached the age of 18 the Russian army wanted to see him in their barracks, but Sasha had different plans. He preferred to disappear underground for three years. All this time Alexander lived an illegal existence. He managed to find a vacancy in a small bakery and worked there 5 days a week making cakes and cookies. All the while he continued to skate non-stop. At the time he didn’t even have his civil passport. Only after enrolling in a university did he receive any ID documents at all. He now has his foreign passport, which gives him the possibility of going abroad. He chose Barcelona for the first place to visit. Nobody knows what he will do after finishing higher education. Compulsory military in Russia finishes when you reach 27 years of age.
Last autumn, after snow had covered Russian skate spots, Emin and his team wanted to go to Spain for two weeks. This was at the peak of the political crisis between Russia and Europe concerning natural gas supplies. Moscow wanted Belarus to pay more for the gas and cut off gas pipelines to force Minsk to accept Russian price proposals. Gas from Russia to Europe flows in the same pipes through Belarus and as a consequence of the dispute some European countries experienced a lack of fuel. European leaders were really pissed off and this affected the issue of visas. As a result, three Russian skaters, their team manager and a photographer were not allowed to enter the EU, despite the fact that they had all necessary documents and booked rooms in a hotel. Luckily, the entry procedure to Eastern countries is more simple and in three days they managed to organize an alternative trip to the United Arab Emirates.
This guy from Saint-Petersburg doesn’t have sponsors, which is why he doesn’t travel much. But he proved himself during the Cliché tour to Russia last summer. Me, Lev Maslov, couple of our Russian friends, Thibaud Fradin and Vincent Bressol were standing in line to enter a night club in Saint-Petersburg. Fedya was already inside. He tends to party hard. In front of our eyes Fedya, hardly standing on his legs after alcohol and several joints, exits the place. He tried to cross the street, but was almost hit by a new Lexus. Behind the wheel there was a young beautiful lady. Fedya showed her the finger and went on his way. In a second the girl’s boyfriend jumped out of the car, ran up to Fedya and punched him several times in the face, then jumped back in the car and they drove off. Russia can be a rough place sometimes.
Dima has a fear of flying, which makes traveling especially difficult for him. Last Autumn he and his skate bros were supposed to go to Sochi for a week. Sochi is a Russian city on the coast of the Black Sea. Because of him, the rest of the guys were forced to go by train. It was a gnarly two day trip in a 3-class car without air conditioning or separate cabins with marginal people hanging about. They could have covered the same distance in two and half ours by plane. We hope that in future Dima will be able to overcome his fear and start flying on planes. Otherwise he will spend two thirds of the trip in trains instead of on his skateboard.
Last winter, Vlad spent a bit of time in Malaga. After a full day of skating he took a bus to his apartment. To his surprise, he heard two ladies speaking Russian. They must have been pretty sure that nobody in the Spanish bus was able to understand them. Vlad moved closer. The conversation appeared to be really interesting. One of the girls was telling her friend about a surgery on her vagina. She went into great detail of the procedure and shared the feelings she’d gone through. They kept discussing the vaginal topic for at least 20 minutes. Most of his knowledge about female anatomy Vlad learned during those 20 minutes. Sometimes it is really fun to meet your compatriots abroad.
The first time Lesha met foreign skaters was about 5-6 years ago in Saint-Petersburg. There was a joint demo of Finish guys from Control and Mike Vallely. He was amazed by the openness and amiability of professional skaters. Since then, he tries to communicate with all the European and American skaters who come to Russia. Due to trips abroad and communications with foreigners visiting Russia he’s started to comprehend the diversity of various cultures and the difference in mentalities between Russians and Europeans. Skateboarding has helped him to understand people and understand their differences. Last Winter in Spain he met Yari from Latvia. Yari spoke a bit of Russian and they started talking. It turned out that a group of Latvian skaters came by van to the south of Spain to avoid the Winter months in their Motherland. Those guys didn’t have any money so they slept in a shelter for bums and got food for free in a canteen for homeless people. Day after day they did nothing but skateboard. The Latvians had already been staying in Spain for about three weeks and wanted to stay there for several more. After this they planned to hitchhike back home. Lesha was shocked by such an attitude towards life. After that meeting he understood what real freedom is and that everybody can express it in the way they want. For some the love of skateboarding is more important than the convenience of comfortable life.
Young Gosha experienced one of the sketchiest situations of his life at the airport on Sochi. He was attacked by taxi drivers. Unemployment in the Russian regions runs high and some grown men have nothing to do but to hack on their own cars. The competition between them at airports and railway stations is so huge, that they are ready for almost anything to get customers. In Sochi, taxi drivers meet you on the runway straight off the plane, even before you reach the terminal building. They stick all over you and use all possible means to persuade you to go with them. Usually drivers start politely, then, if you don’t agree to accept their proposals, they begin to frighten you with stories about scary roads and terrible traffic jams, and for sure, especially for you, they are prepared to take secret shortcuts. If you don’t go with them after this they commence to menace and chin you. Needles to say, their prices are extremely high compared to public transportation. It is really sketchy to find yourself among half-crazy taximen, particularly if you have never been in such a situation before. It is impossible to escape from them, they follow you everywhere. Frightened, Gosha practically ran away from the drivers in the direction of a bus stop. Luckily for him, there was a van waiting for passengers at the stop. He paid 25 roubles for the whole trip. Cab drivers asked 1 000 roubles for the same journey.
Boris got acquainted with Kenny Reed during one of Kenny’s first visits to Russia at the end of the 90’s. When Kenny came to Moscow for one month in 2005 they spent some time together. One evening they decided to relax in one of Moscow’s biggest nightclubs. They went to the party straight from the skate spot. Kenny was carrying his board with him. When they came to the club Boris realized that the security would not let Kenny go inside with his board. They were already in party mode and didn’t wish to go back to Kenny’s apartment to leave the board there. For several seconds Kenny was lost, but a solution was found soon enough. He went to the nearest tree and simply threw his board up towards the branches. It got stuck in the foliage. Boris warned Kenny that it could be stolen but Reed didn’t care. They spent the whole night in the club and left it well pickled around six in the morning. The tree was checked but no skateboard was found. Nevertheless, Boris and Kenny had so much fun that night that they were not upset.
Vitaliy is not too shy. On trips, he’s been known to confuse and shock his team mates with his behavior. One of the many mind-boggling things from his repertory is called Sheepdog. Sheepdog is about this: Vitaliy stands in the middle of the room, then gets down his pants and starts to shake his penis like it is a Sheepdog in a fit of fury. If unprepared, people can be terrified by this scene. Also, if he finds it too hot in the room, Vitaliy won’t hesitate to get off all his clothes despite the rest of the people. In some sense he is a strange guy, but strange people make our life fun, don’t they?