Looking at the fresh concrete that had been shaped down there, a desperate situation to be in. The mini bowl, built in just one day is dissolving in front of our eyes. What had led us on to such madness?! Trying to build one complete bowl in one day, turning a blind eye to all weather forecasts…
Yamato Living Ramps is the name of a fine skatepark company that originated from two German DIY spots: Hanover’s “2er” and “Betonhausen” in Berlin. This means: these guys who now work on sites for councils and cities and earn most of their living building skate obstacles, at one point all have been plastering vacant lots with concrete, driven by tons of enthusiasm and very little actual know-how. Then, once you’ve spent a few years devoting the better part of your time to the perfect shape and finicky quality control, you sometimes wish you could go back to the beginning – no hassle, no money, no demands beyond the personal ones. And most and for all: quick and easy, driven by your very own ideas! No supervision on site, no four weeks of drying, no complicated knitting of rebar, no official tests; straight good times, no planning to the last detail. Building for the pure sake of instant skateboarding fun.
When Levi’s Europe contacted us and asked for ideas to swiftly push local scenes of course we were keen. Just giving a fuck and supplying locals in different cities with sick shit: a no-brainer, no questions asked. Be it adding on to existing DIY projects or setting up completely new spots… And we could more or less instantly shred the results with the local boys and girls; test, fall in love, hate, and desperately battle tricks you’ve claimed while building.
An idea was born, however, the course of action became even more clear when we found the fitting vehicle for this endeavour: a 40 year-old double decker bus that could easily take us around different European cities while carrying all the supplies needed to deliver sick spots! The thought was we’d pick up a few dudes at every stop, much like our vehicle’s original use would have intended: hop on, hop off touristic travel. But instead of the bored announcer’s voice, Body Count would roar through the speakers – plus we were very sure no one could hold the passengers of the upper deck from standing up! After all, we wouldn’t be driving around regular tourists, but responsible young skaters and drunken workers. And as everyone knows these types know how to behave.
Departure was set for mid-September; place: Hanover, right from 2er. To make sure we’d meet locals at every stop, we had talked to the shops on our route beforehand. Unfortunately, the set dates became obsolete after only a few days on the road. Still the shops usually were our first port of call. One more reason against buying online; shop for your shit in skate stores, not at some anonymous mail order! In Cologne it was Pivot skate shop who had not only rallied motivated troops but also poured two wonderful parking blocks – that just waited to be put in a lovely bed of mortar at the local DIY under Mühlheimer Brücke. Of course we also stopped at a hardware store on the way to our first mission. Fittingly, this one featured a drive-through entrance that we couldn’t refrain from entering with the double decker; snickering away like little kids. We fitted in, but the exit turned out to be a bit more delicate. But hey, now we can all say we’ve driven a motor coach through a hardware store. The look on the manager’s reddening face made it all worthwhile.
At the spot a whole bunch of people awaited us and had already begun to take out paving stones here and there. Within that day a whole bunch of ramps got built, we fixed a few broken drive-ups and lay four pieces of pool coping on an existing quarterpipe, courtesy of Confusion Mag. To beers and music we worked until late in the night. Especially in Cologne the nightly entertainment was enhanced by nocturnal visitors; one favourite being Maxwell. This pretty brawny fellow ended up by the bus around two that night. There he stood, pretty sloshed, after having let go the last train across the river Rhine in favour of chasing after some chick that eventually brushed him off. Confronted with the long walk home that also inevitably led him across a bridge, he drifted through adjacent parks. He couldn’t just go home, he explained, “too scared of heights!” After we let him scrounge a paper plate of pasta and a plastic cup of wine the bridge still wasn’t an option. Too bad though, it’s pretty hard to bypass a river! So we tried to persuade him that a bridge wasn’t that scary after all: “Keep a safe distance of about two to three metres from the fence and you’ll be fine!” After the third negation of his question “Hasn’t anyone got any marching powder?” he finally decided to tackle his task. Let’s hope he made it; at least he never came back. The following day started with an early wallride session on the existing ramps in which we unfortunately ruined the freshly renewed ride-up almost completely. We obviously had to wait a bit, so we spent the day by the riverbank and at Ed Templeton’s photo exhibition in town. Towards the evening a bunch of the locals came back for an inaugural shred on the new stuff.
The session again lasted until deep into the night and all obstacles took a heavy beating. Genuinely stoked from what could be accomplished in such a short amount of time, we broke out the mattresses from the bus and dozed off between the new skate sculptures. After a short rest, the morning was once again used for another session; carpe diem, nah mean…
With a few new passengers on board we finally set off towards Mechelen, Belgium around noon. Upon our arrival by the campfire that night it almost felt like some sort of family reunion. Fully motivated we set out to look at potential building spots the next day, yet couldn’t really find a fully satisfying place. The old, abandoned hotel in the woods sure was beautiful, but nothing you could turn into something within one or two days. Thus, we returned to the park at night without having achieved anything. But when Mechelen’s Ben proposed to pimp a wall close to the park towards the canal, frustration quickly gave way to euphoria. We swiftly split up in two teams: one taking materials to the canal, the other mixing three buckets of ready mix concrete and taking it on a bike off into the night. In the wee hours of the morning team one had finished two quarterpipes and a mean wallride in some kind of heave-ho operation and team two had concreted some round pieces on a brick bank. In high spirits we returned to the campfire. To make best use of the waiting, we drove to Antwerp the next day, where Bram had promised good spots and a squatted house that we could sleep in.
Right next to it, he said he had started piling rocks along the side of a big concrete block. So while part of the crew went in to finish his work, the rest set out for a cruise through town. Unexpectedly, we ended at a set of stairs in a metro station and just did not get the boot! So when we finally returned to our home on wheels, battered but happy, we passed by a freshly finished perfect quarterpipe. Division of labour is a fine thing! The next day then returned to the finished quarter after a good dinner and some beers. Slightly pissed and hyped from the good day, the journey was marked by wild screaming and jumping under the upper deck’s open roof. Each time we passed under a bridge on the highway, you could envision heads and brains splattered across the deck in your mind! In the end, nothing ever happened, but Sam had to take a seat on the bottom level because he couldn’t take the mad visions any longer.
While the crew was skating the new quarter by the canal, literally setting it on fire, our host Alex and I took off to a nearby gypsy camp. There I took a seat on a camping chair in front of some old lady’s trailer and listened to her Italian and Flemish gibberish. Without having understood one word, I walked back to the quarter with a puppy-dog in my arms about an hour later. From now on “Trouble”, a mongrel bitch of three months, became our tour dog. Straight ahead she went on to spend her first ride from Antwerp to Gent on mattresses on the upper deck, like a pro, trying to chew stray shoes. Gent, like Antwerp, hadn’t been part of our initial route. However, the tales from a squatted farm were just too tempting. Plus: Why ride a coach when you’re not going to use it?! Allegedly, the place held the perfect location to quickly build a bowl practically overnight. Said and done.
Despite gnarly rain we turned the former cesspit into a mini bowl within one day. The farm residents looked on in amazement while 20 men jumped out of a bus and went straight at it: rallying filling material and starting mixes. When the rain had stopped, a lot of shovelling and two remaining dry bags of cement more or less managed to save the washed out pieces. The childs’ heads sticking out of the concrete, brought from Mechelen, were properly painted and put in place, coining a befitting name for the new spot: The Dead Babies Bowl. While the concrete was drying we used our spare time for the odd swim. By now we were hardened, no qualms breaking out the shower gel in the local swimming lake’s shallow section and washing ourselves next to playing kids. Later, two of the babies’ heads got fucked on the first session, even the bowl itself looked as if it had been shredded heavily for years. The small trannies were extremely challenging. However, that didn’t stop any of the guys steering a bunch of moves across the deathbox. Unbelievably, people even managed to get speed in this tiny dish!
After almost three days on the farm it was time to pack up and get on. The damp clothes and mattresses had almost dried, the bus was filled up again and we set course for Lille. The dudes at Zeropolis skate shop had sent us a pic of a small bank by a bike path. “Right in the centre”, they said, “but the police probably won’t mind.” We arrived in the middle of the night just to find a much steeper kicker leading over a grass gap right by said bank. Since the floor was mostly wet we had to lay our mattresses right onto the bike path. However, instead of a mattress Marten took out his board, swiftly swept the water from the kicker and tried to backside flip the gap.
No one could really believe it: in the middle of the night, a four hour drive on his back, wet run-up and landing and a kicker that simply was much too steep for the length of the gap. Nevertheless, Marten came through with a perfect make in less then ten tries! Cheering and screaming followed and the locals couldn’t believe their eyes; so far the thing had only been ollied! In order to make this gap fun for others also, we built a new and improved kicker next to the steep one, plus an optional landing and the remaining bit of the small strip got an equal makeover: a new curb, a volcano to wall, a spine and many other bits and bobs. At first a bit shy, the locals soon were super keen to help and bring in their own ideas. They also provided a fair amount of beer. And when a car of uniformed and armed officers stopped close to the finish line, the locals wheedled them into just going their ways without further questions. To avoid more stress and possibly more assertive colleagues, we still packed our stuff, went for a last pass on the floats and then took to the road. Since no one knew of any place in Lille where we could park our bus, we decided to head for Nieuwpoort, Belgium by the sea. There we spent the next day skating the local park and using its showers to wash our clothes. We also slowly cleaned up the bus and had a quick swim in the North Sea. At night we met with the Lille locals for the inaugural session. We stayed for another one and a half days, fixed the run-up to some brick banks with quick crete and skated our new spot and around the city. By then our crew had diminished since the Belgians had building jobs and some of the Germans also had things to take care of at home. At least Ben and Maarten promised to return and meet us in Lyon three days later and this time also bring Jarne.
The ride to Lyon in our old lady took us almost two whole days. Top speed is about 70 km/h, climbing hills the engine wheezes considerably and the speed can easily drop to 35-40 km/h. At least we now were in France where the speed limit on the highway brought the difference in speed of the cars passing us to a tolerable amount – in Germany some vehicles had roared by with three times the speed we had!
The two-day journey ended pretty stressful, when on the lookout for a parking space we went down a much too narrow serpentine and got stuck. While we had successfully managed to lift cars out of the way on a similar occasion in Gent, this time there was no way around, we were trapped. In complete desperation we even tried to lift the 12 tonne bus by hand to get past the kerb – to no avail. Magically, two drunk youths staggered by who happened to know how to get the key to one of the cars blocking our way. And later the owner of the second car showed up. After two hours we could finally pass and park. For more knowledge of the place we immediately picked up Ben, owner of Wall Street skate shop, from infamous local skate bar Le Voxx. He guided us to a better parking spot and soon we met back at the bar. Le Voxx remained just the first of many bars and backyard clubs for that night. The next morning began late and slow. Until everyone had had breakfast and found a spot to do his business it was four. And unfortunately, in Lyon hardware stores close at four on Saturdays. So after a quick consultation we decided to leave Lyon for now. No concrete, no ramps. The option to visit Cliché’s Jérémie Daclin at his country house a bit south and spend the rest of the weekend skating the bowl we had built there a few months prior, made much more sense. And as we knew from then, Jérémie is an excellent host and had invited us for a BBQ. Disappointment went and anticipation set in. Quickly we were on our way – just to break down a couple of kilometres after, right in a tunnel out of all places! It didn’t take us very long to know what the problem was: we simply had forgotten to fill the car up! A gas station stop had slipped within last night’s mess, no fuel gauge in this thing! Unfortunately, a diesel engine this size doesn’t just spark up again upon refill, and we were still stuck in a fucking tunnel! For the course of one hour we blocked the whole lane and soon had three tunnel patrols by our side, the police and also a towing car.
There was no way around getting towed out for us. Including all formalities and until we had the bus running again it was well into the night. Lyon definitely wasn’t our most successful stop so far.
At least the next day turned out to be much nicer: after we had set up our non-existent tents in Jérémie’s garden that night, we skated his bowl and indulged in a gigantic meal and heaps of wine, listened to French chansons, and on Monday we finally headed back to Lyon fresh, rested and ready for action. Since the weather didn’t promise to hold again, we decided to do our shopping first and then head out on our boards for a roll through town. No one wanted to jeopardise losing our last day’s work to the rain. It stayed dry and once again we were clobbered over the head with the multitude of spots in Lyon. Eventually, we still spent most of our time by a rounded bike rack instead of one of the many perfect curbs or manuals. Since our spot of choice laid right in the centre, we thought it was best to take necessary measures: we bought high-vis warning vests, picked up some stray metal road barriers and got some warning tape. By now I’m completely convinced, following this practice you can pretty much do whatever you want within the city. Just wrap everything in warning tape and no one is going to ask any questions! The average citizen does not see tape, he sees an insurmountable wall of authority and administration. Everyone automatically thinks: ‘This must be legit.’ Even the two bike cops just kept pedalling when they passed right by our site – no second looks taken! The filling material for our ramp we took straight from the nearby river and within hours we had accomplished two banks with little trannies in the middle going up a wall. We ended the day grilling leftovers at the spot and securing our work with the barriers. However, when we returned the next day they had already been removed and a session was blazing. We joined unnoticed. Damn these skaters! Respect neither barriers nor warning tape!