Tell another visitor the truth about street skating in Tokyo and the response is between an eye-roll and defensive denial.
The truth: Tokyo is [deep breath] …not that good for skateboarding.
Ok, wait! Don’t start yelling! Are there spots? Yeah, some. Are there tons of incredible skaters from there? Yes, a lot. Is there a vibrant skate scene? Yes, yes, and yes. Does it have quite literally the friendliest, most amazing locals on earth? Good God, a million times yes. Tokyo has incredible skateboarding culture, but when you find yourself a tourist there, you soon realize this previously unfathomable truth: you’re more likely to come home with five expensive jackets you don’t actually need, rather than five tricks you’re happy with for a video.
This past October was one of those great groupthink travel moments where many diverging crews all happened to be in Tokyo at roughly the same time (a la that one January when literally every New York skater was in Barcelona at once.) As we’d cross paths with newcomers, the following interaction became commonplace.
“Have a you guys been skating a bunch since you’ve been here?”
“Er, um, not really, no.”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s um…kind of hard to skate here.”
Cue the “You guys are probably just hungover everyday,” or worse, the proverbial “We’re more ‘core’ than you” subtext that assures the denying party will have an easier time being productive in Tokyo than you have.
Until you run into them the next time, and they concede to reality.
Fall 2018 marks ten years since Billy Rohan rescued those slabs of marble from Albany’s defunct Shelter Skatepark, with which he would go on to create the best iteration of 12th & A that there ever was. Through the spring of 2013, 12th Street became a rare place to skate straight, stone ledges in lower Manhattan without having to worry about a kick-out. I remember Billy being in awe of how he and Curtis Rapp pulled off this marble heist and installation without a hitch: “This spot is perfect — it feels like Stalin Plaza, except instead of marble ground, I have to settle for a basketball court.”
I also remember that when we were doing the interview for this old segment about the Chapman Skateboards archive, Gregg mentioned how Billy equated their patented technology for a “performance tip” (a piece of special plastic at the nose and tail of a board that kept your pop crisper for longer) to be like skating on Stalin Plaza ground at all times.
Apart from Billy’s anecdotal obsession with Stalin Plaza, I have wanted to go there since Harsh Euro Barge came out. It looked the right amount of different from any other European holy grail spot; something stood out about those arbitrary pieces of marble stacked on flawless ground, with a precision applied to the spacing between each one. How were these piles of beautifully sliced rocks left alone in a building-less abyss?
“Four skate spots and one skatepark all on the same street — I can’t tell which is the skatepark.”
By the third or fourth day, Copenhagen begins to feel like a colossal joke. Coming from the classic American “if you get hurt, you’re gonna sue us”-disposition, almost every spot is met with a “What the hell were they thinking when they made this?” You don’t get kicked out much*, and the general public seems way too concerned with enjoying their chill lives to tell you you’re ruining some slab of stone. On top of everything, there’s a canal full of swimmable, clean water dividing the city — sorta like if the Hudson was unpolluted and safe enough for a swim after you got done with a summer session on the Westside Highway. There are a thousand beautiful girls riding by on bikes, and even the pizza is mysteriously better than you ever thought Danish pizza had the ability to be. It’s an expensive playground for adults, but not in a hookers/drugs/”tonight we’re getting fucked up“-kind of way.
[*In the two weeks I spent there last summer, we got kicked out once by a knife-wielding hash dealer who said we were scaring off his customers. He promised to kill us if we stayed at the spot. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Better safe than sorry?]
Jarmers is the Tompkins of Copenhagen. It contains two highish ledges, good-yet-razortail-inducing flatground, and a nice ledge for sitting, drinking beers and watching hours go by, not unlike some green benches we have quite an affinity for. If you watch the Skate Europe episode above, you’ll see a snapshot of the attitude that has allowed Copenhagen to become one of the most skate-friendly cities in Europe: “They cleaned the ledges every week…every week we’d have to re-wax them. We actually met the architect [who built the plaza.] In the beginning, he was almost crying, ‘You’re ruining my plaza.’ We [told him], ‘Nobody is using the plaza besides us, you should be happy.’ [He says] ‘Maybe you’re right,’ and I think after that, they stopped cleaning [the ledges.]” Now, there are even cheesy lil’ ads on the screens at Jarmers depicting some of the locals who skate there. It is worth noting that all of this takes place adjacent to a financial building at a major crossroad of the city, and not in some tucked away outskirt.
“There are three lanes for driving in Puerto Rico: Slow, stoned and drunk.”
Going to San Juan for skateboard-related reasons isn’t exactly new. Mainland skateboard companies have been going there for years. However, it does seem that Puerto Rico trips have been occurring with greater frequency for northeasterners recently. Miami, the go-to northeastern getaway for someone uninterested in a L.A. trip, has been getting more blown out and tougher to skate. Unless you’re packing ten dudes in a van and driving 1,200 miles, travel to P.R. is not much different: an extra 45 minutes on a plane and roughly the same ticket price. As a result, you get to be on an island with warmer water, newer spots, fewer distractions, and best of all, you’re not in Florida.
San Juan is not very foreign. Everyone speaks English, your phone is going to work without any add-ons, there are Wal-Marts everywhere, and they use American currency. “Miami but tighter” became a common description throughout the trip. (That’s only pertinent to the skateboard-concerning side of things. Miami is far better for a variety of other extracurricular endeavors.)