Northern Spain – Basque & Free

By Andy Henrie, a.k.a. The Doctor

On the other side of the world and with a few new faces, the infamous Epic Camping Trip With Skateboarding Benefits continues in the north of Spain.

Somewhere in New Zealand drinking red and eating a nice sausage and Stilton, I fancy. We were getting so far into it-living, that is-that we couldn’t imagine where we might go next. Javi said we should go to the Basque Country …

Making it happen wasn’t a breeze, but then it takes a little strife and toil to measure the good times against the bad. For myself, and perhaps for the other members of this pirate ship, these camping trips with skateboard benefits are meant to strip away the noise and distractions of modern everyday lives and get down to really living it.

On almost every flight I take, I have a moment where I realize how absurd things are. Traveling halfway across the world in mere hours inside a shiny metal tube that’s hurtling at 500 miles per hour and at 30,000 feet for a wad of cash that would only take a couple of weeks working at McDonald’s to earn strikes me as at least as crazy as “Beam me up, Scotty.” But Evan got me started on relativity and the equivalence of time and space, otherwise this same journey, just a couple of centuries ago, would’ve required weeks of travel aboard a wooden ship, sailing through the immenseness of the Atlantic with only the wits and salt of sailing men providing the chance that land would ever be seen again.

With heads full of space and time confusion, Sneaky and I arrived in Madrid at dawn. Although we didn’t have any hard evidence, we took it on faith that the rest of the crew would materialize via their respective teleportation tubes. Slowly but surely our companions on the journey materialized: Suskadero The Gentle Giant, Loodacrooks and P-Stone who would play the part of Laurel and Hardy, Mutt who would handle communications and all things vertical, and Corpsy who would provide fumigation and Gregorian chants. Captain O’Meally and Cuzza arrived last, having spent the weekend in Barcelona with the missing Boglio. The Aussies provide the model whereby our brodeo can remain appropriately macho-ya can hug yer mates … as long as it’s obvious ya might also deck ’em.

Driving In Madrid

Driving in Madrid, and in all of Spain as I found out, is a little crazy. Fortunately both P-Stone and I managed to keep the crash out of the course. On the way to the first park, we passed an old Roman-looking arch in the middle of a tangle of freeway off-ramps and viaducts. Then we passed it again. And again. It looked like a gate to something, but as far as I could tell there wasn’t even any way to access it. I began to refer to it as The Metaphysical Gate. Finally, our orbit around The Metaphysical Gate led us to the oldest, and quite possibly the deepest, skatepark in all of Spain: Sindical. It’s straight gnarly with cracks and grass everywhere, and everyone besides Loodacrooks and myself stayed away from the thirteen feet of hurt and skated the standard dishpan-biscuit combo*. Every park in Spain and the Basque country has one of these dishpan-biscuit combos. Crooks straight up handled the deep cracked pit like it was a mini ramp. This mega park had an amazing cafe overlooking a stream, which given its location in the middle of a freeway interchange must flow directly out of the Metaphysical Gates.

More acetunas and beverages fueled us at Spanish speed for yet another park: Alcobendas. Alcobendas is amazing: one central pit with the requisite biscuit, some channels and a “fun” box in the middle. Manu, who showed up and straight up killed the place with speedy backside tailslides and switch trickery with style, claimed it’s his all-time favorite place to skate due to the fact that many amigos can simultaneously get busy. Stadium lights came on as the tumor ball slowly slid behind the horizon in a swath of red and orange. Some cervezas materialized, and it became obvious that the goalf getting right into it had been properly done: we skated three amazing parks and really sucked the good out of everything thrown in front of us. And this was just the first day.

*Dishpan-biscuit combo:

Three sides of coping-less quarters (the dishpan) with an extension at twelve o’clock (the biscuit).

The Basque Country

Javier is a skateboard wizard. With an approach and style all his own, he’ll huck himself at any bowl or transfer or flatground with abandon, knowing that he can apply his advanced ragdoll slide technique to escape any imminent danger. His approach to life isn’t so different. Everywhere we went he knew the score, he knew the locals, and he had something cooked up. The first night we were in Madrid he disappeared after dinner to catch a flight to France for a party he needed to attend the next night, only to rematerialize the following day, still dancing and ready to guide us north. The Basque country is a region that includes parts of southern France and northern Spain around the Pyrenees Mountains. The people share a common ancient language-Euskerra, unique among all tongues of the world-and claim a continuous unsubjugated culture from the dawn of written history.

Basically every day we spent in the Basque Country was the best day of my life. I kept thinking of Groundhog Day, specifically toward the end when Bill Murray was really getting the hang of things. Nothing in particular happened, but then it’s hard to measure special moments against other moments that are so great themselves.

We mostly camped out at Algorta, a beach at the mouth of the Bilbao harbor. Above the beach is a grassy knoll, which is where we slept, and La Cantera, the concrete skatepark. Every morning, after rubbing the boogers out of my eyes, I was greeted by at least one person already skating the park’s amazing kidney bowl, 80s cement vert ramp, or the standard dishpan-biscuit combo. It was an amazing park with a solid crew of friendly locals who hooked us up big time, whether by rolling one up or showing the lines. Straight out of the gates Mumford was destroying the halfpipe, getting straight Lester on the aerials and doing frontside inverts while Javier Smith ground over the channel off the edge before breakfast.

Nacho Fan Out

If there’s anyone else in the world as epic as P-Stone, it’s got to be Nacho-quite possibly the best dude ever. If I can build my life into something approaching Nacho’s in the next ten years, I’ll really be doing it right. He lives in a cool little spot right next to La Cantera and skates, surfs, and basically lords over the scene. Our first night there we barbecued right in front of his spot using a surfboard as a table, and I worked on my Spanish by talking to nubile Basque ladies. The more bebido vino tinto, the better my Spanish got, especially when talking about dogs. The next morning Nacho left his butane stove out for me to make coffee with since he knew I enjoyed coffee the way the Basques enjoy their hashish. He continued the generous gesture every morning. Gracias, mi amigo!

P-Stone Fan Out

As far as I was concerned, this was a camping trip, and I wasn’t exactly excited to be staying in a hostel, although at twelve dollars a night it was hard to complain too much. One of the rooms had a balcony overlooking Plaza de Anton Martin, where I decided I’d set up camp for the night. Little did I know I’d have a run-in with a bear …

Everybody often claims that so-and-so is the best dude ever. I’m sure this is claimed often of Preston, and unlike most of the other receivers of the superlative, P-Stone really is that dude. Crazy, amazing stuff just happens around him, which he takes in stride. I’ve witnessed it several times and heard dozens of stories told with more glowing superlatives than I’ll attempt here, but it was not until a particular rainy night in NZ that I truly understood what a legend P-Stone is. We had had a full day of skateboarding nonstop after a long night of raging nonstop. At each point along the way, P-Stone as usual was getting right into, at least as fully and more immediately than the rest of us. And somehow he manages to capture it all on video. At the end of this particular full day, he cooked us a gourmet meal on a barbecue, and just before settling down into his ten-dollar kiddie tent that his feet dimpled out of, even when wedged in diagonally, he handed me a length of dental floss: “You gotta take care of the chompers.” This trip to Spain was filled daily with similar accounts of his bravado and wisdom-a true renaissance man.

Cuzza Fan Out

Cuzza was supposed to be on the New Zealand trip, but he let himself get caught up in other things. Currie is my favorite skater, but since he chose to keep the scene down in Oz killin’ it instead of “making” it in the bloody States, I didn’t realize it. For instance, the first time I skated around downtown Sydney turned out to be a “Cuzza did this here, and Cuzza did that there” tour. With some well-placed prodding, as well as our stories of maggot good times and proper pirate barging, we were able to convince Cuzza that Oz would do all right without him for a few weeks and a hoonish run at Madrid and the Basque country was really his only choice. While in Madrid, Cuzza said to his new friend Suski (who was skating a sketchy hubba that the rest of us were leaving alone), “Aaron, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a live Suski grind.” After a couple backside five-0s, Suski showed Cuzza and the rest of us why he’s got his own trick. Suski’s got it like that, and Currie’s a bro like that.

Suski Fan Out In Wonderland

There’s a plaza in a neighborhood of Bilbao that has the best place in the world for skateboarding. I called it “Wonderland.” Constructed of closely packed slate tiles that made a perfect marriage with rolling urethane, it was a pleasure to simply push around. This dark gray slate tile covered the entire plaza and lay among residential buildings, cafes, and shops that were decorated with fountains, trees, and benches. It sounds beautiful, and it is, but what makes the place wonderland is the mounds. This dark slate had been molded into mounds, no two of which were alike-some steep, some not so steep, some short, some tall-one at least fifteen feet tall. One of the mounds had a marble ledge at the top, one had a big stainless-steel pipe with a radius just small enough to grind, and one had a tombstone. The blazing siesta sun and weary legs became little more than a tolerable nuisance as Wonderland laid out the possibilities. We skated Wonderland numerous times over several days and all kinds of stuff went down, but Suski straight up champed out with five amazing tricks, all of which were photo-documented in an hour-nutter. He was blasting ollies over the big hip, and by blasting I mean twice as high as anyone else, literally over my head. Myself? I was struggling to just get waist high. He contemplated crossing out yet another trick: frontside ollie on the mega-vert bank. It would’ve been equally amazing, but Suski decided not to “blow the spot out.” Four out of five will have to do.

Dan Fan Out

Sometimes Dan gets this little flame behind his eye, and then it’s on-something is gonna happen. I’d seen it once before, and it was quite a sight. We were all treated at least twice on this trip: once was at a pre-fab concrete park in Bilbao where spontaneously Dan did an impossible sequence of impossible maneuvers. The second time was at Castro-Urdiales, just outside of the Basque Country, at this cool smashed huevo-shaped el tubo completo. He didn’t seem to notice that he was flying out of the tubo completo onto the wall at a height that would qualify him for the DOA club out at Ocean Beach. He even seemed a little surprised by the broken boards and smashed heels that resulted from the method snatchers off the wall.

Crooks Fan Out

Ol’ Dirty Crooks is the nonstop comedian trash-talking Energizer ht of raging nonstop. At each point along the way, P-Stone as usual was getting right into, at least as fully and more immediately than the rest of us. And somehow he manages to capture it all on video. At the end of this particular full day, he cooked us a gourmet meal on a barbecue, and just before settling down into his ten-dollar kiddie tent that his feet dimpled out of, even when wedged in diagonally, he handed me a length of dental floss: “You gotta take care of the chompers.” This trip to Spain was filled daily with similar accounts of his bravado and wisdom-a true renaissance man.

Cuzza Fan Out

Cuzza was supposed to be on the New Zealand trip, but he let himself get caught up in other things. Currie is my favorite skater, but since he chose to keep the scene down in Oz killin’ it instead of “making” it in the bloody States, I didn’t realize it. For instance, the first time I skated around downtown Sydney turned out to be a “Cuzza did this here, and Cuzza did that there” tour. With some well-placed prodding, as well as our stories of maggot good times and proper pirate barging, we were able to convince Cuzza that Oz would do all right without him for a few weeks and a hoonish run at Madrid and the Basque country was really his only choice. While in Madrid, Cuzza said to his new friend Suski (who was skating a sketchy hubba that the rest of us were leaving alone), “Aaron, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a live Suski grind.” After a couple backside five-0s, Suski showed Cuzza and the rest of us why he’s got his own trick. Suski’s got it like that, and Currie’s a bro like that.

Suski Fan Out In Wonderland

There’s a plaza in a neighborhood of Bilbao that has the best place in the world for skateboarding. I called it “Wonderland.” Constructed of closely packed slate tiles that made a perfect marriage with rolling urethane, it was a pleasure to simply push around. This dark gray slate tile covered the entire plaza and lay among residential buildings, cafes, and shops that were decorated with fountains, trees, and benches. It sounds beautiful, and it is, but what makes the place wonderland is the mounds. This dark slate had been molded into mounds, no two of which were alike-some steep, some not so steep, some short, some tall-one at least fifteen feet tall. One of the mounds had a marble ledge at the top, one had a big stainless-steel pipe with a radius just small enough to grind, and one had a tombstone. The blazing siesta sun and weary legs became little more than a tolerable nuisance as Wonderland laid out the possibilities. We skated Wonderland numerous times over several days and all kinds of stuff went down, but Suski straight up champed out with five amazing tricks, all of which were photo-documented in an hour-nutter. He was blasting ollies over the big hip, and by blasting I mean twice as high as anyone else, literally over my head. Myself? I was struggling to just get waist high. He contemplated crossing out yet another trick: frontside ollie on the mega-vert bank. It would’ve been equally amazing, but Suski decided not to “blow the spot out.” Four out of five will have to do.

Dan Fan Out

Sometimes Dan gets this little flame behind his eye, and then it’s on-something is gonna happen. I’d seen it once before, and it was quite a sight. We were all treated at least twice on this trip: once was at a pre-fab concrete park in Bilbao where spontaneously Dan did an impossible sequence of impossible maneuvers. The second time was at Castro-Urdiales, just outside of the Basque Country, at this cool smashed huevo-shaped el tubo completo. He didn’t seem to notice that he was flying out of the tubo completo onto the wall at a height that would qualify him for the DOA club out at Ocean Beach. He even seemed a little surprised by the broken boards and smashed heels that resulted from the method snatchers off the wall.

Crooks Fan Out

Ol’ Dirty Crooks is the nonstop comedian trash-talking Energizer Bunny. He’s been on a lot of trips with P-Stone over the years, and they really know how to rile each other up, usually by starting on some variation of the famous back-hair and dirty-grill bit. Although I did a better job relaxing in the morning and letting it all happen rather than trying to get things going than in New Zealand, I could always count on Chet to push things forward. He will straight-up skate from dawn ’til dusk. Our last night at La Cantera we had a barbecue up on the old quarry walls above the park. We’d skated all day, and I’m sure Crooks had started first. Sometime long after the last kebab was grubbed, Crooks said to me, “Yo, let’s bomb this hill!” which we did repeatedly until the street cleaner showed up and wet the whole thing. Yet another best part of the trip: the next morning his five-0 beer cheers to gulp over the channel. Was there a revert in there?

Mutt Fan Out

After holding down the gnarly cement halfpipes everywhere we went and stretching tricks at every park we saw, Mumford wanted to go mega on the last day at La Cantera. A full-hearted but slightly miscalculated first attempt at the transfer into the big bowl resulted in a heel blowout to rival Corpsy’s-double gnarly considering the considerable airbags in Mutt’s shoes compared to Dan’s waffle-sole moccasins.

The Best Mini Ramp In The World

Javi and Mike’s official mandate that this was a camping trip and not a skate trip, per se, required that we see the Basque Country without the full goggles of a skateboard. We went to an amazing sea cave where we climbed down a cliff and into a crevice and then to a swim spot where we had to climb down a cliff. The pounding waves kept us out of the chilly water, so Javi took us to a tropical-style, bar-accompanied, nude beach for a swim, and after to some amazing tide pools to swim among sea urchins, anemones, seaweeds, and fish. Right around the point from the tide pools was a little church built on the point. Long grass waving in the breeze and some stone walls framed the idyllic little stone cathedral on the point. At the foot of the grassy knoll was the world’s best mini ramp. Location, location, location! Besides the location, the mini was a perfect Skatelite and metal-frame five-foot, twenty-feet-wide bundle of joy. The first time we saw this mini was a non-skate day, so we didn’t touch it, but later Manu, Chet, Drehobs, and Cuzza destroyed it good and proper. Where’s Barker?

On our last night in Madrid, we stayed at Droopy’s hostel again, enjoying what might be the most perfect concoction ever: the carajillo. Sitting at that dusty old cafe in the corner of the plaza, I reflected on the old men across the bar, also sipping their carajillos. What would these leather-faced locals think of our epic voyage through the Basque countryside? I was thinking we did a proper good job of it, when a tipped glass, a nodded head, and a toothless grin from a wrinkled old amigo convinced me I probably wasn’t wrong.

zer Bunny. He’s been on a lot of trips with P-Stone over the years, and they really know how to rile each other up, usually by starting on some variation of the famous back-hair and dirty-grill bit. Although I did a better job relaxing in the morning and letting it all happen rather than trying to get things going than in New Zealand, I could always count on Chet to push things forward. He will straight-up skate from dawn ’til dusk. Our last night at La Cantera we had a barbecue up on the old quarry walls above the park. We’d skated all day, and I’m sure Crooks had started first. Sometime long after the last kebab was grubbed, Crooks said to me, “Yo, let’s bomb this hill!” which we did repeatedly until the street cleaner showed up and wet the whole thing. Yet another best part of the trip: the next morning his five-0 beer cheers to gulp over the channel. Was there a revert in there?

Mutt Fan Out

After holding down the gnarly cement halfpipes everywhere we went and sttretching tricks at every park we saw, Mumford wanted to go mega on the last day at La Cantera. A full-hearted but slightly miscalculated first attempt at the transfer into the big bowl resulted in a heel blowout to rival Corpsy’s-double gnarly considering the considerable airbags in Mutt’s shoes compared to Dan’s waffle-sole moccasins.

The Best Mini Ramp In The World

Javi and Mike’s official mandate that this was a camping trip and not a skate trip, per se, required that we see the Basque Country without the full goggles of a skateboard. We went to an amazing sea cave where we climbed down a cliff and into a crevice and then to a swim spot where we had to climb down a cliff. The pounding waves kept us out of the chilly water, so Javi took us to a tropical-style, bar-accompanied, nude beach for a swim, and after to some amazing tide pools to swim among sea urchins, anemones, seaweeds, and fish. Right around the point from the tide pools was a little church built on the point. Long grass waving in the breeze and some stone walls framed the idyllic little stone cathedral on the point. At the foot of the grassy knoll was the world’s best mini ramp. Location, location, location! Besides the location, the mini was a perfect Skatelite and metal-frame five-foot, twenty-feet-wide bundle of joy. The first time we saw this mini was a non-skate day, so we didn’t touch it, but later Manu, Chet, Drehobs, and Cuzza destroyed it good and proper. Where’s Barker?

On our last night in Madrid, we stayed at Droopy’s hostel again, enjoying what might be the most perfect concoction ever: the carajillo. Sitting at that dusty old cafe in the corner of the plaza, I reflected on the old men across the bar, also sipping their carajillos. What would these leather-faced locals think of our epic voyage through the Basque countryside? I was thinking we did a proper good job of it, when a tipped glass, a nodded head, and a toothless grin from a wrinkled old amigo convinced me I probably wasn’t wrong.