France Canadian Jody Morris is treated to an insider’s view of the home of the greatest national soccer team on Earth.
In France, when you turn eighteen, you go to the army for two years. You have no choice in the matter–no one does. Does that get your attention? Apart from this mandatory service, everything else is a familiar recipe: A group of friends who grow up skating together, taking road trips, going to contests, hanging out in each other’s cities–doing what skaters do everywhere. This group speaks a different language, and they all disappeared for two years at one time or another, but apart from that, everything else is the same.
This trip to France was different than other trips I’ve been on–the point of view changed. Normally, the perspective is from a group of foreigners who travel to a place together. This time, it was from the inside. I was only accompanied by my friends Nicolas Droz and Marc Haziza, both from France. I saw their country through their eyes, their points of reference, and met their local crew of friends. This is how one truly gets a feel for a country. Nicolas lives in the east of France in a town called Thonon les Bains. It sits on Lake Geneva bordering Switzerland. Marc is a continually traveling Parisian.
The night I arrived in France was the night they won the World Cup game. In case you were somehow unaware, soccer is the world’s most popular sport. Add to this the fact that the World Cup is only played every four years and you might get a picture of the scene in France when they shutout the favored Brazilians in a three to zero championship game. The entire country took to the streets with the revelry of a country that swept the Olympics. You’ve probably seen shots of New York City’s Times Square on New Year’s Eve; multiply that scene by a whole country, and you might get the picture.
The next day brought us to Montpellier in the south of France, minutes from the Mediterranean Sea. I attended this same contest last year. It’d been held outdoors as part of a large cultural festival with bands, displays, crafts, and a generally festive atmosphere. This year that was all gone, replaced by a hockey-arena contest–gray and humid, completely unfestive. Rick McCrank took a well-deserved first, and we left.
Nimes, an ancient Mediterranean city supposedly founded by the Roman Empire, is a weird combination of centuries-old Roman ruins with brand-new marble office buildings thrown in for good measure. We didn’t stay long, but what we saw was a street-skater’s fantasy. Istres was actually our destination, with Nimes recommended by Karim Cherif as a good stopover.
Istres is less than an hour from Nimes. There we met Patrick Bermudez, another member of their spread-out crew. Patrick is the former French freestyle champion. He lives in the south with his girlfriend Sophie and owns two skate shops. Hang-ten nollie hardflips and cross-legged (back foot on nose, front foot on tail) impossibles are some of the bizarre tricks Patrick lays claim to. We were Patrick and Sophie’s guests for almost a week, using their house as a hub while we explored some of the southern zones on the Mediterranean.
Mira Mass, St. Mitre, and Marseille, all easily accessible from Istres, allowed us to enjoy the laid-back atmosphere of the seaside towns. Except for Marseille, the other towns are smaller villages well off the tourist trail. Thus, giving you a true look at life in the south– relaxed and friendly.
As for Marseille, most of the mention in skate mags is of its world- famous skatepark. In case you haven’t heard, the park’s a vast array of cement bowls, spines, hips, and corners, leading from about four or five feet deep to a vert section in the ten- or eleven-foot range, all with perfect seamless coping. Besides this, Marseille has an abundance of street spots found in any major city. There’s a new stadium complex where several World Cup games were played, which brought even me new spots to the city. Due to time restraints, I couldn’t spend nearly enough time there.
Just a few hours northwest lies Toulouse, which had a fairly decent outdoor park for a few years, but its closure left us the streets. This was not a problem. At first glance, these old French cities appear to lack the type of spots one would seek, but all it usually takes is an experienced tour guide–enter Kevin Besset. Kevin lives in the nearby town of Albi, but it’s evident by his knowledge of the streets that he spends a great deal of time skating in Toulouse.
Albi, on the other hand, is much smaller than Toulouse. It’s an ancient village in the country just east of the city. Once again, the centuries collide as you see a modern street park just feet from a thirteenth-century church. Kevin is well known in this town. He is the leader of a popular band, in addition to being a respected skater throughout France. As we walked around looking to find something to eat, Kevin was approached by several friends who managed restaurants along the street. When you’re with the right host, a meal can be very rewarding; the restaurant served us as though we were long-lost personal friends. We ate outside in the shadows of eight-century-old buildings, listened to the sounds of a Moroccan drum group, and sampled the local foods and wines. Every meal should be this enjoyable.
Kevin’s parents have a second home in a town not far from Albi called Condes sur Ciel. It has nothing to skate, but as far as a place to spend the night, it’s like no other. Their house is an eleventh-century building at the top of a hill in a medieval town overlooking the countryside. This is the kind of place people spend lots of money to visit. Possibly one of the nicest villages of its kind, it’s completely frozen in time, with cobblestone streets and medieval castle walls surrounding the whole town. This is one way traveling and staying with locals pays off. Thank you, Kevin.
Jeremy Daclin lives in Lyon, an old, large, and rather famous French city. He was next on Nico and Marc’s list of people we had to visit on this trip. Jeremy keeps himself busy skating and running a board company called Cliché. I’d seen Jeremy skate before and was anticipating some high-quality skating. Jeremy and the other skaters of Lyon didn’t disappoint.
With temperatures soaring, we skated mostly at night, and took day trips to the country home of Beaujolais to taste some of the world’s best wines (France features a lot of famous vineyards). Even here in the small towns of the country, France hides skate spots, but the best spots were in Lyon. With my departure approaching, we headed east for the cities of Orleans and Paris.
Louisiana has New Orleans, but this is the original. Our connection here was Slippery Skates, a combination shop and outdoor park. Orleans was only intended as a stopover, but again, the hospitality made us stay the night. The next day we headed for Paris, final destination.
Everyone who’s been to Paris claims they love it, but when asked why, they can’t seem to pinpoint what gives them that feeling. I can’t say I know either, but it’s not just Paris. It’s definitely a vibe you pick up from the country as a whole. Maybe it’s just more concentrated in Paris.
We met up with several people, including Jaques Bertholon and Tony Brossard, both local Parisians, as well as Stephan Lochon and Hugo Liard from Nicolas’ home town of Thonon les Bains. All four were members of the same crew I’d come in contact with throughout the country. They’d all grown up skating, traveling, and visiting each other in their towns. Being from the same crew, it only made sense they turned out to be extremely hospitable and friendly people. I guess there’s something about hanging out with people for many years that ingrains a common attitude, no matter how spread out they become. With the help of this group, I got to do more than just see the sights; I saw what’s behind and underneath, and gained an insider’s perspective of France.
nderneath, and gained an insider’s perspective of France.