One of the greatest benefits of skateboarding’s global boom in popularity is that today most every country has its own individual skate scene-for example, Croatia.
Croatia sits on the northeast bank of the Adriatic Sea, across from Italy. Slightly smaller than West Virginia, Croatia houses just under four-and-a-half-million inhabitants. Its climate is similar to California’s, enabling skaters on the Adriatic coast to skate all year long.
Croatia’s skateboarding history doesn’t date back very far-in fact, the independence of the country isn’t even ten years old. Prior to 1995, Croatia had no skate shops. The country was still fighting for its independence from Yugoslavia, and the few skaters there relied heavily on neighboring countries for their skateboarding products. Jagor Tomasevic, owner of Croatia’s Megapuls Distribution, has been skateboarding in Croatia for a long time. “Before 1992 we traveled to Italy or Austria to buy skateboards, and after 1992 a shop opened in Ljubljana, Slovenia.”
Tomasevic is largely responsible for bringing skateboarding to Croatia. In 1997, Tomasevic (then one of the handful of local skaters) opened Megapuls and paved the way for a healthy scene to grow. Eight years, twelve shops, and 1,000 skateboarders later, Croatia has a solid skateboarding scene that’s still expanding. “Today, with our efforts, skateboarding is strongly recognizable as a sport and movement in our country,” Tomasevic states proudly.
Emil Kozamernik, owner of Obsession-a Slovenian distribution company, produces the skate-culture magazine Pendrek with Tomasevic. It was Kozamernik’s influence that brought Tomasevic into the skateboarding industry. “After Yugoslavia fell apart,” Tomasevic relates, “Slovenia opened the Obsession store, and then distribution. From then I was connected with them as a skater and a friend, and when I grew up enough I decided to (take a) risk, and go (into) business.”
But bringing skateboarding to Croatia was indeed risky business. “There were no skateboarders, skateparks, or skate fashion around,” says Tomasevic. “Skate products are expensive, and at that time the average (Croatian’s) monthly income was around 200 U.S. dollars.”
Today the economic situation has recovered somewhat, and the average monthly income is up to approximately 500 U.S. dollars. However, other factors continue to curb the economic growth. Tomasevic explains, “We are still under pressure of political problems and fluctuations, and still in the process of changing into a Western capitalist economy.”
Bolanca “Bocho” Nerad is a 26-year-old Croatian skater. After a solid decade of skating, he went to work for Yazoo, a 100-percent skateboarding shop opened in January 2003 by Bocho’s longtime friend Dino. Located in Sibenek, a small town on the Adriatic coast, Yazoo enjoys the California-esque climate that the coast has to offer. Despite being located in a small town with a tough economy, Yazoo does well because Dino and Bocho are determined to keep the skateboarding scene alive. According to Bocho, Sibenik has no more than twenty skaters, but that number is slowly but constantly growing.
Shops and distributors alike work hard to support Croatian skateboarding. Tomasevic says, “Croatia is a small country, so every initiative you are doing locally is at the same time regionally and nationally. We are organizers of almost all the skate contests and demos, or supporting events as sponsors.”
Likewise, Yazoo is working on building a healthy skate community in Sibenek. Bocho explains, “Our priority right now is (getting a) skatepark.” However, things move slowly in a small town with a small economy. Dino and Bocho are working with the city, and both parties are contributing. “We managed to get a location with a good smooth surface, and the town promised to put in a fence and lights,” says Bocho. “But as far as elements go, that is our problem-we have to build them ourselves.”
Tomasevic’s intent is longevity, giving the people the impression that skateboarding isn’t just a passing phase. “We’re trying to keep skateboarding as some kind of special movement, trying to give an image that will sell for years-not just a season.”
The Croatian skateboarding scene is booming, despite a troubled economy. Due to import fees, a complete skateboard can cost a Croatian skater up to 200 U.S. dollars, almost half of the average monthly income. Bocho explains, “It is quite hard for kids to buy boards, especially here in Sibenik where the economic situation is really hard.” There are many unemployed Croatians, due to both political and economical problems. When the country was at war, many Croatians fled to Germany to find work. Tomasevic recalls, “At that time there were no political parties except the Communist party, so if you had a different opinion or view, you became a state enemy-you lost your freedom, passport, and very often even your life.”
Despite political tension, skateboarding continues to grow in Croatia. Tomasevic sums up Croatia’s burgeoning scene: “Things are definitely moving, and I can say we are the accelerators.”
Gross domestic product: 38.9-billion dollars
Land area: 56,542 square kilometers (91,050 square miles)
Before the dissolution of Yugoslavia, the Republic of Croatia, after Slovenia, was the most prosperous and industrialized area, with a per capita output perhaps one-third above the Yugoslav average. The economy emerged from its mild recession in 2000 due mainly to tourism, but massive structural unemployment remains a key negative element. The government’s failure to press the economic reforms needed to spur growth is largely the result of coalition politics and public resistance, particularly from the trade unions, as well as measures that would cut jobs, wages, or social benefits. Without disciplined fiscal and structural reform, the country is likely to experience only moderate growth.