C’est Pas Vrais
Story and photos by Scott Pommier

So how was Europe? This is an inevitable question that anyone who’s just returned from Europe will face. More than anything it’s the intro to a formulaic dialogue that’s supposed to leave the two conversing parties feeling good about themselves and about each other, this kind of meaningless exchange is called small talk. It’s like “How was your weekend?” or “How’s it going.” The answer to all three of these questions is the same: “Fine.”

Well, in the case of “How was Europe?” you should probably be a bit more animated or you’ll run the risk of seeming aloof or dismissive. You might answer, “Oh, Europe was great. The architecture was really … old.” That’s more or less the answer I gave anyone who asked me how my first trip to Europe was. It’s not that I’m inarticulate, or that I couldn’t be bothered with a more elaborate response, it’s just that, well, for the most part people are only asking to be polite and the details don’t particularly interest them. For those of you who aren’t particularly interested in the details of my travels, here’s the small-talk response: “Europe? Oh yeah, it was great. I had a good time.” Of course, the nature of my assignment necessitates a more detailed account. And besides, these article things pay by the word.

“So Scott, how was Europe?”
Well, let me tell you:

I departed Toronto in the middle of a heat wave and near the end of a garbage strike. The timing worked out pretty well. I got a ride to the airport from my dad, who gave me all sorts of “dadful” advice about keeping my head up and watching out for pickpockets and the like. The plane was super cramped and really warm. The man beside me fell asleep and spilled his red wine on my pants. When I arrived in London, I had to go through security all over again. I nearly missed my flight from Heathrow to Geneva because they keep the flight’s departing gate number a closely guarded secret until seconds before liftoff.

Whoever said that getting there is half the fun never flew overnight from Toronto to Geneva via London.

I can count the number of times an airline has gotten my special-meal request right on one hand. So I was delighted to have some kind of vegan breakfast after a long night of traveling-although tomatoes and canned mushrooms on toast was a little unorthodox.

Switzerland

Shortly after arriving in Geneva, I met up with the crew I was going to be shooting with for the next few weeks. There was J.B. Gillet (probably the best known of the group), J.J. Rousseau, and Lucas Puig from France. Those three made up the French contingent, and for the most part, they occupied the back of the van where things got pretty smoky. The island continent of Australia was represented by the soon-to-be-very-famous Cale Nuski, a fearless seventeen year old with tons of skill, and Clichà‡ Team Manager Brett Margaritis, who balanced everyone’s schedules, handled the hotels, drove everyone around, and still somehow found time to skate. Americans Marcus McBride and Vern Laird were also in the mix. Vern was the filmer and he was with us until Lyon, but Marcus dropped out early, thanks to a nasty ankle roll.

The common bond for this international troop was that they all rode either Clichà‡ or Link-or in Cale’s case, both. For the uninitiated, Clichà‡ is the premier European skateboard company. Link is a new shoe company with ties to Clichà‡. With the exception of J.B., the riders haven’t had tons of North American exposure, but it was soon apparent that this was a matter of geography rather than talent. Of course, the size of our group was always in flux-we temporarily lost a few more troops at the Czech border, and we had an extra Australian or two with us at all times. But no one seemed to mind squeezing in or holding a few boards on their lap to make room.

Everyone got along really well, which always makes things go smooty. Cale and Lucas in particular became fast friends in spite of a pretty significant language barrier. Lucas substituted any English words he didn’t know with whistling. Being that he speaks very little English, the high-pitch tweets were almost constant. His technique worked remarkably, all things considered. With only his whistling and a few vague hand gestures, he was able to get by pretty well.

Whenever they weren’t skating, Cale and Lucas wrestled around like tiger cubs. They did a whole lotta tug-o-warring over pillows they’d stolen from the hotels. Pillows are a cherished commodity in a packed van. I think that might’ve been Lucas’ only new English word-pil-low. Cale managed to pick up a whole sentence. We were all heard to exclaim this one from time to time. “C’est pas vrais!” We got it from J.B., who was quoting some French comedy skit. Translated literally it means, “It’s not real,” but it’s used more like, “No way!” or “This can’t be!” or even “You don’t say.” It’s really quite versatile-which partially explained its popularity on the trip. But mostly I guess we just like the way it sounded.

Geneva

After introductions were made and hands were shook, we went off to find some spots. Being the team manager meant that Brett was effectively married to the driver’s seat of the rented VW Eurovan for the duration of the trip. He took the whole thing in stride. Brett pretty much took everything in stride. That’s a good trait in a team manager.

Geneva had a lot of spots to offer. They were refreshingly unfamiliar, too, so we weren’t forced to contend with a “who’s done what and when” scenario. What’s more, for the most part, security wasn’t a factor, either. Man, this Europe place is all right! We hit three spots the first day, and that was with a three-hour warm-up session at a schoolyard. By the time we went out for supper, I was starting to fade pretty fast. I’d been awake for the better part of 48 hours. I slept in the car as we made our way to Luasanne, the home of the Grand Prix contest.

Luasanne

It’s the little things you notice. You know, like they don’t call it a “Whopper,” they call it a “royale with cheese.” I’d never encountered doors in a hotel room that didn’t lock automatically. I was lucky that no one took advantage of my oversight, or I would’ve had to assemble this article from photos I’d taken with an instamatic. Two days into my trip and I’d already forgotten the sage advice my dad left me with.

I don’t know what the average income in Luasanne is, but judging by the Mercedes Benz taxi cabs, the high-end shops, the abundance of galleries and museums, and the almost complete lack of police officers, I’m going to go ahead and guess that the locals were doing all right.

Luasanne is a beautiful city-cobblestone streets, amazing old buildings, and a great view of Lake Geneva. It seemed to be too ritzy of a city to be hosting such a huge congregation of unruly skateboarders, but then again, Europeans are a lot more tolerant of such things. Heck, they even allow dogs in restaurants.

After the contest was over, our crew had a few free days before the drive to Dortmund. We had to stay relatively close because a few of us had neglected to obtain visas for the Czech Republic. For some reason, the Czechs like to keep tabs on just how many Aussies and Canucks are roaming around, but it’s a free-for-all for Yanks and Frogs.

We decided to head back to Geneva where we knew there were good spots. At the hotel in Luasanne, they actually had waiters to seat you for the continental breakfast. They wore starchy white suits and even had the white towel draped over a forearm-classic. “Right zees way, sir.” Our digs in Geneva weren’t nearly as posh.

In Geneva, our hotel was in a busier downtown area right across the street from the bus station, pretty close to the red-light district. We made this unhappy discovery after walking by a Thai restaurant we’d frequented earlier only to find one of our servers looking for customers of a different kind on the street. After that, we stuck to this Chinese restaurant called Fast Bocky. Fast Bocky was kind of sketchy in its own right. Here’s how they operated: They’d prepare random dishes and bring them around hoping you’d forgotten what you’d ordered, or that you were just hungry enough to take what they were offering. If you didn’t go for it, they’d just offer it up to the next table.

On this trip we were lucky to have J.J’s friend Guillome show us around to some top-notch spots. My favorite was a ten-stair rail that some ingenious little Swiss skate-rat/engineer had decided to retrofit with pins to make it adjustable. It was a thing of beauty-a marble take-off and landing. The cops came eventually, but they just told us to make less noise. We were in the process of leaving by the time they arrived. Bidding them adieu, we hit the road, bound for Germany.

Germany

Dortmund is home to the World Championship Of Skateboarding. I’m not sure what makes this contest more important than the rest, but it is. They take things very seriously there-security, accreditation, parking, everything. There wasn’t much to do in Dortmund besides go to the contest. Or maybe there was, but we didn’t do much besides go to the contest. The highlights of my time there were the twice-daily trips to a little Arabic restaurant by our hotel that sold these amazing tofu sandwiches. After the contest was all wrapped up, we met up with Jan Kliewer, a German pro who skates for Clichà‡, and we all headed to Frankfurt.

We stopped in a small town along the way. Jan knew of an art gallery that was home to a pretty interesting installation.

Now I don’t know much about art, despite going to art school for a year, but I know what I like. This artist had built a wooden replica of a backyard pool-a perfect right-hand kidney. The construction wasn’t your typical skatepark bowl, either. It’s surface was made up of tiny pieces of hardwood. It was smaller and easier to skate than a backyard pool. You could even grind around the shallow end, thanks to the mellower transitions and heavily shellacked coping.

With no waivers to sign or anything, it was just sitting there in the middle of a room for whomever wanted to skate it. There was an older German dude there doing early grab frontside airs-he looked like he was having the time of his life. He asked me to shoot some photos of him, so I did. Other than that, Brett, Jan, and I pretty much had the pool to ourselves. It was a really strange scene. Museum patrons would walk into the room and generally stay for about five minutes. Some groups treated it like a demo-they applauded and whooped appropriately. Other groups would simply observe quietly. Maybe they were put off by the hardcore gangster rap that was blaring in the corner.

Frankfurt was pretty much a rainout. It drizzled most of the time, but we did manage to get a session at a recently closed indoor park. Having the place to ourselves, it was fun to watch everyone skate together.

Czech Republic

As I mentioned earlier, the Czech border was a bit of a problem. The difficulties we encountered at the Czech consulate in Switzerland were merely foreshadowing.

The problem was this: J.J.’s passport had expired, and Guillome didn’t have a passport at all, only an identity card that the Swiss government had issued him. There was no room for debate with the border guards. Without the proper documentation, you simply couldn’t cross the border.

We ended up having to turn around and drive back to the nearest town with a train station. Brett got the guys a hotel (because it was two in the morning) and then bought them train tickets back to Geneva, where we would rendezvous after the contest.

Our second attempt at the border went smoothly, so we drove to Prague, arriving in the wee hours of the md frequented earlier only to find one of our servers looking for customers of a different kind on the street. After that, we stuck to this Chinese restaurant called Fast Bocky. Fast Bocky was kind of sketchy in its own right. Here’s how they operated: They’d prepare random dishes and bring them around hoping you’d forgotten what you’d ordered, or that you were just hungry enough to take what they were offering. If you didn’t go for it, they’d just offer it up to the next table.

On this trip we were lucky to have J.J’s friend Guillome show us around to some top-notch spots. My favorite was a ten-stair rail that some ingenious little Swiss skate-rat/engineer had decided to retrofit with pins to make it adjustable. It was a thing of beauty-a marble take-off and landing. The cops came eventually, but they just told us to make less noise. We were in the process of leaving by the time they arrived. Bidding them adieu, we hit the road, bound for Germany.

Germany

Dortmund is home to the World Championship Of Skateboarding. I’m not sure what makes this contest more important than the rest, but it is. They take things very seriously there-security, accreditation, parking, everything. There wasn’t much to do in Dortmund besides go to the contest. Or maybe there was, but we didn’t do much besides go to the contest. The highlights of my time there were the twice-daily trips to a little Arabic restaurant by our hotel that sold these amazing tofu sandwiches. After the contest was all wrapped up, we met up with Jan Kliewer, a German pro who skates for Clichà‡, and we all headed to Frankfurt.

We stopped in a small town along the way. Jan knew of an art gallery that was home to a pretty interesting installation.

Now I don’t know much about art, despite going to art school for a year, but I know what I like. This artist had built a wooden replica of a backyard pool-a perfect right-hand kidney. The construction wasn’t your typical skatepark bowl, either. It’s surface was made up of tiny pieces of hardwood. It was smaller and easier to skate than a backyard pool. You could even grind around the shallow end, thanks to the mellower transitions and heavily shellacked coping.

With no waivers to sign or anything, it was just sitting there in the middle of a room for whomever wanted to skate it. There was an older German dude there doing early grab frontside airs-he looked like he was having the time of his life. He asked me to shoot some photos of him, so I did. Other than that, Brett, Jan, and I pretty much had the pool to ourselves. It was a really strange scene. Museum patrons would walk into the room and generally stay for about five minutes. Some groups treated it like a demo-they applauded and whooped appropriately. Other groups would simply observe quietly. Maybe they were put off by the hardcore gangster rap that was blaring in the corner.

Frankfurt was pretty much a rainout. It drizzled most of the time, but we did manage to get a session at a recently closed indoor park. Having the place to ourselves, it was fun to watch everyone skate together.

Czech Republic

As I mentioned earlier, the Czech border was a bit of a problem. The difficulties we encountered at the Czech consulate in Switzerland were merely foreshadowing.

The problem was this: J.J.’s passport had expired, and Guillome didn’t have a passport at all, only an identity card that the Swiss government had issued him. There was no room for debate with the border guards. Without the proper documentation, you simply couldn’t cross the border.

We ended up having to turn around and drive back to the nearest town with a train station. Brett got the guys a hotel (because it was two in the morning) and then bought them train tickets back to Geneva, where we would rendezvous after the contest.

Our second attempt at the border went smoothly, so we drove to Prague, arriving in the wee hours of the morning.

The next day, we met up with Mel, another of Brett’s many Australian friends who were traveling around Europe. Mel had spent long stretches in Prague, spoke Czech quite well, and served as our translator/guide. She knew decent clubs, and more importantly, where the vegetarian restaurants were.

I spent a lot of time just walking around Prague. Taking it all in. By this point, I’d more than had my fill of contests, so while everyone else was either skating or drinking under the huge yellow tarp, I was strolling around-searching for weird old cameras and nerding out in Internet cafà‡s. Prague is extremely picturesque, so I took a lot of pictures. It was really easy and cheap to navigate via subway. Most of the younger people spoke passable English, but not quite enough to hold down conversations about anything abstract. “How do I get back to the Hilton?” would work, but “How has the transition from communism to capitalism impacted the educational system?” would probably be met with a blank stare. I’m sure there were some locals who spoke perfectly lovely English, but I didn’t encounter any.

Not too much skating in Prague, but on our last day there we did stop at the famed Stalin park-incidentally, you shouldn’t call it that. I forget what it’s called now, but they’ve changed the name, and Joseph Stalin is not very popular in the region. We would’ve all liked to stay and skate the marble square for longer, but the crew had to meet up with J.J. and Guillome in Geneva, and then make our way to Lyon, France.

France

Lyon was by far my favorite city of the trip. It’s bigger than I’d imagined and seemed to have in incredible variety of terrain. A lot of the spots I’d recognized from the Flip video and the à¤S video I’d assumed were in Barcelona were actually in Lyon. We had two of the best guides you could ask for-namely Jeremie Daclin, the owner of Clichà‡, and “French Fred” Mortagne. Both of whom were stationed in town.

The whole place just had a great feel. It wasn’t like home, but it was still very comfortable. I might have to return for a longer stay sometime. I wish I’d taken more photos of the city, but we all skated around town almost every night. The downtown is all lit up. The sodium lights on the castle-gray buildings made the whole place look golden. It really was very pretty. It seemed strange that such a classy-looking city would have that much in the way of terrain. But there was stuff to skate everywhere. Good thing, too, since with all the contest days, travel days, and rain days, we hadn’t done much street skating since our stay in Geneva.

With all of those obstacles out of the way, things started rolling again. There’s also something about Jeremie’s presence that just makes you want to skate. He even bribed me into getting a trick. He’s one of those really organized people who knows how to juggle his own time and how do get other people moving. Even with the office work he had to do, the constant food stops, and the errands I threw into the mix, our crew still managed to hit a few spots each day. Jeremie was also a great host. He organized a skate party at a ditch spot, took us out to dinner, showed us spots, and when he wasn’t doing all that, he was taking slabs off a Hubba with Brett and Boglio so one of his riders could skate it. It’s no wonder he made it onto Appleyard’s “He’s the man” list. Daclin is the man.

I ended up extending my ticket for a couple of days to shoot something with J.B. I wish I could’ve stayed longer, but my body was starting to crave nutrients that couldn’t be found in my Euro-diet of fruit and baguettes.

Sort of a long-winded answer to a simple question, wasn’t it? I guess in summary, I’d say that Europe was great and the architecture was really … old. Germany is in Europe.

he morning.

The next day, we met up with Mel, another of Brett’s many Australian friends who were traveling around Europe. Mel had speent long stretches in Prague, spoke Czech quite well, and served as our translator/guide. She knew decent clubs, and more importantly, where the vegetarian restaurants were.

I spent a lot of time just walking around Prague. Taking it all in. By this point, I’d more than had my fill of contests, so while everyone else was either skating or drinking under the huge yellow tarp, I was strolling around-searching for weird old cameras and nerding out in Internet cafà‡s. Prague is extremely picturesque, so I took a lot of pictures. It was really easy and cheap to navigate via subway. Most of the younger people spoke passable English, but not quite enough to hold down conversations about anything abstract. “How do I get back to the Hilton?” would work, but “How has the transition from communism to capitalism impacted the educational system?” would probably be met with a blank stare. I’m sure there were some locals who spoke perfectly lovely English, but I didn’t encounter any.

Not too much skating in Prague, but on our last day there we did stop at the famed Stalin park-incidentally, you shouldn’t call it that. I forget what it’s called now, but they’ve changed the name, and Joseph Stalin is not very popular in the region. We would’ve all liked to stay and skate the marble square for longer, but the crew had to meet up with J.J. and Guillome in Geneva, and then make our way to Lyon, France.

France

Lyon was by far my favorite city of the trip. It’s bigger than I’d imagined and seemed to have in incredible variety of terrain. A lot of the spots I’d recognized from the Flip video and the à¤S video I’d assumed were in Barcelona were actually in Lyon. We had two of the best guides you could ask for-namely Jeremie Daclin, the owner of Clichà‡, and “French Fred” Mortagne. Both of whom were stationed in town.

The whole place just had a great feel. It wasn’t like home, but it was still very comfortable. I might have to return for a longer stay sometime. I wish I’d taken more photos of the city, but we all skated around town almost every night. The downtown is all lit up. The sodium lights on the castle-gray buildings made the whole place look golden. It really was very pretty. It seemed strange that such a classy-looking city would have that much in the way of terrain. But there was stuff to skate everywhere. Good thing, too, since with all the contest days, travel days, and rain days, we hadn’t done much street skating since our stay in Geneva.

With all of those obstacles out of the way, things started rolling again. There’s also something about Jeremie’s presence that just makes you want to skate. He even bribed me into getting a trick. He’s one of those really organized people who knows how to juggle his own time and how do get other people moving. Even with the office work he had to do, the constant food stops, and the errands I threw into the mix, our crew still managed to hit a few spots each day. Jeremie was also a great host. He organized a skate party at a ditch spot, took us out to dinner, showed us spots, and when he wasn’t doing all that, he was taking slabs off a Hubba with Brett and Boglio so one of his riders could skate it. It’s no wonder he made it onto Appleyard’s “He’s the man” list. Daclin is the man.

I ended up extending my ticket for a couple of days to shoot something with J.B. I wish I could’ve stayed longer, but my body was starting to crave nutrients that couldn’t be found in my Euro-diet of fruit and baguettes.

Sort of a long-winded answer to a simple question, wasn’t it? I guess in summary, I’d say that Europe was great and the architecture was really … old. Germany is in Europe.