Lost In France

The Flip team travels to the South of France in search of Tom Penny.

by Skin

Garage-bound in the heart of Oxford, England, the infamous Flip tour van had been trying to get a new lease on life, though it was becoming a major pain in the ass of the mechanic who’d taken on the job of trying to restore it to its former condition when it used to effortlessly haul the Flip team around Europe. The mechanic had opened a Pandora’s box on four wheels, and when he was finished, there it sat in the car park, looking like it’d been fixed by a psychotic, blind panel beater and seeming as though it would have trouble getting out of Oxford, let alone seeing us all the way to the south of France. Somehow the inside was even worse than the exterior¿full of beer bottles, van parts, and general shit (the most obscure of which was a dog collar), all of which had to go.

After rendering it tolerable, we drove to get Eric Brockman and Ali Boulala so we could hit the road. This was Brockman’s first time traveling to Europe, and unbeknownst to him the boy had been thrown in at the deep end. Pastie, our last passenger to pick up, had been swimming in such waters for years, teaming up with Boulala like long-lost pirates on the ferry across the Channel to France.

Our drive to Bordeaux was a complete nightmare. Someone somewhere had slightly miscalculated our arrival time, and lots of wrong turns didn’t help. We ended up getting to Bordeaux a mere nine hours late, by which time Arto, Geoff, and Fred (who had flown into Bordeaux) had already booked into a hotel. That night we ate at a restaurant that was a vegan’s nightmare called Buffalo’s, where two small flies came free with our complimentary salads. Isn’t that a bonus? Boulala considered eating one in a green bean, but managed to control himself¿perhaps it was just the Heinekens talking loud.

Everyone slept for many hours. Poor Flip Owner Jeremy Foxx was in a jet-lagged haze and slept until six the next evening. Thanks to our guide Pastie, that afternoon we hit up one of the local spots, where some of the locals looked happy to see us. Most sat down and watched in awe as Geoff Rowley switch ollied a large double-set while some drunk German, who probably showed up for World War II and never left, shouted at Geoff, causing him a major distraction.

That evening Bastien arrived at the airport. The fourteen year old is quite possibly the hottest up-and-comer to come out of Europe since Arto. Putting Bastien into a nutshell is hard: He comes from Montpellier, France where he skates alone every night, so what he learns on a skateboard comes only from what he sees on videos. That, in itself, is amazing. In a way, he is his own mentor. I can’t remember ever seeing a kid so good at skateboarding. I mean really good. If Bastien manages not to go down the road to “too dope,” he will no doubt become a pro of quality. God knows what will happen when he grows and gets some pop. A word of warning: never play Bastien in table tennis, he will kick your ass. Rune Glifberg also turned up in Bordeaux, unfortunately with a broken foot, but he seemed happy to be with all the team.

The following day we embarked on the two-hour drive to see Tom Penny. Nearing his house, we cruised into a supermarket where, by accident, we bumped into the mystery man himself. After all the talk about Tom it was weird to see him. Over the years he’s become the Jim Morrison of skateboarding¿reclusive and misunderstood. Here’s a guy who was at the peak of a very successful career as a pro skater and who basically had the world in his hands¿where he led, others followed. Then, one day he just walked away from it all. Tom’s story has become one of the most confusingly enthralling tragedies skateboarding has ever seen.

Standing there in the market with Tom made me feel strange, though, from the start it was obvious that he was not in such a bad way as everyone thought he might be. He held long conversattions with everyone, he knew what was going on, he talked about skating and tricks with passion, and he rapped with the locals in fluent French. Tom was stoked the team was together. Though Tom no doubt has problems he must face, none of them needs to be written here.

What followed over the next few weeks was carnage. Tom’s house in St. Victor became the Flip castle, where partying was taken to a whole new level. Boulala put in a strong case for being a potential future Sex Pistol, and Pastie threw gasoline on the fire and watched it burn. St. Victor lies in the middle of the Dordogne, a beautiful area of Southern France, and only consists of one bar and a church. Tom’s royalty checks are delivered there by taxi because the houses have no numbers on the doors. To say that it’s mellow would be the understatement of the year¿it’s nearly falling over.

Nights at Tom’s saw mini-ramp sessions go down, with a rowdy Boulala putting in some quality pirate moves. Fireworks and two BB guns were bought, and the guns instantly turned anyone who had them into Dirty Harry. Two soldiers were at war, running around the house and garden engaged in battle. Boulala always seemed to cop the most plastic. As the days passed, our stay took on a Lord of the Flies feel¿a sort of organized anarchy.

Geoff bailed early, because he had to take care of some shit back in the States, and with the most sensible of the team gone, the carnage increased. Most of us sat and held on tight to see it through. One person’s hell can be another’s heaven, and vice versa. Our stay ended with a huge garden party. Pastie was at the helm of the barbie, with Foxx keeping a watchful eye on the proceedings.

We left the house on a Friday, and a cloud hung over the group as we drove to Paris. Penny wasn’t with us, and it got frustrating trying to point the finger at who was to blame. In the end, nobody had the answers. We arrived in Paris, and for the first time in a week were hitting up some good street spots. Bastien showed his true worth at a big set of three blocks, Brockman five-0ed a ledge at the Le Defense center, and Arto frontside noseslid a long Hubba-type ledge. The next day we were out of there, heading home in any of five directions. Arto went to Finland, Rune to Denmark, and Bastien back to Montpellier.

Brockman and Ali were coming with Pastie, Foxx, and me back to the UK. Foxx navigated the van back to the homeland. It had been a strange week, but the van survived and so had we. Now it was our turn to be put in for a service.