It’s a 24-hour flight from London’s Heathrow Airport to Sydney, Australia. You fly east over cities that previously had only been seen on TV and in books-Terrhan, Deli, and Jakahatta, to name a few. There was a brief hour stop in Bangkok to refuel. I bought a Coke and watched the sun shine over a city I knew nothing about. Jet lag was already setting in, and I was only halfway there.
Sydney’s a city going through some change. It’s as if it went to the dentist and said, “I got a date with the Olympics coming up and want to look my best.”
The dentist then revamped every single tooth and put an Olympic twist on it. Some of the teeth didn’t need any work, but the dentist figured, “What the hell? In for a penny, in for a pound.” Sydney’s now in for millions and only halfway through its dental treatment.
Christian West from Time Skateboards had suggested I stay around the Bondi Beach area. This is where most skaters live, so it’d be a good place to hook-up. The first morning I awoke at 5:00 a.m. (not a usual habit, just a symptom of jet lag), and took a walk along Bondi Beach. That early in the morning, it usually feels like you’re the only person alive-wrong. Bondi was beaming with life. Lifeguards were carrying longboats, and surfers waited on the south end of the beach for a clean break. Hoards of people walked, jogged, stretched, and sat around the promenade. Some ran the beach, while others swam in the surf. Old people like to get up early in the morning, that’s what happens when your bladder shrinks to the size of a date. Around the world the older generation would be waking up and considering what to moan about. Not here though, at least not today.
The long-standing Bondi vert ramp is now gone-all that remains is the concrete slab on which it was built. Someone should stick an eternal flame in it to the unknown skater. Also nearly gone is the graffiti of Kareem doing the backside flip-some things should just be left alone.
I swam for the first time in months and started to feel good about my trip. Now I was in a country that had the lights on. Some women who looked about 50 seemed to be 50 times fitter than me, every guy looked like Mike Tyson in Speedos, and even the women running on the beach looked like they could kick my unsuntanned ass.
Over the next few days life took on a familiar pattern. I swam in the mornings and hooked up with skaters in the afternoons. Then shot photos into the early evenings. One morning I bumped into Wade Burkitt on the beach front while he was taking a shower. We talked about this and that. He was still buzzed from the night before: “I got this thing I want to do, but I don’t know if I can stay sober long enough to do it.” Charles Bukowski couldn’t have put it any better. Honest words from a guy who doesn’t give a f-k.
On my first Saturday I met up with Lance Mountain in a plush hotel right alongside Darling Harbor. Adidas put me up in Lance’s room, which was 2,000 times better than the one I’d just stayed in. Lance was there for the Adidas world marketing meeting. Each section of Adidas had to put on some kind of show to explain what they were about. The skateboarding section planned to put on a demo. Quim Cardonna and Matt Beach were due to fly in, too.
That afternoon Lance and I cruised through the city and ended up outside the museum shooting photos on a ledge. One of the museum attendants explained that we’d have to pay 400 dollars if we wanted to skate this spot. But he gave up hope when inspecting us more closely-probably deciding that we couldn’t muster up 400 bucks if our collective lives depended on it. God bless dodgy security guards, and God bless skateboarding.
Our Sunday was filled with promise. A trip to North Sydney had been sketched out, but the Hollyfield versus Lewis fight had left everyone at a standstill-at least all the hardcore street skaters who stayed up to watch it. Lance and I waited tentatively in our room, and when it looked like nothing was goingg to happen, we bolted for Monavale in the Northern Suburbs. While waiting for the car, I asked the porter how long he thought the drive to Mona would take us. “Depends how angry you are, mate.”
We arrived in Mona one angry hour later. Spinout and Adam Luxford were taking the place apart. A brand-new bowl lay by the vert ramp’s side. It rained, then dried up in a matter of minutes, and then a session went on in the bowl until darkness came. We spent the rest of the evening in Steve Sergeant’s pad, playing ping pong and watching Super-8 transfers of skateboarding days from long ago.
That Wednesday I drove to Woologong with Lance, Matt, Quim, and Clint Bond who’d come along for some much-needed local knowledge. We skated for a few hours in the burning sun. Quim and Matt seemed stoked to be in Australia for the first time. Quim’s loose style fitted perfectly into the surroundings, while Matt skated everything like it were his tenth time in the country. We headed down to the Ulladulla park, which is one of the newest and best parks in Australia. Right now it’s in stage one of development. Two corners of the square are missing, to be added to in next year’s budget-hats off to the genius who thought this concept up, an ideas man if there ever were one. Bond was ripping the place apart as were many of the locals, but he had to stop when he got run over on the flat.
That night we drove onto Canberra. On the way Quim made us stop to look into the sky. In the middle of nowhere and without a soul in any direction, we looked into the heavens. Every star seemed visible and so vivid you felt like jumping up to pluck one. The whole solar system and Milky Way spread over us like a photo from a telescope.
Late into the night, we ended up in town where the hotel receptionist haggled with himself to give us a better deal. It occurred to me that Quim and Matt seemed the complete opposite of each other. If it weren’t for skateboarding, they’d never be here on the other side of the world together-seeing new things and enjoying another culture. When you first step on a skateboard you could be in for a long journey.
Canberra is the capital of Australia. It’s also one of the strangest cities. The reason for this is simple: back in the 70s the Australian government couldn’t decide where to put its parliament. Melbourne and Sydney were the obvious choices, so some bright spark came up with a decision to place it in between the two. Architects from around the world were invited to submit plans for the city of the future. A parliament was built, in went the embassies, and the city constructed with expansion in mind. What they didn’t take into account was that Canberra would not expand. It’s a little bit of a ghost town. On the plus side for skateboarders, it’s full of good street spots and has good park funding.
Belconen was one of the best parks in Australia when it was built. It still has some good features, one of which is the bowl. Lance skated that afternoon with lines that could of been out of Animal Chin-really good to watch even if he did have a messed-up knee. Tuggerong is Canberra’s newest acquisition. Filled with giant hips and quarterpipes, this park is superbly landscaped and should be ’cause it cost half-million dollars to build.
We cruised back into town and hit up some of Canberra’s deserted street spots. It was rush hour. Matt and Quim hit up a bunch of spots without any problems to the public because no one was there. I let Lance drive back to Sydney on the wrong side of the road.
The following morning I drove to the airport with Lance. We said our goodbyes. Then Lance drove off on the right side of the road, while I headed up the coast to meet the Element team.