Words: Morgan Campbell
Photos: Casey Foley and Daniel Luxford
Not so long ago and believe it or not, the Olympics had a very positive influence over skateboarding. As the rings performed relocations around the planet they left skate cities in their wake. Seoul, Sydney, Athens, London, Atlanta and Barcelona are just a few of the Olympic cities that have received somewhat of a skate rebirth due to hosting the games. It was 1992 when the Catalan capital of Barcelona was given an architectural injection catalysed by the Olympics. This was during an era when the region was still recovering from the depths of the Franco dictatorship. Certified Catalan skate legend Marco Gomez commented on the time several years back for the Australian publication The Skateboarder’s Journal: “Around ’92, with the Olympics, the city developed and changed its architecture for good. Spots appeared here and there and we started to skate around the city much more, rediscovering every part that had been changed”. Before too long, tales of the additions were heard worldwide and Barcelona began a meteoric rise in reputation. By the early 2000s, it had a reputation of being the best skate city on the planet. Of course this led to a proliferation of visitors and footage in almost every video of the era. We were all wondering whether it would be blown out forever and whether the spots would survive the onslaught. Thankfully (for Barcelona locals especially) for a brief period there were heavy crackdowns on skating, the GFC choked the frequency of skate tours, and lands like China offered alternate ledge and bank-dotted cities to visit.
Late last summer a posse of us made contact in BCN. The lineup included Phil Santosuosso, Casey Foley , Taylor Nawrocki, Mike Arnold and myself. Josh Roberts was flown in to capture everything on his VX and our good friend and photographer Daniel Luxford was to join us a few days later. Most of us managed to meet up in the baggage lounge, all arriving within a few hours of each other. I’ll never forget the sight I saw off in the distance, peaking across the top of the baggage conveyor belts. It was Casey and Philly with some rambunctious ball skylarking involving some kind of kick-to-kick antics. In any other airport, this would be quickly quashed and shut down. But Barcelona has a much more casual approach to things than your average city and its infrastructure. Eventually we headed on in to what can be aptly described as a skate utopia.
Our apartment was in the neighborhood known as Gracia. Most of us had previously stayed in the more “touristy” areas such as El Raval and Barri Gotic, but thankfully on this trip our good friend Alberto Polo recommended us to stay up the hill a little bit away from the epicenter of stag weekends and messy nights. There has been a huge backlash against the airbnb generation in Barcelona. The price of local accommodation has escalated hugely over recent years, pushing the locals out of the heart and into the burbs. Due to this it’s safe to say that in certain sectors tourists aren't exactly welcomed with open arms. Gracia was a little different, less tourists = less tension. Gracia was about four kilometers up above La Barceloneta Beaches, and was treating itself to a week of street festivals whilst we were present. For the better part of two weeks we would hit the streets around midday and return bedraggled, and pooled in sweat over twelve hours later. We had no guide so to speak. This however can be a good way to roll, as you’re not taken to ‘spots,’ instead you stumble across your own including the odd overlooked gem. Every corner seems to reveal an original, ground-breaking and mind-boggling arrangement of brick and concrete. As you will see in the clip, the city had something to suit everyone’s styles.
One day, whilst at La Barceloneta, we found ourselves in the midst of a criss-cross of sirens and mayhem. The local authorities were rapidly reacting to what is now the infamous van attack on Las Ramblas. Somehow, someone was cruel enough to take a speeding van into the crowded thoroughfare, killing thirteen and injuring over 130 people. The city was soon on lockdown. Choppers cut through the balmy Mediterranean skies above us. The flashes of police lights punctuating the steady seaside light. Before long Alberto called us to explain the enormity of the situation and we headed away from the center of the city. We ran into Parisian legend Luypa Sin who was returning from a swim, he guided us up to Hotel W, home of the white sluggy benches on the sea. The place was almost completely deserted. A couple soon came up to us and declared that one of the perpetrators of the incident was on his way up to where we were chilling--with a bomb! After a quick team meeting we decided to wait it out. I can’t help but get goosebumps when I see any footage from that day. All of a sudden our seemingly important hunt for spots, singles and lines had been spiralled into insignificance by this tragedy, leaving a hollow in our hearts.
The days that followed were downright eerie. It was like the city was sent into an induced coma. One from which it would slowly rise. The Festa Major de Gracia was cancelled for three or four days and the city was clearly in a state of mourning. Admittedly we continued our hunt for rare architectural species and continued to stack footage. On one of our last nights in the city, Luxford and I attended the final night of the street festival. After the navigation of many a balloon and streamer-filled alley, we found ourselves on the main dance floor alongside hundreds defiantly singing the Catalan anthem. I couldn’t help but cry. I knew right there and then that it was going to take a lot more than a fascist dictator, a plague of raucous tourists or a wayward van to budge these people. The Catalan are some of the strongest you will ever find, their spirit will fly eternally above any repression.