Barcelona 2011 - Part 1

It’s a chilly 12°C outside. If I look over my shoulder, rain drops are racing down my window pane and a bitter wind shakes the trees in my dull, dreary English garden. The heating’s on now, and I’m wearing my warmest jumper as I sit here writing about a time just over a week ago, when I spent seven sun-drenched days skating around one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

Barcelona is a city familiar to all skateboarders. Whether you’ve had the pleasure of visiting it yourself, completed the level on THUG2, or watched in awe at the countless spots in countless videos since the mid-nineties, Barcelona will be firmly locked into your consciousness like a well held tailslide on your favourite block.

Of the group – myself, Dave Watson, George Gough, Jamie Walker, Matt McDowell, Wil Thomson and Zach Clapham – I was one of the few who hadn’t visited the Catalan city before, and those who had were eager to return. When a holiday was proposed, following summer’s decision not to visit Britain this year, a mid-September excursion to Barcelona was the obvious choice. Within minutes flights and hostels were booked, and before we knew it the day came when we hurriedly packed our bags and hopped on an orange and white tin can to a country that hasn’t forgotten the season between spring and autumn.

After ten hours cramped up on the road, in the air, then on the Metro, we arrived at our hostel at the stroke of midnight. Tired and weary, we checked in and immediately grabbed our boards, shunning a good night’s rest in favour of hitting the streets. We cruised down Las Ramblas, weaving through crowds of obese Americans, street vendors and pickpockets, who are now as much a part of the fabric of Barcelona as la Sagrada Família or Lionel Messi. Re-energised by the warm evening and the anticipation of the week ahead, we ventured down to the harbour past countless ledges and banks that line the endless smooth paving, eventually ending up at a healthy looking eight-set. Dave, Matt and George put their tired legs aside to fly down the stairs and before long a patch of sweat had appeared on the landing as we experienced just how hot Barcelona can be in September – even at 2am.

Heading back to catch a few hours’ sleep before our first full day in the city, we stopped at a small two-block where we encountered the first of many men who would become our best friends and worst enemies of the trip. Armed with ice cold cans of Estrella – which had been stored in various drains and electrical boxes throughout the city – they drove a hard bargain, but Dave’s haggling skills meant we never went thirsty. A cool, relaxing beer on the harbour was the perfect way to wind down after a long day, until Zach underestimated the stiffness of his legs and suffered a premature snapped board.

Our first full day began some time in the early afternoon. Alarms were ignored, but perhaps for the best as we managed to avoid both the midday heat and the hostel’s rancid breakfast. A plan was formulated to hit a different Metro line each day, making as many stops as possible to hunt spots with a little help from an incredibly comprehensive online guide George had found before the trip. Today was the Blue line, first stop – Canyelles. Before long the cameras came out and the first tranche of footage was shot in the form of lines and ledges. A highlight of today was George’s first attempt bank-to-higher-bank kickflip à la Chico Brenes (DVS – Skate More).

Each skate took us well into the early hours, and the nights stayed so warm that by the time we realised it was time to eat, the only places that were still open were those that sold a delicacy I first discovered in Berlin – the Schwarma. These glorified kebabs, along with the odd baguette and a few slices of cold meat, kept us going throughout the whole trip – who says you can’t eat well on a budget?

Of course, there had to be one day of rain, and to be honest it brought a much needed break after only two days. When it did decide to pour we took off on foot to the site of the 1992 Olympics. For me, the unused stadiums, empty roads, and an eerie quietness around the gift shops that still sell Barcelona ’92 memorabilia seemed to foretell the future of England’s own Olympic village. But whereas the impressive stone structures of ’92 have withstood the test of time – both aesthetically and structurally – something tells me the flimsy prefab panels in Stratford won’t.

The following day, after searching for the ‘Beer Banks’ for what seemed like a lifetime, Wil pulled out his exceptional navigational skills and led us straight to the secluded spot. More lines were shot and a good look was taken at the mind-boggling kicker-to-wall that Torey Pudwill backside tailslides in his ‘Big Bang’ section.

The day wore on and although we’d collected a lot of footage we were yet to really test anyone’s nerve. This soon changed on a visit to a steep brick bank that received a 5-0 and a noseblunt slide from Wil and Dave respectively. Heading back to the station, we stopped at a colossal bank with a main-road run-out and a sizeable plant pot at the top. I can’t remember who said it, but ‘Let’s go, no one can actually do anything on this’ was the claim, until Matt stepped up and laid down one of the biggest hammers of the trip.

As a place that’s seen so much exposure in recent years, and was completely blown out in the mid 2000s, it’s easy to assume there’s not a great deal that hasn’t already been done in Barcelona. The place has been repeatedly destroyed by teams from the US and the rest of the world, and I’m hard-pressed to think of a pro who hasn’t shot footage in the city. In the same way as I’m thinking now ‘what can I say that hasn’t been said about Barcelona’, the bigger question should be ‘what can you do that hasn’t been done in Barcelona’. But it isn’t. Because in Barcelona, for every spot that’s had everything imaginable done on it, another two are being built around the corner.

An example of this came when we visited FTC, and the guy behind the counter was more than happy to share with us a few local secrets. The first, a newly developed square, contained banks benches and a set of three near-perfect handrails as demonstrated by George below. The second of these we found by chance – stairs and hubbas of varying sizes, and at the bottom, a 4-block that dwarfs any I’ve ever seen before. Jeering, taunting and a barrage of heckling were what it took for George to pluck up the courage to hurl himself from the top. The video footage will show you what happened next.

By now we’d reached the final evening and following a civilised visit to the home-comforts of Pizza Express, we headed back out to the streets to hit a couple of spots that Walkies had had his eye on since the second day. The first turned out to be a no-go, with at least six angry Spaniards shouting down for us to leave from the flats above. The second, however, was met with more success, and as George caught 40 winks on a nearby bench, Jamie rode an awkward bank out to backside 50-50 on a haggard piece of Barcelona Granite.

The final day came around far too quickly for all involved, and as we would have to leave for our flight in the mid afternoon, it made sense to spend our final day lying on the beach, resting our aching bones before the long journey home. After everything that went down over the past seven days, an ice cold Estrella beneath the blazing Mediterranean sun was the perfect way to end our adventure in Catalonia.