Back in December of ’99, during Skin Phillips’ four-month visit to Australia, the idea was born for an all-Australian tour of Europe to coincide with the summer competition season in June. Because the idea was conceived sitting at the bar of an Australian pub, I’d forgotten about it almost immediately, as most ideas constructed in this fashion very rarely come to fruition. However, to my surprise, Skin called two months later with confirmation that Chad Bartie, Matt Mumford, Brett Margaritis, and Morgan Campbell, along with he and I, were going to Europe. Within the following month Dustin Dollin, Aron Rowe, and comic relief Jean Newton were confirmed.With everything underway, Matt requested the inclusion of one final member—American videographer Ricky Bedenbaugh, who Mumford cleverly invited under the guise of “tour filmer,” when it was obvious to the rest of us that, as the only American on the trip, he would bear the brunt of our collective mental abuse. Ricky will forever more be known as The Dude.The scene was set: a unique collection of individuals as diverse in their skateboard talents as in their personalities had been thrown together for three weeks to tour Europe in search of skateboarding adventure.
Our much-anticipated first day of the tour was spent killing time at Heathrow Airport, waiting for everybody’s various flights to arrive. After several hours of coffee drinking, farting, and joking about the warehouse-worth of skate product Bartie had brought, everyone was keen to get a roll on, so we decided to stop by the legendary Harrow Skatepark (home of early-90s English vert ruler Steve Douglas).It wasn’t until that night when we began unloading the van at our hotel that we realized a back window had been popped out and several items stolen while we were skating Harrow. Along with various backpacks and boxes of skateboard product, Skin lost most of his film and all of his CDs, and Dustin lost his full kit, including his tickets, money, passport, and U.S. visa documents. (All of this on his birthday!)After a day of navigating the London Tube between Southbank, PlayStation, and the new Meanwhile Skatepark, we agreed we’d seen enough. London just wasn’t cutting it for us, so Skin suggested a drive west to Bristol. Despite being only a couple hours from London, Bristol felt like a different country. The streets were cleaner, the people generally more relaxed, and the spots definitely more skateable. Bristol felt like an English version of Melbourne, Australia.
Our first real stint of travel was north to Scotland. Skin decided that seeing as we were heading north, we may as well spend the night in his hometown of Swansea, Wales. Swansea is the sort of place where you don’t get lippy with the locals—reason being that they are generally large men who drink large amounts of ale, have largely inflated tempers, and bear an eagerness to take large swings that could potentially knock your block off. It was now clear where Skin was really from.Because it was “Funk Night” at the bar we were at, things were pretty mellow. Although by the end of the evening, as we all hung about outside the closing bar, it became apparent that certain hefty Swansea lads were beginning to wonder who the hell we were, and what the hell we were doing eyeing their tarts. Sensing the tension building, we were out.
The drive to Scotland—through its rolling highland countryside painted a thousand shades of green, speckled with cows and sheep—was the perfect remedy for the hangovers we were nursing. Arriving at Livingston, we all took an immediate liking to Scotland and its people. Apart from the fact that anything said in a Scottish accent sounds cool, the Scots have a knack for being down-to-Earth and totally hospitable. Livingston Skatepark was one of, if not the, highlight of our entire journey. The park is old, rough, and amazing. Upon arrival, I immediately recognized it from old Powell videos featuring the original Bones Brigade. Within ten minutes of being there, it was obvious that one local in particular had this place wired. His name is Stewart Graham, and he’s the embodiment of the Scottish persona on a skateboard: not giving a f—k, and just going for it, like a modern-day William Wallace on wheels!We were having an epic time when the second bad omen of the trip struck. Chad had already made at least one huge bowl-to-bowl transfer, but decided to try it again for The Dude to film. In an attempt to stay off his recently broken toe, Chad bailed diving wrist first into the bowl … clean break. Bartie handled it like a trooper and was totally chill, despite the fact his wrist bone was visibly pressing outward against the skin. With some much-appreciated assistance from local-ruler and medical-student Andy Rae, Chad was admitted into Livingston Hospital for two days of morphine highness before emerging with a cast, ready to carve the next spot.With direction from Colin Kennedy, John Rattray, and their crew, we skated the streets of Scotland’s capital, Edinburgh. Our day was as much spent looking for spots as it was admiring this incredible old city, set against the backdrop of those typical Scottish hillsides, and featuring the famous Edinburgh Castle at its heart.On our final day in Scotland, a couple of us decided on one last grind in Livi’s keyhole before driving the hour north to Scotland’s other major city, Glasgow. Glasgow is renowned for its cutting-edge contemporary architecture, and as we drove around, it became obvious this feature had in turn produced a lot of highly skateable terrain. Glasgow is pretty much Rattray’s city, and he assured us that we were only seeing a portion of what it had to offer. As we drove back to England, I couldn’t help but feel ripped off not getting to spend more time in Scotland. Big thanks to Colin Kennedy, John Rattray, Andy Rae, Stuart Graham, Ben Leyden, and the rest of the Livi Crew.
On the morning of our departure for France, we had to leave Dustin in London with handwritten instructions for getting to Paris, as this was the second time on the trip he was passportless—this time he’d left his backpack in a restaurant in Glasgow. Our ferry for France was prebooked, so we couldn’t wait while Rattray traveled to London with Dustin’s belongings.We were all fairly amped about crossing the English Channel from Dover to Calais by hovercraft. It always seems like the real adventure begins upon entering a foreign-speaking country. Not being able to understand menus and street signs can cause you a world of suffering or be the source of uncharted adventure. For me, the idea of accidentally eating frog’s bollock stew in the seedy end of town seemed like fun, so despite the geriatric ferry operators who looked as though they might not have remembered to seal shut the car-ramp door, I was excited about France.In Paris, we stayed in the area called La Defence, which hosts some of the best street spots in Europe. Our days here were pretty standard, as far as skating around looking for spots go. Chad, The Dude, and I did manage a brief visit downtown to see Notre Dame, which we all agreed is one of most amazing architectural structures in the world.After a couple of days in Paris, you begin to really notice certain Parisian stereotypes. Things like the idea of Paris being the style capital of the world became apparent from the sidewalks teeming with smartly dressed yuppies who seem to strut along as though parading a catwalk, down to its homeless bums, who seem to wear their street grime evenly over expressions of Parisian pride and confidence.Then there’s the stereotype of Parisians as horrendous drivers, which becomes a little too real as you attempt to negotiate eight lanes of traffic merging on a roundabout with no marked lines or traffic lights, while some crazed beret-clad maniac pops a wheelie on his Vespa through all eight lanes screaming, “Viva La France!” still drunk from the French victory in Euro 2000 soccer three days prior.People always seem ready t
o warn you against visiting Paris for various reasons, and although it’s true that most of our entourage vowed never to return, I can’t help but like the place.Lausanne
Lausanne, Switzerland is one of the most classically European towns imaginable. An impeccably clean city; its outskirts scattered with chalets, Lausanne is nestled against Lake Geneva and surrounded by the majestic Swiss Alps. Switzerland is most famous for army knives, watches, and more recently, the Grand Prix skateboard competition, which was our reason for being there.Practice day of the comp found most of us feeling less than competitive, so we decided on a twelve-hour pub crawl instead. Our Swiss pub expedition ended in a bar ironically called The Captain Cook (he’s the guy who “discovered” Australia), where Jean felt obliged to entertain the masses by standing on top of our table with his pants at his ankles, whirling the “Hanus Une,” and concluding with a maneuver commonly recognized in Oz as “The Fruit Bowl.”The evening had been a success, with the only consequence being Skin having to explain away complaints of a very drunk, half naked, tattooed Australian urinating in the hallway of the fourth floor at 5:00 a.m. The only other hiccup was Mumford feeling vexed that the hotel staff wouldn’t allow him to eat breakfast in the restaurant without a shirt on.The Lausanne comp came and went over the next two days, but most of us were too hung over to notice. It was once again time to cram the van for the mega-drive to Marseille in the South of France.
I, for one, had conjured a preconceived fantasy of sun, surf, and skating in perfect conditions for the next three days at the legendary Marseille bowl. However, thanks to a 40-kilometer onshore gale known locally as “le mistral,” our plan was revised to late-afternoon and evening skates only, when the winds dropped a little. Still, one can’t complain. So much has been said in favor of Marseille, and having now skated the place, I can safely say that nothing has been exaggerated. It really is the ideal setup—a perfectly constructed concrete bowl (with too many lines to discover in three days) situated by the beach against a view of sandy-white Mediterranean cliff faces with a handful of kindly locals ready to skate all day, every day.There were a bunch of touring skaters spending the few days between the Lausanne and upcoming Dortmund (Germany) comps, just relaxing and skating in Marseille: Max Schaaf, Ryan Wilburn, Rune Glifberg, Lance Mountain, and Bob Burnquist, among others.In chatting with one of the Marseille locals on the bowl’s platform, I was intrigued when he said in his best broken English, “Don’t lost time.” He said it with such sincerity and conviction that I was curious to know exactly what he meant. After a further minute of detached communication, he followed up with, “Life is short. At Marseille we skate.” After a couple more seven-man, figure-eight train lines through the bowl, laughing as the sun set burnt pink over the ocean, it was clear—life was short, and these were the moments that counted. Shit … I think I just found Chin.
Our final destination—the Dortmund comp in Germany—was fast approaching, and our crew was still keen to hit up at least one last city for street skating. Stuttgart, a couple hours south of Dortmund, was the city of choice. Aside from being the home of Mercedes Benz, which becomes apparent as every second car screaming past you on the Autobahn is a Merc, Stuttgart is equipped with a unique skatepark situated beneath a freeway overpass and is scattered with a generous quantity of street spots.Apart from frequent rain showers and Jean having a severe stomach bug that caused him to deposit samples of vomit at each skate spot, things seemed to be going okay. In fact, they were going just fine, so I decided to do something about it. Basically, I made out as though I was going to frontside boardslide a ten-stair rail, when in fact my plan was to simply hurl myself backward down the stairs, hence dislocating my middle finger with the bone cutting through the skin from the inside out for dramatic appeal. With this accomplished, I got to spend the rest of the afternoon lying face down on a Stuttgart hospital bed, while German doctors jabbed tetanus needles in both arse cheeks and relocated my knuckle without the use of any painkillers.Most of our Aussie contingent flew out of Frankfurt the following day, avoiding the Dortmund comp altogether. As for me, I wandered around the comp stadium, struggling with basic tasks like zipping up my trousers or carrying more than one beer, due to an unnecessarily oversized finger splint that started at my elbow. As I spoke with people that day, I noticed how impressed everyone was with the German sense of efficiency and productivity. I also noticed (and this perplexed me) that no one seemed bothered by the harshness of the German language and manner. As for me, and maybe it had to do with the finger incident, but spending time in Germany felt like waiting in a bronchial ward with patients coughing in my ear. Thanks, but I’ll take Scotland or the South of France any day.