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Kickflip Conviction: Skateboarding in Estonia

Aleksandr Tubin, a rulasõitja (“skateboarder”) from Estonia, feels a kind of flame burning inside him perpetually. He attributes this sensation to fire being his birth element. “I have a feeling inside of me that when I'm skating, nothing bothers me. I am free. My flame doesn't go out, even when I'm sleeping.”

Still from the Simple Session 21 teaser trailer

It's possible that one's surroundings can give you this feeling, too. Tubin says, “Everything depends on the environment you live in. I was born in Estonia. Estonia has a very rich, rough environment. It's awesome. Natural selection does its job pretty well.” Speaking of natural selection, it would appear that skateboarders possess special characteristics that help them to traverse steel, concrete, and huge ramps. Who else can do what they do?

Through a fisheye lens and with the crunchy guitar of Dark Star's “Kaptain America” rumbling underneath, he leaps and grinds his way through Tartu. In this skate video for the now defunct magazine Transworld Skateboarding, he flies through the outdoor terraces of a shopping mall and abandoned industrial areas. The snare drum pummels like a heartbeat as this focused skateboarder hits surfaces that are never usually hit. And then the surfaces vanish back into obscurity. It's an inversion of the usual pedestrian world.

At the end, Tubin slides past a staircase of 15 steps, pitched forward on a railing. Arms spread wide, he maintains balance and comes down to make the landing. Back on the ground, he kickflips across a curb and up to an old wooden house. You can hear the wheels squeaking as he comes to a stop. It's the cutoff of a fleeting moment of adrenaline.

Some would call street skateboarding a youthful test against established rules and even gravity itself. In some minds, it's irresponsible — a one way ticket to the emergency room. It all happens so quickly, and from an outside point-of-view, impulsively.

But then, some thinkers see its value and are trying to make it more appealing for skaters to ride in urban areas. Landscape architect Terje Ong has worked to refresh spaces in Tartu's Annelinn neighbourhood, where people can skateboard outside of a skate park. Pedestrians walk through and sit to watch these athletes in action. Soon, the “impulsive” label doesn't make as much sense, considering how much rigorous training goes into skateboarding skilfully. In those spaces, skaters hone their instincts to move through challenging artificial obstacles.

Much like public parks encourage social cohesion in a city, skateboarding builds communities. In Estonia, the competitive events of Simple Session have gathered together skateboarders and BMX bikers year after year. Since 2007, courses have been designed by Nate Wessel, a legend who has also built ramps for the X Games. At Simple Session, there's a mixture of street skating and vert skating (on ramps). The 20th edition of Simple Session was held at Saku Suurhall in February 2020, bringing people to Tallinn to watch around 160 top riders. There were also live concerts, parties, and food. It drew large crowds and international competitors to Estonia, and gave outside visibility to Estonia, as the event was filmed and broadcast on Red Bull TV.

Simple Session also hosted the “Go Skateboarding Day” in June 2019, where young people over a large age range showed up and had a good time at Metsakooli Skateplaza in Tallinn. This skate park was built by the skaters in an unused lot next to a stadium. With relative ease, they were granted permission to build ramps, rails, blocks, and more.

Skateboarding is an industry. Look at the companies vying for attention through sponsorship and you'll find that skaters make money by showing off their decks, trucks, wheels, bearings, grip tape, shoes, helmets, and t-shirts. Aleksandr Tubin himself has been sponsored by Vans Estonia. And the customers of these companies are those who are in search of the freedom and fiery feeling of skating.

Skateboarding is a demanding sport that gives meaning to otherwise blank, sensory-deprived places. A simple skate park can be the difference between getting swallowed up by a boring concrete sprawl or having a purpose and something to do.

This article was written by Vincent Teetsov as part of the Local Journalism Initiative.

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