Words and Photos: Scalp
In November 2007, Onboard’s senior photographer Scalp and a team of hungry young metal-munchers embarked on a Red Bull-fuelled mission across Spain and Portugal in search rails and concrete to ride. This is Scalp’s blow-by-blow account of life as a drive-by rail-banger.
From time to time, you come up against unexpected experiences working as a snowboard photographer, but this one will definitely go down as one of the most surprising. It was the beginning of November and the first snowfalls began to blanket the mountains surrounding my house, the first sign that winter was on its way. I was on the Internet, checking the snow conditions for my next trip but for the first time I wasn’t looking at snow levels. Instead, I was more interested in the temperatures of certain big cities in Spain and Portugal, namely Bilbao, San Sebastian, Madrid, Avila and Lisbon. Why, you ask? Well, because to the joy of the ex-skate photographer in me, I had been asked by your favourite magazine to follow and document the sickest urban snow tour ever organised, also known as the Red Bull Drive-By.
On 8 November I landed at Bilbao airport and after a quick visit to the Guggenheim I hooked up with the crew of riders that was going to accompany me for the next fortnight for this third edition of the Red Bull Drive-By (after Austria two years ago and Eastern Europe last year). The crew included two Swedish rippers Hans Ahlund and Kareem El Rafie, two Canadians Max ‘Legend’ Legendre and Alex Cantin, and the Austrian Beni Wetscher. Completing the team, we had three cameramen Kristof, Buffy and Davide, Bernie our driver and head snow shoveller, Rob the boss of the tour, and finally Alvaro and Raul from Red Bull Spain. Gonzalo, the photographer from Solo Snowboard magazine, would also join the tour later in San Sebastian.
The wake-up call wasn’t easy but the sight of our transport, three huge black Mercedes 500 S class from 1980-85 (two V6 and one V8), seemed to motivate everyone and we rolled out to the outskirts of Bilbao in true luxury. The first spot, scouted out by Rob, was a 19-step handrail situated in a small park set in the middle of apartment blocks. No-one had thought to ask the council or locals for permission much to the bemusement of the neighbourhood watch. Alex and Max began to hit the rails to much applause with the first tricks thrown down including a Five-O from Alex, followed by frontside boardslides by both Alex and Max. But with the run-in made only from compacted ice, as there was no ice rink in Bilbao, the handrail was pretty sketchy and the crew preferred to quit their first session of the trip while they were still ahead, especially as Hans had already discovered a second spot for a night session. I was really impressed by this first session and the commitment that this kind of jibbing demands. I’ve shot a lot of rails in the past but in these circumstances, where you haven’t got a single patch of snow anywhere, it’s pretty trippy and takes a lot of balls!
After everyone had taken a shower to freshen up and checked out the first pics, we met outside the hotel because 50 metres away there was an underground pass that lead to a museum across the road. Hans’s idea was simple: to build a kicker in front of the handrail down to the underground pass so he could bust some nose or tailpresses followed by backside nollie 180s or tailpress frontside 180s out and landing on the stairs 3 metres below… Spots don’t come much more original that this one. Hans and Kareem went hell for leather until 11, without a single complaint from any of the neighbours.
A night out on the town meant we wouldn’t wake up until late the next day, before heading off to a new location that Kareem had spotted the previous evening. This was a huge concrete wall with a hand rail at the top of it. The idea was to build a kicker on the stairs at the top of the wall and then ollie over the rail and acid drop the wall landing as far down as possible. This time, there happened to be a police station right across the way, so sure enough, they soon showed up and asked us to call the council for permission. Surprisingly, two hours later we had been given the green light and began to shape the kicker in front of a group of kids on their way out of school. Night had fallen by the time everything was ready and the cops came to help us halt the traffic (how good is Spain!) coz the guys were going so fast they were sliding out across the road. The session was epic, everyone was super motivated boosting both regular and switch drops with different grabs, up until Hans slammed hard trying to land switch. After helping him get back on his feet, Max picked up his board and ended the day in style by hitting a frontside nosepress over the rail to the wall.
We arrived in San Sebastian the following afternoon, but the sun was still out. The crew headed to a handrail right in front of Rob’s old flat. It had 27 super steep steps, with the landing coming right out into a big avenue where we had to stop the cars. By the time we’d set up all our equipment, a local TV team had shown up to document the stunt. After two 50/50 attempts from Alex in the dark, the police showed up because the neighbours thought we were trying to start a riot but they soon realised we have nothing to do with ETA and they let us be. The handrail was super gnarly because the icy run-in was way too short. Only the two Canadians tried their luck. The outcome was as impressive as the last handrail, with sick frontside boardslides by Max and a boardslide revert by Alex. Rob couldn’t believe the pics when he sneaked a preview at my camera, seeing the photo he’d imagined so many times walking by this handrail.
The next day we woke to rain, but Alex Cantin still tried his hand at surfing. In the afternoon, a new challenge awaited us in the form of a concrete mini-ramp right by the sea. The small size of the ramp limited what the riders could throw down, but nevertheless we managed to come up with some cool-looking photos. That night, total mayhem broke out at the hotel… the usual! Luckily we were due to leave town the following day.
The sun came out again for our last day in the Basque Country, and a down-flat-down-flat-down handrail we’d scoped at the beach. The thing was monstrous and after hesitating, Max plucked up enough courage to pull off his first attempt but unfortunately his second was pretty disastrous, flying off the end of the first flat section onto his back. From that height and at that speed, the sand must have felt as hard as concrete. Although he was a little punch-drunk, we were relieved when Max finally got to his feet. That handrail was the only one of the trip that we gave up on. Next stop, Madrid.
Madrid turned out to be a city of huge rail potential. The first spot we hit up was a long, reasonably flat handrail outside the city’s main theatre. The guys threw down a whole array of impressive tricks: Kareem with a Five-O, Beni with frontside boardslides (before landing on his coccyx) and Alex stomped a perfect frontside boardslide backside 270 out. Wisely, Max decided to stay out of the session. In the evening, we ticked off another spot that Hans sighted: a 30- to 35-metre long double kink, up against a wall but with just enough space between the rail and the wall to fall between – really sketchy. Hans was amped to slide while everyone else was a little sceptical, especially after his second attempt when he fell between the rail and the wall, giving himself a real scare. His third attempt would be the money shot, completing the rail at high speed and coming out with a 180. Afterwards, we realised he’d done the whole thing switch, so actually ending with a halfcab!
The next day, we took on a cool ledge, but unfortunately not steep enough for anything other than 50/50s. Having said goodbye to Beni, who returned home to nurse a bruised coccyx, we welcomed in his place the cheery Polish Wojtek Pawlusiak and found a new handrail that was perfect. The weather was really cold, but for our Canadian and Polish riders used to temps of –25°, it was like being in Hawaii! Max decided he was good to ride again and managed to land two very sweet frontside boardslides considering the pain he was in. Wojtek followed suit and Alex went all out once again with a frontside blunt 270 out and an incredible switch frontside boardslide 270 out! The morning of our third day in Madrid, we returned to the ledge from the night before under a light drizzle to hit up another handrail next to it, considered too flat by the Canadian and Swedish riders. The hero of the day would be our latest recruit, the Basque Adan Baserba, who pulled off a perfect 50/50, despite the impossible riding conditions that would prevent Wojtek from stomping any of his tricks.
We hit the road again, this time heading for the fortified town of Avila, and after an excellent dinner and short night’s sleep, the crew hit up a long double kinked rail located in the old town, in the rain and once again with the invaluable help of the police. The rail wasn’t perfect but Kareem and Alan pulled off 50/50s, while Alex threw down a boardslide revert and then a nosepress… With the session barely over, everyone jumped in the cars to dry off and warm up for the last leg of our journey, a 650km dash to Lisbon.
The sun was back with the mercury now displaying a pleasant 17°. For the second to last day of our trip, the riders awoke early to scope out potential spots while the cameramen and myself headed off into town to take a look around. We agreed to meet at 4pm, at a ledge on the outskirts of town – a cool-looking spot that would set the stage for a feast of frontside boardslides by Wojtek and Kareem, and sick Five-Os by Alex, all lit up by a beautiful sunset. Only the concierge of the block of flats would cause a scene by calling the police, who showed up a few minutes later armed and ready for action. Alvaro had to take a trip down to the police station and pay a fine of €600 for vandalising the wall. After that, we spent the evening chilling out in the Barrio Alto, the old part of town.
With the final day upon us, we got permission from the town council for our final spot, heading to the site of the 1998 Expo where the riders had spotted 2 or 3 rails. The first was a solid 20 steps which no-one felt that confident about. Nevertheless, Wojtek somehow managed to kill it with a frontside boardslide, switch frontside boardslide and finally a mental switch frontside boardslide pop 180 to boardslide. Then we moved a few metres across to a C-rail that Hans has spotted. After four failed attempts, he stomped five successive frontside boardslides, each one increasingly styled out! After that, a big night out on the town was the only way to end what had been an ace road trip.
I’d like to thank Red Bull and the other sponsors of the tour, Ride and Mercedes, for putting the whole thing together, as well as the riders for risking so much in so little time. For those of you who read the feature ‘King of the Road 2007’ in Thrasher magazine, which dissed urban snowboarders pretty hard, I’d like to invite the editors of that skate mag to come take a closer look next year. You might change your mind!