Disclaimer: This is a multimedia reportage covering the travels and adventures that surrounded the 'Athens Bladehouse'
event in 2018. Beyond text and pictures, it also features videos. To see the whole playlist, click here (spoiler!).
This reportage was originally created to be published in an independent media outlet. It is not an advertisement, but a personal report of someone who had a great summer in Greece.
List of Photographers: Avi Barouh, Hadrien Bastouil, David Grant, Nikos Karatzounis, Maria Koutroubi, Gabrielle
Minev, Jonas Rogge, Jo Zenk, Single-Use-Cameras (SUC)
List of Videographers: David Grant, Nikos Kouros, Martin Krejčíř, Gabrielle Minev, Rusen Minchev, Aleš Špidla
Text: Jonas Rogge
What culminates in the annual Bladehouse event by the Syeahskate crew goes way back. Nikos Kouros, an Athenian filmmaker, has built up, over years, a hub for the Athens blading scene in the house that he lives in. After coming back from studying and working in London, he found his hometown scene in a state of lethargy. There were still people skating, but no regular sessions, social gatherings or sense of community. Through the years Kouros has always been the guy writing the text messages to get everyone in one session. He was missed. “I see that everywhere. People always need that one person that takes matters in his own hands.” What happens to a scene if this person is missing? “They get distracted by daily life. They need to be reminded of the important things in life.” Like what? “Like skating.”
Luckily the Athenian bladers were responsive to his wake-up call. The lot of friends became an active crew again. And the Bladehouse became a headquarter. It is not only the place for a rooftop session but also the place to hang out together after the session or skate the miniramp if it’s raining. It’s a place of encounter.
Now some years later, the gravity of this place has reached out. It is hosting gatherings that go way beyond the borders of Athens. In 2016 the Cayenne Project crew united in Kouros' house to produce an outstanding blade film. 'Delfon Dio', it is the address of the Blade House.
I want to set a monument. For the guy who created the most complete and intense event that I know in rollerblading. And for the unity that is created by this event and its surrounding adventures. Imagine 30+ people from all over Europe, with different backgrounds in profession, age and lifestyle going on a trip together. Whilst the idea of a shared European culture is taking huge backward steps on the big stage, it is alive and growing in the community founded over the course of these two intense weeks in the south of Greece.
This is the story of a reminder. One damn effective reminder.
It goes way back, because we start on a Thursday, 9 days before the actual Blade House event, this is not just a contest coverage.
I arrive at ‘Delfon Dio’ after a 10h car ride from Sofia, Bulgaria. We are late for the railbox session that has gone down already. It is a big reunion, many of us have met before, even during this year at blading events, be it in Amsterdam at the Shred Da Ground or the Abriss in Berlin. The sofas are missing in the living room, they have already been transformed into sleeping spots downstairs. The empty space foreshadows the madness that this space will house in just 9 days.
Friday morning - As people are still having breakfast, the first car is made fit to leave for the beach trip. Pipi, a local skateboarder and the carpenter behind the Blade House mini ram, is forming the vanguard of this excursion, going to the island of Evia early to find a good spot and set up camp. He shall forever be remembered as the master of trunk-tetris. His girlfriend Vivi, Soeren and myself join him on his mission to Evia island, just a 2h car ride north-east from Athens.
The first beach we arrive to is full of people and really windy. Wild camping is obviously not so wild here, everybody is doing it. After brief communication with the headquarters we decide to take a chance for a better suited place and drive to beach #2. This one is wider and has some nice shady spots, which are unfortunately taken. Still we start to build camp in the very end of the beach, next to the rocks where wind and bright sunshine unite. While we struggle to construct the first tent, we see a caravan leaving on the other end of the beach. What it leaves behind is a big space beneath the trees. They afford us shade and hold to the hammocks some people brought along as a sleeping spot. I have never asked you guys: Wasn’t the resine dripping on you all night from the trees? However, we take over the space, the rest of the crew starts dropping in and an hour later we had built a solid base.
I don’t want a spoiler here, but arriving I was asking myself what I will do in this solitary place for the next three days and when we were about to leave, I felt like we just got comfortable with the calmness of the beach life. On the third day a trip to the port town already seems like too much of a distraction.
Starting our journey like this works great in two ways. First, it is a much needed time to soak up energy for the upcoming skating and partying that will work to squeeze it out of you. Secondly, you can disenchant from your daily routine. It creates the right setting to get involved with all the new faces surrounding you. After all, there are already 25 boys and girls from 5 different countries. But they have something in common. They share the passion for an activity, that is a very playful one and is not considered to be taken serious by most of society. Rollerblading is something that kids do. These circumstances contain great potential for the quality of meeting each other, there is this childish level of encounter. So even though many are 25+ years old and have only known each other for 24h, they will already be stacked on top of each other on an air mattress to create the world’s largest floating human pile.
The next days are spent in a pleasant laziness, interrupted only by spontaneous downhill sessions or cruises on the rubber boat, that Pipi brought along with a little outboard motor and a surfboard to skitch on. They were well prepared - Nikos Kouros aka the Thomas Cook of rollerblading.
Embarking - Mina Koleva
Monday - Pipi is packing up the car like a boss again. I am asking him about his relation to the scene and he confesses. He is jealous of the small but tight community that he is experiencing. Pipi is playing in a punk band. A guy with a solid belly that is into all outdoor activities, someone who is good at fishing with a lance. The tattoos spread over his body speak of a more punk, DIY approach to skateboarding that he is missing in today’s scene. In Athens many kids would be more into their online representation than into a skate event happening in their city. There are so many that they don't feel the urge to support each other. He can’t identify with much of it anymore. “The less people, the better” he says. Is it though? And what about the pants?
Monday still - We are on our way back to Athens, facing heavy rain which we barely escaped from. Our campsite would probably be ruined by now. The Syeah crowd has expanded so much that not everyone is staying at the Blade House. We agree to meet up for a night session at OAKA. In the words of Martin Schiffer: “Let’s do what we actually came for.”
OAKA is what we call the skatepark built on the main olympic complex in northern Athens. In theory it is illuminated all night. Unfortunately some of the lights are broken now. So it can’t be enjoyed in its entirety after the sun has set. Talking about the olympics and infrastructure: Two weeks later we will skate an old kayak parcour at the Elliniko Olympic Complex. The whole place is being taken back by nature again, as many of the facilities built for the Athens Games in 2004. The situation around the skatepark is not that drastic, the big stadium and swimming pool is still being used for sports events. Still none of the local skaters expects those lights to be fixed soon. Comparing it to my home town, I’m happy that OAKA has some light at least. The feeling of taking off your sweaty shirt at 2 AM after a session and there is not the slightest feeling of cold, priceless. To enjoy blading in the Athenian summer you’ll have to adjust your rhythm a little. Yes, it’s too hot to skate in the middle of the day, but beyond OAKA you’ll find an abundance of well illuminated spots in the streets for extensive night sessions. The city, it’s pretty lit.
Today the session doesn’t grow too old though, as it is interrupted by the rain. I am not disappointed as I have sensed a spice of danger in the skating. Maybe it will need just another night to adapt from the beach life to the metropolis.
Tuesday - 4 days before the event, waking up to a house that is already packed with bladers. It seems there is a tendency in blading events to extend from being a one-day thing to a multi-day experience. Kouros has been doing it like that for three years now, Winterclash is building up a big side program and, writing this, I just came back from the Sofia Blading Olympics that offered 4 days of street-, park sessions and hangouts. As much as it makes this blading thing strain your schedule even more, it also intensifies the social aspect of the events. You spend more time together than just one day in a park and maybe a drunk night in a club. You meet the same people a few days in a row and you build up actual relationships with people from all over the world. In the case of the Blade House you even share a private space with those strangers for a week or more. A small cosmos evolves, a community that can be revived everywhere, as long as someone creates the occasion.
For tonight, Nick has planned an evening railbox session on the roof. Some people, I’m talking explicitly to the Bulgarians and the Czeches here, still have to get used to the idea that nothing happens before 6pm. They go for a mid-day street session in the surroundings of the Blade House.
Staying in the house must not be a bad thing, Nick’s house is basically a playground. It is a very open space, that lets everyone go at their own pace. While waiting for more people you can grab the balance board, a yoga mat, stretch or work out on the boulder board. Also there is no problem to find a quiet spot, maybe hide under the ping-pong table in the garden.
Because it is raining again, we start this evening’s session in the mini ramp. It is an unrefined jewel. You barely see anyone skating it, no matter the level of skill, without looking a bit chaotic. It is just too low and tight to apply your standard mini ramp skills. While some of us are bathing in sweat downstairs already, Kouros leads a squad of ambitious people to swipe the roof dry. The session has to happen and it does. I sit down on the benches next to the box and it is raining tricks. The level of grinderblading is super high and sets expectations for saturday’s showdown.
Just after the session we go out for a Souvlaki, a highly unusual ordeal for the locals, you order it to your home at any time. The rain starts heavy again. It seems like it is all coming down to save the plans for the upcoming days from falling in the water.
Wednesday - We’ll go for a downhill street cruise tonight.
A big part of us staying at the Blade House is too energetic to wait until 6pm today. We’re going downtown in the middle of the day. Some are scouting for this All-1€-clothing-shop, others do the obligatory sightseeing. If you just do this excursion in Athens summer every now and then, you remember why you’re staying indoors a lot of the other days. In comparison to the house central Athens is a busy, hectic place. But most of all, the sun in August is paralysing. If you, for example, stay in the narrow thus shady streets of Psiri, you can a have nice afternoon though. We keep the trip short today, as we are hungry for the street session and also for a little hangout before that.
Meetup is at the top of the hill next to Kifisia station. It is not readily a spot, but if there is 10+ people with rollerblades, there will be a session anywhere. So we shred the rounded set of marble stairs and wait for people to arrive.
As we are complete, we move to the first spot, just across the street, found by some explorative members of the crew. It is a rather small double set with some ledges beneath. As it grows dark and some spot lights turn on, what ensues already feels like a street contest. At least I have been to street comps with a comparable amount of bladers in recent years. Gilles and Martin follow this vibe and commit to jumping the whole thing. Spirits are high, another crew arrives from Bulgaria and we shall go on for the night cruise. It is a big and busy road going down the hill, but the size of the group spends confidence. 20+ bladers are hard to overlook.
Arriving at the next spot, a brightly illuminated school yard, parallel sessions develop. I find it remarkable that not one out of ~25 questions the act of climbing the fence to get to the spot. It is a part of our culture. Inside some skate the down ledges, some find a gap in the back and others just dissemble a plastic trash can on the basketball court. Actually, nobody jumps the 2.5m gap from the kiosk-style-house next to the ledges. Kouros told me that as kids they used to gap it at very low speed on the regular. Skating has changed, man.
I, as I have never been part of this era of hammer skating, enjoy to roll around on different kinds of surfaces. Athens offers a lot of slightly different types of marble floor and they all have another feel to them, and slide. I think everyone enjoys skating downhill further on. We are now leaving the big road and in the small streets the presence of this big group of bladers is even more striking. What also strikes me, is the commitment of some crew members on the next spot. We find this low to high ledge which is perfect, except there is no light and bushes have grown over it at its end. That does not stop them though, many tricks go down even before the spotlights arrive, from the cars that were following us. Kouros was prepared for this, obviously.
Soon we move on. The next spot is just a few blocks away. It is a wide bank on a deserted plaza. There is a square rail on top of the bank. It is already edgy, besides, it is not flat, but angled. Awesome opportunity to slice up your shin. Nobody took this opportunity, but the session culminates in the trick of the day: Evgeny ‘The Tank’ from Sofia doing a backside UFO on the rail, on Triblades!
Still the percentage of people sitting on the floor instead of skating is rising and as you get tired reading this sequence of spot and trick descriptions, the crew also gets tired of street skating. Everyone still hungry for tricks, or the awesome crepes served close to the park, is going to OAKA. We arrive there around midnight, carrying a street sign, that was found lying on the street. With its rectangular boards and the freshly painted post it serves as a great p-rail. Until it collapses. At least the last trick on it was landed, zero Kind. We soon find another use for it though and it turns 2am before we return to the house, time doesn’t matter.
At home David Grant is waiting. Kouros had some keys hidden for him to get in while we were out skating. They have only met once before. The organisation of this group vacation operates on trust and I am proud that it does not get disappointed often.
Thursday - In the afternoon we gather at Nick’s house to go to the Complex of the Politechnic University. While I was dozing in bed, Soeren has spent half of the day in getting all the small p-rails and boxes that are available into the trunk of Kouros' old car. The arrangement didn't make the best impression at first sight. Still, they all arrived safe and sound at the spot.
The Politechnic university is the place where Joe Atkinson is dancing on the pyramids above Athens in 'Delfon Dio'. It also hosts the gnarly flat rail known from the very same video, it has a big drop and a gap at the end. I can’t believe, slowly putting on my skates, that people start skating that as a first spot. While it is low to jump on, it is horrible to miss your trick on. There is some really tough guys in this year’s class trip, apparently.
The session is spreading out in its proceeding, because the campus hosts an abundance of spots. Still we have only been to a small part of it.
While many are distracted with street skating, Kouros and Sören seriously put up a slopestyle of rails and boxes down a parking garage. I’m inclined to think this is making the place too good for skating. Stop it, people may get spoiled.
A special flow evolves when most of the crew doesn't have to be anywhere at any time. You have the time to just sit and enjoy what the others are doing. If you don't skate this spot now, maybe you'll skate the next one. Or you skate more tomorrow, because you know that your friends are around anyway and they won't be taken from you by all the distractions present in daily life. It is that beautiful tour vibe. In my view this atmosphere further benefits from the fact that there is no pressure to produce content. Still there is a natural drive in people to get shit done. When Martin decides to confront himself with a gnarly drop rail next to the library everyone becomes juiced on it, the trick must be captured on at least 6 phones. As it turns dark we set up all the rails and boxes in an illuminated part of the parking area. Shred until you can’t roll straight anymore.
What feels like the end of a great blading trip is merely ending the series of pre-sessions to the main thing and the intense days that are about to come. It is a closer for this chapter, because luckily the Friday we get a day off and everybody can chill the fuck out. For the night we set up a meeting at a bar where John Cico, one of the local bladers, is working almost every day. As we can’t stay away from the each other, (almost) the whole crew unites at Bad Tooth during the night. Sufficiently recovered from not skating the whole day, we put all our energy into complying with the Dominik-Wagner-Contest-Rule: If you didn’t drink the night before, it doesn’t count.
It is hard to describe what the 'Athens Blade House' event is. One can only hope that by merging different perspectives, captured in written words, still or moving pictures, you can get an idea of the experience. I’d describe it as a demonstration of a community.
It is a demo because it is one of the few events in blading that gathers a large amount of people that are not blading themselves. While we shred the miniramp which is effecting a hecticness in the movement by itself and gets even more chaotic with 20 people standing on the table waiting for the next drop in, the house slowly starts to fill up - curious faces passing by. The mini presents itself just as you enter the house. People are not sure, if they should stay and watch, if there is something else going on or if they are standing in the way for someone approaching the mini in an unusual way. Us skating, we try to keep the flow going, trying to use as much of the ramp as possible without hurting each other. Luckily none of the spontaneous wall taps has found a human body instead of the wall.
Soon the session moves on to the roof. It is a demo, because there is no competitive atmosphere, you rather feel united in trying to make the best out of the limited space and time that you have to represent. It is a demonstration of the community, that has built over the past week. You indulge in the tricks being landed by the people you’ve spent your time with, sessioned and slept on the beach together.
After seeing pass a lot of movements on the railboxes, that probably look all identical to the unfamiliar eye, Kouros introduces the high jump contest. By now there is around 150 people surrounding the obstacles, covering all the space which is not essentially necessary for skating the boxes. It is well timed. It’s turned dark and the spotlights create a tension: Who will make the most meters lifting off from the lowrail?
Everyone understands the concept, the crowd is getting hyped now. Maybe they also needed some time to get warm with the beers, free for grabs on the way up. Don’t underestimate the power of free beers to gain attention for your event. Even if you think fruitbooting sucks big time, you might give it a chance considering the drinks. And Kouros is strict on one thing: You can’t just show up for the concerts and the after party. Everyone is expected to go through the whole thing, together. That’s why, I suppose, everybody gets earnestly involved in the droprail session. A solid crowd has gathered in the garden, the entrance to the house builds the stage - ambitious contenders on display. The level of the session is so high, you can’t expect nor imagine much more than what actually happened. And there is nothing but appreciation from the crowd. There is a mosh pit before before any of the concerts starts, forming at the run out of the rail when someone lands a spectacular manouever.
I have called the Syeah Blade House Event complete. While other sessions or contests build up the same euphoria, they fall short of channeling this energy. It often gets lost somewhere in between the blading and the celebration location. In this case there is just one venue, the Blade House.
The first band playing is the local hardcore force Blame Kandinsky. To get involved, I have to push through the bunch of people that want to be just close enough to see the band but avoid to be involved in the mosh pit. Having made my way to the center of the living room, I feel relief, for the space opening up and for the opportunity of outlet. Even if you didn't skate, watching people test out their boundaries makes you want to use your body, too. This physical atmosphere extends to the dancefloor. There is an intense vibe, because it is not just random people dancing next to you. It is those that you have skated with, or those that you have seen fall right in front of you.
When the energy is at its peak Kouros, who himself holds a roar that qualifies him for being a frontman in a hardcore band, announces the winners. Shout outs to Jo Zenk for taking the Belt and Tom Thieuleux for taking the frightening trophy for best-trick, Hannah. They clear the stage for another local treat, Bangies. They present a good mix of reggae and hip-hop and bring a lot of people back in that have escaped from the hardcore sound before. By now I am feeling a great joy and love for the people surrounding me, making this possible. And it has made me feel this way the third year in a row now.
Finally, the Syeah Blade House Event is not only a demonstration of the greatness that blading holds within, but also of the fact, that it can and will be appreciated by the non-blading public, if you act smart about making it accessible. It is one of the few occasions to feel cool being a rollerblader.
Sunday – Kouros is walking through the house to remind everyone that the fun is not over. It would be reasonable to ask for a break today. But we are about to travel to an island. On this island we will have a hotel for ourselves. This hotel has a bowl with a sea view as well as concrete trails in the mountains just a 20min walk away. It is called Blu Enigma and surprisingly some parallels to the Blade House can be drawn here. Nikos, a bmx-rider who made Blu Enigma what it is today, took over the hotel from his grandparents, just as Kouros inherited the house of his grandparents and transformed it into the Blade House. Beyond that, both projects don't set the focus on profitability. A night in the Blu Enigma is 20€, breakfast included, a night in the Blade House is free of charge and you can invite your host for breakfast. Both of these projects are run by a passionate individual who works around the clock to make you feel at home.
Kouros is standing in the alley with a big list, assigning everyone to the cars. The port of Rafina is just an hour drive away. The sun sets over the mainland when we embark on the journey marking the beautiful end to the Bladehouse Times. Arriving to the island we get back in the cars and drive through the dark wilderness of the island. Early September is already off-season in Andros, it is quiet and quite the opposite of the touristic place you might expect from an island so close to Athens. I spot 4 different species on the way to the hotel although it is dark, the fanciest of them being a marten. The winding roads through the mountains lead to a village nestled to the hillside facing the sea. The hotel lies overviewing the coast close to the town of Andros. As the Syeah crew has visited the Blu Enigma multiple times, it is a happy reunion. Nikos seems pleased to see us, although we will take up every bit of his day for the time of our stay. While we are just enjoying ourselves, Nikos is running the bar, preparing breakfast and going to town to buy more food. Plus he is joining most of the sessions at the trails and if they extend into the night, he will be there to fuel the generator for the lights.
He has this energy of someone who truly enjoys what he is doing. Nikos has realized a dream of living in a calm place surrounded by nature, whilst still being connected to the bmx scene through all the visitors. And, most importantly, while still being able to pursue his passion for riding. Most people choosing the remote life have to give up on that. When we go up to the 'Gratitude Trails' he is always involved in the session, pulling out the longest lines and getting so much more speed than most of us on our rolling shoes. When there is a session in the bowl, built just next to the hotel, he will stand there watching from the terrace, curious to see if anyone finds a new approach to the bowl, a new line or transfer.
For the first night we are too late and too tired to skate. So Nikos takes the chance to present his newest project to us, an exhibition room showing works from artists living on Andros or such that have passed by the Blu Enigma. Nikos is happy to talk about the art. He manages to get lost in the moment, sharing his thoughts about the artworks, just after 35 new people arrived to his hotel. If you order a lemonade, Nikos will go out to the terrace and pick some leaves of basil, just as many as needed for the lemonade. He takes his time and I experience it as a quality.
The daily schedule is handled pretty loosely on Andros. It will only cause stress if you try to do everything synchronous with that amount of people. Still on the first full day on Andros all of us go hiking in the beautiful course of a stream running down from a waterfall. It is a funny picture seeing this bunch walking slowly towards the green valley, it looks like a school trip. And it is, kind of, except it is people that you chose to spend your time with and nobody is dictating the program.
It is still more than 35°C outside, so the shade of the trees surrounding the water is a very welcome refuge from the bright sunlight. The waterfall holds a big and deep pool and some perfect jumps in several heights. If the quite low temperature of the spring water is as pleasant as the shade is still up for discussion. It's refreshing for sure.
While we walk back I get nervous to go to the trails again. I have been there two times before and still, they induce a special feeling in me, a mix of excitement and fear. They are dangerous, because they can suck you in. There is a height difference of 9m from the top to the bottom which you don't really see, but if you just let your wheels go, you become insanely fast very quickly. Still the sensation of cruising in this desertlike structure, that doesn't appear like a skatepark, but like a part of the mountain, is a unique experience. I haven't seen or heard of any comparable place in this world. It is a delightful change to be on rollerblades in such a remote and peaceful place, as the activity is usually strongly connected to being in an urban surrounding.
At the hotel we all benefit from the time we have spent together before coming here. There is barely any clique behaviour., so if you want to do something specific, like go the beach, to the trails, play a game of pool or a game of chess (I could go on with the options), you'll easily find one out of 35 who is in just the same mood. And someone is always skating the bowl, usually it's Gilles. Although it is high noon and 35°C in the shade, Gilles will fight to make his lines work, even sessioning it on his own when everyone else is drinking espresso freddo and hanging out. Passion at work. The excess of the following pictures pays its tribute to that. While this bowl is much bigger than the mini at the Blade House it is even trickier. It seems like none of the transitions is the same. There is no time to relax, you have to be focussed constantly to make the next corner work for you. Talking to Nikos from the Blu Enigma, I found out that even the extra skilled guys from the Cayenne crew took some time to get into a groove there.
Following the groove of the island the days fly by. Soon it is time to say goodbye, to the Blu Enigma and to old and new friends. I'm sure I will be back though. And I am sure that most of the crew will remember the important things in life.
This is an invitation.