Helsinki Helride | Why The Hectic Contest Is Skateboarding In Its Truest Form

Over the course of one wild weekend in Finland, the essence of skateboarding is on show for all to see

Skateboarding has never been as fashionable as it is today. Olympic skateboarding – drug testing and all – is finally a reality, Jonah Hill’s latest movie is about skating in the 90s, Palace and Supreme collaborate with Ralph Lauren and Louis Vuitton.

Many think this mainstream push has been for the best, with skateboarding becoming more accessible than ever before. But others will argue that it wasn’t supposed to be for the masses in the first place, and was more for those that didn’t fit into the commercial world of mainstream sports, finding solace in an underground culture favoured by the outcasts.

“A chaotic breath of fresh air in the often stale world of skateboarding contests”

There’s also a love / hate situation when it comes to skateboarding contests. Mainstream skateboarding competitions clearly serve a purpose, giving the world’s best skateboarders a platform to compete and prove themselves. But at the same time, echoey arenas, overpriced lagers and corporate sponsorship does seem a long way away from skateboarding’s ‘skate and destroy’ origins.

Enter Helsinki Helride; a chaotic breath of fresh air in the often stale world of skateboarding contests.

Credit: Nathan Copelin

The format is simple; skateboarders compete at various spots and skateparks dotted around the city. This includes haggard old slopes, DIY skateparks, city centre stair-sets, park hill-bombs and an absurd ramp propped up against a huge glass sculpture on top of a museum. Out of all the skateboarding events out there, Helride seems to be one of the more unpredictable and good natured.

Though Helsinki is Finland’s largest city, it has the feel of a small town where everyone knows each other. Every skatepark and spot is easy to get to, there’s two thriving skate shops, and the town seems to have genuinely accepted skateboarding with open arms. It’s a dream city to be a young skateboarder in.

Credit: Nathan Copelin

After a three-hour flight from London, we touch down in Finland’s capital in time for Helride’s first event; the ‘Tour de Kallio’, a series of ‘cash for tricks’ contests on street spots dotted around the Kallio district of Helsinki. It’s a case of joining the crew of skaters at the start and trying to keep up as they fly from spot to spot.

The tour took in some of the city’s finest sketchy spots, including a rough slope to wallride, a crusty bump-to-bar and a daunting 12-foot high steep tiled bank off a roof. A personal highlight was realising that street skateboarding legend Pat Duffy has relocated from California to Helsinki, and that he still rips as hard as ever; somehow kickflipping into the bank over a gap, unofficially claiming the best trick of the day. Check the footage here.

“Skaters took heavy slams, onlookers got crashed into, one spectator literally threw up right next to us and had to leave”

Awaking the next day after a hazy night of karaoke and too much Lonkero (a classic Finish gin and grapefruit concoction created for the 1952 Helsinki Olympics), we head to the roof of the newly built Amos Rex museum. It’s a stunning piece of architecture, dominated by domed structures with huge glass windows. It’s the kind of place you’d walk by and think ‘imagine if someone made this skateable’.

Thankfully that’s exactly what the Helride organisers have managed to do, somehow getting permission to attach a ramp to the bottom of one of the structures to make an enormous glass quarter pipe. After a few hesitative runs from skaters checking they weren’t about to fall through the glass onto an unsuspecting museum punter, the spot began being skated, with riders coming in at all angles.

Monster rider Kevin Bækkel, who’s gained a reputation in recent years for being one of Europe’s gnarliest skaters, came in hard. Whilst others were skating it like a quarter pipe, Bækkel decided to use it as a spine and backside boneless transfer over it onto the steep uneven brick surfaced bank. Credit also goes to Russian skater Dmitrii Dvoinishnikov who dispatched a blunt fakie, bigger flip and fakie 360 flip to win a few fistfuls of Euros.

Credit: Nathan Copelin

As the evening approached, we journeyed out of town to Micropolis skatepark to watch the girl’s bowl jam. Amongst others, Emma Fastesson Lindgren, Amy Ram and Julia Voutilainen all killed it in the contest, skating to a soundtrack of local punk bands and rappers playing live on the other side of the park.

“It’s not about stale arenas, qualification rounds and complex judging systems”

The next day’s events all took place at the Suvilahti DIY skatepark. Unlike the Micropolis skatepark, Suvilahti is DIY, built by skaters for skaters on an unused plot of concrete wasteland. Thanks to the park, a scene developed which has been vital to local skaters, both for improving their ability and also giving visiting pro teams a place to hold demos. Tony Hawk has even visited a couple of times. Unfortunately, Suvilahti is under threat of closure so please, for Christ sake, sign the petition to try to keep this glorious, terrifying park alive.

After a series of hectic cash for trick competitions in the park, including seeing someone somehow ollie clean over a massive wooden rainbow ledge, the day culminated in the death race, where skaters race in threes around a devised circuit in the park. Skaters took heavy slams, onlookers got crashed into, one spectator literally threw up right next to us and had to leave. The carnage culminated with Bækkel winning for the second year in a row. As we left for the day, the vomiting boy walked past us back into the park, with his skateboard in hand and a smile on his face.

Credit: Nathan Copelin

The Helride finished in the only way it could; chaotic, fun, and with a genuine possibility of concussion. The KOFF downhill race is something of a tradition in the Helride, where skateboarders (and a couple hundred spectators) take over a park with a steep curved path, taking it in turns to bomb the hill without getting smoked. It didn’t take long for it to descend into madness, with riders faceplanting, spectators getting hit, and pedestrians getting taken out. Latvian superstar Madars Apse not only won the whole thing, he also went down the hill in a rolling handstand.

This kind of carnage sums up the Helride experience. It’s not about stale arenas, qualification rounds and complex judging systems. It’s about skateboarding returning to its truest and simplest form; a bunch of friends causing havoc, not taking themselves seriously, getting served up and getting wasted.

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