Pipe dreams: six reasons why skateboarding in the New East is out of this world

24 August 2016

Skating may be a global phenomenon but it has a special resonance in the countries of the former Eastern Bloc, a region where it was once taboo and your nearest half-pipe was an example of Soviet modernist architecture.

This Thursday, 25 August, we’re screening Georgian skater doc When the Earth Seems to Be Light, to coincide with artist Kirill Savchenkov’s exhibition Museum of Skateboarding at our London space, Calvert 22. To mark the occasion, here’s our guide to all everything you need to know about skateboarding in the New East.

Before the Berlin wall fell, skateboards were getting trashed by teens

The skating community at the heart of East Germany-set film This Ain’t California was originally only a figment of director Martin Persial’s imagination until he stumbled upon first-hand stories of a real skateboarding culture in socialist Berlin, at a time when much of Western culture was censored. The documentary follows three kids united by their love of skateboarding, having never learned their way around the board.

East Germany-set skater doc, This Ain’t California

Why travel to California when you have Georgia?

Georgia is not the first place to come to mind if you’re searching for an alternative to America’s Golden State. Yet, as Georgian doc When the Earth Seems to Be Light reveals, there are definite similarities between the two — with blue skies, stretches of urban beaches and skaters dominating shots. Filmed amid political tensions in the lead up to the 2013 Georgian election, the coming-of-age documentary tells the story of drifters in a country in transition.

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Drifting can be spiritual

In his film The Kros, director Gleb Sereda follows his Russian skaters as they drift through Moscow into the unknown of the Russian wilderness until, in his words, “They reach a certain limit which changes everything”. An enlightenment, perhaps? Somewhat biographical in nature, the film presents skating as a spiritual journey rather than just counterculture.

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Modernist buildings make great ramps

The Moscow pavilion might not be one of the highlights of the VDNKh exhibition centre compared to the ornate Stalininst structures on display there. What is does have is a giant concave roof which, as photographer Pasha Volkov and his skater friends discovered, is not only a great place to take in the city’s sights but makes for a great half-pipe too. Just make sure you’re quick enough to sneak past security.

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Skating is helping break down gender stereotypes

Before Gosha Rubchinskiy turned his lens onto skater boys, masculinity in Russia had a macho problem — a hangover from the Soviet idolisation of heroic workers and soldiers. Rubchinsky, along with other photographers such as Sonya Kydeeva, is changing the face of masculinity in Russia so much so that the skater boy has in recent years become a cultural ambassador for new Russian identity.

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The skater-muse will continue to reign supreme

It’s reemergence in mainstream culture shows that skating won’t be on its way out any time soon. For Kiev-based collective Gorsad, the skater’s association with youth, rebellion and freedom make the figure an unlikely hero during a time of uncertainty, especially in contemporary Ukraine.

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