Picking a destination for a skateboarding holiday is no easy task. Each person has their own idea of what they want from the trip, and the decision is further complicated by budgets, climates and (increasingly, as most involved have now reached our mid-twenties) work schedules.
After a plethora of emails and text messages we had a shortlist, and the options were laid out in the form of photographs and videos of riders shredding assorted European cities. Madrid, Vigo, Geneva, Bordeaux, Malaga and Mallorca were all considered, and are all great options, but as the weeks passed nothing was decided.
At the time of booking, England was in the midst of the coldest spring in 50 years. Torrential rain had turned the country into one giant puddle and we were all desperate to escape, craving the sun as much as the skate. The video deadline was looming, and with Southend Airport just around the corner, we eventually opted to book seven nights in the charming Spanish seaside resort of Alicante.
We stepped off the plane into the thick heat of the Mediterranean sun and found two taxis to take us to our hotel in the centre of town. For most of the journey the road ran parallel with the azure sea, a stark contrast to the muddy grey of the Thames Estuary back home. In the distance yachts rocked on the crests of small waves, and behind them the still outlines of cruise ships marked the horizon.
We had chosen our hotel more for the location than for comfort, so after throwing our bags down in the small windowless rooms we headed straight out onto an ornate mosaic promenade. We were in the centre of all the spots listed on our map, but the excitement of arriving in a new city caused us to disregard our directions and explore, finding the smooth concrete of a wide bandstand where we warmed up our travel-stiffened legs.
Crossing the road we found the first of our map-marked spots; an arc of tiered marble ledges where Wil and Darby stacked the first bits of footage of the trip. From here we walked up a steep hill to an area of residential high-rise buildings that stood in the shadow of Castillo de Santa Bárbara, an imposing castle built by Arabs in the 9th century, when the entire Iberian peninsula was under Islamic control.
Here we found a rough handrail with a lethal bollard at the bottom, which George stepped to with a quick boardslide to the amusement of some local kids. We then spotted a wallie to hillbomb opportunity, which Walkies took, leading us back down the hill via steep, narrow passageways lined with small bars and cluttered with restaurant furniture.
One of the biggest cultural differences between cities in Spain and those in the UK is in the usage of public spaces. Around almost every corner is a plaza where people of all generations congregate and socialise. Large, paved, open areas are turned into de-facto playgrounds for the old and young, from elderly men playing cards in the shade, to parents lazing in the afternoon heat while their children play freely, not restricted by the fences, signposts and rules of clearly defined English parks.
It was in these spaces that we found a lot of the spots we were looking for, including a long sloping granite ledge that we’d seen the Converse team visit a few months before us. A family of six or seven had set up base on a bench directly on the run-out of this spot, and as we started skating it was clear that they weren’t moving, even when Will’s board zoomed into the ankles of one of them. To the outsider it seemed like a much more relaxed and tolerant culture exists in Spain, and that people are too peaceful and content to complain about the noise of a few skateboarders. On the other hand perhaps it’s just too hot to give a fuck.
This nonchalant attitude wasn’t always to our benefit, as we found out at one spot. While George was filming a line on two double sets, a kid no older than ten pelted him with pennies while his mother watched on from a nearby bench. Can’t win ‘em all I guess, but at least George got the trick.
Alicante is a small city, and despite the number of spots we found and the amount of footage we managed to collect in our first few days, we soon found ourselves wanting to venture out to the surrounding area. We had word from the guy who ran Picnic skateshop that the nearby town of Elx-Elche was a hotbed of street spots. What he didn’t tell us was that the train there ran just three times a day, and that the last bus left the town at 9pm.
Nevertheless, the following morning we awoke early, and after asking the reception desk for directions, left the hotel in search of the bus stop to catch the first of two busses to Elx-Elche. Almost two hours later, we were still looking for the bus stop, which, as it turned out, was a single pole on a traffic island outside the train station. It wasn’t labelled on any maps, and either my Spanish isn’t as good as I think, or even the folk in the tourist information office didn’t know where it was. Either way, by the time we found it it was too late to head far out of the city, so we changed our plan and caught a couple of taxis to the outskirts of Alicante, where we’d also been told were a few spots worth checking out.
The taxis pulled up between a barren waste ground and a set of tall tower blocks and small shops with signs written in Arabic. We walked along a main road and into a labyrinth of carefully sculpted yet deserted parks, which we wandered in the blistering heat. After a fruitless hour or so we bumped into a lone skater who directed us off map to a park littered with double sets and handrails. Matt threw everything he had at a frontside 180 over one of the rails, but was beaten by the heat and rough, downhill landing. We took some time out to eat a picnic in the shade before bombing back down the hill to collect some footage at the long hubba, before grabbing a few cervezas and revisiting the 3 arc ledges on the seafront where I managed to get a line before we called it a day.
Safe in the knowledge that we knew where to catch the bus from, the following day we made our second attempt at visiting Elx-Elche. We arrived in the town in the early afternoon and ate lunch on a quiet square, beneath orange trees and overlooking a medieval castle. We were yet to see any examples of the amazing street spots we were expecting, but soon set out to explore and see what we could find. The odd marble block, a river gap, a few stair sets, but nothing that could justify the difficulty of getting there. After speaking to some local kids, it turned out that many of the spots we were expecting were not actually in Elche at all, but in Murcia, a town 50km down the road. The only thing Elche seemed to have was palm trees, the town is home to 200,000 of them, an impressive sight to behold, but that doesn’t help us with the video.
If our luck with spots in the daytime hadn’t been too great, the evening sessions more than made up for it. Most nights we ended up out past 3am, skating the places that were too busy or too hot in the daytime. A perfect double set just around the corner from our Hotel was usually our last port of call, before dragging ourselves back to the hotel.
A few days into the trip we bumped into James, a skateboarder from Balitmore who was (and still is, if Instagram is anything to go by) in Alicante to study. The first thing a few of us noticed was the gnarly brace on his ankle, but despite this he didn’t hold back and came out skating with us on our final night, filming a super fast and solid 3-bench line to wrap things up.
As it turned out, most of our preconceptions of Alicante turned out to be completely wrong. Asides from the abundance of Irish bars and one scouser in a Liverpool FC bucket hat, the city was surprisingly Spanish. Alicante’s location on the Costa Blanca, literally ‘the White Coast’, means the beaches are as rich and extensive as its history. And to add to its reputation, it’s now beginning to make a name as a great European skateboarding destination.
So perhaps booking a skateboarding holiday isn’t so difficult after all. Despite all the conversations and deliberations we had before the trip, it turned out a great skate holiday was as easy as booking the soonest, cheapest flights out of Southend Airport.