All photography courtesy of Koen Bleijerveld (Facebook) except where noted.
It felt like a dream. Thats the best way I can describe it. A dream I’ve dreamt about for years and knew I’d never see come to life. I awoke from that dream standing alone in the Schiphol Airport at 9:00am. I told myself years ago that I would go to Winterclash, and three years ago, and two years ago, and a year ago. I lived in this vicious cycle of “I’d love to” instead of moving onto “I went to”. In August 2017 they announced that tickets were going on sale. I finally snapped and bought one with no real plans beyond that. In December I applied for my first passport, and in the last week of 2017, it arrived. I had no excuses now. I had to find a way across the ocean and into the walls of Area51 for Winterclash 2018.
After kicking around some ideas back and forth with my job about shipping me to my Dublin Ireland office for a few weeks, everything fell apart in late January. I bit the bullet, paid over full price for my tickets and reached out to Jojo about sponsoring the event. A few days later, we confirmed on the last trade show booth with Vibralux’s Adam Johnson, and my travel was locked in. I only had 2 weeks to fully prep my gear, my team at work, and our supplies for the trade show. At 1:30pm on February 12th, my plane pulled back from the gate and I left the ground for the first last time in the US. We took flight and I settled in for the nonstop 10 hour flight to Amsterdam. I watched the sun set over the snow covered midwest and watched it rise over the canals and fields of Holland.
I collected my belongings with absolutely no clue where to go, how to get there, or any idea how to speak the language. But I was inside a country that was not the US for the first time in my life. I managed to stumble my way around the airport, get my phones cell service working, and find the immigration checkpoint where I presented my passport and watched the first page get stamped as the gates beside me swung open. I stepped through, and into the arms of The Netherlands. If you’ve never been, the rail system is one of the best in the world. I found a app on my phone, and down to the minute, the app had every train, station and route available. I punched in Eindhoven and found platform 2. Two minutes later I was being whisked away on one of the smoothest rides of my life.
I watched over the next two hours as the countryside rushed by and the miles counted on and on towards my destination. I can’t say enough about the rail system in The Netherlands. I didn’t have a car, and only rode in a van once the whole trip. The trains were comfortable, quiet, clean, and timely. I kept trying to understand announcements and watch words for patterns to understand the language a bit better before overhearing “Eindhoven” in the loudspeakers. I gathered my belongings and stepped off the train into my home for the next 6 days. Eindhoven was smaller than I assumed, and slight more modern than I expected as well. It was an industrial city driven by the Phillips company for decades till they pulled out and went elsewhere leaving the city in collapse. Bringing the Winterclash to this small town is a big boon for most of the shops and businesses. Its strange to see inline skating have any level of impact on people outside of ourselves. After a quick loop around the city, I checked into my hotel and took a quick nap after being awake for nearly 37 straight hours.
I met up with the build crew at Area51 Tuesday evening and saw my first preview of the course. I can honestly say I don’t know of a better indoor park in the states I’ve ever seen. Though at it’s core it’s a skateboard park, it’s still a masterpiece of construction and flow. Larger ramps on the outside, sessional objects in the middle. The crew was in full swing building out the objects for this years event. Paint was going in on the A-Town Stomp van they recreated, the local skateboarders were welding the rails into place, and the last few objects were being fabricated. I got to meet up with Jojo and Dominik, as well as so many people who’s names I wish I could remember. Some last minutes changes were discussed for the van obstacle, and we called it a night. I went back to the hotel after scouring the city for some food. Word of advice, everything closes at 10pm in Eindhoven. So good luck.
The next days adventure was off to Rotterdam for the Pre Clash event at Skateland Skatepark. Another 2 hour journey watching the landscape pass me by. I had two train transfers in the middle, and finally arriving at Rotterdam Zuid around 1pm. Skateland was everything I dreamt it would be. I was greeted by Erik Droogh at the front door, paid my 6 Euro fee, and was passed through the gates of Heaven into paradise. I haven’t seen a Inline specific park in nearly 10 years since Skatebarn West closed. Everything was circle coping, gap in and gap out, everything slid, the ramps were built for functioning adults. It was jaw dropping. I still wake up at least once a week from a dream of that park. It took several hours, but the crews finally assembled on the building leading to one of my favorite sessions I’ve had. I’ll let the edit below show you what it was like for the evening’s event. I even managed to scrape out a negative makio on the downledge in the video too.
Thursday was the beginning of the real Winterclash events and where the gravity of this event really started to take hold. After a long morning hanging around my hotel, I made the 2 kilometer walk to the park and headed inside early to help the crew with final setup. They had already beat me to it, and I was left to stand around and watching Blading Camp’s newest class of ace pilots take to the skies in Flight School. Blading Camp is on the track to greatness with the work they are doing for our younger generation. Quinny, Montre, and Nils all lead instruction and split the group out from beginner to advanced and worked different areas of the park. I saw a few people drop in for the first time, and others already doing 360’s into grinds. I snagged a quick few lines in the mini ramp while no one was looking, and called it a day just as the doors opened for the 5pm session to begin. The park was packed to the brim with hungry skaters from across the globe. Though the obstacles were new for everyone in attendance, it was pretty jarring to see people just rinse tricks like they’ve skated it a thousand times.
We moved into a small back room for the first of many panels for this years event. I really was fond of the panels and the personas who spoke at them. The first one was moderated by Be-Mag’s Josip Jagic and featured Sven Boekhorst, Assia Zaharieva, Nils Jansons, Ricardo Lino, Johan Berthonneau, and snatched from the crowd was Chris Haffey. You can watch the full panel on the video below, but it was a nice perspective into the mechanics of function behind the scenes in our industry. The entire time the panel was rolling, you could hear thundering applaud and roaring yells of pure hype from right outside the wall as the skaters were warming up for the Hang Loser’s Super Bowl. When the panel came to a close, we had about 15 minutes till kick off, and it was just enough time for me to get my gear up and running and get the event broadcasted.
The Hang Loser’s Super Bowl has an amazing format that I had never seen in person and ended up being one of the most fun events I was at. The short and simple is, everything the bowl touches is fair game. You have a crew of referees around the bowl with whistles and red cards. You are allowed to do anything you like inside that space except backside stalls. Every few minutes they’ll flash a big sign that changes the format of the event. It might say “Backflips” or “No Royales” or even “Only Fakie”, and a few times signs even got mixed together. The entire event is capped off by Miguel on the mic losing his mind in true Winterclash fashion, and the soundtrack of the 90’s blaring behind it. This years winner collected the coveted prize of 100 beers.
The energy level was absolutely insane. The contest began and the kids started firing off. It was a complete free-for-all, every man for himself, no heats, just raw skating. The first few signs went into rotation, the first few riders got eliminated. Slowly it got whittled down to the final five riders. By that time I had seen 540 every trick you can imagine, including a 540 true fish, 720 topsoul, Misty flip to TTS, fakie to fakie 900’s, and backflip and frontflip drop ins. The final 5 riders descended into pure chaos and destroyed that bowl. The dust settled, and Romeo Stocchi was left with the long deserved win and the thirst quenching prize of 100 beers. This was the first time in nearly 10 years I could feel the soul of inline skating alive and well. The skating continued still onward into the night, closing out the park well after 11pm. Another cold 2 kilometer walk back to my hotel for a few hours of sleep before rushing back again the next day.
Friday kicked off with doors opening at noon and everyone getting wrist bands and access to the park. Hundreds were lined up outside waiting to get access to the Tradeshow, the park, and the contest. I was patiently waiting on the next panel that was hosted next door at the Blue Collar Underground. Arlo Eisenberg, Jon Julio, and Chris Haffey were asked some questions about the past and present of skating from moderator Ricardo Lino. Jon and Arlo went on rolling tangents between one another, and Chris sat in quiet silence waiting off the side for anything tossed his way. This was also captured by Be-Mag for live consumption and can be watched below. I can elaborate on the time I spent in these panels, but there is only one that I really want to focus on which will come up later. For now, it’s worth the watch and time investment to hear it first hand and see what you bring out of it. If you’ve never been around for an Arlo interview, it’s always a wild ride.
With that done, I headed back across the street to Area51 and got our Tradeshow booth dialed in. This year we partnered with Vibralux to afford our place at Winterclash, and I wanted to take this moment to thank all of our backers who helped this become a reality. I hung at the booth and shared the love for Blader Union with so many people and so many friends who had heard of us over the last year. It was inspirational to see the interest level and support from everyone. I was able to put hands on the Them Skates and give everyone a first hand look into the new product. And even for a few moments, jump away from the booth to watch the Juniors, Ladies, and Ams take center stage. Friday slowly started winding down, and I packed up shop for one of the events I was most looking forward to, A Night at the Movies with Adam Johnson.
I rolled into the Blue Collar Underground and got my front row seat right next to Jason Reyna who was filming most of the event. So all of the video you see of the event was how it appeared for me. Adam came on stage to the roar of 200+ adults slightly intoxicated an hungry from a days worth of shredding. He started back with KFC 1, and made his way to the most coveted Vibralux KFC 3 section. Now this to me stands out as one of the best sections of all time, and watching it with 200+ people getting hyped out of our minds together only made it that much better. The list continued on with dabs of stories in the middle, and a Montre section narrated by a shit faced Montre. The highlight of the night came as Adam played his last section of the evening, Straight Jacket Tour Midway Recap. He set the scene by letting us know that to date, this was his favorite section he’s made. I had seen the video before, but in the context of what rollerblading had meant to him, and how it showcases everything that makes rollerblading sick and how he wishes he could live life like this video every day, my eyes adjusted to a new vision of what this video meant. AJ retook the stage with a parting message that is burned into my brain. With tears nearly slipping from his eyes, he told us that we had given his life validation and given the life of his friends validation. It was a heavier weight than anyone in that room expected to feel. But closing on the fact that we’re not going anywhere, he’s not going anywhere, you’re not going anywhere, the room erupted into applause that isn’t captured at the end of the video. We slowly filtered out of the room, and I pulled up a few classic songs as I filled my ears with the sounds of KFC 2, 3, 4, and Ego on my walk back to my hotel. My mind wandered after everything I just took in, and still to this day, I’m honored to have been in that room with him for that event.
I arrived early to the park again on Saturday to get our final build setup for the Tradeshow’s second and final day. The doors opened and the masses poured in. Even more packed than the day before, Area51 was quickly at its capacity. I ended up selling some VXVII’s for AJ before he arrived, and got ready for the viewing of What Do You Believe In hosted by Arlo himself. The event was cool, and I hadn’t seen that video completely in a long time. Arlo managed to still have a number of props from the movie on hand and brought them with him. He gave out a very very small number of copies of posters they hung up when originally shooting the film. I snagged one for Dan and grabbed a signature before heading back to the booth. The bladies panel took center stage after that, and seeing the amount of talented young women crushing inline skating was amazing. I have the live stream below of that event ready to go as well.
I packed up shop, grabbed my streaming gear and got ready for the main event. I missed a majority of the other events running the booth, but the crowd was pumped and ready for the main course. I managed to get a front row seat for our live stream, and through a number of technical difficulties involving my phone crashing over and over, I managed to keep it online for nearly 90% of the event. Everything you’ve seen online and everything you’ve imagined about the Winterclash is just a scratch on the surface. The contest is the loudest, the wildest, the rowdiest, the most insane contest this side of the early 2000’s. 540s into everything, massive gaps, long grinds, and stunts that don’t make sense. The crowd is fluid and moves around the course huddling into spots just as the rider approaches. A small team of event personnel keep the chaos in check with rope and barriers, but it only keeps the fiends at bay for so long. Each final trick gets tighter and tighter. Each fall gets harder and harder. Each riders trick, bigger and bigger.
The finals kick in. Joe, Nils, Antony, Sochiro. The final 4 who put it down. Everywhere you turned, a stunt bigger than the last. Nils rinsing full true souls, Joe’s fakie 7’s, Sochiro was dismantling the A Town box, and Antony finding that tiny rail way out in space above the big quarter. Keeping track of everything was getting tough and struggle through the crashing app on my phone. The final five tricks were prepped. We closed in as Joe did a huge AO wall ride cab out, Sochiro did a flawless switchup on the box, Antony did the biggest gap to wall ride I had ever seen in person, and Nils lined up his shot. On his 5th and final attempt he laced a AO topsoul to full dark AO Topside Pornstar and the crowd lost its mind. He was lofted into the air and the noise level somehow got even louder than the contest. This continued for the next 15 minutes as people continued to riot in the park. Montre was grinding the down rail on Soap shoes, people started moshing, people were still skating the drop rails and ledges, it was chaos. And it was that moment when everything finally clicked. I felt more proud to be a rollerblader at that moment than any other time in my life.
The park continued this way for the next hour before they finally started kicking people out. My ears were ringing from the noise. I was physically exhausted from the skating, the booth, the live cast, and the chaos. I was surrounded by 500 people I consider my family, and everywhere I turn, the soul of inline skating shown through. I’ve been a doom sayer, I’ve talked about the death of the industry. Saturday February 17, inline skating was more alive than it had ever been. I’m still struggling to put words into the experience. I saw the birth of a new brand and the death of an old one. I saw the revival of a company I long thought was lost to time. I watched 600+ people travel for all corners of the globe to stand in a cold wooden box and watch my peers roll the dice and put everything on the line for a shot at glory. It felt alive, I felt alive.
The following two days were mostly spent in Amsterdam wandering the streets thinking about what I just saw and lived through. I hopped my plane back to the US on Tuesday after spending 8 days in that beautiful country. I spent the next few weeks drafting this post and taking it back apart every time as I just couldn’t put what I saw into words. Even now, I don’t believe this gave my trip the justice it deserves. I’m not the best writer. I’m not the best at articulating my thoughts in long format. What I am is a skater who though I had seen it all. I’ve been to IMYTA Atlanta, I’ve been to Nitro Circus, I’ve skated in Blading Cup, I’ve toured with the Razors pro team, I’ve been coast to coast with these plastic shells on my feet. Now I can add one more notch to my belt that skating has taken me to. I’ve been to the greatest contest on Earth. Skating has never felt so fresh and so alive than Winterclash 2018. There is no reason for you to put it off any longer. Stop living in the “I’d love to” and next year make it the “I’ve been to”. - Travis | Blader Union