Sando, Frontside Air Montana. Photo: Mihail Novakov

Skateboarding in Bulgaria: Still Keeping the Spirit of Do-It-Yourself Alive!

A day after Go Skateboarding Day 2019, El Freegano shares some thoughts on the rise of skateboarding in Bulgaria and its ever present bond with the ethics of do-it-yourself.

I remember the first time in my life I saw a skateboard. It was my cousin’s board, which our grandfather made by attaching roller-skate wheels to the bottom of a flat wooden board. This was during the 1980s in Bulgaria, when the country was still behind the Iron Curtain of the Eastern Bloc, yet Western influence was already seeping in.

About 30 years earlier, skateboarding was born in the remote sunny state of California, where surfers had created a new way to enjoy themselves when the waves of the ocean were flat. They started this, what was first called “sidewalk surfing,” out of their imagination. They hit the streets and the concrete waves of the empty pools. They made themselves the first boards, they built themselves the first ramps, they created a street culture of free spirits and rebellious souls, transforming the grey city areas into magical playgrounds, where each person could express their own true nature. “Do it yourself” is the attitude deeply ingrained in skateboarding.

Go Skateboarding Day 2015 in Sofia, photo by Insomnia Collective

Letting the Big Business aside, which came only to exploit this culture for its own benefit, the skaters are the people that shape and develop this modern day phenomenon. Even in Bulgaria, which is lagging around 30 years behind compared to the West, skateboarders managed to create their own scene.

I was told that skateboarding came to Bulgaria in the early 80’s by sea when some sailors brought to their children this new kind of toy. Then it spread in Varna and Sofia, and later in other parts of the country. In the late 80’s, a section of the Communist Party called DKMS (Dimitrov’s Communist Youth Union) eventually started to support this “Western” activity by building some ramps, organizing events and even sending a team to international competitions around the Eastern Bloc. Then the dictatorship fell and the 90’s came. This was a period of hard, but sweet moments of the creation of something new. There was a scarcity of good boards and equipment.

Skate punx! Because DIY music has everything to do with skateboarding, and punk has always been the best soundtrack to get you stay pumpedwe created a playlist with some of our favorite tracks for going out and skate the day away. Now grab the board and enjoy that shit! 🛹

Most of the kids still rode the old fashioned flat boards or the type with only one curved tail. Some people started to import professional skateboards, t-shirts, magazines, but during the mid 90’s there was an economic crisis, so the equipment was way too expensive and most of the kids were happy if they find some cheaper old crashed boards and outworn skate brand shirts. Then some people started to make boards themselves, and the two brothers from Varna (Valio and Rody) were the first that managed to keep it going for more than a decade with their own DIY brand called Fly Skateboards.

Skateboarding in Bulgaria started to grow in the late 90’s, when some skate shops opened, events were organized, and the first Bulgarian skate magazine “MOVE” was published. At that time a lot of people started to skate, some even got sponsored. It wasn’t a big business like in the West, it was more like an enthusiast adventure by skaters that wanted to be deeply involved in skateboarding even when they were grown and had to make a living out of something. Then another skateboard brand was also born and I had the honor to be part of its team. It was the Virus Skateboards, created by Alex Kyiourkiev “Sando”.

sando 1
Sando in the old days, photography by Martin Chichov

This guy is one of the emblematic figures of the Bulgarian skate scene. He started skating in the 80’s, then emigrated to the West in the early 90’s to escape the mandatory military service, secretly returning from time to time to bring boards, magazines and other street culture items when finally, with the coming of the new millennia, he returned home to support the Bulgarian skate scene in full swing. Organizing events, building ramps, bringing professional riders to skate in Bulgaria, doing demos and tours around the country, and also starting an online distro/magazine called, we were providing the community with affordable equipment and a lot of inspiration.

The skateboarding scene got a serious push with the help of people like those mentioned above and by the help of skate shops like Insomnia and 3XS. The municipalities in some cities built  a couple of “skate parks” that were unskateable. This is very common practice in Bulgaria where the municipalities and the governmental structures get funded for different projects, but they eventually keep most of the money for the leading officials and then build some unusable shit. So if we wanted to skate something different than the street, we had to build it ourselves. And so we did.

Canetti mini ramp

My friend Radney, who sings and plays guitar in my favourite punk bands Spot and Artificial Comet, together with the locals in Rousse built the first concrete mini half pool in his garden, they also managed to organize their own street skate park and the indoor Canetti mini ramp. In Varna, one other friend, George a.k.a. “G” who started Playwood Skateboards first as a DIY project and developing it as one of the leading Bulgarian brands with a team, has also started to build ramps and together with the crew created the iconic place in Varna called “The Hall”, an indoor skate project that is also a venue for many punk/hardcore/hip-hop shows, movie screening and all kind of cultural events.

Spot playing at Grindhouse skateboard club

These guys now help a lot in the building of new parks all around Bulgaria, skate parks that you would definitely want to skate at. Some other friends in Sofia opened Grindhouse skate bar that now has an indoor and an outdoor mini ramps and is also a famous hardcore punk venue. One other crew of five started the first indoor skatepark in Sofia called Five High. They also build it themselves and some of them are involved in other DIY building projects around Sofia making illegal curbs and concrete “waves”.

In Sliven, some of the locals started Amnesia skate shop and also built their own indoor skate park. This attitude was everywhere in Bulgaria, a lot of people have built themselves the things they wanted, have organized the events they wanted, and started the brands, teams and companies they wanted. This is the true spirit of skateboarding. Despite the difficulties of the socio-economic situation in the country, despite the problems with governmental structures and municipalities like the last one which officially banned skateboarding at one of the most famous spots in Sofia that is internationally known for its amazing architecturethe area around NDK (National Palace of Culture), skaters still keep it rollin’.

Here we may not have popularity and commercialization of skateboarding like in the Western countries but the spirit of skateboarding is still alive. The big companies may enter the scene, supporting, building and mostly exploiting the market, while the government may want to regulate this activity in their own manner, but the difference between skateboarders on the one hand and businessmen and government officials on the other, is that we are not here for the money. We are ungovernable, so we will always be “DIY or Die!”

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