How Copenhagen fell in love with skateboarding
The first thing you need to know about CPH open is that it’s completely different from any other skate contest you’ll ever witness. Sure it has prize money, runs/jams etc. but it is as much about the city of Copenhagen and the wonderful people that inhabit it, as it is about skateboarding. The idea for this edition was to get hundreds of skaters from around the world to shred and party all over this lovely city for 5 days. And by “all over” I mean everywhere from right outside the headquarters of one of the largest banks in Northern Europe to inside the cultural landmark that is Tivoli Gardens. So although we know the city of Copenhagen is usually quite supportive of skateboarding, it’s hard not to wonder how on earth you’d get the council’s blessing for something of this scale. Well William Frederiksen, one of the masterminds behind the event and a hugely influential figure in the Danish scene provided us with some rather inspiring answers. Have a read and enjoy Leo Sharp’s photos of the event.
Interview with William Frederiksen by Arthur Derrien
Arthur: When did you first start talking to the council about developing skateboarding in Copenhagen? How did the initial conversations go?
William: Well it all started way back, probably 20 years ago, when we formed the skateboarding association. The rules in Denmark are that if you form an association and you have enough people joining then the council has to give you support.
How many people joined?
About 500 I think. The sole mission for the association was to get a roof over our heads so we could skate all year round, because that’s a big problem in Denmark. For the first seven years we did all kinds of things like rented buses to go to Malmö to skate the indoor park but kept on saying to the council “we need something in Copenhagen, we need something in Copenhagen” – they offered us two indoor parks but one of them was outside town and one of them wasn’t high enough. Finally they found a place that couldn’t be more central. I was initially asked to design and build the course – I was training as a furniture designer at that point – and while I was building it they asked me if I knew anybody who could run the place. Obviously to do that job you need to know about skateboarding, about sponsorship, about politics, you need to have the gift of the gab – I thought about it for a couple of days, came back to them and said sorry I have no idea figure it out yourselves, I hope you find someone. Then the same night I was just thinking “well sounds fun, maybe I should do it for a couple of years… and that was it”.
Then I was employed by the council. The first year we were just getting our act together; none of us had ever tried it before and I’d never been a manager. Then I met a really great guy that introduced me to lobbying, politics and working the whole system. I had no idea I was going to end up doing anything like that. I was just a furniture designer, all I wanted was a workshop in the back of the skatepark and to be able design furniture every once in a while. But I really enjoyed networking and it was a very easy way in because whatever we did, it meant kids were out there being active… And that’s what politicians want! They want kids out of their rooms, away from screens, out there doing shit – basically what skateboarding’s all about. At the same time we had a generation shift in all of the local politicians so there were a lot of new young people coming in who just wanted to activate the city; use the spaces creatively and create active spots in the city for kids to use. This is why architects always photoshop some fucking skateboarder in the 3D plans when they propose them.
So I basically used every opportunity I got – every opening, every event where the mayor or any politicians was present to talk about what we’re doing. One thing led to another and then suddenly they’re asking me “How should we design the city?” I then got involved in another section of the council, the “culture and leisure section” in addition to the “parks” section. So I went to them and I said “let’s work together – we know leisure and culture and you know infrastructure and city planning – let’s create something.”
Parallel to that one of my first missions was the Fælledparken skatepark. There had been a skatepark there for about 15 years but it was filled with bullshit stuff. We loved skating there because of the vibe but the park itself was shit. When I asked – “How do we build the world’s best skatepark at Fælledparken?” my boss at the time said “well you just need to start talking about it.” So I wrote up a description, sent it to all the politicians and we did start talking about it. Now two years later one of the politicians happened to be in the park doing a tour and he was like: “Aren’t you that dude who did that write up about Fælledparken? Yeah I’ll find you a couple of million, let’s try it!” Things rolled from there basically. I just grabbed images from Google’s results for “biggest skatepark” and was like: ‘we need one of these in Copenhagen, as it’s the capital of Denmark.’ That was when we first linked up with the infrastructure department, ever since we’ve been working together.
Have you been working with those guys on the CPH Open stuff then ?
Not so much, this is really our own gig. Simon and me, we grew up going to those Munster comps in Germany – seeing live skating you know, seeing Ray Barbee doing a no-comply – it was just like ‘whoaa’ – so a couple of years into working in the skatepark we just thought “maybe we should try and do a pro-contest?” Then we got Camilla and Jane Lee on board and started thinking “what kind of vibe do we want?”
We looked at the Tampa Pro competitions and thought “that’s what we want to bring to Copenhagen.” So we got in contact with Brian Schaefer, Ryan and Thomas who initially started the whole association. They were really close to the guys from DVS so we managed to get a small sponsorship off them and then decided to go chiming doorbells in the States. We’d be like: “Hey! Fancy coming to Copenhagen?” and they’d reply “Where the fuck is Copenhagen?”. They had no idea.
Again we got some funding from the council and started the competition. At first we thought it was kind of just all about the pro contest, but the more the years went by, the more we realised it’s got nothing to do with the fucking skateboarding, it’s all about the city. If we didn’t have the city of Copenhagen it would just be any other contest. But Copenhagen is what attracts people, not only the city but also the people that live here. It’s the greatest crowd ever. So we started moving more towards branding Copenhagen internationally and saying that it was all about the city with skateboarding as an excuse to bring everybody together. The whole point is to get people out here to see the scenes and show people that this is a skateboard mecca.
Evan Smith backside 180 nosegrind (the hard way) at the first spot of the second day. Footage of that session HERE.
It’s crazy that the city puts up with such a huge amount of people street drinking and going from spot to spot. It feels more like a street festival than a skate contest.
They want it. It’s a whole new generation of politicians and it will come to other big European cities. You just need to wait for the politicians to get old and retire so a new breed can come in and you can educate them. They all want this kind of thing. The general consensus with the politicians in Copenhagen is that this is a capital, it’s noisy, people come here to party, have a good time and we need to make the most of that. If it gets too noisy, then move to the country: this is a capital city. I’m not even going to take credit for that, it comes from the politicians.
We have a massive festival every year called Distortion, where the whole of Copenhagen turns into one big party. Like Glastonbury but throughout the city. There are thousands of complaints every year, but there are hundreds of thousands of people coming to have a good time. A lot of politicians are scared of that one guy who writes a complaint, instead of focusing on the one hundred thousand people who are definitely having a great time and who will vote for you next time.
People forget that politicians are just normal, underpaid people. Local politicians are mostly in it for the love, they’re in it for the people and they are real people themselves. If you call up any local politician they’ll answer the phone and be interested. Bring them down to an event and don’t be scared that they’re going to be put off by people drinking and smoking weed – they’re not blind, they know it exists. If they see kids and they see people happy, that’s what they want.
Luan Oliveira, frontside 180 to flat at the spot mentioned by William below. The glass buildings you see in the background are the headquarters of one of the largest banks in northern Europe. Just behind the crowd was a head-high pile of free beer…
So did you have to get permits for each individual spot? Were they difficult to attain?
Yeah. This for instance is the headquarters of one of the largest banks in northern Europe. I called them up, told them “there’s going to be an event, we’re going to have some music, some drinking and it’s a skateboard event” – “oh we love the skaters, they hang out here all the time, yeah of course”.
Why do you think it is that there’s such a different mentality towards skateboarding here?
I don’t know, I guess we (people presenting it to politicians) take it super seriously. When I see other people lobbying elsewhere they compromise themselves, they say oh yeah we’re going to build a multi-function skatepark for scooters, bikes etc. But we’re like no, fuck that, we’re skateboarders, it’s a sport and we take it seriously. Sport is maybe the wrong word but you know, it’s its own activity it’s not skateboarding and graffiti or skateboarding and hacky-sacking or scootering or inlining, it’s skateboarding period.
Was that quite difficult to get across or did they understand straight away?
It’s still quite difficult with some of the older people but we’re getting there. We actually had a weird situation at Fælledparken when it first opened. It’s an outdoor spot so we couldn’t really control who came there and like 600 scooter kids would show up. It was impossible to skate. So we straight up got a ban on scooters, which was a bit strange at first because you know skaters have always been kicked out of places and now we’re the ones kicking people out. But it had to be like this, you can’t have tennis and badminton on the same court. So now you get fined by the police if you’re on a scooter there.
A lot of the scooter kids they come from middle class families and a lot of the, what we call “latte mums” created a massive uproar. “Why can’t our kids scoot here?” Well we’ve worked on this for 15 years and you show up 2 years ago and think you can just be involved? Go do your own thing! So instead of being progressive and getting funding like we did, they just wrote complaints on complaints on complaints until the council just gave them a couple of million kroner and built them a park down the road.
Bobby Worrest, switch backside noseblunt slide. This session at the Meat Packing District was definitely one of the highlights of the week. The best ledge skaters in the world having a mellow session on a couple of blocks and a slappy curb with free food and beer all evening and a proper after-party at the skate spot. It doesn’t really get any better than that.
So you guys are going to keep doing CPH open like this from now on?
We’re going to do that for another five years and see what direction it takes. I do either 3 or 5 year plans for things just to test the formats. I’m still trying to see if this going from spot to spot thing works and makes sense.
Well Nike hired us to do a “classic” skateboard competition, which I think is a good call, because even though the essence of skateboarding is not about competing (it’s about having a palette of tricks and figuring out how you’re going to use it to create your own expression) comps stimulate the scene and are a fun and social gathering.
Day 3 of the event took place in Copenhagen’s indoor park and had a very organised jam format so you’d almost be tricked into believing you were at a “traditional” contest. That’s until all hell broke loose during the evening’s Death Race… Here’s Darkness (Fernando Bramsmark) with a massive stalefish.
I heard you guys recently participated in some Olympic Committee meetings. Is skateboarding in the Olympics really happening? Do you not think this “essence” is at risk if it does?
Yeah, it’s definitely happening. Gary Ream (Woodward) is the one that set this up. He’s been rallying this for years and is in contact with the IOC (International Olympic Committee). The problem is they’ve been getting pitches from all kinds of weird people like the roller-skating association and shit like that. That’s why Gary was like “stop, the IOC needs to meet all the most influential people in skateboarding” so he set up a meeting (randomly it was at the Berrics, just because it seemed like a good place to meet) and gathered everybody who’s anybody in skateboarding to discuss this. I was lucky enough to be invited and it was historic. I don’t think there’s ever been that kind of a sit down before – DC, Sole-Tech, Nike, Skatepark of Tampa, ESPN, StreetLeague, Van Doren everybody was there.
The whole point was not to say “we’re going to do it like this”, it was to say “the people here in this room are people who should contribute towards getting skateboarding into the Olympics in the right way”. I’m sure half of the people in the room like me weren’t sure about how they actually felt about skateboarding being in the Olympics, but everybody agreed that since it was inevitable, it needed to be controlled by people who knew their shit. That way when it does become official we have the right people in charge all over the world.
The thing that interests me is that once it does get into the Olympics, a massive funding opportunity will arise. We will get a lot of money for the skateboarding union of Denmark. In Denmark and a few other European countries, all lottery and gambling excess goes to sports funding, but only those that are in the Olympics. That’s a huge amount and all the 52 sports represented in the Olympics get a chunk of that cash.
I’d like to see what could happen with this huge influx of money. In Copenhagen we’re fine, we can’t have any more bloody skateparks but the rest of Denmark is having a really hard time getting their parks built.
Alec Majerus, back tail through a kinked rail located in the heart of Tivoli on the fourth day. For those of you who have never heard of the place: it’s the second oldest amusement park in the world. It inspired Walt Disney to create Disneyland. Having a skate contest in that kind of fairy tale atmosphere was unreal.
And what about the downsides of skateboarding being in the Olympics?
Well the only down-side that I see is that all the other sports are competitive, they are about being better than somebody else and skateboarding isn’t. It’s about being better than yourself. It’s one of maybe five sports where that’s the essence of the sport – if skateboarding turns into “I want to be better than the next guy,” which is what competitive sports do, then we’re moving in the wrong direction.
Then again I’m not too worried. Rune (Glifberg) recently told me “don’t worry, skateboarding is so big and so strong that we can survive anything.” And he’s right, it’ll still always be about hitting the streets, being creative, having your palette and creating your expression.
Well I hope Rune’s right. Thanks William.
Andrew Brophy, alley-hoop backside 180 at the triangle DIY plaza where the finals took place. Props to the Levi’s Skateboarding guys for building this incredible park. Not that Copenhagen needed any more of those… Full video recap of the finals HERE.
Karsten Kleppan and Hjalte at the Meat Packing District:
Remember that this year’s edition will be taking place from the 10th to the 14th of August: