Inside Man: Gustav Eden
Ever wondered why Malmö, a city of just over 150 km2 has more good skateparks than say a city like London that’s almost ten times its size? Why it’s the only city in the world to have a school that’s run by skateboarders, in a skatepark? Why this tiny Swedish city was picked by Vans to host the finals of the world championships of bowl skating? Well it’s because of the very special relationship the local skateboarders have managed to establish with their council. How did they build such a strong rapport of trust with the council? And how on earth did they then convince them to use taxpayer’s money to turn their city into a skateboarding mecca?
We recently sat down with Gustav Eden, official Skateboarding Coordinator for The City of Malmö (and all around legend) who provided use with some very insightful answers.
Interview by Arthur Derrien. Photos by Leo Sharp (unless stated).
Can you start by defining your role and explaining to us what you are responsible for?
Gustav Eden: OK but I’ll start with some background and I’ll try not to be too long winded. The city has been engaging with the skaters of Malmö for the past 20 years or more and the skaters learned early on to get organised. They started different clubs that eventually ended up being Bryggeriet (the main skate organisation that runs the indoor park) and from that organisation they also ended up pitching to the city to build a big concrete park and that was Stapelbäddsparken.
At that point the city had some rather inspired leadership that saw an opportunity here and approved the project. Stapelbäddsparken was built and at that time was one of the main new big concrete parks in Europe, so the Quiksilver Bowl Riders comp ended up moving to Malmö. The city chose to put a bit of funding into the event and that funding ended up repeating itself. If you manage to get money from them once, it’s easier to get it again. Especially if they see that it’s actually being used properly.
The following year when Quiksilver pulled out, the funding had already been approved, so my predecessor (Erik Löfvander) said: ‘hey well we’ve learnt now how to do this on our own.’ And the skaters were like: ‘yeah we can do it,’ so the city forged a formal partnership with the skaters to do Ultra Bowl. It was a success so they kept it growing and eight years later the city’s funding and the partnership had grown to the point where the skating didn’t just involve the big event, it also involved several smaller events. The relationship with the city had grown stronger and we were influencing how the city was being formed in a new way. Then I stepped in two years ago, right as the was being reorganised and during that reorganisation they assigned me the role of official Skateboarding Coordinator.
So now my job is to use the Malmö taxpayer’s money to help grow skateboarding and promote Malmö as a city.
Did your role at the skate school have any influence in you getting that job?
Wait actually before you launch into that can you explain how the skate park’s association evolved into a school?
Absolutely. So one main step in the growth of the skatepark – and this shows the drive and the vision of the skaters – was that they were given this massive space in an old factory with all these offices upstairs that the council was starting to use for different courses (university courses and stuff). At that point the skaters already knew that it was possible to force schools to have skateboarding on the curriculum as a line of sports education. So they thought: ‘hey let’s do it the other way around’. Rather than a school starting a skate class let the skate organisation start the school, because there’s a system in Sweden where you can have what’s known as a ‘free school’ where you can start a school and then get the government funding if people apply for it.
The skate organisation is a not for profit, so all the money that goes into the school goes back to the school or the skatepark so they help sustain each other. The idea was to have a school where your passion for skateboarding can help drive your pursuit of knowledge. If you’re a skateboarder and you have an interest in say, photography, film, fashion or business then you can tap into that knowledge and what you know about these things within skateboarding can then translate outside of it. Easy example: you can learn film by filming skateboarding but then use that skill for other stuff. The idea is essentially to let a passion drive knowledge, or the pursuit of an education. Which is easier said than done because in the end school is school…
Does it seem to be working though?
Yes I’d say it is. The surveys that check which schools are most popular from the student’s perspective showed Bryggeriet at the top in Malmö for a few years in a row.
Yeah that’s amazing.
It’s also cool ‘cause we now have had students coming from all over Scandinavia – especially Norway and Denmark. Which means that every year the graduates have friends in Denmark and Norway, who they can then visit and travel with. The school then becomes this network that solidifies the whole next generation of Scandinavian skateboarding.
Have you guys tried expanding this to other countries?
Well the partnership between Bryggeriet and the city of Malmö is a testament to two things. One is that the city is willing to say ‘yes’. But crucially – and this one’s the one that the skaters need to hear – is that the skaters have been a good partner to the city. They’ve been organised. Every time they’ve had a chance, they’ve delivered on it, and delivered more than they’ve been expected to and then they’ve come with the next suggestions saying: ‘hey what about if we do this?’ They’ve proven to the city that they’re a reliable group to put money towards. They can handle the money and they can make sure the events are good for the general public, because you have to remember that the main audience is the general public – not just the skaters. We want to make the events good for skaters to show the real face of skateboarding, but the main audience is still the general public.
If we don’t do good events that everyone likes, while still showing that skateboarding is something positive, then why should the government fund us? That’s something skaters should keep in mind. It’s easy to complain about how the councils don’t listen and so on – and sometimes it’s true but it’s also crucial to remember that if that is the case then you’ve got to make their job as easy as possible… Once you’ve proven that you’re trustworthy then they’re more likely to give you a bit more freedom. I don’t mean to put it all at the skaters’ feet, but I think it’s important to remember the city’s perspective.
Yeah, yeah. It’s good to put it into context because skaters tend to think it’s unattainable, like: ‘these people, they will never listen to us…’
Generally as soon as you start thinking of the council as an opponent, then that’s what’s going to happen.
Deep down they are kind of after the same thing as you, which is getting people outdoors enjoying themselves.
Yeah. It’s important to realise that you pay tax and there’s a department at the council that uses that money for the benefit of the citizens. If you can prove to them that it’s gonna benefit everybody, not just a small group of people, they’ll be likely to help you. If you go about it in a ‘hey we deserve this’ way you’re going to be creating an uphill struggle for yourself.
Can you tell us a little bit about this event (The Vans Park Series finals)? It’s essentially the world championships of bowl skating. Having that in Malmö is incredible.
Yeah it’s a massive deal. At the same time when it comes to doing these kinds of contests in Europe, Malmö has a good track record – especially in bowl/park skating. John Magnusson and Bryggeriet guys have a really good relationship with all the riders and the council supports the events massively.
What sort of led to it is that we contacted Vans last year to sort of pitch like: ‘hey we’re doing this and you guys are in the same kind of field, you’ve supported Vert Attack, you know we’re down to do something if you are,’ and I think Neal Hendrix spoke to the guys a little bit at Vans and I think they were planning the Van Doren Invitational and were looking to expand it to Europe. So we were already on the list, quite high on the list because we had proven that we were reliable partners.
So it actually started out as an extension of Van Doren Invitational?
Yeah then Vans and the Park Series guys had a vision to do this global competition series with a world championship and they got back to us about being one of the qualifying comps. We were down with that and discussed hiring an arena and building a temporary park, selling tickets and all that sort of stuff. But for us that’s not really our style.
You guys want permanent skateparks.
Exactly. We work to further skateboarding in Malmö permanently. Plus since we work for the Streets and Parks Department it’s easier for us to move quickly on this stuff. So we managed to find this space in Hyllie that’s going to be redeveloped next year. All the legal work had already been done for it and it actually said that it was an ‘activity space’, so we could pitch back and say: ‘hey, I know you guys want to build a park but we actually have the option to make it permanent, how does that sit with you?’ Vans were obviously, like: ‘wow isn’t that going to be really expensive?’ and we went through the numbers and got the Bryggeriet crew who design and build skate parks do it for as cheap as possible. So when we got back to them with the numbers Vans were taken aback! Being in Europe also worked to our advantage as (Vans) want to show that they’re all over the world, and not just in the US.
And also the fact that we wanted a women’s comp – we insisted on a women’s comp essentially – because all the events we do we want women to be exposed as much as they possibly can because it doesn’t make sense that there’s not as many girls as guys skating. It’s just because people haven’t been willing to invest in it. And we can, so we do. Also originally the final had been planned for Chicago!
Did the city of Malmö actually put money into it as well?
Yeah so we (Malmö) put the budget that would normally be allocated to Ultra Bowl into this. In fact it was actually even an extended budget because it’s the ‘World Championships’. So, that’s how we got to this event.
Then there’s also the whole story of all the street spots you’ve helped develop.
Yeah. My colleagues at the Streets and Parks Department are like the landscape architects, road builders, the tree planters… So it’s quite easy just by being in the same building to have informal dialogue about what can be done. Like ‘hey if you have a space where you think you want activity or you think people might want to skate, let’s look at it, so that we can promote skating in the spaces where it’s good and avoid negative design in the others,’ like skate-stoppers and so on – because that’s just sending the wrong message. We want to send the message that Malmö is for skating – by skaters in collaboration with the city.
And there’s also another strategy where we look at spaces that could potentially be skate spots but they lack some functionality, and then we add that. So we’ve added granite blocks and granite benches to squares that could use the life that skateboarding brings. By doing that we create these sort of meet-up hubs and social spots that really help unite neighbourhoods and give kids somewhere to go. That’s a massive resource. There’s no youth clubs like that; there’s no central skateparks that are like that. You need a free space where you can do stuff – like a functional free space.
A space where you can actually encounter people getting on with their lives rather than being isolated in a ‘skatepark’, where you don’t see the public.
Exactly. I guess I really believe in skateboarding. Wow, can you have violins in print? (Laughs)
Care to share your views on skateboarding being in the Olympics?
There’s danger in it for sure. If that very formatted approach to skating is what everyone sees then you’re at risk of it becoming that. We don’t want that to become the language of skateboarding. The challenge for everyone, especially those who talk about selling out and so on, is to show to the rest of the world that skateboarding is other things as well.
Like CPH Open.
Yeah like everything. Like if you’re an independent board company talking shit about people selling out and Nike funding the Olympics, then make a video that’s good enough for everyone to want to see and make sure that it portrays skateboarding how you want. And then if people see that then they will have a different image of it and unless the rest of skating does that…
So everyone has a little bit of responsibility?
Yeah everyone is responsible for how we communicate skateboarding. Just because other people are more moneyed doesn’t alleviate you from the responsibility. If you want change, you have to be part of doing it. You can’t just say: ‘oh they won now, because they got the Olympics and all the money went that way.’ You have to be like: ‘OK so we’re gonna have to fight for a voice.’ We’re gonna have to show that there’s other things to say. And I think in the end, the reason the Olympics needs skateboarding is that… It’s becoming very attractive and the traditional sports are… Well the people who are sort of stooped in that formula are growing older.
I think with what skateboarding has, that it’s more than a traditional sport. However, any shape that you put on skateboarding; any contest, any format, any art show, anything is going to shift the focus to that format and reduce skateboarding.
But skateboarding is something that shouldn’t be reduced…
Yeah, but it will be if that format wins. So you have to be careful to show that skateboarding is more than the format. Otherwise skateboarding itself gets reduced and I think it’s the challenge for the whole skateboarding world to look after the values of skating. I’m not even necessarily against the Olympics… Imagine how much the Olympics are going to do for skateboarding in Asia and Africa. The greater parts of the world’s population who don’t know about skateboarding and the Olympics are going to show it to them.
I know what you mean, it’s a bit selfish not to want everyone to enjoy skateboarding as much as we do.
Yeah. Consider the Olympics like a gateway drug. (Laughs). The reason why people like skateboarding is because it’s not like the Olympics, so I don’t think we’re in as much danger as we think. And I think perhaps the Olympics can become more interesting because of skateboarding… I mean you never know!
The main danger with the Olympics is that it’s a centralisation of power – so you’re gonna have a federation that, you know, makes calls about how skateboarding gets portrayed, and who’s in and who’s out and so on. But we are the first sport, as far as I know, that have been allowed to create their own federation, because the skaters, the whole skate world, insisted that we’re not gonna be part of this the same way snowboarding was, which was put under the skiing federation and got raped. (Laughs). Skaters have actually managed to get their own federation – the ISF – and say what you want about the ISF but I think they’re backed by a lot of people in skating who really know what skating is about and know what they’re talking about. You’re worrying about the Olympics? Get involved in the ISF! If you have something to say, be involved in your or national skate organisation. Make sure it’s not shit.
Basically if you’re complaining about the Olympics contact the people from Dime Glory Challenge or the CPH Open, and get them involved in the ISF.
Haha, yeah exactly. Or just do your own Dime Challenge, or Copenhagen Open – same as we do our events here. Like the Skate Malmö Street and all this stuff, we were trying to move away from a rigid comp format and be more about the formats reflecting the experience of a skate session as much as possible, because no one cares about who wins contests anyways. Plus just because there’s a format doesn’t mean that’s the law. I thought skaters were supposed to break the law you know? Go right ahead.
Any parting words?
If you’re a company working in an industry then you need to put your money where your market is, and the skate market has been dominated by young teenage, and recently rich, boys. But that’s only a fraction of all the people that could be involved in skating. … That’s all good and that’s been the foundation of skateboarding culture. I don’t mean to slag that model off but from my experience it’s been really interesting to work with money that can be directed completely differently.
My budget (Malmö’s) is supposed to create benefits for the citizens of Malmö and also to market Malmö as a destination. That means that I can invest in female skating without needing to make money back from it, which has helped grow female skateboarding in Malmö. We can put skate spots in areas that need it rather than in areas where they can make the most money.
We can have a whole social approach to how we work with skating and to me working in that way really reflects some of the core values of skateboarding. I think as the skate shops are dying because they have too high overheads and online shopping is taking over, I think we’re going to see the skateboarding organisations, like Bryggeriet or the different skate organisations around the world become more important. They’re going to sort of be the culture bearers. They’ll be the ones who’ll be going to get funding to do fun stuff and help skating grow, and I don’t mean to say its going to replace the skate shop, but I’m saying it’s something that’s good to get involved in.
So if you’re in a town where you have all these different factions of people and shops, if you can get a strong skate organisation together that’s democratic, where people come from all the different camps and talk together, and if you can be a good partner to the city, the money you’re going to get back you’re going to be able to spend in ways that have really interesting opportunities. So at the risk of finishing on a sort of political note, I would say you know, get involved in that stuff. It sounds boring and bureaucratic, but if you don’t get involved you leave the power to the people that do. So get involved.