I Only Have Eyes For You
I’ll try and make this section short and to the point. My mother was born in Bytom, Poland. Her mother remarried and took her to America in 1973. She was bummed to say the least leaving her father behind. Fast forward to 1990 and I am born. Then fast-forward again to 1998 and I’m on my first trip to meet my grandfather, which continued almost every summer until 2006 when he passed away. After this I started to get love or whatever they call it from skating and began travelling, contest circuiting, etc. and I didn’t find time to come back until 2017 when we started working on Purple. I got a ticket and just said ‘I’m gonna go back to Krakow and Warsaw and make friends with the skaters of Poland.’ One of them in particular I was more or less searching for was Michał Juras´. Preston Maigetter, aka the great and honourable P-Stone, told me about Michał and that he was Poland’s first global Pro and that at some point in my life I needed to skate with him. I arrived in Krakow and was DM’d by local ripper Kuba Brniak and Pierre Dziedzic, owner of Skate or Die skateshop. They brought me to Warsaw and introduced me to Michał who introduced me to Kuba Kacmarczyk filmer/director and Kuba Bączkowski the photographer. Anyway we became instant friends. We have done trips to Poland, Germany, Croatia, Czech Republic, etc. We are bros as they would say… So when Kuba Kaczmarczyk told me he wanted to spend the summer making an edit and was given a budget to do it through Eastern Europe and said, ‘if you could figure out some travel arrangements we would love to have you.’
I called up my respective links and said, ‘what do you think? Wanna support me on this one and get me some tickets?’ They graciously agreed and we went on a two-part trip first to Ukraine and the next strictly Poland: Krakow and Warsaw. The crew consisted of Michał Juras, Jan Henrik Kongstein, Didrik Galasso aka Deedz, Eniz Fazliov, Tomek Ziółkowski, Kuba Brniak and myself.
Our first destination was Odessa, Ukraine and to say the least: you need to be on your toes out there. The locals and of course police aren’t too hyped on skateboarding.
On the first day we went straight to it: we left the hotel to hit the streets. Deedz and I have been friends for years; he was our tour guide in Copenhagen years ago when Willis and I came to visit, then he came to San Diego to stay with me for a few weeks. So we were so hyped to see each other. We just started pushing down the street as fast as we could then all of a sudden I hear ‘TOM!’ I look back, too late; I’m being thrown into the air, picked up by the hood of a Mercedes doing some sort of corked 360 to the pavement. I watched each tire pass me mid-air so I thought that’s good. After I gather myself the guy driving pulls over and tries to fight me. I yell at him ‘hey fucker you win.’ The crew rolls up before things could properly escalate. He gets back in his midlife crisis mobile and we continue on. Skateboarding ensues the rest of the day and tricks are catalogued: heelflips, pole-jams you get the idea. Night arrives and we are tired; we’ve been getting hit by cars and kicked out of spots by over muscled local street heroes. We think it’s a good idea to have some beers outside the hostel. You know take it easy… Ha! Not in Odessa! Surprise lurks around every corner and sure enough out of the fog comes a random American guy maybe 60 years old. He’s all fucked up on heroin for sure; he looks like your average retired dad. I notice he’s holding what seems like a needle and trying to conceal it. He starts walking toward Kuba (filmer) who has his back turned. I say ‘stop right there man, what’s that in your hand?’ ‘Oh nothing, nothing where are you guys from? I’m Roger, I’m from Virginia…’ He tries to spark conversation and to manipulate the conversation away from the fact he has a needle in his hand. I just say. ‘I don’t care what you’re saying. WHAT’S THE NEEDLE DOING IN YOUR HAND MAAAN!?’ He oddly and quickly puts the needle in his pocket. We start to exchange more words. I say a few things to him that are kinda heavy, don’t need to go into it, but heavy. His tone changes, he does the classic ‘whatever man, this isn’t worth my time’ and walks off. This situation was so weird, if there’s anybody looking for their dad from Virginia Beach named Roger he’s in Odessa on the H. Roger leaves… Back to beer yes! And calmness yes! Nooo! Less than five minutes after Roger goes here comes Odessa’s finest. We are like, ‘you got to be kidding me!’ These guys do the classic no beers on the street routine and the negotiating begins. Of course nobody speaks Ukrainian and I speak the best English so I’m communicating with these guys. We keep doing the merry-go-round of how should we solve this without having to take us in. I find the moment, I tell the crew to empty their wallets so everyone took out cash and coins. I wad up the cash into a ball, which is probably the amount of 15 euros, and I just ask the cops to leave us alone and don’t bother us again. We just wanna drink beers outside this hot hostel and you’re just making up laws as you go so could you please just fuck off for life? They did. I get back into my room and take off my mask of confidence. Anxiety and paranoia mixed with heavy jet lag engulfs me like, ‘Where the fuck am I? This place is insane.’ I basically don’t sleep for three days after this. You will see the effects of this in the video I promise.
The trip presses on. Odessa is littered with golden skate spots… If you’re a fan of New York East Coast cellar door skating: this is your land. I would love to see Bobby Puleo, Ricky Oyola, Jahmal Williams, Ron Deily and others skate here. It was built for them. The only problem getting this gold is every person walking down the street or worker at the building etc. will kick you out and try and fight you. Deedz got hit mid-line by an old lady with her purse, which we thought was great. Here’s a story I heard verbatim from one of the others because I wasn’t there. One morning Jan, Deedz and Kubas filmer and photographer went back to this monument we had tried to hit midday, so this time they went really early in the morning. They thought ‘yeah 6am we will be good.’ Nope! Cops roll up and from what I was told the Kubas, Deedz and Jan take off running in different directions (which is smart, it decreases the odds), they catch Deedz, they cuff him and threw him in the cop car. They grill him for money; he’s got like 40 Ukrainian on him or something. Deedz is so rad because if you know him he doesn’t have a big margin for fear. He was apparently laughing this whole time like, ‘duuuudes I don’t have anything!’ They were probably just thrown off by his lack of caring and fear of the situation and probably just said to themselves: ‘This dude’s nuts and he has no drugs; let’s just let him go.’
The rest of the trip goes pretty well: there are daily occurrences of weirdness but we find the rhythm. I get to see first-hand the raw power of this crew. Michał is a beast… We’ve known this for years now so he’s doing his thing stacking clips on all terrains with ease. With unrivalled willpower, I just want to side thank Michał real quick and say some stuff about him because this dude holds it heavy for his country. From letting out-of-towners stay at his house for weeks on end, to helping push the younger guys to skate harder and everything in between: this guy is just a great representation of skateboarding. Now there’s also little Kuba Brniak, a young ripper from Krakow, who you will all be a fan of very soon. He’s the youngest of the bunch; he’s very good and still learning how to not trip over his shoelaces. Now I want to talk about Eniz Fazliov and Jan Henrik Kongstein. First off wow, Jan is a beast! Super stylish, super clean, amazing trick selection, but beyond all of that a nice and very bright man. He’s so easy to talk with, super open-minded, properly opinionated: just a class person. Jan you are great: love you dude! As for Eniz, there’s only one other person I’ve seen with that kind of commitment on a skateboard and that is Milton Martinez, so you get the idea. Beyond that he’s an amazing individual, so open-minded and not even close to too cool. Europe is lucky to have him as one of their skateboarding front men: the very best! Now there’s one more dude I need to mention: Tomek Ziółkowski of Warsaw aka Tommy G. Tomek grew up rough. He’s one of those listen and say very little types, which I like. He’s constantly observing his surroundings. He’s someone you really have to earn his trust and friendship, which we are all honoured to have done so. His skating is a mix between Shane O’Neill and Bobby Puleo if that can even make sense. He does stuff like nollie nosemanual nollie 360 flip out, etc. but then do the craziest crustiest cellar door alleyway hits. It’s a mix I have never seen before and a beautiful one at that.
Krakow & Warsaw
Back to the homeland!
A few weeks go by and we take our respected planes to Krakow. Having endured and survived Odessa, we are all good friends and very familiar with each other at this point. I’m very excited because this is the first trip I’ve ever been on with a mixed crew in Poland. So between Michał, Tomek and the Kubas we are so happy to show these guys how much the country has progressed. Krakow is honestly one of the most beautiful cities on the planet. Not over crowded, great food, amazing summer weather, beautiful well-preserved architecture, not too expensive… I could go on. I don’t think people really know how modern Poland has become. There really weren’t too many stories of adversity, except for the first day, which seems to be our theme, ha ha. The first day starts off great, everyone gets at least a trick and a photo and we are stoked. The day is coming to a close when Kuba the filmer says ‘oh shit I can’t find the keys to the apartment.’ We are like, ‘what do you mean?’ He’s like, ‘I don’t know where they are.’ We do the classic retrace our steps project and nothing: he lost them. All of our stuff is in the apartment, we stink from a hot skate day and the only place we can stay is this one room in a hostel. Not so bad; we just accept the situation and decide to stay out late so we don’t have to be crammed in there all night. We head back in the late evening, pass out and get up the next day and replace the keys: all good. This becomes a small joke on Kuba daily though. He knew he blew it and took our jokes like a champ. The rest of the trip is easy: no one gets hurt, clips and photos are stacked. We skate all day and party when we have earned it. Honestly these trips are so amazing because everyone is around the same age. We’ve all been doing this for a while. We know what to do and what not to do and when to do it. No crazy wildcards, well maybe I’m the wildcard, but whatever we got it. We have an amazing time in Krakow then we head to Warsaw.
Warsaw is different than Krakow, it’s the capital of Poland and a very metropolitan city. It’s where Michał Tomek, Kuba Kaczmarczyk and Kuba Bączkowski are from. Needless to say we get the keys to the city and all spots are pre-booked for us; it was very nice and productive. Also to add: this city has one of the most unique DIY parks I’ve ever seen: the Szaber bowl. Look it up. Anyway, I wish I had more stories of sketchy car hits and cracked out midlife crisis tweakers, but honestly in Krakow and Warsaw it was amazing to see the reaction of the guys who had never been there—how much they enjoyed their time. Jan in particular was loving Warsaw like, ‘Tom let’s rent an apartment here next summer!’ ‘Hell yeah let’s do that for sure Jan,’ holding you to it. I have a feeling very soon Poland will be another regular destination on the maps to the skater’s homes.
This is a Grey Area Video project. Even by the skaters involved, little is known about this video… When exactly it will debut or how exactly it will be edited. We just rode our skateboards, became friends, and Kuba filmed it. We just trust that it will give the feel and hype we are all looking for.
One last thing I would like to add is that we had a lot of friends pass this year: Mark Hubbard, Ben Raemers, Pablo Ramirez, and Phelper and we really were pushing ourselves in their name and dedicate this project to them. Tell your friends and family you love them and cherish the moments you have. Make new friends, keep your old ones very close, explore new lands, and show respect so you can be welcomed back.
Some additional information from Kuba (the filmer):
I was asked to make a small addition to the text written by Tom. I’ve been filming skateboarding for many, many years and it was always for a full-length video. After the last video I decided I’d either quit filming skateboarding or change the formula and pursue new challenges. As I’m not just ready for retirement yet we came up with something new: let’s focus on a shorter form project and film on trips. The destinations for the first episode of the new chapter in my life were: Odessa and Krakow (and of course my hometown Warsaw, where I film in the meantime). Why those cities? The title Grey Area describes a certain type of aesthetic in skateboarding. So with a bunch of Euro underdogs plus one half European we hit the dirty east. Here are a few facts and urban legends about those cities you’ve probably never heard of.
According to my friend Sergej, ‘it’s cellar door paradise; you guys have to go there!’ said Mr Vutuc when he saw our crew skating last year. Indeed, the spots were crazy good. Odessa is the major touristic centre of Ukraine. Its city centre doesn’t look like your typical Soviet city centre: you can see the French influence in their architecture for sure, it’s lovely. The rest of the town (or the parts we’ve been to) looked gloomier but this is what I was looking for… Odessa is very well known for its tradition with organised crime. The gang called Odessa Mafia was established in this city and now it’s considered the biggest post-Soviet gang in the US.
It’s the former capital of Poland. Warsaw became the capital in the 17th century. Because of this there is a beef going on between these two cities. It also has the most beautiful old town in Poland and its famous for having a very laid back vibe. The rest of Poland calls Krakow’s citizens ‘Cents’ as they’re considered penny-pinchers (even penurious). It’s also a very popular place for British bachelor parties (stag-dos).
It’s the city where I was born and where I’ve been living for over 40 years. It’s the current capital of Poland, which Krakow citizens are jealous about. According to the books (obviously mostly Polish) it was called ‘Paris of the East’. Unfortunately you can’t see that now as the whole city was completely destroyed during the Second World War. In total 84 per cent of the buildings were brought down. Now the city develops super fast and new buildings are popping up on every corner. A fun fact is that Warsaw has become a super vegan friendly town – there are 47 vegan restaurants now and growing.