FTC Barcelona: POR FIN
With FTC Barcelona being one of the most established shops in Europe, based in possibly the most skated city in the world (and it being a fucking FTC), it’s easy to think that they wouldn’t have had to face the same challenges as other core shops, that they were somehow immune to everything our constantly mutating industry was putting everyone else through… Well they weren’t, and they even had their own set of separate challenges that at times had almost nothing to do with our beloved industry and its tendency to scream ‘support your local’ whilst whispering ‘can I get a discount’ every time it gets to the till.
Anyway if you’re reading this it’s because Julio Arnau’s shop just turned ten and that despite having had to adapt and rethink how he does business, FTC is still one of the pillars of Barcelona’s skate scene, constantly working on videos, helping with DIY projects and supporting generations of locals from Raul Navarro and the OG Sants heads all the way down to Pedro Attenborough, Sixsas and the MACBA kids. He can still be spotted boosting banging switch flips around the corner on his lunch break, still needs minimum five lurkers around him in the shop at all times and is still very much doing it For The City.
– Arthur Derrien
Ok let’s do this… You’re not originally from Barcelona right? When did you move there?
Julio Arnau: Yeah I’m originally for Tarragona, which is like one hour south of Barcelona. I used to come up every other weekend when I was like 15/16 and when I turned 19
I moved here properly. It was probably around ’98…
Was that before all the skate tourism had properly kicked in then?
Yeah I mean a few people would come and visit in the summer but it was nothing like today… The scene was much smaller. We’d only skate in a handful of places and we basically all knew each other. For me it was mainly Sants, but then there was already another small crew that would skate MACBA, a few guys that would skate Uni… I think there were just two skate shops back then: one called Icara that was actually run by a skater and then this place called Free Sport that also sold snowboards, surfboards, rollerblades, bikes…
When would you say the influx of visiting skaters started then?
Maybe early 2000s? I have clips from like ’99 with MACBA still completely empty so it must have been a few years after that. It’s because of Anthony Claravall! Ha ha. He started coming in the late nineties to film for 411VM and would go back and tell everyone! And then yeah after 411 released that full Barcelona segment that’s when everyone was really like ‘Fuck we have to go!’ But at that point it was still mainly pros coming to film for a few weeks or something. There generally weren’t that many skaters from other countries living here, like how these days you have all these French, German, Swedish people doing all the telemarketing jobs just to be here and skate. That came another five or six years later I’d say… But who knows what’s going to happen now, maybe nobody’s ever coming back after this!
Were locals at all resentful when all this started happening?
I don’t know… For me it was always a bit different because I wasn’t actually from Barcelona. Like I felt at home in Sants but when I’d go anywhere else I was well aware that I wasn’t from the city. Plus I’d always be going around with people that were from other places anyway. My house back then was a fucking skate house with like ten people staying at all times… And since I’ve been living in Barca it’s always been like that for me, like I’ve always had people from other countries over. It is funny though how back then if five skaters were visiting from somewhere else, you’d know exactly who they were and would make sure you chatted to them, asked them where they were from and stuff. Now it’s impossible to keep up ha ha. I mean I have a skate shop now so I’m obviously not complaining here, ha ha, it’s just different.
Can you tell me a little bit about the Nomad days? Were you filming a lot with Enrique Mayor during that period?
Yeah… So as I said I was hanging out at Sants a lot during that period andbasically my homie Ivan started Nomad and I ended up skating for them with Pablo Dominguez, Raul Navarro, Petr Horvat, Luy-pa Sin… It was a bunch of us. Nomad had a really good moment; like the team was sick and they made a video… I never got super serious into filming for it though. And yeah Kike (Enrique Mayor) was definitely the main guy filming in Barcelona back then. Most of the old footage you’d see come out of Barca even before that was usually filmed by him.
Were you going on trips with them and stuff?
Yeah man! We even went on a skate trip to Russia!
Yeah I think it was like 2006 or something. It was crazy… They had a distributor out there and the dude took us around St. Petersburg and Moscow. I remember this one demo we did where we had this weird VIP area with food and just loads of Vodka ha ha.
Just a few mellow bottles of vodka to get warmed up for the demo ha ha…
Yeah I remember thinking ‘are you serious?’ I think I probably landed one trick at that demo.
But the trip itself was really sick… In St. Petersburg in the summer it stays light outside forever like in Finland and the spots we skated were amazing… And they’re everywhere. It was definitely the most skate spots I’ve ever seen in one place.
And that’s coming from someone who lives in Barca… Were you getting paid to skate at that time or were you working?
No it was just like free boards and some free shoes.
Yep I-Path ha ha. Kenny Reed and those guys were here quite a lot and we were homies. So yeah I was definitely working… I had some pretty crazy jobs actually ha ha…
One of them was doing electric maintenance at a nuclear power plant. That was a really good one, because I could basically work three months and then not work for like six you know… We were really living cheap back then. Like it was ten of us in the same flat splitting rent so I was paying like 60 euros a month, you’d sell a board or a pair of shoes every now and then, sometimes get a part-time job for a bit… Life was way different then. This was like 15 years ago when you could have a whole apartment for 300 euros a month.
What was it like in terms of getting kicked out of spots back then? Do you reckon attitudes towards skating have changed?
I don’t know… I think in general it’s kind of the same apart from the fact that now as you’re arriving often another crew is just leaving as opposed to back in the day when we’d skate a spot we were probably the only crew to skate it that week you know? That obviously changes things a little bit, but honestly there’s just so many spots that I don’t think that’s a problem… Like a lot of people only stay in the city centre, which is a shame. The best is just to get a train to a small town on the outskirts of the city and skate all the way back into the centre hitting all the spots. Sometimes we’re like 10km out and we make our way back, I love that. I mean you know you’ve been on some of those missions!
Yeah those Sundays were so fun…
Okay so you’re just skating as much as you can, working random jobs, living off virtually no money… What made you decide to open a skate shop?
At the time I was working in construction on scaffoldings… So that meant every morning waking up at 7am, moving big bits of metal 40 metres above the ground and shit for almost no money. To give you an idea, the company I worked for was also doing the Sagrada Familia, so when there was no work we’d just get sent to stick metal around that bullshit… It got to the point where I thought ‘what am I doing? I’m like basically risking my life for nothing here.’ So me and a few others first imagined starting a distribution, then ‘what about this, what about that’ and in the end we decided to do a skate shop.
You had a partner at the time right?
Yeah. He (Julio asked us to leave the partner’s name out of this) had the connection with FTC so we spoke to Kent Uyehara and he was interested… Then I started saving and doing the business plan for like two years. The idea was that I’d stay here and do that, I’d get my share of the money we’d invest through a loan and in the meantime my business partner would go back to America to work, save money and come back to Barcelona when we had everything ready for him to work at the shop; that way instead of the shop paying him, he’d live off his savings until the shop made enough money to do so… Anyway in the meantime Kent came to Barcelona, he liked the idea, we paid for the franchise and the whole thing, but in 2009 when we were supposed to open at Christmas, City Hall fucked everything up for us at the last minute. They claimed something about our walls of the shop didn’t fit their regulations and stopped me from opening. I had all the Christmas product, but was forced to wait until April to open… So already a bit of a crazy start… And then by the time we finally opened and my partner had come back to Barcelona, he didn’t have the money he said he was saving… So the shop really wasn’t doing well and I was basically putting in all the money.
So you had to part ways?
Yeah… Like he’s the one that put me in contact with FTC and he was a friend so it was really difficult but I had to tell him to go basically. And Kent understood. I was in a position where I didn’t have a choice: I was the one that had the crazy loan and it was like the bank will come after me and my family you know? Him, he was just free to walk away.
Ah man that really sucks…
Yeah… And we had our personal issues that I tried to resolve but that didn’t really work out. At the same time he was going through some really tough times… But we all tried to help and it got to the point where it was like ‘you’re not letting us help you and you’re going to make me lose everything and go broke’. It was the only way for me and the shop to survive: I had to keep hustling and he had to go. Like I’d been paying rent on the shop for six months without even being open, paying my partner’s rent, his salary… It was really tough; we really lost a lot of money at the beginning. And I still remember, as soon as I found out he had a job lined up out there I was like ‘okay it’s your last summer here, just try to enjoy it…’ and I bought him a ticket back.
I’m still really sorry that it had to be that way because we were good friends.
I hope he’s okay… That’s all I can say.
Okay and what did the next phase look like? Things get any easier? What changed?
What changed is that I worked by myself doing like 60-hour weeks for six months, which enabled me to save a lot of money… I also helped set up a distribution company that brought in a few brands that were killing it back then, like HUF and Diamond. So sort of just looking at brands that other shops didn’t have in and that I was into, and FTC kind of became the go to place for these brands… Remember that this was ten years ago, so most of the other shops weren’t really run by people that actually skated…
So they’d be stocking brands that weren’t necessarily that relevant at the time?
Yeah. Or more just that since I always skated I ended up pushing the brands that were linked to people I liked and knew, so it made the shop a bit different. And yeah then the fact that it’s FTC… Like if you go on a trip to SF as a skater the first thing you do when you arrive is check out FTC. Now it’s the same thing in Barcelona, the first thing people do when they get here is come say hi, get some grip or whatever. It’s funny how I find out about people coming to Barca… They get boxes sent to the shop before they even mention anything ha ha. I always know when JB is coming because a Nike box that says JB Gillet shows up ha ha. ‘Oh shit I guess I’m going to get to see JB soon ha ha, sick.’ Plus everyone that works and has ever worked at the shop skates, so it naturally became the meeting point for a lot of people visiting and I think that also helped a lot.
When you first opened the shop your strategy was a little different to how you’re doing things these days right? What made you decide to no longer sell skate shoes?
Yeah when we first opened we had all the shoe brands: adidas, Lakai, Vans, Nike… Supra dude… We even had Supra ha ha. And we were the first people in Spain to have Converse as we were getting them through FTC in SF… People would trip like, ‘what the fuck… Converse?!’ ‘Cause they didn’t realise there was a skate line. There was no distribution for them here back then, don’t even know if they had them in Europe yet…
But the shoes just weren’t selling so I slowly had to start cutting brands. Like I wish I could have all the brands but I have to pay for this stuff.
And then there was the interview you guys did with Dave Mackey about his new shop and focusing on Lost Art clothing, hardware and not selling any shoes… Like the idea was already at the back of my head but when I read that I just thought fuck it. We just had so many Nikes and so many Cons that just weren’t really selling… Well actually that’s not true, like Nike for example sold super good in the first year but after that they completely changed the way they were doing things here in Spain and suddenly everyone had them you know? Like you could probably buy Nike SB in a fucking bakery ha ha. And that fucked it up for us really bad so we just had to stop selling the shoes. I should probably say now that this is not me just saying ‘fuck Nike SB’ or anything like that because they really help us out a lot these days, I’m just explaining how it was back then.
Anyway even after that I still stuck with Cons for a bit as Pali Negrín is my homie and they were really supporting what we do, like giving shoes to everyone and stuff but they just weren’t selling. And I’d look at everything and be like I’ve got mad shoes in the warehouse but barely any boards on the wall… Like that’s not a skate shop. Basically every year we’d cut a shoe brand and then by 2016 I stopped selling shoes altogether. But yeah it was mainly because of Mackey’s interview so I want to thank him. That dude is so sick and I really like what he’s doing with Lost Art. We had the same issues as him and that interview made me see things clearly: we’re a fucking skate shop; skate any shoes you want I don’t care but you’re always going to need a board. And I dunno like nothing gets me more hyped to skate than a new board with a sick graphic… Shoes I dunno, they’re just whatever ha ha.
Ha ha. I bet our advertisers are going to love this interview…
Ha ha don’t get me wrong I love shoes, they’re great! I even skate in them ha ha ha. And it’s cool that some shops can pay their bills by selling shoes but for us it just didn’t work. Shoes are so dictated by fashion, skateboards are different, and you see a board you liked five years ago you’re still going to think it’s sick today. In a way skateboards are forever, even though they only last a month, just because of the memories you attach to them.
What’s interesting is that despite all this you’re in a unique position where shoe brands like Nike SB or Cons actually support what you guys do despite you not selling the product ha ha. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. Like they give most of the crew shoes, help out with trips…
I think it’s because of what we do in the city… Like the Spotter guys, the Sants guys, the MACBA guys… Some may have their differences here and there but we support all these crews and they all fuck with FTC. We respect what other shops are doing but also we’re doing things our way and brands like Nike or Converse want to be associated with our image I guess? And they’re so big that they can afford to… And it’s like if they want to do stuff for the community of course they’re going to do stuff through us as we’re always doing stuff for the community. It’s a marketing thing… And I don’t care, I’m just happy that the kids have shoes to skate in.
I was so stoked to hear that Nike is helping out with this 10-year anniversary video too… That’s going to be so sick.
Yeah! Like they even gave us Enrique Mayor to help Yoryo film the video! Pedro (Attenborough), Brayan (Albarenga), Arnau (Truque), Sixsas (Jose Vivero Diaz) and all the younger kids are getting shit for it… It should be good!
It’s crazy how many other skate shops there are around you… Like how does that work?
Yeah there’s like five other shops in probably like a 500m radius around MACBA. I mean we’re all quite different to be honest… Like Tactic is more of a surf shop that does skate stuff, there’s another that has live music in there sometimes, then Amigos and Rufus do their own thing… And especially now with me not selling shoes, I really don’t care what they do, in a good way. Don’t get me wrong it’s hard having so many shops in the same place but we carry different brands, do different shit… I dunno. And Rufus does a lot for MACBA… We fuck with those guys. Sometimes they take their ledge out, we take the picnic table out, people skate both, it’s cool you know? We’ve had our differences in the past but there’s no reason to stay caught up in that shit… We both care about this community.
Yeah. And that means that when it comes to stuff like protecting MACBA you guys can come together to get the word out…
Yeah I mean I don’t really like telling people what to do, but at the same time you sort of have to make people understand that nobody wants twenty people trying flatground tricks outside your door as you’re trying to sleep you know? When people from other countries come into the shop I always warn them not to skate after 10pm or they’ll get their board taken by the cops. Plus the neighbours are over it and they have a right to be. Obviously at the end of the day people do what they want but we try… And Rufus has definitely been trying a lot. Like we went to a City Hall meeting with the neighbours…
Wow I bet that was interesting.
Yeah I mean it was the first time they were in a room with skaters and they went crazy, like talking over us, screaming and shit… But then the person from the council was like ‘okay everyone calm down; let’s actually look at the numbers relating to the Raval area. This is the number of tickets we gave away for street drinking past the authorised time last month’ and it was like 3000 or something, ‘this is how many tickets we gave out for people pissing in streets’ that was like 5000 or something, ‘this is how many we’ve given out to bars for closing later than they were allowed’ again that was loads… And finally, ‘the number of tickets we gave out for skateboarding is three’. And then the neighbours were like ‘hmmm okay… So maybe the issue here isn’t just skateboarding.’ The thing with MACBA is that it’s the meeting point for skateboarding but also that it’s the fucking meeting point for partying, which I love, ha ha, but obviously the neighbours are over it. And the problem is that so many people that don’t skate treat it like a show and come there to drink because they just want to watch the skaters you know? It’s like having drinks in front of the TV or something.
Anyway when all this happened that’s when Rufus, @macbalife and us came together and figured ‘it’s time to stop the bullshit, we need to stick together because we’re going to lose MACBA’. Because they initially wanted to ban skating from that whole area, even the streets around it and be super strict… But luckily they understood that if they just banned skateboarding in the Raval, the problems they’d be having would be on a whole new level. There’s so much drug use, so many junkies, so many thieves… Skateboarding is not the worst thing that can happen to that neighbourhood.
And as a whole Ada Colau (Barcelona’s current mayor) has been relatively supportive of skateboarding right?
Yeah… All the previous mayors never wanted to build skateparks or for skateboarding to be a thing here really. At least this mayor and her people realise that there’s no way they’ll ever manage to completely stop skateboarding in Barcelona so they might as well try to kind of control it and make it a legit good thing for the city instead of it just being a mess. I personally don’t like regulations, but right now we need them because there’s just so many of us. It’s not like any other city. In Madrid for example it’s so sick: you go to a spot, they all know each other, you skate to another spot, everyone knows everyone. It’s small and easy, everyone’s connected. Here, it’s a mess ha ha. And don’t get me wrong I do love this mess but it got to the point where City Hall was like, ‘look we need to do something’ and instead of being arseholes and just banning everything they’ve worked with the skaters, built some skateparks, etc… And I think it’s working. We’re really lucky to have Pol Martin: he’s the guy that’s designing all those really nice skateparks that have been popping up like that plaza in Born and he has a really good relationship with the council.
When you look back on everything you’ve achieved with the shop, is there anything that makes you think ‘fuck I’m so glad I gave this a shot ten years ago’?
To tell you the truth the best thing for me is that I’m still surrounded by skateboarding. Because I’m 42 you know? If I hadn’t started the shop I don’t know if I would be… I’m so grateful for that. And then also this feeling of being involved in all these different things that I care about in the city, like the DIY for example or even the kids getting shoes and travelling. I dunno being a part of stuff like that just feels cool.
The more I think about it the more it feels crazy dude… I’m just so thankful that the guys up in San Francisco gave me the opportunity to open one here because I’m pretty sure that with the whole crew, we kind of changed the scene, like changed the city. And it’s weird because sometimes it’s hard but at the same time it’s so easy: the kids we help out, they’ve always been around the shop, just suddenly they’re a bit older and now they’re really good! It feels natural to keep pushing things with the shop because I know it’ll help them and the kids after them and the kids that’ll come after them etc. Like I don’t even know how many generations there are in our crew now! From the older Sants dudes all the way through to the MACBA kids… I dunno I just think that’s so sick. I’m like stupid with this shit… I want this to go on forever. I want to be 80 and still be around all this.