Puri: Where have all the flowers gone?

Georgia on My Mind

Words by Lexo Sharangia

Skateboarding is relatively new in Tbilisi, and in Georgia as a whole. It only started around 2003, when a small group of friends, including myself, started skating regularly, learning tricks and embracing skateboarding culture. Back then, when Internet access was limited and platforms like YouTube did not exist, we used VHS tapes and websites to explore this new world. One video which affected me enormously and which I have enjoyed watching ever since was Zoo York’s Mixtape by RB Umali. I would also print out some articles and distribute them among friends just to make sure everyone was on the same frequency and stayed informed; in the end a friend of mine was able to unite them into three different volumes.

Deni Zakaev, backside 50-50. Ph. Ilya Kelarev

Since 2003, skateboarding has become quite popular in Tbilisi. Initially, there were issues finding boards and other parts as there were no skate shops. I even participated in school exchange programmes to be able to go abroad and buy legit stuff. My friends would give me money to bring them boards from abroad too. We would also check second-hand shops in Tbilisi that were supplied from the US and Europe where we would often find branded skate footwear and clothes. This practice still continues today due to the low purchasing power of the population.

While today skateboarding is enjoying unseen popularity globally, it led to many confrontations and fights in the early years in the streets of Tbilisi – some skaters even got stabbed for refusing to give up their boards.
However, things have changed over time and today Tbilisi has multiple spots, with a mix of Soviet architecture and modern structures, which are perfect for skateboarding. If you have watched the pre-COVID Levi’s Europe video, compared to today you will see how different the situation is in terms of spots in the city: You can start your day by taking a cable car to Turtle Lake, then skate the perfectly asphalted 2.5km downhill road from there, along recently repaved Chavchavadze Avenue, to the Philharmonic building, and from there along Rustaveli Avenue to the Dedaena skatepark.

Roman Ivanov, frontside 5-0. Ph. Valera Leto

I met Roman (Ivanov) several years ago, when he first visited Tbilisi on a skate trip. He later returned to help build the first ever decent skatepark in the historical centre of the city. While his current declared purpose of the visit is to build skateparks around Tbilisi, his passion for skateboarding and filming has translated into a full-length video project under his guidance, while Dmitry (Kononov) ensured everything valuable was filmed and recorded.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has led to an influx of young people from diverse backgrounds, including skaters, to seek refuge in Tbilisi and Georgia in general. This accounts for the non-homogeneity of the group of people filmed in the video project. With unlimited time of stay and access to the city, these guys have been able to really explore Tbilisi, discover new spots and bomb its hills, which have a distinct feel about them. Tbilisi undoubtedly has much more to offer and will hopefully establish its own presence in the European skate scene soon.

Eugene Aravin, frontside 50-50. Ph. Ilya Kelarev

Words by Roman Ivanov

I have visited Georgia many times, I have been there with my family as a child but it was not until 2017 that I ended up in Tbilisi on a skate trip. On that occasion, we did not have anybody that would guide us through the city so we skated already known/touristic spots located in the centre of Tbilisi. We avoided deviating from the main streets, not willing to risk losing time and concentrated on filming. In order to get an idea of what Tbilisi had to offer, we almost entirely relied on Patrik Wallner’s ‘Visual Traveling’ video as the main source for seeing spots. The video demonstrated really well the architectural aspect of Tbilisi and how well-kept the spots were.

During that week in Tbilisi rather than exploring the local skate scene, I enjoyed the local pace of life, communicating with simple and outgoing people and of course eating world-renowned Georgian cuisine – super tasty and easily affordable.

Ilya Kelarev, backside wallride. Ph. Roman Ivanov

Back at home, in Moscow, I told all my friends the story of our interesting skate trip to the amazing capital of Georgia – Tbilisi, emphasising that it is not that far away, obviously trying to attract some interest and achieve my dream of going back with a group of friends for a longer and a more productive stay.

It took two years for my stories to be heard and finally in 2019, together with a good friend of mine, who also happened to be my team manager at that time – Kirill Korobkov, we went to Tbilisi. Kirill had already been to Tbilisi several times so it was easier to convince him. This skate trip was not meant to be in a get it or die trying mode, rather it was a warm up trip after a long, cold and freezing Russian winter. According to the plan, the very first task to perform upon arrival was to go to one of the local restaurants and try traditional Georgian cuisine: Khinkali, Khachapuri, Pkhali, Lobio, Wine, Chacha! Everyone performed it successfully and were barely able to move, but we skated our way to the only (at that time) skatepark in Tbilisi in order to meet locals. Long story short, this trip turned out to be really fruitful. We skated and filmed a lot, we walked a lot around the city, met a lot of people and this was the time I fell in love with Tbilisi.

Roman Ivanov, boardslide. Ph. Ilya Kelarev

It was during this trip that I met Lexo, a person who is really devoted to skateboarding and spares no effort to help it develop in Georgia. If he is around, Lexo is always ready to guide every foreign team of skaters through the city, spots and nightlife. He makes sure the voice of skaters are heard and taken into consideration by the city authorities when it comes to the construction of parks. Generally speaking, Lexo makes sure skateboarding, through its various aspects, stays on the healthy path of development for the sake of future generations.

This trip to Tbilisi impressed me a lot, I felt super inspired as it occurred to me that this city had it all and merited wider exposure. I felt sure that thanks to the unique landscape, mix of architecture and colours of the city in general, the time and effort that one would spend there would leave you 100% rewarded and satisfied. But then the pandemic happened and all my plans of returning were put on hold.

Sasha Stolbov, frontside nosebluntslide. Ph. Ilya Kelarev

Having certain experience in building skateparks I often team up with construction guys and spend warm months of the year building concrete parks around Russia. As the summer of 2020 was coming to an end I got a message from Lexo. It said that he, together with his friend, had convinced the city authorities to demolish the only shitty skatepark and build a new one. In short, it was an offer to join an international team of builders but more importantly it was another chance to go back to Tbilisi.
My fears about the problems of travelling during COVID soon vanished as Lexo took care of the bureaucracy and pretty soon myself, along with two other guys, joined the Latvian skatepark construction company Mindwork Ramps.

Kim Malygin, ride-on 50-50. Ph. Ilya Kelarev

That time I spent four months in Tbilisi. It took two months to finish the city’s first ever real skatepark, which is perfectly located in the historical centre of the city. The other two months
I dedicated myself to skating with the locals, including at the newly built park. This trip was a real blessing in terms of making friends and exploring the local culture. The folder with photos of local spots got bigger and bigger in the hope of a brighter future that I continued to dream of.

The year 2022 arrived, with COVID almost entirely forgotten and life getting back to normal it seemed like the worst days were over but… I got injured in late January and spent a month and a half in hospital with four fractures of the hip joint. As I remained immobile in the hospital bed I started observing what the hell was starting to erupt in the world. I became scared and I started to fear for my family, my friends and for myself. I started to understand that once I recovered and was out of the hospital the world would not be the same as I knew it before the injury. It was like having a disturbing dream, a nightmare. Once out of the hospital I understood that my complete recovery would take time and effort before I could get back to skateboarding. I started woodworking together with my friend in a studio and moved around exclusively by bicycle.

Roman Ivanov, caballerial kickflip. Ph. Ilya Kelarev

Soon I got an offer to join a skatepark construction in the south of Russia. I immediately accepted it as it was a perfect chance to get out of the city and enjoy non-routine work together with a good group of friends for the following three months. Once I got back home after working I felt that it was still too early to start skating so I continued to nurture hope of getting back to Tbilisi. My hope was based on a call I got from Tbilisi earlier in January concerning the construction of two parks, but because of the general situation in the region, I almost did not expect anything good to happen in this regard.

Unexpectedly enough in mid-August the construction in Tbilisi was confirmed and I was told to be there by the end of September. I booked a flight to Vladikavkaz, which is the closest city to the Georgian border. The day before the flight I felt really lost, just because of what was happening in the region; I felt unsure I would be able to reach the destination. I took the flight, the road from Vladikavkaz to the Georgian border never seemed so dramatic – millions of people were trying to flee, total madness. Once in Tbilisi I immediately tried to immerse myself in construction just to switch my thoughts and refresh.

Deni Zakaev, backside 50-50. Ph. Ilya Kelarev

After a month I got a message from an old friend of mine, Dmitry, to whom long ago I’d told stories about Tbilisi. Dmitry was letting me know that he’d arrived in Tbilisi and that he brought his camera and all the equipment with him. We decided to meet up and discuss what could be done together during these hard times.

As the reader may have already guessed about this project, it was not the fruits of an overall consensus of friends, as I have always imagined and dreamt of, rather it was driven by the situation. This situation has forced many talented people to make quick decisions without thoroughly understanding what laid ahead. This is exactly how everything started with this video project.

Roman Ivanov, ollie. Ph. Ilya Kelarev

When Dmitry and I met we both agreed that what was happening was totally fucked up and considering that it might be the last time both of us are here together and have a chance to film something, we decided to start and see how it goes. In the beginning it was just two of us hitting the spots that I already knew. At the same time I have not been skating for almost a year after my injury and I was still trying to figure out if I was ready and able. Considering this, the first steps were hard to make. We would try to use every opportunity (on days off from the construction site and before or after work) in order to collect some footage if the weather was good. We agreed that some stuff had to be filmed on the classic spots, but at the same time we wanted to make something that would stand out and be unique. So we decided that we would check out every area carefully, share the info about new spots and once we had time to, we would go and check out these spots together. Soon we had the exact understanding of what we wanted the video to look like – we wanted to expose Tbilisi; in a way that had not been done before.

Victor Yunkov, nollie heelflip. Ph. Ilya Kelarev

Words by Dmitry Kononov

This video, which we’re calling Puri, brought together a bunch of different people who found themselves in a tough time, all in one place. Most of us didn’t know each other before, but our common goal bonded us and turned us into a real crew. On behalf of all, we want to express deep gratitude to the awesome people of Georgia for their hospitality and support. Despite all the challenges, we never felt like strangers in this land. The Georgians were always friendly, interested, and super supportive of skateboarding.

Igor Vorobev, taildrop. Ph. Ilya Kelarev

Here, it’s not cool to cause a ruckus on the streets, especially in quiet neighbourhoods. So every time we rolled into a new spot, we introduced ourselves to the locals, shared who we are and what we’re about. Showing respect to the people around us and their curiosity gave us the opportunity to hit up some mind-blowing spots. First and foremost, we’re all human beings, and we gotta find common ground with each other.
It often happened that they treated us to wine, and after making friends, we got an incredible energy boost on top of nailing sick tricks. That’s the key to creating a rad atmosphere at Georgian spots. That’s Georgia for you: good-hearted, friendly people, a mellow climate, and gnarly skate spots.
Thanks Georgia! დიდი მადლობა

(Click the gallery below for more pics)