Evgeny for Free

Words: Arthur Derrien.
Photography: Gerard Riera.

I’m not entirely sure how I thought this video call with Evgeny would go but given the general vibe the only other time we’d been in contact (over email), it certainly wasn’t what I’d expected. The matter at hand back then was the release of a part he’d filmed for a wider Vans Russia project just before the program was dismantled because of the war in Ukraine (and the video ultimately pulled altogether). The pitch was prefaced with him indicating that he did not support the actions of his government in any way and that if the footage had taken over a year to appear before us it was because he’d been busy attempting to flee the country via Kazakhstan (which didn’t work out) and because the mental health of some of the people involved had been so deeply affected by all this senseless horror that a – very understandable – shift in priorities had taken place. Basically the heaviest possible version of ‘down to post this video?’, which after much discussion we did, eventually, only for it to be greeted by a barrage of inflammatory comments and attacks from skateboarders from both countries, once again launching us into a spiral about what the ‘right’ thing is to do in situations like these.
Anyway, fast forward a few months and here we are staring into each other’s eyes, Evgeny grinning ear to ear from his new flat in Barcelona, me, fully caught off-guard by the levels of positivity emanating from my screen, thinking about everything he must have gone through to arrive there and how I still hadn’t even managed to take down the 2023 calendar that hung behind me.

Half cab

So as you’ve probably figured his second attempt at getting out of Russia was successful, this time on account of him managing to acquire a three-month Spanish tourist visa…
‘How do I feel about the situation?’ he repeated back to me after I’d asked, just to get a sense of how to navigate this whole thing, ‘it’s a really horrible situation, and I’m lucky to have my mother and my friends there to help me through it, but it’s also one that has been coloured by all the incredible people I’ve met out here.’ And this is what set the tone for the rest of the conversation. Suddenly it was no longer about him making the most of the shit cards he’d been dealt, it was about him completely turning things around.
‘And staying inside the country was simply not possible because of the pressure,’ he continued. ‘They’re constantly inventing new laws, and you never know what’s next. Did you hear about them banning any kind of support for the LGBT movement? You could go to jail for having a rainbow on your balcony! Or how that girl who was putting anti-war messages on price tags in shops went to jail?! And I know nobody who supports any of this…’
As this conversation was going on I was getting a tour of the flat, which he shared with a Bulgarian girl named Manuela Nikolaev (yep randomly the same last name), who he’d apparently been introduced to by his friend Alexey Krasny. On the walls were displayed the pro models of her close friends, and as he got to his room he picked up a deck which this time was signed… ‘Pat Duffy rented our flat out with his family last week and he left me this! Pat Duffy?!’

Drop down to bank ride

Eyes shining with excitement he continued to tell me how his flatmate knew so many legends, that Gustav Tønnesen had randomly popped up on his couch one day and that they’d eventually gone skating and been hanging out since… And that all these people he looked up to growing up were suddenly at his doorstep, and were just normal, nice people. He then spoke of spending lots of time with Gelek Gonzalez (who we interviewed last issue), and confirmed the acclaimed chef ’s cooking did indeed live up to the hype, which led to a topic that’s inevitable when talking to a young man sinking his teeth into a city like Barca: partying.
‘You know how people always say, “it’s so easy to get fucked up in Barcelona?’” he started, ‘Well something happened recently so I’m taking a little break… Lots of people were at Gustav’s, we were all drinking and stuff, and then we went to Marula club, which is always really fun… And I was in there with my backpack with all my stuff… And the last thing I remember was limboing under this pole that was holding the table. Everyone said I just suddenly disappeared at one point and I don’t know what happened. I lost my phone and everything apart from my passport… Which of course now doesn’t even work ha ha. It was a fucked situation so I had to punish myself, and I told myself that until I earned enough money for a new phone and everything I had in there, I wouldn’t drink. And I haven’t… That was on September 15th.’
But then, as I was trying to think of a way to switch the topic because he genuinely sounded scarred by the whole thing, he hit me with: ‘Yeah man… but I did meet Tom Penny that day!’ Just when you thought that story couldn’t get any more Barcelona lol. Testament to the aforementioned positivity though!

Backside lipslide.

Despite the fact he now was cracking up at how meeting one of his heroes had somehow cancelled out that evening’s fuck ups, the worrier in me couldn’t help but zone in on the mention of the passport being completely useless. It sounded like he’d just put in a solid 6-month stint of just straight working (thanks to a wide network of friends that had been hooking him up with whatever jobs they could to help him get his finances up), which was reassuring, but I had to ask… What’s going to happen when he wants to leave?
‘I will not leave,’ he told me calmly, without hesitation, seemingly completely unphased by the question. ‘I’m living the dream.’
Now in order to wrap our heads around this outlook (considering most of us would undoubtedly be crippled by anxiety in his position), we probably need to examine the level of skate-ratness we’re working with here… To do so let’s maybe take a second to look through all the photos in this article, then remember that this is Barcelona we’re talking about, realistically probably in the top three most skated cities in the world, if not the most skated. Yeah, exactly: we didn’t recognise any of those spots either. When moving to a new city as a skateboarder, gravitating to the main plaza is for obvious reasons the easiest way to settle in and find your feet. Yet here we have Evgeny, thousands of miles away from home, family and friends, spending more time on Street View than people that have lived in the Catalan capital their whole lives.


We’ve come across a lot of passionate people filling these pages over the years but that level of drive is definitely not something you see too often, and within seconds of breaching the topic he began chatting away about some obscure scooter spot page he follows on Instagram and how he’d been using it as the starting point for his recent online explorations. ‘It’s called @map.teo.spots,’ he explained. ‘It’s for the whole of Spain and they don’t reply if asked about locations so I’m constantly looking for clues, putting what I can in Street View, going through all the possible locations until I find the fucking spot!’
But then of course it’s not just this thirst for lesser-seen terrain that keeps him sparked, it’s getting to come up with what to do with it. One of our sources on the ground was recently telling us how baffled Gustav (himself a Jedi of 4-wheeled unpredictability) was by Evgeny’s ability to keep us all guessing and that they’d been going out filming together a bunch…
‘It’s because Gustav also sometimes likes to just go to an area and look around,’ Evgeny told me. ‘And of course
I love going on missions where we have precise, planned-out spots, especially with Gerard because he knows the city so well. Plus it’s good to work towards a real deadline sometimes, like for this project, where you feel you really have to get stuff, but also when you’ve been thinking about a spot for three days, and can’t do anything when you finally make it there… That can be tough. And this is how a lot of people I skate with here do it, so it’s nice to take a break from that sometimes. The Gustav missions feel more like “normal” skating to me, if that makes sense?’


Let’s face it though, these levels of passion tend to not just appear out of nowhere: they must be nurtured. Evgeny’s mum – who he mentioned earlier as playing a big part in being there for him in these complicated times – has been nothing but supportive of his craft, from his humble beginnings in Karelia (North West of Russia, next to Finland), to when he moved to St. Petersburg ‘for uni’, to Moscow where he first gave skating a proper shot with the help of Vans and Kirill Korobkov, to where he finds himself today in Spain.
‘If it wasn’t for her I definitely wouldn’t be here today,’ he told me. ‘She’s the best dude ever! She’s an actress, really positive, always laughing, amazing at pool… In fact, being raised in a family of actors is probably why I do this whole circus ha ha. She actually even tried skating once years ago! On a trip to Norway she bought a complete in a mall and came back really excited for us to try to do it together, but then for some reason the truck just fell off when she tried to step on it, ha ha! I remember us laughing about it so much at the time…’
He then went on to share some memories from a trip to India he took with her, which I thought gave a nice little extra layer of context to their relationship. ‘So a film she had a major role in was nominated in some big Indian film festival,’ he explained. ‘And she got sent there to represent the director. Only her English isn’t the best, so she said she’d only do it if her son could come along to translate… So I went out there to help, and of course when I got there somehow I found myself in the mix with all these directors from Kyrgyz- stan and Kazakhstan, who of course didn’t speak any English either, so before I knew it I was on stage the whole time translating for them too… It was so stressful ha ha!’
But just as I was launching into telling him how heart-warming it was to hear the support went both ways he started laughing… ‘Yeah… Only on the last night there was a huge award ceremony, and India is crazy with this stuff, like I’ve honestly never seen a show like that! I don’t even know what to compare it to… I wish I still had my phone to show you. Anyway this director my mum was representing was up for an award, and seeing how many people were in the crowd, and realising I’d have to go on stage to translate I panicked and we started having a full on argument in the second row of the theatre about how there was no way I was going up there if they won! But I had supported her the whole time until then ha ha. Just yeah, that time I got too scared ha ha. I find it so hard to be in front of that many people like that, that’s why I hate contests!’
I wish I could do justice to the cheekiness on that angelic little face of his as he delivers all these stories but I think it’s one of those ones where you’ll have to have a conversation with him yourselves to get the full picture. What I can do to give you an idea of his energy though, is share his memories from a rather naughty hustle he had on the go to enable his sk8life when he was 21: smuggling ciggies from Russia into Europe.
‘I was 21 and it was the best job I ever had, man!’ he reminisced. ‘You know how cigarette packets are like two euros in Russia and like 12 in Paris? Well once a week I’d fly to either France, Germany, Sweden, Spain, Italy and all these places with one or two big bags full to deliver (my friend had connections at airports). And I loved it! It was travelling by myself, which I really enjoyed. I’d have 10 euros spending money a day when I was out there, which in Italy can get you a really nice pizza, and I’d have accommodation for a couple of days until I’d fly back… I learnt a lot about life going around the world like that. I did get caught in Rome once though! But I think that’s because I’d drunk some wine on the first plane, then again on the second and was feeling it a bit you know? And I was looking like a 12-year-old kid [as he still does], so the police saw me go through with these big bags, probably expecting to see my mum waiting for me or something ha ha. But it honestly wasn’t that scary… They just told me to never come back and I just got a fine that I didn’t have to pay. Like if you get caught skating in Russia and the cops have it in for you it’s a lot scarier. Even in Barcelona, the police here are “loco”.’
The conversation then trailed off onto him sharing stressful encounters with Barca’s police, which maybe was the first real negative thing I’d heard him say about Europe’s skateboarding mecca. So I pressed him on it a bit more, to see if he really did feel the way he claimed about it all:

– Hmm I was thinking about this the other day… You know how they call New York ‘The Big Apple’? Well to me Barcelona is The Big Onion. It’s just not for everyone… I have lots of friends that have come and left straight away saying it’s the worst place ever, mainly because they felt people don’t pay enough for the work you do here, which is true…
– But wait, I thought you loved the place?
– Yeah, I do. I just ate an onion.