Article by Arne Fiehl
It’s about time we let you fellow Confuziners know about two new big bowls in the north of France which Belgian company Concrete Flow finished last year during the second half of the season. We spent quite some blood, sweat and tears building them, so spread the word and put these on your list for the next roadtrip down south (as long as you live north of it and are into vertical bowl riding).
The north of France is a little different than the rest of the country. The Frenchies themselves call this part ‘the asshole of France’. Maybe that`s why the people over there are generally very welcoming and friendly to foreigners and visitors like us which is not always common in France as you might have experienced yourself one time or another. It’s an old industrial and mining region which has seen better days in terms of actual work that`s being done on a daily basis. The only proof of the old days in the surrounding flat landscape are a lot of volcano shaped hills named terrils piled up out of the soils from all the mining which makes the whole scenery look like New Zealand in certain places. Other than that, it`s pretty much just some farms and lots of proletarian people trying to make a living in this sort of forgotten corner of France.
The first bowl we built is located in a little town called Bruay la Bruissiere somewhere between Lille and Calais. You`ll find the bowl just behind the local swimming pool and next to a park and sports arena. If you want you can call Bruay la Bruissiere a little shithole, I guess no one would complain or disagree. There`s pretty much nothing to do, the streets are rough and crusty and you can`t really count on satisfying street spots, there are some in the industrial area though. So that might be the reason why a town like this got a 600 square meter bowl with a little ditch style bowl and some street obstacles next to it, all in all standing 2400 square meter strong. The big bowl is actually big indeed. A shallow end at 1.80m (6 foot), connected with a spine and big extensions over the hips to a clover bowl with a 1.90m pocket, a 2.30m (7.5 foot) one and a massive 3.40m (11 foot) deep-end which comes along with pool coping. The design was made by Constructo with the help of ABC Skateparks, a French organization that helps to make skateparks more skateable. Well, we definitely got into some arguments over the design.
The spine sucks so bad, every bowl skater will complain about it at first sight. But we couldn’t convince ABC to convince the city that we should get rid of it or at least connect the shallow end and the rest via a speed bump or channel. No way, they wanted it to be separated. So we had to build this fucking spine with two different heights which without a doubt destroys the best lines. So, yeah, building concrete skateparks is not always a pleasure when you have to deal with ignorant non-skating bureaucrats, but, I guess, everybody knows that already…
But this leads us to a speciality of Bruay la Bruissiere. The whole organization of the project and construction site was the worst you could ever imagine, and we as Concrete Flow just had to deal with and make the best out of it. At times it was a complete disaster. The landscaping company that was responsible for all the digging, drainage and stuff fucked up everything that could be fucked up, sometimes more than once on the same place. That ended up in a lot of delays and visible mistakes which we had to adjust to. Other than that there’s some obvious corruption shit going down in the whole french administration system and especially building business. It was a complete catastrophe and it’s a miracle that Concrete Flow head honcho Mike van der Ouderaa didn’t go berserk at one point and kill someone on site or in the town hall. Just as an example: on the photos you see that the deep end looks way deeper because at parts it’s over two meters below ground level, actually it was 2.20m below that at the worst point. It was supposed to be maximum 80cm (below ground level), but people found out way too late that there’s some serious inclination on the soccer field next to the park and it is not straight at all. Probably because they didn’t laser the right points correctly either. So now you have these big dirt walls next to the bowl which caused another problem which nobody dared to solve.
The whole bowl was designed around three old trees that were standing between the soccer field and the then “to build” skatepark. Now, with the bad digging job half of the tree’s roots were laying open. We were sure the trees could handle it, but after lots of discussions the town decided it would have been too much of a danger and the trees finally had to be cut down. That way we couldn’t even finish the bowl and to this moment don`t really know when and if it will ever happen. There`s still a little piece of flat missing just as the two extensions that connect the deep end with the shallow end on both sides of the bloody spine. Oh, and while we’re at it, the whole platforms are still missing too because they will be built by the local construction company that fucked up everything in advance. So this whole article is actually about a bowl we finished that might be finished who knows when, hopefully sometime soon in spring. But after my experiences in Bruay la Bruissiere nothing surprises me anymore. It wasn’t really the best fortune to get to know that the company which was responsible for building the whole park area next to the skatepark went bankrupt during the first weeks of work there because of the township’s incompetence. Let`s hope they finally pay Concrete Flow for the good job we did so far and let us finish it decently!
Other than that we had some good times in Bruay. It was a total pirate gypsy construction camp. At the peak we were fourteen people on site, all staying there in containers, campers and tents. Big bonfires every night, barbecues and lots and lots of beers and booze. For the most part we were super lucky with the weather and enjoyed a lot of really sunny and hot days, actually too hot at times. But who’s gonna complain about sunshine!? If it was raining for just half a day, though, and at one point it pretty much didn’t stop for two weeks, the whole place turned into a muddy hell since we were literally building on clay. Those are the times when you might feel at least a little bit like a soldier in combat and you get one with the dirt, the whole job itself is pretty dirty anyway. Goddammit, not just the rookies in the team took it as an advanced camping vacation and had the times of their lives which always includes pleasure and pain.
Speaking of that, Concrete Flow has a complete different approach as far as the working team goes. There`s not like a couple of guys who are THE team. There`s more or less now a pool of about thirty people from at least five different countries, mostly bloody Belgians, though, that Mikey likes to work with. And his ambition is to get as much people as possible in the fine art that is building concrete skateparks. And, dude, most of the guys being punk rock and stoner skaters in their mid-twenties and early thirties you bet there was some serious drinking and partying going on. One random Wednesday the concrete company couldn’t deliver concrete for whatever reasons (I guess, shit like that only happens in France, too). So we set up some more woodwork, but were pretty much done with everything and just had two weeks of concrete work in front of us. So what would you do when the streets are wet, you can`t skate and are generally fucked up anyway? Yesss, at 2.00pm everybody on site was literally shitfaced, the bonfire was standing like ten feet high and the first empty spray cans were making their way into the fire. That ended up in Jan-Willems, our crazy dutch pump guy, getting all kinds of weied and highly flammable spray cans out of his truck which you could hear explode all over little Bruay de Bruissiere shortly after. We were more or less in the middle of town making our own little gypsy festival for just another afternoon, we did it like that pretty much every day for about two and a half months. It was a time to remember for sure, and I think, people there will remember us for quite some time, too, since the local newspaper finally had something exciting to write about which they did quite a bit.
But we still managed to do a good job, and besides the design which could be so much better, the bowl turned out pretty good. Thanks heaps to Ryan ‘Danger’ Carruthers who came over from Copenhagen for three weeks with his mate Rasmus which helped a lot getting the complex deep end into the right shape and finish with his skills and pole tools. I hope it wasn’t the last time having you guys on a Concrete Flow project! The bad circumstances aside, we all learned a lot on this project and definitely made more than the best out of the situation, especially some new friendships that will last a lifetime. It was not always easy during the week being the only sober guy in a crowd of drunks, and when you live in Hamburg, there’s no way you’re gonna go home for a weekend because it`s just too far away and too much of a hassle. So you spend like two months in a row with these blokes and on the weekends stay at Mikey`s squat in Brussels where you finally join in to the drinking and general mayhem. You can say after that I was ready for some time off, but, damn, I would do it all over again anytime.
And I did, most of us did, just right after that. A couple weeks later I found myself in Noeux les Mines, just fifteen kilometers south/west of Bruay la Bruissiere. The town is even a little smaller, but somehow manages to appear as if it is at least trying to take care of itself. It doesn’t seem to be as white trash as Bruay la Bruissiere, like there`s a big artificial snowboard track down one of those trissels next to a little lake with a water skiing facility right where we were supposed to build another bowl, which we did. It was some kind of final enemy, like in a video game, because we were all burnt out from a long and hard season. And building a 3.50m (11.5 foot) deep end bowl in shitty and cold weather conditions is no joke and means long days. The general circumstances were a little better than in Bruay. For example this time we decided for hotel rooms (there were still some Belgian madmen who were down to camp on site during minus degree weather, though, it’s all a matter of attitude after all). And the design of the bowl which was re-designed after the original plans by none other than Pierre ‘Doctor Skatepark’ Jambé was way more interesting and pleasing to build. As I just said, we’re talking about a 3.50m deep end which makes this bowl one of the deepest on the whole European continent. And once again we did a good job on it.
With Julien from Sport des Villes as the responsible designer it was way easier to deal with the whole project and you can see it in the design. Spontaneously we added a death box while we were doing the deep end with some organic design which might be the first of its kind in an officially built bowl. The city was down with it, sweet as… But of course there were still the usual problems with the french company which was preparing the site for us, another problem than in Bruay la Bruissiere, though, but not much better. Even worse than that is the fact that we built this wonderful organic shotcrete bowl and it is being accompanied by a boring pre-fab street course right next to it, what a bummer. It could have been so much better, but once again it wasn’t in our hands and we were just happy to build this wonderful bowl. Well, not always happy! For example we had to rebar the whole bowl and platform earthquake-proof since the whole region is in danger of occasional little earthquakes because of all the mining back in the day which left a lot of empty tunnels and caves in the ground. Anyway, since the frenchies didn’t work as fast as they were supposed to, Mikey and the boys couldn’t finish the platform as fast as they wanted to which resulted in the last day of work on the 23rd of December, which is bloody late for doing concrete in middle Europe. Mike says it was quite a struggle to finish the platforms with the frenchies, especially under those conditions. Fortunately snow hadn`t set in yet. I had already been back home by then because of some other issues in Hamburg.
So let’s save the best for the end. One afternoon in Noeux les Mines when we spent some more boring hours chilling in the container and waiting for the concrete to dry, Mikey got a call from Julien who had just left us from his weekly visit. He had driven the fifteen kilometers to Bruay la Bruissiere just to have a look at the bowl which he didn’t have anything to do with as an architect. He just wanted to take a look at our work. When he arrived the cutting of the three old trees was in full effect, and in the middle part of the deep end in the bowl was a big hole with lots of splattered surface under a complete smashed coping. It was more than obvious that during the cutting a big branch had fallen from one of the trees from ten or more meters high directly on the coping which caused a major damage on the whole piece, of course. It was even more than obvious because the branch was still pretty much laying there as proof. Still, the workers claimed, and they did that for more than a week, the damage was done by some kids who wanted to skate the more or less finished but still fenced off bowl which they were not allowed to. So the kids started throwing rocks and pieces of wood at the workers… Yeah, please, read again! That`s what the workers said, I mean, how dumb can you be after all? Bollocks! It was just the perfect ending for the most disastrous project I’ve ever worked on and it will be pretty hard to top that.
At this point we can’t tell you when the bowl in Bruay la Bruissiere will be completely finished and repaired and whether Concrete Flow will be doing the job sometime in spring or not. Let’s hope for the best! Other than that, fans of big round skateable concrete walls will have a new mandatory travel destination, because now (or better said, soon) you can skate two of the deepest bowls in Europe in one day if you want to. You wouldn’t imagine those in this unspectacular region and in towns like that. But that’s just what skateboarding is all about, the unpredictable. Go there, have fun, crack a beer on us and later spread your piss all over in the spirit of skateboarding, just like we did…
Big thanks for good work and even better times go out to Mike, Jose, Koeki, Ratman, Slouri, Greg, Thierry, Ben, Ryan, Rasmus, Baum, Romel, Tom, Sam, Boob, Scheke, Bruno, Pierre, Julien and whoever I might have forgotten. Special shout-out to Camille from Amiens who volunteered in Noeux les Mines and added some good vibes and decent work to the ever expanding team. Hope to see you all again soon sometime in the coming season! I’m off to Morocco for more dancing in the dirt. Skate eternal!
Words: Arne Fiehl / Photos: Arne Fiehl and Mike van der Ouderaa
Noeux les Mines
For updated article on completion of Bruay la Buissiere, click here.
Translation from French to English
Skateboarding is an activity that have no rules, it is more than a spare time, it becomes a way of life for the skateboarders
Magazines, music, clothing, diy and more are part of this sphere.
The skateboarders are sort of builders of the modern life, don’t wait any longer to build themselves their own park in the way of Do It Yourself.
So why do we wait to do it ourselves.
Mike van der Ouderaa:
As soon as the kids in the 60’s and 70’s started to ride together in the streets, they built wooden waves or took advantage of the existing stuff from an architectural part of the neighborhood.
When they didn’t have it they built it without knowledge of how to do it. They were hooked, they couldn’t stop. That shows that skateboarding is not a sport, but a part of your life, it takes all your energy, what you daily think, how you will manage your garden….
I am Sylvain, I am 41 and 25 years of skateboarding. I live in a tiny countryside village.
What you see behind me, it’s a bowl, it’s like an extension of what you can find in the street in a way… it’s a new interpretation of the street, but here in my garden. I take what I can’t find in the street no thanks to city councils that buy prefab parks. I built it by myself, I am neither mason nor iron worker. I documented about it and told to myself that at 41 it was time to do something to please myself. I wanted to have a bowl, a real bowl and built it by myself. It gives me a real satisfaction and moreover, I can ride it when I want, having pleasure and why not enhance my level a little. Push it further.
I can’t give a definition of skateboarding, it’s in me. I can’t tell myself to go training at 5pm, it’s like a compulsive necessity to get on my board.
This bowl, it’s all my life.