Eleven years ago this week, January 1999, we went to Paris and got in a gunfight.
The story was rejected by Sidewalk. Probably because I compared the Gliss’Expo trade show to an arms fair and that our photos really were rubbish. We pooled together our snaps of the event and sent them to the magazine by post, and they were never seen again.
But as you don’t get to read many eyewitness accounts of gunfights in skateboard magazines, here’s one:
[DDET The Guide to Rough Paris]
The Parisian Glissexpo Festival is a like an extreme sports arms fair. Contracts worth millions of pounds, dollars, francs and marks are signed, much of it wholly reliant on cheap labour from the Far East. The results of this two way relationship are that young Westerners spend their disposable income on disposable products several times a season, and the ancient cultures of the Far East are compromised for the sake of a quick buck.
The festival comprises a skateboarding contest as well as the trade show, which is why these words are even here. However, the contest is an overtly commercial affair – even by US standards – so we decided to cover it using the cheapest cameras and most inept team of skateboard journalists ever comprised. We hope you, and all the sponsors involved, agree that we have captured the heart and soul of Glissexpo.
Just a swift half then
$22000 in prize money was up for grabs. A hefty amount, especially for European standards. This was bound to draw some of the worldâ€™s biggest pros across an icy cold Atlantic. Combine that with the Disneyland location, and a Eurostar special offer; in no time a crack team was assembled, eager to exchange a grim English January for a grim French one. Wig, Ben and Andy were all off globetrotting so it was down to us, the B-Team, the Sidewalk Reserves, the Alcoholic Boy Scouts, to save the day. For the record, the team was Gustav, Charlie, James, Pete, Milo, Pelle, Jon, Dan, his girlfriend and myself.
I guess itâ€™s my round
Journalism is all about organisation, teamwork, professionalism, dedication and ability – qualities none of us possessed to any degree. After a few beers on the train it became clear that skating took far higher priority than some crappy French contest, and if it was going to rain then we had Disneyland to destroy. As it turns out, La God, or whatever Heâ€™s called over there, blessed us with some of the sunniest January days weâ€™d seen in ages, so we spent our first afternoon skating the streets of Paris. By the way, if you think you can hippy jump a chain when youâ€™ve just stepped off Eurostar, think again; horror comedy slams went down within minutes.
We ended up at the legendary Palais de Tokyo, the Parisian street skaters hook up spot.
If you took all of the skate-chillers from around the world and bred them until they each had 5 chill-dren, they would all chill at Palais de Tokyo. Itâ€™s a chilling circus. Slamming is heavily frowned upon, as are creative lines and doing any tricks invented before 1998. Even if you canâ€™t make your nollie flip switch crooks, as long as you fail avec le style you will get le props from le chillers. Simple. We decided to take our eccentric English style of skating around the corner before we got le beaten up for being le fags. Gustav did cause the odd Gallic smirk of approval – with his Nordic pop – using it to ollie, nollie, switch ollie, switch 180 and then kickflip down the hefty double set.
Lets start with some shots
The travelling and skating had worn us out already, and it was still only the first day, so we decided to check out some watering holes near the apartment in Le Motte Picquet-Grenelle. Parisian bars are funny old places, firstly youâ€™ve got the international risk that you simply might just walk in to the wrong place. Couple that with it being the right place on the wrong night, multiply it with prices that vary from extortionate to frightening (with no indication outside) and then put all those facts on the barbecue with your wallet and watch them burn.
Needless to say we actually went out and home four times that night. Each disastrous return to the apartment was swiftly followed by drunken remorse that we shouldnâ€™t be quitting so early. As the numbers dwindled down to a desperate few, we eventually ended up in the seedy part of town, where the rest of the weekendâ€™s skating money paid for drink, taxis and unconsciousness.
Do they take credit cards?
The next day was the sunniest Saturday Iâ€™ve seen since childhood – enough even to banish the most putrid of hangovers. We had to take the RER train to Disneyland for the contest; imagine if Network South East ran through the Bronx using lifesize BRIO trains.
The RER has a locally famous reputation for crime, but our lack of knowledge and research told us to skip happily on to the brightly coloured fun train. Much later on we would regret that choice. Endless high-rises dominated the horizon, daubed in political and artistic graffiti. Skate spots, viewed from the safety of the train, invite the unsuspecting visitor into the craziest neighbourhoods. We were lucky that we had a contest to go to.
And nine people to somehow get into the contest for free.
As we rolled up, it didnâ€™t look good. The entire population of French 14 – 18 year old males were milling around, trying to smoke their way into the contest quoting gangster rap and using hip hop gestures to get past the guards. It wasnâ€™t working.
We eventually found the Press Centre and scammed our way in after a bit of trouble, a few medium-coloured lies, some press passes slipped through the fence and the usual â€œMoi? Nonâ€ innocence.
Iâ€™m a French Rude Boy
A lot of money had been wasted attempting to make the street course look like a real street. The ground had been painted with road markings, traffic lights hung from the ceilings and roadsigns stood all over the place. The ramps had brick textures on the side and there were neon logos everywhere. Xtreme had come to Europe, so weâ€™d better do our most radical manoeuvres before we got roadrash. I got all carried away, it was like a set for a terrible movie, but we were on this terrible movie’s set so it didnâ€™t matter.
There was a proper session on, and no spectators yet. All the skaters looked vaguely familiar, yet it took us a few minutes before we began to recognise names.
Oh look Geoff Rowley. Thatâ€™s Brian Anderson isnâ€™t it. Check out Ronnie Creager. We hadnâ€™t seen any professional skateboarders since last summer; they all had new haircuts and different clothing sponsors now. Some were fatter, some were thinner. This journalism thing was really coming together. The stars on the course began to shine – Tom Penny, Eric Koston, Andrew Reynolds, Rick Howard, Willy Santos, Rick McCrank, Ed Templeton, Ellisa Steamer, Mike Vallely, Jeremy Wray, Enrique Lorenzo, Chet Thomas, Jaya Bonderov – thatâ€™s just the first batch that rolled off my tongue. Manzoori, Woody and H were representing Blighty with Rowley and Penny, and countless other pros and ams jostled their way around.
That $22000 dollars was going to take some winning.
Hawk, Burnquist and Crum hopped around on the giant vert ramp, but in the interests of journalistic completeness we didnâ€™t watch once because the street was too interesting. Here is 8 hours worth of observation diluted into a few measly sentences:
Eric Koston 360 flip nose manual and flip late shove-its, Mike Vallely nosepick vert corner and dives into roadsigns, Ed Templeton frontside feeble up rail, Gianni Zattoni cab over funbox, Andrew Reynolds frontside flip over funbox whilst having a picnic and playing chess, Willy Santos 16ft nosegrind, Tom Penny dazed and confused backside ollie wheel clips, Woody huge ollie late shove-its, H sketchy astronaut backside ollies, Chris Senn total destruction, Tim Brauch similar destruction, Ronnie Creager technical fatness, Chet Thomas hardflip crooks, Flips young new rider Bastien Salabanzi consistent backside flips and nollie heelflip bigspins etc.
Even Goofy â€“ yes, Disneyâ€™s Goofy â€“ showed up complete with security guards and had a quick regular footed skate around the course. Dan Joyce gets himself about these days.
The standard of skating was good to say the least; my memory and writing skills are no match for being there, or at least seeing a good set of photos. As you can see, my writing will have to do until youâ€™ve seen Viewfinder No2.
Le Grand Shoot-out
Our skate shoes were beginning to wear out just from shifting from foot to foot, so we called it a day at around 6pm. Who qualified for the next days finals? No idea.
After a swift half at one of Mickey Mouseâ€™s pubs on Main Street USA, and an unnecessarily firm ejection from McDonalds we headed back to the RER for the return journey to Paris.
Whilst waiting for the train to move off, James dashed across the platform to relieve himself. The driver, obviously looking back down the train, chose that as the perfect moment to close the doors. Much to the amusement of everyone on our carriage, James stood stranded on the platform, banging hopelessly on the door. The driver sadly wasnâ€™t feeling that vindictive, and let him back in. It was calm on the train, comfortable seats and a warm atmosphere. We chatted about the dayâ€™s highlights as the RER trundled through the suburbs.
Then, all of a sudden, things went very lopsided.
The train had stopped at one of the stations near Disneyland. The doors were open and it was pitch black outside on the empty platform. A loud bang rang out from the next carriage.
A very loud bang.
A very next carriage.
When I hear a loud bang I think of all sorts of things, but rarely a gunshot – itâ€™s just not in my experience to hear gunshots. I thought perhaps it was the train engine backfiring, somehow. Please let it be the train engine backfiring, somehow. A second later another bang, louder.
Everyone knew it was gunshots.
Major panic set in. At this point I was high on adrenaline so coverage of events may differ from reality.
I remember the following: babies being thrown under seats by screaming parents, contorted children leaping randomly, more gunshots, skateboards and skateboarders flying across the train in all directions, Charlie shouting to get down, getting down, getting up, getting down, commotion on the platform, seriously rude boys smashing into our carriage, some mace action, maybe more gunshots, a doubling of panic levels, running from the train with hordes of frightened tourists, taking refuge at the end of the train, the driver announcing in French panic that he didnâ€™t know what to do as his security phone was broken, another doubling of panic levels, more scrambling between carriages to follow rumour and avoid guns and mace. Fifteen minutes of nervous waiting, gradual calming down, police turning up, train moving off.
But thatâ€™s just my view.
Many hours later, when weâ€™d mostly recovered, it turns out that some thought there had been seven shots. Seven?! I remain convinced there were only two shots, but we still differ, some saying seven, others five and Charlie and I two. I learned exactly why these things are hard to remember.
Le Grande Arche
Well you can guess what we talked about that night, all night. We went out to celebrate our lack of gunshot wounds or death and had drunk our last centime by 4am.
Trying to skate the next day, the alcohol combined with delayed shock and worn out spectator muscles. We cruised around La Defense, the financial district. Spots were plenty, but our lack of knowledge meant a half hour trek between each. Gustav nearly got his camera nicked after being accused of filming the wrong man. Weâ€™d really had enough by this time. We needed English soil.
Le Grande Arche is a huge skyscraper with a big hole in it, so we took the glass lift to the top to sort ourselves out. Watching the sun set over Paris on the last day of January 1999 was a memorable experience. It was cold and we were tired, but our hearts were warmed.
We didnâ€™t know who had won the $22000 at the contest and we didnâ€™t care. The experiences of the weekend were set in stone now, unchangeable events, already turning into a story for our grandchildren.
Do it. Go to Paris, but donâ€™t use the RER. Travel anywhere with your friends, scam your way around Europe, the world even.
This is 1999, the perfect occasion. Iâ€™m still sure there were two shots. I need a drink.