Courtrai Park

The hand that rocks the cradle
Courtrai skate park debacle.

In the last year, there has been an incredible increase in the amount of concrete poured for skaters to shred. Quality parks are beginning to pop up all over the globe, so summer holidays can be booked in Stoke on Trent instead of San Francisco, and the next Geoff Rowley might learn the ropes in Malmo not Barcelona…

However, to get the mixers turning you need to work with people that don’t skate. It’s an age old fact that skaters are broke, so if we want something we do it ourselves, or swallow our pride and ask for help.

Help comes from non-skaters and notably politicians. The suits are the ones with the cash that could create the sickest cradle, or the sketchiest hip. We work together to iron out the wrinkles and build something really worthwhile. Recently, the little town of Courtrai (Kortrijk in Flemish), Belgium, got served with a concrete skatepark designed by Team Pain (Tim Payne and Co.) that could easily rival Marseille. Plus, it’s got a mean cradle!

Now, before you get your Velcro straps in a twist and hunt down a map to find Courtrai, let me explain the current situation: You can’t skate there.

Now you’re pissed, well imagine how the locals feel. Basically, the bowl has been ready to skate for at least 4 months, but because the landscapers think their pretty flower arrangements and green grass won’t grow in winter, everything must wait. Obviously the politicians agree because nothing looks worse on a political campaign poster than a mass on concrete in a mud field. So, like a 12 foot deep tub of ice cream in front of hungry kids, the dream of riding this beast is melting away because the table hasn’t been set.

An email circulated around skaters informing them of a get together rally to try and manifest their rights to rock ‘n’ roll. Unfortunately, news of the informal gathering was spread on the net, and subsequently reached the powers to be. Upon arrival in Courtrai, skaters were greeted by no less than 5 police vans, several riot squad dogs and various plain clothes coppers waiting for the spark to throw a few hoodlums in the back of the meat wagon. Keep in mind that this is in a small town in Belgium, so the total number of skate activists present was no more than a hundred at most.

Add to the equation, a well prepared Mayor who has a horde of aides and media types flurrying around him to make his look good. Basically, the Mayor played the skaters like a bunch of inexperienced fools, and turned the media bias around. In theory the media were their to show the politicians in a bad light, but due to a general lack of organisation, this power move was usurped by the enemy.

You might think those present were a load of pansies, but when you saw the eager cops present that day, and the fact that uproar might result in negative repercussions for the locals, everyone decided to play it calm; A little too calm for my liking… But, the Mayor did want to look good for the cameras so he let us ride for an amazing hour in total! Thanks man, but that’s not really long enough to take advantage of such a site. Oh! Did I forget to mention that those who did get to skate were hand picked? Of course, this isn’t a free for all, you know. This is a photo op, isn’t it..???

A few skaters who weren’t allowed to skate whilst the BMXers got served free Redbull- They don’t miss an opportunity do they!- decided to attack some jersey barriers further up the road. The Mayor thought that was funny at first, but then realised it would upset his constituency to see such inappropriate behaviour in the town’s streets, so he called the cops on them. Yeah mate! Luckily, the damp squid of a day had squashed any rebellious uproar within the skaters, so no arrests were made. An impromptu plan was made to congregate in Brussels, some 50 miles away, to skate the Belgian Capital’s park with a far smaller bowl, but at least there would be no hassle! Please note that Brussels has recently acquired a new concrete bowl with banks and ledges (unfinished), yet the site is still behind barriers and under construction. Despite these limitations, cops don’t care if you skate there on the weekend. You skate at your own risk (obviously!), and not for the risk of the unfinished flower beds!

In any case, Courtrai’s new park will be open end of April supposedly, and is well worth a visit. To end this, Belgian ambassador, David ‘Roest’ Martelleur was asked by the local newspaper whether he sided with the local politicians he said, “I’m not a politician, I’m a skater!” Nuff said.

A big shout out to all the skaters who came from far and wide to rep for the cause, Element Europe for turning up, Team Payne for building the beast, and the Courtrai locals for putting their town on the map.

Ralph Lloyd-Davis