Pic: Tiki Alex, day 5. streetluge-austria.at
Knk longboard camp is one of the most famous freerides in the world, and for good reason.
I was there for the first time in 2013 and loved it, its an amazing track in a beautiful environment, the party goes late every night and the people are always relaxed, friendly and welcoming. Despite that, I didn’t actually plan to go back this year – 6 days of riding is a lot to spend on one hill when it has to come out of your annual leave! But, somehow, here I am writing a report on what became, for me, perhaps the best freeride I’ve ever attended.
This year has been all about surfing. I didn’t skate as much as normal in 2014 and battled a few injuries over winter, leaving my board feel and my motivation somewhat lacking for 2015. I tried hard to kickstart my year by organising a few outlaw races (I’m planning another blog post about that) but either didn’t enter or didn’t truly push myself to compete and ended up back where I started. Having originally moved to Freiburg to work for Hackbrett and to skate more, it was a strange feeling knowing that 2-3 years ago I was skating harder and faster than I was this year.
Whilst my feet were struggling to relearn what was once natural, my hands were doing the same in the workshop. I like to understand how things work and solve problems using that understanding, but theres something about pressing boards that removes me from that mindset. The more I think about and force the movements that I think are right, the less likely it becomes that a perfect board comes out of the press. The most beautiful boards I’ve created have always been when the work is flowing naturally, and sometimes I don’t even know why! Don’t get me wrong, we solve problems when they arise and we understand our work, but flow seems to be a mystic element that is essential for us to create our best work.
The joy that comes from finishing building a skateboard that I would be proud to ride is pretty magical. And so I began to trust my intuition more, both in and out of the workshop, coming to decisions that sometimes surprised even myself, but surfing the wave and enjoying it nevertheless. „Wanna skate the bobtrack?“ said Alfred. „No!“ said some part of my brain. The sensible part that went to university and might still think wearing a suit to a 9-5 job is the only picture of success. „Yes“ said my mouth! And so it was, I surfed that giant snake without any pressure and had one of the most crazy and memorable experiences of my life so far – despite falling on the first run and bruising my ribs. Sorry mum, I am being careful out here, honestly!
This flow state carried on in and out of work, if you’ve seen any of the boards that have come out of the workshop in the last half a year then I hope you’d agree that we are on a good path! Another day we decided to buy ourselves a year ticket to a local cable car, giving us access to a 12km, 12% road once per day. It hadn’t crossed my mind before but when Alfred suggested it, it seemed stupid not to! A 25km bike ride and 12km skate is now part of our morning routine. And on it goes… a 100km bike ride to skate 20km of downhill on a Saturday? Sounds perfect! Riding with our bikes to the hill and knowing we only have one ride down makes for a very different feeling to riding with a car. We don’t ride as fast but we ride to enjoy, surfing every corner, riding close, riding apart, taking in turns to lead the way down our favourite sections of each road. Pure feeling.
A more successful run at Beton on Fire in Altenberg, the new spray cabin being put to good use, one view from the cable car ride
Skating like this, I never thought about if I was skating „well“ or not. Soul surfing! And it was a load off my mind! It did lead, however, to me having next to no skate plans for the rest of the year…so when my good friend Jan told me he was coming home from NZ and wanted to go to Knk, it suddenly seemed like a pretty good option. My girlfriend enjoyed it last time we went too, so that sealed it. As it drew nearer I heard that Adam and Harry from Vandem MFG would also be there which had my stoke levels up to 11! I also got an inexplicable itch to take my old board – the himmelreich fullshape – to the event, as I had ridden it there in 2013. I’m not usually one for changing my setup, but everything had been working out so far and the idea stuck with me.
80km in, relaxing before the last 12km skate of the day – Flu, Alfred, Matt, Chrissi
A week before the event I took the trucks off my normal board (Das Schnelle with the Kessel Jones outline), but instead of mounting them onto my old board, took a test Wasser and put them on that. We planned to film a product video the day before we left for Knk so I thought I should get a little skate in beforehand to make sure I could ride it at least a bit for the video. We had one flex 1 and one flex 2 Wasser available – Alfred and I had to rock paper scissors for the choice. I won and took the flex 1! We had a little session with Luke in the vinyards that evening and I learnt to put the 130cm beast sideways into corners. It was incredibly fun and walking back up after one run I had a thought that I tried to shut out as soon as I’d had it, but it was too late. Could I skate the Wasser down the Knk track?! I wasn’t sure it was possible but the more I thought about it, the more I grinned, and I knew the decision was made.
It actually rained on the Saturday and we never did film anything outside for the Wasser video. We left for Knk and drove first north to pick up Jonas, who took us for a few runs on his local spot and fed us pizza – cheers dude! First downhill runs on the Wasser were a little scary and strange feeling, but successful.
My loose plan was to have a relaxed first run at Knk and see how it felt on the big board, then change back to my normal board after half a day or so. Coming into corner 0.5 on the first run was pretty exciting! At the top I imagined myself maybe doing a little check or two at that point, but anyone who knows that corner knows how beautifully it pulls you down, faster and faster to the left until you can see the first hairpin below you. And so I went with the feeling, railing hard on my flexy heelside edge, not feeling any of the concave features that I’ve grown used to on the Schnelle but feeling super locked in and comfortable anyway. Braking into the first corner was so smooth that I had to laugh out loud into my helmet as I came out of the hairpin. With such a long wheelbase and 38 degree trucks, I had to set my line for corner 2 almost right away as I exited corner 1, a new feeling but a surprisingly natural one. Every corner was a new experience! How much can I grip on this thing? Which lines are possible? I had a new perspective on every line and corner I remembered from 2 years earlier, it forced me to laugh and to woop and wave at every rider and marshal I saw on the way down. Riding on such a big plank, and being one of the handful of riders in leather, I got a few funny looks at first! I didn’t think anyone could hear me wooping in my helmet but later learned that some of the marshals could hear me coming while I was still 2 corners above them, hahaha.
Corner 0.5, wooooooooshhhh! Pic: Maria Arndt https://www.facebook.com/MariaArndtPhotography
After day 1 I thought I’d just skate one more day on that board and then go back to the Schnelle. And then I thought the same after day 2, and then day 3 and 4…by which time it was race registration for the Cult Single Set Survivor race. A normal race in every way, except that each rider was only allowed one set of wheels for the whole thing, including race to qualify heats and the 32-man elimination bracket. I wasn’t signed up online but heard there might be places left, so went to sign up with everyone else. I didn’t plan to ride the Wasser in the race but after skating it for the previous 4 days it felt a little counterintuitive to switch back to my Schnelle at that point. Registration was super busy, Alex and Nadim had their work cut out for them but did a great job – thanks for that! They even let extra riders in after the 64 limit to keep them all happy! Riders that came after 64 didn’t get a free set of wheels like everyone else but actually it was mostly sponsored guys left in the queue at that point anyway, and they all said it was alright. I snuck in at place 62 of 64 and claimed a set of cult classics, nice!
Having spent the whole year blissfully ignorant of whether or not I was skating fast, I was pretty nervous before the race. I didn’t put any pressure on myself to do well, but I knew that most of the fast racers were there the week before for the No Paws Down race and had moved on to Italy for a WQS race at Verdiccio, leaving the field pretty open for almost any of the skaters at Knk. Any of the skaters not riding a 130cm dancer at least, I told myself, so relax, have fun and skate it like you have been all week, and at the very least some people might get stoked about how big the board is!
I was also a little apprehensive about riding a fresh set of Biggie Hawgs in 76a on a long flexy plank down a notoriously grippy track. But, I’d told Alex that I was going to so they were marked up and in the race spreadsheet and I had no choice. Not that I did anyway, really, as I flatspotted my other set the day before, haha. I had the same feelings as the first run as I came through 0.5 and saw corner 1, but as I slid for it the wheels broke out exactly when I wanted them to, braked me hard, and shot me through the hairpin with the best exit speed I’d had the whole event. Yeeha!!! From that moment on it was almost as if I watched myself skating the track the whole day. Or maybe I did the skating, but someone else was controlling me like the character of a game, I’m not sure which way round it was. Either way, it was pretty surreal! We were read the heats as we drove back up the hill but I couldn’t really hear them from the back of the bus so it was all nerves at the top waiting to see who was in my first quali run. I watched myself walk up to the line with some fast dudes (hi Timm!) and, almost to my own surprise, push like crazy off the line. I knew (or maybe whoever was controlling me knew…) that corner 1 was going to be carnage during the race heats. It’s a right hairpin with a small left kink on the entry, and with a good speed that makes it tricky to slide the right. Some people can and were doing it but its not possible unless you are leading into the first corner. I had spent the whole week chilling into it with a big coleman and then a small toeside check if I still needed it, so figured that was the best bet in the race too, and that being in front was maybe the safest place to be at that point. I signalled the guy behind me with a big ol’ swirly finger „I’m gonna slide!!“ each time to make it clear what I was doing and to lessen the chances of a crash in my heats. At least I thought it would, but as I came into the corner in that first heat the marshall was waving his yellow flag like I hadn’t seen anyone wave a yellow flag all week! I was looking around desperately for the bodies in the road from the heat before, but there were none. I looked back after the hairpin and realised that it was the other guys in my heat that had crashed, and so had a solo run to the finish and claimed 1st place in the first quali round.
Everyone was braking differently into corner 1. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. Pics by Tillo Reilly – https://www.flickr.com/photos/tillorly
I’ll try not to go into a detailed description of every run I took that day, despite every corner of every run being burned into my memory, and the fact that I’d enjoy reliving it anyway. I was late to the line in my 2nd quali heat and to my dismay I saw 2 young Czech skaters that I’d noticed absolutely destroying the track all week, with clean style and fast tucks. I led off the push – I don’t think all the cycle and skate missions harmed my strength off the start line – and held the lead into the finish, just about. Vašek was a metre or so behind me the whole way, but with my leathers helping me on the straights and some higher power controlling my lines through the corners he couldn’t find space to pass. Or maybe the tail of my board was too long! In the 3rd and final quali heat I had to race one of the Spaniards. These dudes were first off the line in every freeride run, they were skating close together and very fast. I had a run or two with them in the previous days and couldn’t always keep up, and when I asked the day before which of them was going to win the race they all pointed at each other, haha. Pushing out first seemed to be working for me so I did it again and the same thing happened. I was a bit dazed after winning 3 heats, and hungry. We were all pretty hungry. Alex was running the race so well that we didn’t get time to eat between heats, but I also didn’t have time to let my nerves get the better of me so that was cool. However, after a warm up and 3 race to qualis, people were starting to get a bit dizzy in the 35 degree heat. I thought we’d have time after that run while they worked out who was into the elimination bracket but Alex and Nadim were running a tight ship! I was in the queue for a falafel wrap when I heard „Maaaaa-aaaa-aaaaaaattttt“ echoing around the start line. I had to laugh. I never got the falafel, I had to run and pull up my leathers to not miss my heat. Timm was on the line again. Well, I won all my qualis at least, I thought. Though it would be a shame to go out in the first round…“GO!“ and so we did! No more 2nd chances, if you’re not 1st or 2nd you’re out of the race now. Timm crashed again behind me into corner 1 – I was half sad because I was looking forward to going through a few rounds with him, but half relieved that one of the really fast skaters was out and I didn’t have to beat him down the hill. That 2nd part was a surprise to me when I thought it, I blamed it on the mysterious power that was concentrating my mind in the race. But hey, thats racing. Every fast guy thats out is another step closer to the bonus rounds. I’ve never had that mindset before and I’m not sure if it’ll ever come back but it worked for me that day.
2nd round, 16 riders left, another Spaniard on the line, Robbie from Belgium and Felix from Munich who advanced with me from the first round. Tiki Alex also joined us for that one, but I barely noticed. I managed to eat half of the falafel before that run and could taste it in my helmet the whole time. Robbie crashed on the push, which was again a relief but also a little sad because I was really looking forward to a run with him. Into the first corner I signalled again, it was just a fun race after all, but as I gripped into the corner I heard a cry and felt a body smash into me from behind. Head over heels, I know I hit my head because theres a few fresh scratches on my helmet, but I didn’t notice at the time. All I saw was Felix go through on the inside, followed closely by Tiki Alex, and my board next to me…nothing else. I grabbed it, ran like hell and jumped on, passed Alex into corner 2, scrubbed like hell and tried one push to get more speed on the exit, but my legs were jelly and I nearly crashed again. Behind me I could hear the Spanish dude pushing like hell, smashing into the ground, making distance with every thump, but all I could do was tuck and hope. We played like that the whole run and I never caught Felix, but never got caught, and just like that we were down to the last 8.
I never ate the other half of my falafel because I didn’t want to do anything to disrupt the flow of the day. On thinking that I realised that it was my mystical friend, flow, that was helping me out on the race track too, not just at the laminating table. I didn’t have a single run where I didn’t laugh or shout out the whole week, the stoke was running high and everything was simply perfect. I still can’t explain it, but maybe thats how its supposed to be.
The semi final included the last of the 3 young Spaniards that I hadn’t raced yet, Marc. I had him down to win the race as soon as I saw him ripping on day 2, and the feeling only intensified when he put his leathers on for race day! Felix was in there, and Janto also, on his Sabres, nice one! This was one heat where I didn’t win the push – Marc and I were neck and neck on the flat part, but he had the inside lane so moved slightly ahead in the first left kink. I followed him as best I could, and we had a few metres of space in front of the other two. Coming out of 7, I was surprised to find myself in his draft, so just pushed him in front. No point in trying to pass and making a huge draft for one of the other guys to catch us on the fastest part, or even worse crashing us both out by giving us no space in corner 8. It was like every thought I didn’t have whilst I was surfing roads on my board this year crammed into my brain to help with decisions during the race, it was awesome. He crossed the line 1st and me 2nd, and he was pretty stoked on the bump. He told me after that hes only been skating downhill for one year so that made me feel pretty bad! I’m 7 years in and this guys style is lightyears ahead of mine, unbelievable. I think I have to visit Barcelona and have a few runs with them next winter.
Chasing Marc, semi finals corner 4… (Pic: Peter Bevk)
…and corner 8. Notice how Janto and Felix switched places, they had an epic battle on this run! Pic: Maria Arndt https://www.facebook.com/MariaArndtPhotography
The final is on film so maybe you’ll see it sometime, they showed it to us before we did the podium that evening. Tiki Alex followed us down. It was surreal for me but I pushed off as hard as I could, Marc and I were joined by Flo Fellner and Jan Dederer and I led into corner 1 after a little bump from Flo. He passed me out of corner 1, the first time I’d been passed all day in a corner, and it really felt serious! I was grinning like hell in my helmet, now the race was really on! I airbraked and maybe even dropped a foot into 2, Flo scrubbed wide, my line was mediocre, but I came into 3 in front and didn’t look back until we were coming into 4 after the long straight part. Jan was inches from my tail, I gave him a little shaka, and Flo and Marc had lost a few metres on us. I remembered telling Jan earlier in the day, hey dude, if you’re behind me into corner 4 don’t worry because its been my weakest corner the whole day. I wondered if he was also remembering that as we came in, and felt a little guilty for taking enough exit speed to stay ahead. My feet slipped whilst I slid into corner 8 so I just hung on and aimed for the finish line, Jan gained a lot of space and we touched as we crossed the line, with no idea who won. I told him that he could have it, or we could take joint 1st, but a few people that were on the finish line all agreed that the nose of my board crossed the line a few inches ahead of his and he took 2nd place with grace.
Corner 7 in the final
Jan stays cool while I almost lose control, corner 8. Pic: Tillo Reilly https://www.flickr.com/photos/tillorly
I was pretty overwhelmed to have won it, and am still feeling a warm glow of happiness when I think of how friendly and happy everyone was. Not just at the finish line but at the whole event. I’m still in disbelief that I won a race. I know, I know, it wasn’t exactly a world cup, but there were some really competent riders and racers on the line that I would normally rate as much stronger than me! Every situation that needed a little luck went my way, my legs were strong, and even when I made a mistake in the final corner, fate smiled on me and gave me a little push across the line in first place. Like every decision I made this year added up to that moment.
So, that was a brief (I could have written 3x as much!) report of my Knk 2015. In 2016 I will definitely be going back – Flo, Jan and I won free entry for next year for our podium positions! Don’t expect to see me winning the race next year though, or any other race for that matter. I can’t explain it and won’t attempt to! I feel humbled to have experienced my truly lucky day, which might only come once in a life time. What you can expect though, is to see me at events with a smile as big as anyones, having the time of my life, surfing the wave that is the life I’ve been given.
To all the organisers of Knk, thank you for the great event and great time. I will be coming back again and again. Thanks also to the marshals who work so hard all week under the hot sun. Next year maybe we can take a run together!
Next up, Bela Joyride in Austria. See you there, I’m the grinning idiot on the dancer.