A few fun facts about Norway and Oslo: Between 1977 and 1989, Norway was, and still is, the only country in the world that has ever put down a total ban on import and distribution of skateboards. Next fun fact: Oslo, one of the wealthiest capitals in the world, does not provide an indoor skatepark or a concrete outdoor skatepark.
The 1977 ban on skateboarding quickly led to the establishment of the Norwegian Association for Skateboarding, its sole purpose the first years was to work against the ban. There still was a tight group of very active skateboarders throughout the eighties, but they were playing hide and seek with the police. There´s still stories circulating of raids on young skaters who´d built secret ramps hidden in the woods around Oslo.
During the late eighties you could get single permissions to do skateboarding demos, and eventually there was no logical way to keep up the ban. Following the legalisation in 1989, tens of thousands of skateboards were sold over night, and every kid, including myself, wanted to be seen skateboarding. But with this sudden mainstream popularity, lots of the original skaters felt so out of place that they quit. The next year, this first boom of popularity died just as fast as it was born.
The small wheels and giant pants-era of the early nineties is widely remembered as a downtime in skateboarding history. In Oslo we were still considered outlaws through most eyes. When we´d see someone wearing skateboarding shoes (mostly Airwalks) you could be totally sure he´d be a dedicated skater, and a friend. Average teens wouldn´t with their right mind be caught wearing skateboarding shoes. There´d be at the most a hundred dedicated skaters around the city, mostly one tight group who´d mostly skate flat and a four-stair outside the City Hall. Even though we were very much an anti-social group, and flip tricks were performed quite shitty comparatively in those days, I´d say this was the golden era in the Oslo scene. City Hall attracted alternative hippie-vegans, graffiti artists and youth who´d never make it in team sports, all sharing one common bond. You could easily say there was some tension between security guards, police and pedestrians, and us but we still felt like we owned the city and couldn’t be touched. Lots of the guys from these years are successful musicians, filmmakers or artists today. But quite a few are also dead.
During the late nineties and early 2000s our click would slowly grow bigger, still being concentrated around City Hall. Henning Braaten was one of the guys pushing the limits of tricks and lines, together with Thomas Kalhbom and Fredrik Liland. Local magazines Fjøl and Playboard started, and because of filmer Jørgen Johannesen, we would always expect some Norwegian footage in the next Puzzle videomag. Bernhard sports was distributing just about every legit American brand there was, and they sent a local team of the most talented and rowdy skaters around the country for several years, skating contests and partying hard, keeping the spirit high all over the country.
Because City Hall was the everyday meet-up spot for so many years, it automatically led to a very technical way of skating, often with a way too big emphasis on style (which quickly leads to a fake style). City Hall is a long and really smooth surface, which is centred around a trash can in the middle. We´d sometimes venture to other known spots, but just as likely spend 12 hours hanging out here. Looking back this was a very conformist era and it was important not to stick out; you´d get dissed for doing smith grinds because it was old school. Anybody who dressed like Penny and had his flat game on lock, were safe.
The road from the latter days of velour and chubby shoes to the present (where skaters actually dress pretty smooth for the first time in 40 years) is definitely part of a move in the right direction. Three years back, three Norwegian guys started Dank Magazine, based in Oslo. They are doing everything correct, and even though words are in Norwegian, they sell more copies in trendy Tokyo stores than in Oslo. Dank and their entourage impact on the scene has finally killed the macho and conformist mind-set of the City Hall era, and replaced that with an open minded and tolerant vibe. Shout outs to Karsten Kleppan, Magnus Borderwick and Eirik Ballo amongst others, for keeping street skating fresh and interesting today.
So why does this change seem to fit Oslo so much better? Because Oslo´s a city of rough asphalt, hills and old architecture. The smooth, flat ground outside City Hall is not comparable to the rest of our city. Skaters of today don´t hang around at a spot too long; they hang around in the city. Being a skateboarder in Oslo has for way too long been synonymous with being an outsider, and thus the crews have mostly stayed away from too much attention. And I strongly think the explanation can be traced all the way back to the ban which ended in 1989. Twelve years of criminalisation is not forgotten overnight. Throughout the nineties and 2000s, there was still very much a feeling of not belonging in the city. Not by words or action, but by the way people look at you; you just sense that you´re not welcomed.
Skating around Oslo with the kids of today, I´d say it´s the first generation who skate the city with the right confidence and belief that we truly belong in the city and enrich it by our presence. This year the Norwegian Association for Skateboarding celebrated 35 years in the game. From day one, it has been run by volunteers working for local scenes all over Norway. And we´ve held the national championships annually for 25 years. As of now, it´s the longest living and operating skateboarding association in the world. Boomerang effect?
My generation of skateboarders literary breeds a new generation that will be raised in skateboarding without having to look over your shoulder. Today’s grown-ups respect skateboarding and understand that our activity is a really positive and creative outlet. Visitors from abroad say our street spots are the best spots in the whole of Scandinavia. There is for sure a lot of flavour and historical value in lots of our spots – that´s why we relate strongly to the former Blueprint and Habitat Skateboards. But then again, there´s those cold, dark months when everything is icy and snowy; because of the lack of indoor skateparks, dedicated skaters still sneak into polluted parking garages for a game of s.k.a.t.e. In the world´s wealthiest capital, there are still some issues to be solved.