Russian skateboarding comes of age

Major Russian skateboarder Maxim Kruglov. Source: Maxim Shatrov\Red Bull Content

Major Russian skateboarder Maxim Kruglov. Source: Maxim Shatrov\Red Bull Content

Over the last few years, Russia's best skateboarders have caught up with, and in some cases even outperformed, their professional foreign competitors, on the back of a swelling interest in the sport.

In 2013, skateboarder Maxim Kruglov won the sport’s most important European winter contest, the Simple Session in Estonia. By outriding many leading European and even American boarders, however, he did more than simply win the competition: He announced Russia’s breakthrough on the world’s professional skateboarding scene.

This year, after Yegor Golubev followed up Kruglov’s success by winning the best trick contest at the prestigious Nike SB Berlin Open, skate magazines and online media began to take an interest in the new Russian masters. A video featuring Russian skateboarder Gosha Konyshev appeared on the American website, while European magazine Kingpin now regularly publishes articles on the Russian teams and their plans.

Millenial boom

However, it was not always like this. Before the 21st century, skateboarding in Russia was mainly a pastime for just a handful of dilettantes. The sport experienced its first boom in the beginning of the 2000s. Its general international popularity, the growth of living standards in Russia, and a number of cult skateboarding films and video games played their part. It was now officially cool to be a skateboarder.

Stores in big cities were soon packed with boards, footwear and accessories. Fascinated by the new phenomenon, thousands of adolescents took to the streets. Skateboard companies supported the movement by creating the first Russian teams, touring professionals throughout the cities and sponsoring talented skateboarders, and thus the industry was born. Then came the first specialized sites and print media.

The next important event was the 2001 opening of Moscow's first indoor skatepark. It was the biggest in Europe, with a large skating area and three ramps. The opportunity to skate during the winter became a major support for the sport's progress. The Adrenalin Skatepark lasted exactly 10 years.

The crisis and new possibilities

However, after the boom there was a decline in the sport due to the 2008 crisis. Prices increased and skateboarding sales, especially those of footwear and clothes, started falling. The brands substantially reduced their budgets for supporting professional skateboarders and the sport itself. But despite the decline in the mass trend, a nucleus of professional skateboarders was formed.

It was also in approximately this period that Russian board producers Absurd, Union and Rebels took root. They managed to attract the best skateboarders. The kids started releasing videos, going on national tours and then later traveling abroad.

The first successful competing skateboarders were Maxim Kruglov and Yegor Golubev from St. Petersburg. Constantly participating in as many Russian competitions as possible, they acquired confidence in their talent. Soon they were joined by Gosha Konyshev and Dima Dvoinikov. This small group of boarders is now the elite of Russian skateboarding, capable of competing on an equal footing with all the Class A European stars, says Alexei Lapin, a professional skateboarding photographer.

“It's not important that there are only five top Russian skateboarders,” says Lapin. “The main thing is that the foundation has been laid in 2014. Let it be just the first fragile shoot of Russian skateboarding in Europe. Sooner or later it will surely blossom into vivid color - as long as the sanctions or another crisis don’t deal the industry a knockout blow."

Oleg Larionov, also a skate photographer and team manager at Boardshop #1, says the level of skateboarding in Russia “has increased by several notches” in the last fifteen years. “But by and large these achievements belong only to the guys from Moscow and St. Petersburg, where the sport has reared several generations of skateboarders.”

“In the regions the situation has not changed since the 1990s,” says Larionov. “There we are witnessing the evolution of only the second or third generation of skateboarders because the culture of the sport still hasn't developed. Some time has to pass before the tail catches up with the head."

Parks and plazas

The success of professional Russian skateboarders on the international arena has coincided with a new growth of interest in skateboarding, and Moscow in particular has seen a boom in the construction of skateparks.

It all began last summer with the new concrete skatepark in Krasnaya Presnya, in the center of the city. Then three other concrete plazas (large outdoor parks where obstacles are close to street level and the architecture) appeared in other neighborhoods in the capital. At the beginning of September Moscow announced the inauguration of a new outdoor skatepark, which claims to be the biggest in Europe now.

However, skating star Gosha Konyshev, who skates for the Absurd and DC teams, says that while the appearance of “a vast number of skateboarding arenas where in one day you can learn more tricks than in two weeks skating on the streets,” is a good thing, there is room for improvement. 

“Moscow still doesn't have a good indoor skatepark that could help you maintain your level and develop further in the five months of rainy and snowy weather,” says Konyshev, who adds that there are plenty of reasons to be positive about the future of the sport in Russia.

“The Russian skateboarding scene is now more united, the kids visit each other all the time and the internet plays a major role in keeping everyone together,” he says. “Our skaters are now more mobile, and foreign skateboarders are no longer afraid of coming to ‘exotic and dangerous’ Russia." 

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