I slowly typed David's Instagram name into my phone at a drunken mini ramp session at Vladimir film festival in Croatia. A fortnight later I was driving to his flat in Belgrade for a weekend skate trip, which turned into a week long holiday.
Concrete, blocky buildings are an arresting feature of the city's architectural past, alongside the bones of structures left in memorial of war. However, between these buildings and the controversial 'Belgrade On The Water' development, you can find full bookshops, futuristic museums, delicate pastries, smoke filled Surf Rock shows and although small, an active and restless skate scene.
Story by Max Armstrong-Blake
Photography by David Milosaljavic, Rados Ruzic and Veliko Balabanov
Life isn't easy as a skater in Serbia. The only skate park in Belgrade – a city of 1.7 million - was built over 10 years ago. As the plywood ramps have decayed, only the locals are on call to make repairs. To make things worse, the park is in line to be destroyed and it's current location enveloped by the construction of a shopping centre. 'Another mall in a country that has no money to buy anything' is how the architect Mirjana Milanovic put it, and a feeling many skaters agree with. The biggest obstacle for progressing as a skater is a financial one – the average wage being around 350 Euros. When decks are still a minimum of 40 Euros, it makes you question that bigger handrail or stair set. Even if you are skilled enough to be noticed at an event or make the connection with a sponsor, the legal barriers of not being in the EU put many companies off.
Despite all this, the Provins (PRVNS) crew have been dedicated over the recent years, and their hard work was evident in this years street competition: SAMIT nesvratenih. The Summit of The Non-Aligned. Skaters from Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia and all corners of Serbia met at the steps of the giant Church of Saint Sava, the largest Orthodox Church in the Balkans (more importantly a flat ground plaza, marble ledge and a perfect 7 stair). After taking over the smooth streets and putting tricks down at various spots on the way, we descended on the tirelessly cleaned and freshly built DIY spot on the bank of the Sava River. Gazing down from Brankov Bridge, Saturday afternoon shoppers and dog walkers were entertained by tricks flowing into the flat bank, and onto a ledge borrowed from the skatepark.
After the prizes were thrown out, and before the 6am hill bombs, we gathered to watch the latest PRVNS edit, and their mishaps on skateboards. The film was hosted in a cosy pub, which shared the cobbled street with accordion concertos and Čevapi grills. It was no different to an event in Bristol or Berlin, but with cheaper beer and better food.
The political misfortunes of the Balkans is evident, and people are not afraid to voice their opinions on the situation to new ears, but the unity, comradeship and hospitality of the people gave a lasting impression of dedication and honesty. If you aren't happy with your scene, either try to change it or move somewhere else. The PRVNS crew are staying in Belgrade.