House of Vans Barcelona: skateboarding, art, music and Tony Alva

“Off The Wall” is skateboarding, art, and music.
It’s skateboarders from all over the world who meet to share what they do best.
It’s the ability of Vans to interpret culture, respect its DNA and give experiences to fans of this sport that, judging by our experience, is much more than this.

For four long days in a row, the Utopia126 in Carrer De Cristébal De Moura has been transformed into a theatre for live music show and artistic performances, exhibitions, workshops, trick competitions, school sessions for children, a showcase for talents, brands and emerging realities that have made House Of Vans Barcelona a unique place.

Four days in which this culture and this sport have been told through some of its most important exponents, but also by the young skateboarders who on their boards were speeding everywhere, bringing with them noise, laughter and emotion to the sight of idols and champions who, as if they did not know they were, walked peacefully between a thousand eyes and screams of disbelief.
The House of Vans in Barcelona was pure spirit, the complete narration of a subculture born in the middle of the street and that wants to stay there, without too many artifices and constructions.

We were there from the beginning to the end, from 25 to 28 September, a time that allowed us to live all the experiences created by Vans.
From the live painting of the artist Julian Lorenzo, to the Aymaboards workshop of personalisation of the boards, to the concerts with artists such as the trapper Hard Galiza and the DJ set of Kaytranada, to the community market that on Sunday was the owner of the entire venue, up to the challenge “cash for tricks” in which many customers took part.

But here, with a bit of healthy nervousness, we also had the opportunity to know and chat with a man who is the history of this sport, who for more than 50 years flies with any board on any surface, who at 62 years dominates the board as at 16 and who knows this culture like no one.
Tony Alva was one of those idols who walked quietly shaking hands and listening to his fans and here you find our interview and reportage of the entire event.

You’re one of the pioneers of this sport and this culture that mixes sport, fashion and, lifestyle. When you started this path were you conscious of what you were about to create?

No, I wasn’t. At that time I was just a young surfer and skateboarder who left his house to do what was normal.
In the Los Angeles neighborhood where I grew up surfing and skatings are part of everyday life, I had no idea that I would become what I am now, a sort of John Galliano of skateboarding.

But then you became one of the most important skaters of this sport, in every respect.

Yes, but I think it’s only because I’ve been doing it for almost 50 years and, by now, I’ve been one of the last. Many of the other kids have died because they weren’t wise enough to choose a healthy, right lifestyle.
When you decide to do it and do it for so many years you almost automatically become a living legend, you find sponsors, someone who believes in what you do.

Just as it was for you with Vans, with whom you started to collaborate in the mid-1970s, how did things change from then until now? 

Yes, I helped Steve Van Doren to launch the Era, the first shoe to skate, and things have changed a lot since that day.
At first, we didn’t have any sponsors, we didn’t have any money, we were just kids who left the house to go for a ride, to have fun.
Then companies like Vans started sponsoring us, others took care of our wheels, our helmets, I created my own company, everything was taken to a corporate level and it was incredible.
But then the skateboard died again, there were no more sponsors, no more money, not even places to go for a ride other than the road.
The history of skateboarding is not all success, there have been so many low points, so many hardcore situations that we had to face to remain faithful to our path, being a skateboarder is not a matter of how much money you earn, how popular you are, it is for the sense of freedom that can give a board, for the passion, for the creativity that you put there, is something you do for love.
You don’t do it to become the next “fashion icon” or something like that.
But you can become one of them if you choose to play the game and I’ve been playing this game for almost 50 years, that’s why people see me as a model and for me, it’s priceless because only time can give it to you, you can’t buy it.

Quando hai aiutato Vans a creare la Era, su quali dettagli ti sei focalizzato?

My goal was to improve the performance of the shoe, they added the style.
But the fundamental element of this shoe is the sole, the Waffle Sole, and in the shoe, I’m wearing now (Vans AVE pro, the shoe that celebrates Anthony Van Engelen, ed.) there is the modern version that has exceeded all expectations in terms of performance.
It’s the best low skate shoe they’ve ever created so far, of course, it’s my opinion, but my opinion is pretty good. (he laughs)

I skated with all the shoes created by Vans and at the moment this is really the best you can find on the market.

What’s your top three?

Definitely the Anthony Van Engelen pro, the SK8-HI and the original, authentic version of the Era.

Your relationship with Vans has been going on for over 45 years, how do you think they can respect so much the culture that revolves around skateboarding?

The skate culture is really authentic and as such it must be respected, all skaters know what is true and what is not. 
When I started with Vans I was a child, it was a small shop and now we are all over the world, so many cool kids with passions for music, art, skateboarding work for us.
Vans could earn more than 5 billion dollars this year and it all started with a bodega.
This is a success story if we want to talk about American Dream, this is really an American dream that has come true, especially for two guys like Paul and Steve Van Doren who continue to run the company as if it were a family business.
We don’t care about super stars, like footballers, we sponsor surfers, skateboarders, graffiti artists, musicians who started their careers in their garage.
There aren’t many companies that don’t run after the “next big thing”, but these collaborations last a few years until someone who offers more money arrives.
For us, it doesn’t work that way, for us the most important thing is the quality, the relationship between the brand and the talent.
Before I stopped drinking and smoking weed I was a disaster, a monster, but my sponsor never abandoned me, they always urged me to stop but they never turned their backs on me. 

When I decided to change my life for the better Vans was part of this journey that led me to find everything I’ve always wanted.
I have a sponsor who stayed with me in the good, in the bad and now in the beautiful, is there anything better of everything I’ve done with Vans? Books, movies, music, concerts, travel, skateboarding, and surfing?
Not for me
.

The last question I want to ask you is about the Olympics, at Tokyo 2020, skateboarding will be for the first time an Olympic event, what was your reaction to the news?

At first, I didn’t handle it well, I could only see it as a business man’s move. Then I started to see it as an opportunity for young skateboarders hungry for experiences like this, but then it bothered me again.
I firmly believe that the Olympics need skateboarding much more than skateboarding needs the Olympics.
Only time will tell us if they can communicate our values in a real way, this first year will be just a test.
And the same thing will happen for surfing, I think they will have to build pools that will reproduce the waves, the absence of the sea and beaches will take away the soul of this sport.
For me, it will be rubbish, but at the same time it will be a good thing for all the talents of this discipline, there are pros and cons.
Everything will be brought to a commercial level that we never cared about, which we absolutely do not need. 
We, skateboarders, are hardcore, we come from the street, the only thing we need is the pure essence of our sport.
I’m convinced, the Olympics need us, we don’t need them to keep growing and do what we do well.
Take it or leave it.

Photography: Elisa Scotti

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