New Balance Navigates Croatia

New Balance Photo1 750px"Your English is good. Where did you learn?” I asked our guide Erva, who had just picked us up from the airport. “Cartoon Network,” he said with his strong Croatian accent. It was somewhat comical hearing the word “cartoon” spoken with such a serious sounding accent. I nodded distractedly as I watched my first glimpses of Zagreb roll into view. Grey housing projects began to surround us. The Croatian war was fairly recent, ending in 1995. I imagined a five-year-old Erva watching Ren & Stimpy, trying to make sense of the English language and American culture, all while tuning out the war outside. He continued, “And at midnight Cartoon Network would end and German porn would come on, so I can speak German, too.” Kids grow up pretty fast in Croatia. I looked over my shoulder at Charlie Birch, who chose to stay out all night before his flight. He’s now passed out, his once clean white shirt stained almost entirely pink from spilled wine. Charlie’s from Liverpool, England, and is a proper Scouser (an English dialect from the ports of Liverpool). His accent is so thick it would often leave us all looking at each other with expressions of Anybody catch that? Was that English? on our faces. I looked back towards Zagreb as dark clouds moved over the city.

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New Balance Photo2 750pxThe author flicks a flip under a picturesque pergola—kickflip

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New Balance ADDED Photo2 750pxFranky turned pro a few weeks after this trip. This massive frontside flip probably didn’t hurt his case

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New Balance ADDED Photo3 750pxDidn’t matter if it was the first or last spot of the day, Jack was revving it up regardless—switch flip front board at spot number one

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New Balance Photo4 750pxUnlike a Ren & Stimpy rerun, there was nothing funny about Davis Torgerson’s gap to backside 50-50. It was deadly serious

New Balance ADDED Photo5 750pxFlo Mirtain, switch nose wheelie. Hey, kids, get off my roof!

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New Balance ADDED Photo6 750pxOne foot? Nah, kickflip 50-50. But you know Franky could do either

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We dropped the crew off at the Airbnb and went to pick up the second van. We parked and waited and the rain began to fall. The experience felt more like a mafia deal than a van rental—a lone man appeared down the dark street. This must be the van godfather. He was welcoming enough, though—middle aged, a big smile but then he hit me with the cash-only clause. Are you serious? I thought. Erva told me this was common because everyone in Croatia is trying to avoid paying taxes. The man was determined to get the money, so we agreed to go to an ATM. He jumped in the van and sat right on Charlie’s spilled wine. Man, we hadn’t even had one van for an hour and we’d already covered a seat in booze. Erva told him it was water. He knew we were lying and directed us around the corner to a set of ATMs. I tried them all—no luck. We promised him that we’d return in two weeks with his money. For a moment we were all quiet and I was positive he was going to tell us to get lost. It felt like we were living the intro to a mob movie and I wished I could see how it ended—hopefully not with us being shut in a trunk and driven out to the desert. He eyed us over slowly, seeming to take in our trustworthiness. All was still, and then he extended his hand and the deal was made. I couldn’t believe it. When was the last time you made an agreement with a stranger with only a handshake, much less over an automobile? We dropped him back off and were on our way.

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New Balance Photo7 750pxRoses are red, the sky is blue, Levi does 360 flips and so should you

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New Balance Photo8 750pxThe van seat got soaked but Jordan Trahan’s board stayed dry on this fountain ride. Izvrstan!

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Fortunately, we made it out of Zagreb with all of our fingers intact and headed to the coastal city of Rijeka. Croatia sits on the Adriatic Sea, which has the most insane clear blue water imaginable, and all I could think about was jumping in. On our way to a skate spot we came across an abandoned building hovering 20 feet above the water—a perfect launching spot.

We started changing into our swimsuits and Jack Curtin’s phone slipped out of his pants and into the sea. Everyone watched it sink—except Marius. Without any hesitation he dove in after it, chasing the phone further and further until he grabbed it near the ocean floor. But alas, it was just a corpse and would ring no more. One soldier down. Back at the van I found the passenger handle hanging limp at its side. Did someone try to break in? Everything seemed to still be inside, then Surrey walked up and told me that the handle popped off when he closed the door. The van godfather was not going to like this! This might cost me a pinky finger, I thought to myself.

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New Balance Photo10 750pxFlo, double-set backside flip. How do you say “Bolts!” in Croatian?

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New Balance ADDED Photo9 750pxDavis Torgerson stays off the grass with a lengthy kickflip

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I wish we could have stayed longer in Rijeka, but we had commitments down south in Split so we had to split. I had been told that this part of Croatia was the land of white marble hubbas, but what I wasn’t told is that the hubbas are almost entirely within the inner courtyards of apartment buildings and that you only have about a five-minute window to skate before wine-bottle bombs start raining down upon you. Must be an old guerrilla warfare tactic to fend off invaders. One day after getting the boot from the hubba wine-grenade zone, we stopped by the waterfront to grab some lunch, and a few of the boys started messing around on a little manual pad. Out of nowhere this lady came in super hot, obviously unhappy that we are there drinking beers, skating, disrupting traffic. We ignored her but then the cops showed up. She went off on them, yelling, “Arrest them! Arrest them!” They tried to calm her down, but she was not having it. We then realized that her biggest gripe was that Charlie and Jack weren’t wearing shirts. We all laughed. Is this lady for real?! That’s not a crime. Is it? Apparently we had stumbled into a mandatory-shirt zone at the beach without realizing it and the boys left with indecency tickets. It’s a weird world.

New Balance Photo12 750pxThe surname “Trahan” has been translated into English as “strong.” Jordan muscled through a gap-in-gap-out back tail, more than earning his family moniker

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New Balance ADDED Photo10 750pxHubba or rail? So many choices! Franky goes top shelf and hits the bar 50-50 style. It’s all in the heels

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New Balance ADDED Photo12 750pxNo run-up? No problem. Charlie Birch half-pushes into an impossible while the clouds do cool stuff in the background. Nature’s rad

New Balance Photo14 750px“Here’s your paperweight”

New Balance Photo15 750pxWhen we showed up to this high school in Zagreb, all the teenagers were on a smoke break. How crazy is that?! About as nuts as Davis’ ollie over to crooked grind

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After watching a very smug woman strutting off after her victory, I had the feeling that we’d seen all there was to see in Split and it was time to move on. It was then that Erva remembered a spot just outside of the city. Let’s Go! It ended up being two perfect handrails in a row. Seriously, where has this spot been hiding?! No bombs dropping, no overly-concerned citizens, no broken phones—I sat back, cracked a beer and watched Franky backside noseblunt a rail that had never even seen a boardslide. Tomorrow I would be returning the van and hopefully keeping all of my digits, but for now this was the perfect ending to our mafia flick.

New Balance Photo16 750pxJack Curtin snuck in a switch backside 50-50 before the wine bottles started raining down

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New Balance Photo17 750pxWhat do you do when you backside noseblunt a virgin handrail before the photographer can get his camera out? You do it again even better! Franky Villani closes out Croatia with a crusher. Dude’s pro, you know

New Balance ADDED Photo15 750pxGoing down! Tom Kox steps into the abyss by way of a fastidious fakie flip. Doviđenja, Croatia

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