So my first Euro freeride event ever went exactly as expected; amazing location, stunning views, insane closed road, awesome people, kids that make us all look like amateurs, a half pint of palm sweat, skinned knees and a few moments where I genuinely thought I was going to die.
Don’t get me wrong, although this is very much a first timer’s point of view, Velefique isn’t Hell’s doorway, far from it! Eleven hairpins and a full run that is quite manageable at most skill levels – as long as you take it at your own pace. The 4km stretch closed off for the event descends 270m with a gradient that varies from 6-12%. Sounds simple; but not when I was at the top looking down at this.
The event is extremely well run! Air conditioned shuttle coaches running like clockwork; you’ll get 8 runs a day in if you’re fit enough! Medics were extremely professional and, on the very few instances where they were needed, it was an impressive response time. Hospitality is ace with all very welcoming (and seemingly acceptable of even the drunkest of northerners) and the event party was enjoyed from the close vicinity of the hammock I was trying to sleep in because I’m lame.
The UK was repped by the Skate To Escape crew (Lewdog, Hermz and Frandi, as always), Kev Hurdle, Harry Bentley (also popping his Euro cherry, along with other things) Lionill and Chris Ledwith… thinking about it, we’re probably not the best ambassadors for stiff upper lip Blighty.
The track is incredible as you can see. 7/10 surface with recently re-done corners and surprisingly clear of stones considering the rocky slate environment. It’s technical! Hairpins with straights and long dogs that can send you towards 50mph, but a manageable 30+ if you’re carving out of tuck. What I hadn’t considered was the dust …
My wheel of choice for this were Cult Emperors – the perfect all rounder for my local, Beachy Head in Sussex, with just the right balance of grip and slide. However, the dust at Velefique was just enough for a consistent drift that I’ve very rarely experienced, let alone practiced to a controllable level of confidence.
Heading up the hill was crazy. Never ending turns up very steep inclines toward the tiny specks on a rock marking the riders gearing up at the top. But, my first roll in was surprisingly slower than I thought. I took it easy into the first corner and still drifted toeside, right up to biting point.
By the time I had reached my board that was halfway down the cliff, I genuinely thought the contact my ass made with the concrete would require some kind of internal surgery but a few minutes of recovery and I was ready to face the next 10 hairpins. Understanding the surface is key, though overcoming the fear is ultimately what kept me on my board for the remainder of the run.
The next few runs were fairly solid and I finished up day one with a near perfect run and a big smile, fear replaced with stoke and looking forward to the next day’s skate. This offered a very different environment; visibility dropping to a fraction as we skated down through the clouds. It was a messy run for me ending with a little theatre as I headed down the final straight at about 35mph and ploughed into the back of a roller skater – both knees taking a full impact and sending me to photographic duty for the remainder of the event.
I wasn’t on my own. There’s a variety of skill levels attending the event and only a very small selection really pushing limits. This is a great asset to the event and, whilst enjoying a cerveza with the riders come the evening, it was apparent that this lack of racing pressure was a reason to return year after year.
Stand up, street luge, inliners, quad skaters, drift trikes and even a soap box racer. Pros, beginners, teenagers and even a couple of riders who could have paid for the uplifts with their free bus pass – there wasn’t even a hint of road ownership, animosity between disciplines, generations or skill level. The only thing that stood in the way of unison for all was the language barrier but everyone made a good effort and by the end of the event, my understanding of the Birmingham accent was near fluent!
Would I return? Absolutely! It’s a rare opportunity to skate a hill like this in such a safe environment and, after all, we have unfinished business …
For me personally, there’s more in it than just the hill. Spain is my second home and although the arid desert landscape differs greatly to the beaches and bars of Ibiza, the smell of pine in the air, the sun and the underlying culture was more then I could have wished for.