How much do you know about Bulgaria? Not a lot probably, although you might have heard about murdered journalists and nationwide corruption if you’ve been following the news lately. And chances are you haven’t heard much about the blading scene down in this Balkan state boarding the Black Sea, or have you? Well, the second edition of its national Blading Olympics seems like the perfect occasion to educate yourself and learn a bit more about an old scene whose roots run pretty deep:

Here are some of the highlights of one wonderful week in Sofia!

Words: Freddy White
Photography: Phelia & Emmy Barouh

Walking the streets of the capital is interesting on multiple levels. Whether you’re hunting for the best banitsa the city has to offer, or just wandering around, you will see several shops carrying skates, scooters, skis and boards of all kinds that seem to indicate local activities are really outdoors oriented. The first outlet which started importing Roces goods two decades ago is still selling M12 skates to this day, and located just a few streets away, Vertigo skate shop has been a strong supporter of the inline scene for almost as long: Most now consider it home. Add the fatherlike figure of Marco Jara, who’s worked tirelessly to push the sport in Bulgaria and beyond, and the DIY mentality of the locals who’ve built several spots and rails around the city, and you’re starting to see the bigger picture: A fertile ground for inline skating, and a grassroots community that has managed to thrive despite the steady decline of the sport worldwide.

Moving on to the event itself, a quick look at the numbers also seem to underline the hopeful situation of the sport in Bulgaria: 30 young beginners showed up on Saturday morning to take part the free classes, coached by an enthusiastic group of skaters eager to pass on their knowledge. Even more impressive than the 40 competitors hailing from 10 different countries who entered the main event, over 15 kids actually competed in the junior category. If you add those numbers up, it might come as a shock that the newcomers actually outnumbered us old folks, and put a smile on your face realizing that in some places, the future is now! On top of that, girls also had their own category, which sure put on an interesting twist on things too!

Those juniors and women competitions were clearly some of the highlights of this whole event. While 13 years old Stefan-Alexandar Kjumjurdgiev, winner of the juniors, kept on skating all day and actually competed in the main event too, Latvia’s smiling export Liene Nulle took a well-deserved first place too. As for the boys, Berlin-based and Abriss street contest organizer, Jonas Rogge lost his marbles once more and gave us the performance of a lifetime, with flawless runs full of big tricks, creative moves and unexpected lines, earning himself a spot on the podium. After he generously offered his help and expertise during the morning lessons, Hungary’s Bela Tasnadi went ham and threw several hurricanes on the disaster rail, safely landing in the second position. But when it came down to the gold, no one could take the medal away from Jo Zenk, who handled himself like the professional he is and did so many unmatchable tricks on every obstacle it was hardly a contest anymore.

When it comes to actual pros though, it is safe to say the crew of volunteers who helped put the event together and held it down all throughout the day actually take the cake! What makes a scene is not just the time one spends on their skates, but also how much they’re willing to do for the benefit of others. And in that respect, it is worth mentioning the incredible work of the man behind it all, from organizing the event to motivating the troops to landing interviews on national television: As a hobbyist, Avi Barouh is still doing things way better than a lot of self-appointed professionals. Thus it is only justice to finish things off by thanking him and his whole family for their incredible work: From taking part in the contest, to hosting a dozen bladers at home, to shooting photographs the whole day, to sweeping the skatepark’s floor, in the end the Sofia Blading Olympics truly were a family matter!

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