By any given standard, 20 years is a long time in the little world of inline skating. Half-baked ideas, short-lived companies & events that come and go, it seems like anything that manages to survive for a couple of years is a miracle in itself. Two decades. You might not actually know, but that’s how long Croatia’s Pannonian Challenge has been taking place, every summer without fail.

And twenty years is precisely how long blading has been a part of it. How’s that for a miracle?

Words: Freddy White
Photography: Samir Kurtagić

Nested in the Slavonia region, the ostensibly sunny city of Osijek plays host to the event, with its massive skatepark located on the banks of the Drava river. Only a couple of hours away, Budapest, Zagreb, Sarajevo and Belgrade: The perfect spot to attract visitors and skaters from surrounding countries, not to mention some international guests that have always favored Croatia for their summer vacation. The list of former winners includes Roman Abrate, Tin Hadžiomerspahić or Dominik Wagner, and last weekend, the his Ignition teammate Jacob Juul was back to defend his title, while others jumped straight from Montpellier to Croatia to take full advantage of the contest season!

But before we get in the thick of it, let’s start by making it very clear: The best part about Pannonian Challenge is that the schedule allows for some quiet moments, before and after the actual contest, to fully enjoy the city and the many attractions it offers. So on Thursday, most bladers present actually took it to the streets before the trainings on the park for a nice warm-up session on a curated selection of ledges, exploring the streets with wheels under their feet and ice cream in their hands. Not the worst way to discover the city during the day. As for what happened at night…

Friday is when things get hot, not to mention the weather itself. The whole day is dedicated to inline skating, and starts with the amateur contest, where Jan Gašparič‘s smoothness earned the Slovenian a solid first place, followed by Austrian visitors Alexander Helm and Tom Gelbmann, in 2nd and 3rd place respectively. Then things quickly went out of control as the pros dropped in for their qualification round, with the Swiss crew firing on all cylinders. Stéphane Torres managed to stay on his feet, stunt after stunt, while Maxime Genoud flew over the park with another flawless run, both reaching the finals along with another lucky ten.

The tone was set, and after a couple of hours to cool down and hydrate, the finals turned into an actual thriller, as first-timer Yuto Goto managed to lace one incredible run combining both perfect spins, technical prowess on the different rails the course had to offer, and some original moves on untouched spots. Not Joe Atkinson‘s first rodeo however, as once again the lad from Yorkshire put together one hell of a performance, cruising fast and airing high all throughout the park, his unique eye and vision the most impressive of all. He logically ends in first place, while a smiling Jelle Briggeman handled things well this time, joining Joe and Yuto on the podium.

As we’ve mentioned above, the best part of this whole ordeal is actually having the time to hang around once the contest itself is done. After another solid party, the survivors made the best of their Saturday and explored the city some more, relaxing in various parks… Or hunting more street clips on any spot they could find, like the unstoppable Yuto Goto who kept on landing trick after trick until late in the afternoon, between two scoops of ice cream of course. Dinner time, then party time… Again?!

Only a few remained on Sunday to watch the BMX finals, and then came the time to actually head back to Zagreb and get on a plane. Days went by fast, yet every single one was enjoyable in different ways. If Pannonian Challenge has gone strong for 20 years, it is probably because it’s not only been successful as a contest but also as a festival. Not just a one-day thing, but a week-long experience which gets spectators and athletes alike hooked, despite swarms of mosquitoes so voracious they even became the logo of the event… How’s that for a miracle?

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