I’m not a skater. I can’t stay on a skateboard for more than 5 seconds without nearly falling to my death. But I do want to someday buy myself a longboard and learn to conquer it. It’s on my bucket list. So even though I don’t know how to ride a skateboard, I do admire those that do. I think it’s an impressive skill and an artistic means of expression. So imagine my intrigue when I came across an article about skaters in North Korea!
Visualtraveling is a website created by Patrik Wallner with documentaries and photos of skaters of all different nationalities who travel the world and film themselves skating in new environments. Although Wallner is also a skater himself, he mainly films and photographs his friends as they perform the tricks. What’s interesting about these documentaries is that it’s not just a film about skaters doing tricks but the culture of the host country is always what drives the atmosphere of the documentary. He already has several films released that document their adventures in various countries over the past six years. One of which includes North Korea.
Patrik Wallner was born in Germany and moved to the United States as a child with his parents. He first became interested in skateboarding when his uncle gifted him with skateboard for his 14th birthday and he’s been riding ever since. He explains that the website Visualtraveling started as a personal blog and that it turned out to be a place for him to showcase his photography and upload random clips occasionally.
When asked why he decided to go to North Korea of all places in an interview with The Atlantic, he answers that he’s always had an interest for North Korea and decided to visit when he found out that it was possible as a tourist. He was “was intrigued by the idea to go within the hermit kingdom and see what possibilities there would be with skateboarding.” He had previously visited North Korea in 2010 but recently made the trip again to see how North Korea had changed after the death of Kim Jong Il.
Although the idea of a bunch of skaters riding around Pyeongyang almost brings a smile to my face, Wallner and his friends were not allowed to squeeze skating into their schedule. As we all know, freedom is extremely limited in North Korea, for the citizens and visitors alike. So instead of focusing his documentary on skating, as he would usually do, he instead focused the film of the Kim Il Sung’s 100th birthday celebrations. “The result is a color-saturated, impressionistic look at the fanfare — pretty much what you would expect a travel diary shot in the style of a skate video to look like.” Wallner explains the limitations on skateboarding as such: “Skateboarding is very harmless in the eyes of the North Koreans, but it’s not tolerated. They kept referring to it as “nonsense,” meaning skateboarding wasn’t accepted, and would be denied in most places, especially at any war memorials or statues of the Kims — places that have marble stairs, ledges, ramps, obstacles that are essential for skateboarding.”
However, Wallner wasn’t at a complete loss. He managed to get in one shot of skateboarding in North Korea at the very end of the documentary. And that brings a smile to my face.
As of 2012, North Korea does not allow such freedoms of expression such as skateboarding. But I hope that with unification, the youth of North Korea would be able to skate through the city streets freely.
And maybe I’ll go out and buy that longboard sooner than I thought.