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Ilja Judizki – Photos for the evening news

The fact that Ilja Judizki looks a bit off track on the opener photo may be because he and his travel companions Tjark Thielker and Friedjof Feye had right at that moment gotten out of the taxi that brought them back from a two-hour interrogation in the stronghold of the terrorist organization Hezbollah. The three of them only wanted to search for a few spots in Beirut, but they almost had to have a search party sent out after themselves. Also, Ilja had just reappeared on the board a few weeks before, after he had to take a three-year break and almost didn’t believe that skateboarding would be possible for him anymore. Sounds gnarly? Yep, there is a lot to tell and catch up on.

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Ilja, how is it going? You were off the radar for a while.

I’ve been completely out for about three years now. I wasn’t able to skate for so long that I was almost at the point of saying, “I’m not gonna skate anymore.”

What’s it like to make peace with that? To say, “I’ll never skate again.”

It’s a miracle that I didn’t end up in some mental institution…

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Photo: Friedjof Feye

What happened to you that you were out for three years?

I had a hematoma, a bruise, under my kneecap that never went away, because that area was under constant stress. I had a stupid slam in the miniramp, a board hit against it with full force. It got inflamed and was a slow process. One day, I felt a twitch and couldn’t walk properly anymore. Then I visited a buddy in Barcelona and just smeared some cream on it. That didn’t help, of course. Eventually, I went to see a doctor in Berlin in April 2017 and he wanted me to wear a splint and take a month off, and I was just like, “It’s May, I wanna skate!” So I just took a little break and then skated again – it hurt again, even more. Up until now, during all that time I couldn’t skate, I must have seen like 25 doctors – in Mönchengladbach, Wuppertal, Berlin, Brandenburg, some special hospitals, and whatnot. In June 2017, I was skating a bit and landed wrong, and after that, nothing was working anymore: I couldn’t walk properly, couldn’t climb stairs, couldn’t ride a bike, nothing. Some doctors couldn’t tell me what it was, others wanted to inject me with something to make the thing go away. There’s the patella tip syndrome, which gymnasts, tennis, or basketball players often have. Steffi Graf had to end her career because of that. The doctors told me that it wouldn’t go away and that skating in the future seemed unlikely. I just thought, “Yeah, yeah…” A few months passed and I tried to skate again – three-month break. Then it got a little better, I tried to skate again – six-month break. Tried again – six-month break again. At some point, you really start to wonder what’s going on. I was almost done with skating.

"I really didn’t know anymore how I looked on a skateboard and how I moved on it. I had no control, no balance, nothing."

Were you done in your head or did you still watch videos?

I neither watched any skate videos nor did I go on any websites.

How does life change if skating suddenly breaks away?

There’s the “Mongo Bongo” crew in Berlin, which are my guys. The fact that almost all of them are now part of a different world, which has nothing to do with skating, have families and jobs, and go their own way, and my roommate Kalle [Pascal Reif] has also taken up his studies at the Ostkreuz School for Photography and Design, all of that made it easier for me to cope with it.

Then how did you come back?

From 2018 to 2019, I was in Austria for half a year for seasonal work. I have been trained as a bartender and was working in a five-star hotel there. I thought, “Okay, I won’t skate and go easy on my knee.” We had a gym with all kinds of equipment that I could use to train and stretch. There was even a fitness coach who supported me – in return, I gave him free drinks at the bar. One day, I got to the point where I thought that skating might work out this time. I went back to Berlin in June and there it slowly came back. I started in some corner with a homie, so nobody would see me. [laughs] I really didn’t know anymore how I looked on a skateboard and how I moved on it. I had no control, no balance, nothing. You can’t even imagine.

Frontside 50-50 Photo: Friedjof Feye

Frontside 50-50

How long did it take you to get back to your level?

It took three to four months at least until I didn’t have to think anymore. At the beginning, I thought, “How do I position my feet again?” or “How do I move my body?”

And all of that worked without surgery?

It is still there. If a board hits that spot now, I’ll probably pass out right away. Because I’ve stabilized my muscles around it so that they are supported, I can move freely again. Looks like I have to stay fit for the rest of my life. I take that as an incentive, one should always try to look at the positive side. Today, I also think that maybe it wasn’t so bad that I was slowed down from my skate focus. You change in such a time, you advance in your head, and look a little bit beyond your own nose. As a skater, it is sometimes difficult: you are in this world. I know people who really can’t talk to people who don’t skate. “Normal” people.

Did something change in the way you see skateboarding as well?

It’s the same as before when I’d put it on stand-by – just three years later. There is nothing that fulfills me and keeps me from falling like skating, being on the road, and doing something productive. I actually have to catch up on three years and I have to do it as fast as possible.

How did it go with your sponsors? Did they stay with you in those three years?

Pretty much, yeah. I explained it to them and Clepto said to me, “Don’t worry, we’ll plan with you, just order stuff!” – and I didn’t even have the heart to order anything without being able to provide anything in return. Henning [Tapper] saw me in an old collection at some point and said if I didn’t order something soon, then he would kick me off the team. [laughs]

Ilja Judizki Kickflip Photo: Friedjof Feye

Kickflip

How come you went to Beirut recently? It’s not the most common destination for a skatetrip, especially after a three years break.

I started skating again in October and told Tjark about it, who told Fiddy, who then texted me, “I heard you’re able to skate again. We’re flying to Beirut.” Then there were these big protests and I asked myself why exactly am I going there again?

I was in Beirut a few years ago and had a similar feeling before I went but met some skaters there and had a really nice stay. How did you find it?

I have never been in a country that was as open, friendly, and nice as Lebanon. Sometimes I couldn’t smile anymore after 2 p.m., because I already had a cramp. In Lebanon, you’ll walk around and are invited here for a cup of tea and there for some hummus. Our first spot was a bank spot at a construction site. People have never seen anything like skateboarding. We then tried to move a bank, but the thing was pretty heavy, so one of the guys from the construction site brought the crane into play and lifted the bank. On the second or third day, we slowly realized that there are not that many spots in Beirut. Besides, you really can’t just walk through the city like that. There are tanks everywhere, then all of a sudden, the street is closed or there is a restricted area over there.

"We went into the staircase and into a totally random interrogation room. Two tables, couch, two cameras, a window that wasn’t really a window, because there was a room behind it"

Beirut has stark contrasts, here some Lamborghini luxury cars...

...and then extreme poverty. A lot of people are beggars and have nothing, many of them are refugees from Syria.

Did you get a closer insight to the problems or see the protests?

No, it was two weeks earlier and most of it was downtown. Downtown feels like another city: everything is totally modern, also the lifestyle of the people. Beirut is also called the “Paris of the Middle East”. I’ve never been to a city where I’ve seen so many really beautiful buildings – all bombed and rotting away. Where backyards are so overgrown that they look like fairytale forests. Beirut must have been incredibly beautiful in the past.

How about skating? I heard nowadays they mainly have one plaza.

It feels like there are two spots in the whole city. One spot has banks and the other one is an empty roof terrace with good ground. That’s where we met the locals. Unfortunately, we didn’t get in touch too much with them. We always walked around the city in cross-lines, looking for spots from morning to evening. Running, pushing, eating and onwards.

Ilja Judizki Backside Smithgrind Photo: Friedjof Feye

Backside Smithgrind

At some point, you were pushing somewhere you shouldn’t have pushed to. What happened?

It was Sunday, we were really hyped, and left the house at 10 a.m. We had read about which areas not to go on the website of the Foreign Office and it said under no circumstances go south of this stadium, but that’s exactly where we went... How naive can you be? It was out of desperation to find spots. We called a taxi, but it never came. Afterwards, we knew why. At some point, another one came, we had our pink glasses on and thought, “We can go anywhere, we have a German passport.” Because we were clearly recognizable as tourists, we thought that nothing could happen to us. So we get into the taxi, I sit in front and want to talk to the driver, but the driver doesn’t talk to us, so we talk to each other and look out the window. The day before, we were already at the stadium, but this time we wanted to go further. Suddenly, we drive towards a checkpoint. The driver stops, talks briefly, we drive on and don’t worry. At some point, he stops and kicks us out. We walk through a side street, and in front of a grocery store, we find a bank and Tjark and Fiddy start to make it skateable right away. I checked out some rails across the street. There were hardly any people on the street, just a few characters and everywhere these posters with portraits on the walls. So I go into this supermarket to get some fruit. All of a sudden, everybody moves away from me and just stares at me. Even the guy weighing the fruit is just looking at me. I put the banana and apple down and go over to Tjark, “It’s weird here, they won’t sell me anything...” I go around the corner looking for spots and when I turn around, I see that five guys are talking away at Tjark and Fiddy. I was arguing that we should just forget it and run because more and more people were coming. So we walk away, further through the neighborhood. All of a sudden, a scooter pulls up beside us on the main road and the guy goes, “Who are you, what are you doing here?” Another scooter appears. More and more people are coming, chatting to us, and wanting to see our ID. Of course, we don’t have them with us, so we tell them that we’re tourists and just want to skateboard, but they don’t believe us and don’t let us go any further. In our heads it starts, “Corrupt country, corrupt government, corrupt police...” Nothing happens, they don’t let us go any further and we think to ourselves that we can almost forget about skating on this day as well. Then one of the guys tells us, “Someone will be along shortly to talk to you.” We think to ourselves, “Why? Let’s just go and everything’s good!” A car stops, some big guy gets out and talks to us in English. We answer that we’re from Germany but don’t have ID’s. Suddenly, the guy switches to German, he stayed friendly, but you could tell that he couldn’t assess us. He asks us why we are here and we explain to him that we looked for spots all around town, didn’t find anything, and wondered if we could find something to skate in the quarter. He didn’t believe us, of course. I probably wouldn’t have either. [laughs] We had boards under our arms, but he wasn’t impressed. “Guys, don’t give me that shit – what are you doing here and why don’t you have IDs? How stupid are you?”

And then he put you in a car, right?

Yeah, and he was just a random dude. Didn’t say who he was or who he worked for.

Ilja Judizki Backside Wallride Photo: Friedjof Feye

Backside Wallride

Tjark told me that he had heard the word Hezbollah at some point but didn’t want to scare you guys.

Yeah, I had absolutely no clue, but the dude said that we had to go with him to check us because we had no ID. At this point, we knew that this would get hardcore. On the other side of the street, there was a gas station, where a cab driver was just filling up, and the guy made a signal that he should take us into the car and the cab driver instantly started praying. I was just like… He even kept on praying while driving. Oh my God, thinking about that again…

Didn’t you send a pin to a friend?

We sat in the car. First row the driver and Schoki, I’ll never forget this guy, best dude.

The Hezbollah guy?

Yeah, then Fiddy, Tjark, and another guy, and I was in the last row. We weren’t allowed to use our phones, but I took my cellphone out and sent my location to a friend in Wuppertal and wrote, “We’re getting interrogated now and if you don’t hear anything from me later today…” And then they told me to turn off my phone. That was the last sign of life I sent.

How did your friend feel about that?

Oh man, he was totally fucked from that! He didn’t appreciate that at all, but I had to do something. I had to send it to somebody who is constantly on their phone and knows that I don’t talk bullshit. Then we drove around the streets and finally stopped at some random building that looked like all the other ones. We went into the staircase then into a totally random interrogation room. Two tables, a couch, two cameras, and a window that wasn’t really a window, because there was a room behind it. We heard voices around us all the time and thought more people would come to ask us questions. Schoki brought us in, we had to put our phones on the table, and then we sat there. We looked at each other but didn’t talk. Schoki always came, talked to us and then left for ten minutes to talk with other people. At one point, he came back with pieces of paper and asked us to write our names and addresses on there to make photos afterwards. We thought, that’s it… photos for the evening news. We had to stand at a wall and he took the pictures.

When I talked to Tjark, he said that Schoki was very kind the whole time, but that he also looked really worried, and to him, it felt like he knew that if he wouldn’t be able to identify you guys, he would have to do stuff he doesn’t want to…

Exactly. If that had taken place somewhere in Europe, we wouldn’t have been worried at all, but due to the fact that we were in a place where a lot of crazy stuff happens, we shit our pants. I was so freaked out, I nearly couldn’t talk. I needed all my energy to somehow look cool on the outside, but inside I was dead. So we sat there, Fiddy had to delete the photos he had shot in the area, and Schoki said, “If you can’t identify yourself, you go nowhere.” I asked the guys if they really didn’t have their passports with them cause I had my ID. I had withheld it all that time because as a skater you’re used to not cooperating with authorities. So I finally gave it to the guy, totally unsure of what would happen then, but he was so relieved that he had something in hand now that proved that we’re Germans. After two hours, we got our stuff back and were finally allowed to go. He put us in a taxi, accompanied us till the border of the area and told us to drive back to town. In the taxi, Tjark at some point said, “Did you see the mask?” He told us that he saw a Vendetta mask in the interrogation room that Fiddy and I didn’t see. We were really thankful he didn’t tell us before. After that, we went to the bar right around where we stayed where Fiddy and I always watched soccer. We told the barkeeper and he said, “Yeah, that’s fucking Hezbollah.” That’s a terrorist militia that is at war with Israel. The posters on the wall that I’d seen were martyrs. He asked us if we’re fucking out of our minds to go into this area of the town. He said tourists might be able to go in there, but if somebody from Beirut would go and just take a phone call in that area, you’d never see him again. When I answered my homie whom I’ve texted before, he was like: “Never do this again to me. I already saw myself in a plane coming to get your ass out of there!” After that, we still had five more days to go but didn’t really move out of our area anymore.

What’s up next after a trip like this?

I worked a lot and saved some money and because winter is coming, I rented out my room for six months and will go to France and Spain and then check out where to go next. I want to do all the stuff I wanted to do before the injury stopped me.

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