“Once you’re a skater, you’re always a skater. It’s a matter of love,” that’s the way Louis Taubert sees it – however, he’s not skating as frequently as he used to anymore. Which doesn’t necessarily mean that he doesn’t spend as much time doing it, but he’s not killing himself anymore and mostly said goodbye to the world of sponsors. Instead, he discovered his love for surfing and prefers to spend a chill day at the Danish coastline. We accompanied him.
The way the “Old Swede” is rolling up to Flensburg main station seems to foreshadow the vibe of the weekend ahead: easy-going. The Old Swede, that’s the Volvo 245 Louis bought last year and has equipped with a tiny kitchenette, mattress, and curtains by now, so he has a place to spend the night. He has been doing that a lot lately at the beach in Kiel, where he spends the semester break entertaining and taking care of a group of children, or at surf trips to Denmark, like the one we’re about to start. Photographer Friedjof Feye already arrived a week ago and the filmer Janosch Pugnaghi and I just got to the city, which is best known for its traffic violation files [Flensburg is home to the nationwide database of traffic violators in Germany, editor’s note], in order to head up north together with Louis. Getting our luggage into the Volvo turns out to be a bit tricky. The car is a ‘90s model and one year younger than its owner but is a lot more beaten up in comparison. The doors are jammed, the V belt is howling, and the tailgate is scantily fixed with duct tape, which is why it needs to be held up while loading in. A bus honks its horn, wants to hold at the stop we are keeping occupied. “Man, chill. We’re almost gone.” Again: the Old Swede decelerates what’s happening. However, he will reliably bring us everywhere we need to go for the next couple of days.
We make a quick stop at Louis’s place. He kind of turned into a tinkerer recently, which you quickly realize. Next to maritime pieces of furniture, like a steering wheel or his skiff-bookshelf, we find many DIY pieces. Together with his girlfriend, he takes the soldering iron to draw on wooden plates or decks, works with driftwood, and has built an outdoor shower in his garden. Before we get going, we strengthen ourselves with some herb tea and brown-millet-cornmeal-pancakes with agave syrup while Rumours by Fleetwood Mac spins on the record player. Sounds like hippie romanticism? Maybe. But who cares? Louis even soldered a flower on his board. “I’m into flower power to the fullest right now,” he says smiling and shows the marguerite he recently tattooed on his knee, the symbol of the Danish Marguerite Route, the flowery holiday route that leads to amazing sights and the beauty of nature far from the main roads – and also the road that he much prefers over the autobahn when he’s heading out for one of his trips. Ever since he set up his camp in Flensburg, he’s almost been doing it every weekend. After living in Berlin for a while, he moved here in September 2016. The boy from Kiel simply missed the ocean. But also the conversational tone was too rough, the atmosphere too hectic, it overwhelmed him. He wanted to get out, needed a chill place, a place closer to nature, a place where he can surf – and found all of this in Flensburg.
"I’m into flower power to the fullest right now."
Ever since he set up his camp in Flensburg, he’s almost been doing it every weekend. After living in Berlin for a while, he moved here in September 2016. The boy from Kiel simply missed the ocean. But also the conversational tone was too rough, the atmosphere too hectic, it overwhelmed him. He wanted to get out, needed a chill place, a place closer to nature, a place where he can surf – and found all of this in Flensburg.
In addition, he found a suitable course of study. After taking a small detour to test the waters of teaching in primary school, he now studies European cultures and society, a mix of European philosophy, politics, and sociology. Most of the graduates go into politics, Louis wants to take the pedagogical direction. Cultural education for children is on the very top of his list. He already assists artists who offer projects at schools and got more things like this planned. The energy he used to entirely spend on skateboarding is now divided into a couple of things. His favorite project still is The Pigeon Plan, which he started in South Africa in 2015 in order to improve the harsh living conditions of children in deprived areas through skateboarding. At first, a bunch of skateshops started collecting boards to send them to South Africa, where Louis offered workshops. Joyfully, he shows us pictures on his laptop and tells us how the kids gained trust in him and how he skated together with them in their township in the end.
"Kids were like forced to skate there and when they didn’t want to, they got additional exercises to do. That has nothing to do with skateboarding."
Then he initiated skateboarding classes for refugee children in Germany and eventually at schools, but he’d rather not do that anymore. “Kids were like forced to skate there and when they didn’t want to, they got additional exercises to do. That has nothing to do with skateboarding,” he grumbles about the lack of understanding of the teachers he had to work with there. His ideas about education differ and that’s also why he quit the courses for getting his teaching degree. Freedom is his key asset in life and right now and he enjoys it the most while surfing.
Back in South Africa, a friend got him excited about riding the waves even though he took him to rough waters right away where he was tumbling around. After this first experience, he initially had enough of it, but somehow he was hooked. The ocean and the love for nature that became stronger and stronger probably did their share. It didn’t let him go and finally he tried again and stuck to it. At the beginning, he only surfed for one hour in the morning in order to have enough time to skate afterwards. That shifted. When the waves are good, he likes to spend the whole day surfing and skates for an hour in the evening. “I don’t learn as many new things while skating, you basically only do new variations but to learn surfing from scratch brings this sense of achievement as if you’d land a 5-0 for the first time in your life,” he tries to explain his newly obtained love. In the meantime, we’ve drunk our tea and Fleetwood Mac has run through.
We load the surfboards onto the Old Swede and get going. On the way, we talk some more and inevitably cross one topic: skateboarding. You quickly realize why he has started to retrieve bit by bit. He still gets flowed boards and shoes and rides for Volcom but isn’t forced to deliver footage or photos in order to please his sponsors. And he doesn’t join trips anymore after they’ve started to bore him. It seemed to him like sponsors only care about the performance and that the rest of the crew only wanted to tear down spot after spot. Maybe it was only due to miscommunication, maybe he only pressured himself, but he wanted to take a different path for some time anyway. He wanted to see the cities he visited, wanted to live the different cultures. The younger teammates, however, wanted to party, celebrated and acted in ways he couldn’t identify with anymore. It was a slow process of alienation. A while ago, he tried to get on a Euro team for a last time, but the offer wasn’t very appreciative. He wanted to be an equal part of the crew, a European ambassador on an equal footing, not some German kraut who only tags along. But when a US team rider bought a new Mercedes for his girlfriend via cellphone on tour in Italy just like that, while he was left with a couple of Euros, he drew his conclusions.
"If you can do a super stylish kickflip, why should you do a lesser one switch?"
He didn’t have to proof anything to anyone anymore, didn’t have to jump down 13 stairs. He already did all of it. And he still could if he wanted to, but it’s not about outdoing himself anymore. “For example, I don’t consider skating switch stylish,” he confesses. “If you can do a super stylish kickflip, why should you do a lesser one switch?” For him, it’s more about making the tricks he does look good. And he’s still able to do that without any problems. Shortly after the border, we stop at Aabenraa in order to skate and already when he pops the first tre flip on flat, you can see that he once was German champion (Louis will hate me for mentioning this because it feels so far away even though it was just five years ago). And even though he stopped stressing out, he’s still ambitious. The line he films has to look good, the tricks have to be popped as high as possible and he motivates Janosch to film once more even though he already did it. You can get the boy out of the contest, but you can’t get the contest out of the boy – at least not entirely.
Two and a half hours later, we reach our first overnight stay, where Friedjof is smilingly greeting us with a beer in his hand in his Labrador-blue Mercedes E-Class from ‘84. There are two wooden “shelters”, more like tiny wooden bus shelters, and in addition also a wooden table and a bench. And all of this at the waters of the Ringkøbing Fjord. Picturesque would be the adjective that most people would use for this scenery. Chris, a friend that Louis met at the university parking lot, because they both slept there in their cars for a while, joins us with his VW van and at nightfall, we are cooking under the starry canopy. For someone like me, who gets nervous convulsions when leaving the homely Wi-Fi and doesn’t own a single thing out of the Globetrotter product line, evenings like this, which get complicated without a headlamp and end up in damp sleeping bags, especially when the rain is blown into the shelter by the wind, are an extraordinary adventure trip, an unparalleled practical test – Louis, on the contrary, lives and breathes for it.
"You have to try new things, be spontaneous, that’s how you come up with the best things."
He loves to be in nature, loves the ocean and the wind. While we’re having dinner, he tells a story about how he once got invited to a contest in Cologne. They even booked a hotel room for him. But he felt too uncomfortable there, so he visited a friend that night and slept in his car, which was parked down her street. I don’t want to be mean and call him a nature-boy, but let’s try to explain it like this: his dad, as a chef on cruise liners, was going all around the world and his granddad was a German champion in jiu-jitsu – he inherits this longing for freedom, leadership personality, and bodily strength. That’s why he, in contrast to me, is ready to go at it at six o’clock the next morning.
The sky shows all different nuances of grey and it’s raining, but waves are supposed to be really good. Not right here, but a bit up north. Louis seems enthusiastic and we head to the first surfspot, which unfortunately turns out to not be as perfect as expected. Wind has turned, waves brake softly, clash into each other, roll through with no force, just a big mess, no swell – whatever. I’m not a surfer and can’t process information like this at all. It might be easier to try to teach algebra to a dog. In skating, when it rains, you stay home. When the sun is shining, you go skate and just ride what you find then. With surfing, it’s way more complicated and it seems like it would come in handy to have a degree in meteorology, physics, marine biology, and what the heck else when you want to understand the ocean. Or rather: to have the smallest chance to ever catch a wave.
It won’t work out today, at least I got that. And also, all of our camera and cellphone batteries are dead and we have to charge them in civilization. In the harbor of the small city of Lemvig, we find a café and while I joyously shake off the cold with a cup of hot chocolate and a piece of cheesecake, you feel Louis’s discomfort with places like this. It’s like the hotel room in Cologne, like the reasons why he left Berlin. His world is a different one and his laughter lines only start moving again once we leave with charged batteries and approach the skatepark of Lemvig, which is situated right in the dock at the water. The rain has passed and Louis starts to cut up vegetables on the grass in front of the park and turns on the gas cooker. He just throws in everything we have. His dad wrote cookbooks, but he doesn’t follow any recipe. “Recipes are of no use,” is Louis’s motto. “You have to try new things, be spontaneous, that’s how you come up with the best things.” Whoever doesn’t get it: you can clearly consider this allegorically.
The wind, working in the outsides, self-cooked meals – even when it sounds like a stereotype – it feels a lot different than spending the days in front of computer screens or WhatsApp groups. More honest, you could say. More natural. “The whole environment you have in the cities is manmade, is artificial,” Louis thinks. Only being in the open air creates real appetite and not only an empty feeling of hunger, which can’t even be met with eco-fair-trade stores. However, we sink down in the grass with stuffed bellies and close our eyes for a nap while the sun is warming our bodies. Kickflips can wait for some time. “This is how a skate trip needs to look like,” Louis gets excited when he – well rested and strengthened – already is flying all over the transitions of the park again – and who would object? All this makes more fun than to be taken to five spots a day with a bunch of random guys in order to fuck yourself up so the output is right. We are driven to a downhill where we randomly find a flatrail, which Louis boardslides quick and dirty. Things just get together. We accept them. When Friedjof’s camera suddenly appears to bite the dust and starts to create weird artifacts, he’s even happier and blatantly claims that he has wished for this a while ago. We just go on making art.
"I had offers to keep on working in the skate business, but I decided against it."
In the evening – and I’m really sorry for stressing the stereotypes again, whereas I didn’t even talk about the rainbow, the dunes with the lighthouse that we pushed through, the pink dawns, and how unbelievably positive all the surfers we got to meet were – we get the keys for the sauna which has been built into a construction trailer and is standing right on the beach where we stay for the night. After the sauna, we go skinny dipping in the ocean and to conclude the evening, sit down with surfing yoga teachers for a barbecue.
For me, that are three things that I have never thought I’d ever do in just one sentence, while this is everyday life for Louis – and he does it right. You can see how he kind of meditates quietly by himself and how he found a thing he really loves and feeds off. “I had offers to keep on working in the skate business, but I decided against it. If you only have skateboarding around you, professionally and private, then it gets overwhelming. I need my distance, need my time to drive to the beach to hang out and chill. This is perfectly possible here in Denmark.”