Turning grenades into wheels: ‘80s Czech scene focus of Karlovy Vary doc King Skate

Photo: Štěpánka Budková

One of the most anticipated Czech documentaries at the 2018 Karlovy Vary international film festival had its world premiere on Monday night. King Skate combines period images and contemporary interviews to map the tiny skateboarding scene in 1980s Czechoslovakia. I asked the film’s director Šimon Šafránek how domestic skaters managed to acquire boards in the late communist era.

Photo: Štěpánka Budková
“Some of them brought the skates from the West. Either they had parents who had contacts abroad or they were travelling abroad on business.

“Also they were constructing them themselves from these originals – they tried to copy them.

“Then there were some schemes and plans in magazines, these do it yourself kind of things.

“It’s easy maybe to construct the board itself. It’s kind of tricky, but still possible, to construct the trucks, the metal things.

“But the wheels were the problem, because there was no polyurethane available here.

Šimon Šafránek, photo: Czech TV
“So they came up with the weirdest ideas, such as they put together ice hockey pucks or grenades and stuff like that, which is really crazy.

“It kind of shows the passion – that you want to do it, no matter what.”

Did you say grenades? What kind of grenades?

“I think these training grenades, made of rubber. They were used for these military drills.”

Roughly how big was the community of skateboarders here in the ‘80s?

“I think it might have been hundreds of people.

“It definitely grew bigger in the second half of the ‘80s, because of perestroika and a kind of thawing of the borders.

“Also local companies kind of achieved a skateboard that you could ride.

King Skate, photo: Czech TV
“The first Czech commercial skateboard was the weirdest thing you can imagine – you really can’t ride it.”

Today these skateboarders are all middle-aged. Are they still in touch? Is there some kind of community of these old skaters?

“Yes. I find it beautiful that there is this core community.

“They have these events, once in a couple of years, where they meet and do these old school disciplines and have a party.

“I think it shows the strength of the bond and the friendship.

“That was something that really attracted me, seeing the footage and interviewing them as well.

“It’s a group of people connected by skateboarding, but also by the uniqueness of it all.

“Because it was new, it was unique and it made you special.

“Being in a group of people who feel special – I think it must have been awesome.”