A lively urban culture scene is developing on the streets in Brabant's cities. In addition, the 4 indoor skateboard parks have become breeding grounds for talent.
Urban sports & culture are thriving in Brabant, in the railway zones and beyond. Thanks to a lively urban culture scene on the city streets and the province’s four indoor skateboard parks, including Area 51 in Eindhoven, which is the largest park of its type in the Benelux.
Trial and error: that is how a BMX rider or skateboarder practices loops and other tricks on ramps, half pipes and bowls. So good training locations, preferably easily accessible and with that unorthodox urban atmosphere, are extremely important.
Brabant has a lot to offer in this respect. The World Skate Center in ‘s-Hertogenbosch for example, where skateboarders perch on their boards and dive from a height of about four metres into the bowl of the vert (half pipe).
The World Skate Center has the only really good indoor half pipe in the Netherlands, suitable for European competitions. “People from all over the Benelux come here to train”, says coordinator Jos Sleegers. “Because the park is built from wooden units, it can easily be adapted to suit changing competition requirements. Which explains why training sessions for the Olympic Games are now also held here.”
The World Skate Center is also Keet Oldenbeuving's preferred training location. This 15-year old - known as ‘Skatekeet’ - is one of the most talented young female athletes right now. After winning a gold medal at the European Championships in 2019, she is now preparing for the Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Oldenbeuving lives in Utrecht and travels to ‘s-Hertogenbosch three times a week by train. Mainly because her trainer, Ruud Broer, lives here, but also because the street course and mini ramp in ‘s-Hertogenbosch are ideal for her needs. “The conditions for learning new things are excellent here”, she says. “I can ride all the lines one after the other. The really great thing is that you can start low with a new trick and then progressively go higher and higher.”
People from abroad also see the park in ‘s-Hertogenbosch as the best of its kind, this top skater tells us. “It is not particularly big, but you have everything you need here. I hope to become the best in the world, and above all make the best of my talent. People often content themselves with doing the same tricks all the time. I’m different and keep trying new things to go higher and get even better.”
Urban sports & culture have developed rapidly in recent years in the cities of Brabant, particularly in the railway zones. This is due to a fortunate combination of circumstances to some extent, as the railway zones in Breda, Tilburg, ’s-Hertogenbosch and Eindhoven have undergone spectacular transformations. These changes have resulted in cool and exciting locations, which skateboarders and urban athletes quickly flocked to.
This early invasion by skateboarders attracted other creative people active in design, dance, fashion, media and graffiti. The skateboarders are often also members of a music band or artists. “They act as ‘placemakers’ and attract interesting people to new places, often on the rough fringes of the city”, says Ruth Giebels. “Their arrival makes these areas hip and viable.”
Giebels is a planner working for the Urban Ambition Brabant Core Team. Together with representatives of the Brabant Urban scene (B5UP), BrabantSport, the five cities in the BrabantStad collaboration and the provincial authority of Brabant, she focuses on taking urban sports & culture a step further.
Outstanding skateparks have been created, each with its own specialisation, in and close to the railway zones of the four major cities. For the best vert (half pipe) you go to 's-Hertogenbosch, Area 51 in Eindhoven has the best bowl, Ladybird Skatepark in Tilburg has ‘Park’ as its major speciality and Pier15 in Breda is the place to go for ‘Street’.
Brabant and urban sports, culture and the associated lifestyle go together remarkably well. That is why Brabant wants to organise appealing global urban sports events and further professionalise urban sports. Volunteers still play a very important role, but action has now been taken to bring urban sports to a higher level with more paid people, training and sports association guidelines.
“We have set up a skate school and the skateboard trainers are now professionally qualified”, says Jos Sleegers, the coordinator at the skatepark in Den Bosch. “Four years ago, I was employed here 24 hours a week, together with a second employee. Now there are 12 of us working 200 hours a week.”
Brabant offers facilities to the country's top national athletes in the Olympic skateboarding and BMX freestyle disciplines (e.g. Keet Oldenbeuving and Daniel Wedemeijer respectively). And Brabant provides similar facilities for breakdance (several athletes including world champion Menno van Gorp). In addition, Brabant wants to maintain its position as the home base of the Dutch skateboarding squad in the ‘Park’ discipline, which has a permanent facility in Eindhoven.
The urban scene is characterised by a strong ‘Do it yourself, but do it together’ mentality. This is reflected by extensive collaboration with all the cultural institutions, grassroots sports associations, youth work and many other parties. Together with partner Univé, BrabantSport set up a school tour that inspired 1,000 children to safely participate in urban sports.
The urban scene is also proving itself to be a rich breeding ground for crossovers and innovations. The Urban Sports Performance Center in Eindhoven develops innovations for both top athletes and recreational users. One of these innovations is a tracking system with sensors, which accurately registers the moves of the skateboarders and BMX riders to allow further analysis and improvements.
Giebels dreams of an international ‘hackathon’ in close collaboration with other parties such as TU Eindhoven and the bio-based business cluster in West Brabant. “Maybe we can invent the urban sports equivalent of the ‘clap skate’ here”, she says, referring to the most important and successful skating innovation of recent years.
The urban sports scene is also easy to combine with city marketing and societal initiatives. In the past, urban sports were mainly to be found on the rough fringe surrounding cities. Now, however, they are a way of reaching and connecting with a broad public.
“In recent years, cities have successfully profiled themselves with urban sports initiatives”, says Jeroen van Eggermond, founder of Nine Yards Skateparks and Indoor skatepark Pier 15 in Breda. As a skateboarder and entrepreneur, he refers to himself these days as an ‘urban sports representative’ when he sits at the table with city council officials and provincial government employees. “As trailblazers, we often add interest and colour to locations for which municipalities have no immediate plans in the short term. Most of the time, we simply want the municipality to give us a licence. We then arrange everything else. That’s just part of our DNA. Our culture is so layered and strong that we often succeed in growing and developing in these areas, and provide a welcome raw edge that is needed in every city. As a result, we are increasingly seen as area developers and people who pave the way.”
For Van Eggermond, the point of the exercise is not just sport but also bringing together an entire culture. We all have the same DNA: we are open-minded and pretty unorthodox. We all have the same mission to create urban hotspots that act as a breeding ground and stage for our culture. This is an immensely powerful instrument for professionalising and creating a solid foundation for our scene.”
The skateparks unite sport, events, art and music under one roof and have developed into bustling hotspots. Besides being an indoor skatepark, the World Skate Center in 's-Hertogenbosch is also a stage for pop music and an exhibition space. “We develop all kinds of new initiatives ourselves”, says Sleegers. “So we are also creators of platforms for new talent.”
Municipalities and other institutions understand the value of what we do. For example, there were plans to move Area51 away from Strijp-S to make room for new real estate developments. However, housing association Trudo realised that Strijp-S would become just another soulless and faceless area without the indoor skatepark. The new apartment complex is now being built over the indoor skatepark and has been aptly named Haasje Over, which means leapfrog in Dutch.
The urban scene now offers very real business opportunities. In his companies, Van Eggermond manages a large team of designers, professional builders and culture innovators who all share a passion for skateboarding. He has successfully completed projects in the action sports industry, builds skateboard courses, advises municipalities and participates in BrabantSport, an organisation that is committed to strengthening sports culture in Brabant. “We have an unorthodox culture, where freedom comes first. Everything we do is about creating connections in society, channelling all that energy.”
Now that skateboarding has become an official Olympic sport, he points out that more money is being made available. “Sport at the highest level attracts more investment and leads to more events, and that has a positive knock-on effect for the rest of the scene. We have now reached the stage where we want to protect the urban culture aspect. The sport is not inherently competitive. But we do need a higher level of investment and more resources to keep the scene buzzing. So it’s high time to professionalise more, quite simply by paying people a wage and making it possible for them to put money aside for an adequate pension.”
There are many connections between sport and culture in the urban world. “That is also its great strength”, says Giebels. “The ‘urban way of doing things’ is the future. When friends have a drink at the bar after a skateboarding session, they often come up with ideas for a great party. One may be a DJ and the other may be a good designer. Add their talents together and you get creativity. This sets an inspiring example for other sectors.”
Furthermore, skating makes you very resilient. “It is literally falling and getting up again”, says Giebels. “That’s why I dream of giving all children the opportunity of trying urban sports.”
Urban sports athletes are putting their mark on the cities. Up-and-coming urban athletes can use the CityLegends app to tell each other about good places in the city for skateboarding or free running. They can post short videos of themselves doing tricks in the hotspots of their choosing in the city via the app's community platform. These videos not only show their creativity, they also leave a ‘legacy’ behind in the city. Do it yourself, do it together.
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