Only when you travel slowly, the soul can travel with you. The Native Americans already knew that. If they were thinking of a Viennese on inline skates is up for debate. Nevertheless, it is an adventure for body and soul.
There are already some good stories to tell. Just to give a few examples: Arrested in Miami, crashed in Barcelona, drone crashed in Singapore, almost died of thirst in Malaysia.
Well, some trips haven’t always worked out the way they were planned, but that just made things more exciting so far. At least the horrible predictions of my family and friends never came true. The people around you usually already know in advance how you will end up in a wheelchair, by doing something outside of your comfort zone. So far I’ve always been lucky and I have overcome countries like Kenya or Indonesia and survived them without serious illnesses or injuries. #isurvived. I probably need my own geotag to always state that I’m safe. Anyway: Lightheartedness would not be a good idea, and with a project like „Skate the World“ you should be aware of the dangers. Usually fear and concerns are way bigger than reality turns out. At the moment it seems to be the time, that society is riddled by fear. I guess that’s just the perfect moment to explore this „dangerous world“ in a sporty way and to build up new relations all around the globe with my skates on.
At this point, it’s time for a quick intro: Skate the World is all about exploring cities and countries out of a different perspective and getting to know other cultures.
I believe that a project like this can only work in combination with sport, because somebody much wiser than me once told me: „Only when you travel slowly, the soul can travel with you.“ Or „Only where you were by feet, you have really been.“ A car is too fast – and walking or running is too slow.
Let’s call it a socio-cultural self-experiment. What for? Well it definitely makes sense to explore more than just the overcrowded tourist trails. One of the basic rules: No public transportation nor taxis – unless there is really no other way. So far this „no other way out“ scenario only happened in one city, and that was neither Mombasa in Kenya nor Semarang in Indonesia nor in the Turkish outback of Side. No, it was surprisingly the beautiful Western European Lisbon.
The origin of this perhaps a bit crazy idea lies back many years. I can’t say how long exactly, but probably the first step to the big world on eight wheels was the first step on the ice of „the Wiener Eisring Süd“ a local ice-rink, together with my school friend Declan. Back then, 17 years ago, we fell in love with short-track speed skating. The Nascar of ice rinks. The sport that got famous with the Australian Skater Steven Bradbury, who won Olympic Gold after all four skaters in front of him – including the US Superstar Apolo Anton Ohno – crashed.
At that time my pro-sport-career began and it didn’t only influence more than the half of my life, it completely turned it upside down. Day in and day out my schedule was all about ice skating. And about winning. Quite an ego game with many social components. Sport is versatile and many may shortsightedly think that individual athletes are narcissistic. What you definitely learn with sports is self-responsibility, because at the end of the day you are all alone on the starting line. Many of those lessons I learned in this school of life called „Sport“ I just understood much later. Gradually, I realize how incredibly valuable sport was for my development.
I look back on many championship titles, world championship participations, crazy experiences and a few years abroad. Always with me: my skates. But not only the ice-skates, also the inline skates, because they were a great addition in our training routine and they offered the best option to get around. Cheap and environmentally friendly.
I remember the time well – i was about 13 years old – we created challenges to keep the training from becoming too monotonous. „Amusing“ ideas such as: skating to every McDonalds in Vienna in one day or skating through every district of our town and capture a photo in each of them. Always as fast as possible. I probably do not need to emphasize, that we came up with many other „smart“ ideas.
From today’s perspective, it feels like a miracle that we were neither seriously injured nor arrested. Most adventures better stay secret. Our hairstyles are probably a story on their own. We were pretty reckless back then, skating down steep slopes at full speed – without the slightest chance of braking. „Brakes were for losers.“ It was the time we got confidence in skating in any terrain and on broken roads.
A great time in the sense of „Skate the World“, without knowing where this sport could lead to. Already back then, we skated around all sorts of cities, especially those in Eastern Europe. Just for fun.
What the sport has given me is the basis for the DailySports print magazine and especially for the privilege of traveling around the world on skates. So absurd that I can only believe it myself when I see the photos. On closer inspection, almost nothing has changed over the years with skating anywhere in the world.
These days however, no longer with ice-skates to compete against others somewhere overseas. The purpose remains the same, though the awareness for it is quite different. It’s about finding the most beautiful or sometimes not so nice places, getting in touch with other cultures, making friends, and staying in shape; and if that’s not enough, I do it because it makes me happier than anything else. To skate where hardly no one would have thought it’s possible at 35 degrees while sweating out all worries!
Competitive sport opens doors and paves paths that were unimaginable. Sport is a school of life. In it, for example, you loose prejudice against other nations. When I think back to the cold days, „the krauts“ (germans) counted to my best friends in the sport. (There always has been a rivalry between Austrians and Germans)
But not only our closest neighbors came closer to me. Even today I am in regular contact with my best sports friend from Latvia. In competitions we have always hung out together with the Japanese, Russians, Croatians, Belgians, Australians or Americans. Politics, skin color, gender and prejudice did not matter. Still a mantra today on 8 wheels – in a time in which you have to take care for every word you say, so no-one feels insulted. From the meritocracy to the victim society? By any means, to a society that „fortunately“ wasn’t visible to me at the time of my pro sport career, because we were all the same and still different from the ground up. And this diversity was / is good and should be celebrated.
Sport seems to have such a strong effect, that some problems completely disappear.
Clear: abuse exists everywhere. No matter where you look, you will find something, yet this world would be inconceivable without sports. Sport definitely brings people closer together way more often than it splits. A lesson you experience at first hand, if you are on eight wheels in a country far away from home.
Often a ten-hour stopover is enough time to explore a city. The only requirement: you have to have your skates at hand. It’s exciting who you get to know, what stories you hear and how the world looks from a different and mostly sweaty perspective. Sometimes you get inspired to think about your own existence. About what you like and what you want to change. When you’re old, you can’t do that anymore … or maybe you can? The 75-year-old, whom I met on a skate tour at the foot of a mountain in Malaysia is the proof of the opposite. For 40 years, he walks up the five kilometers and 800 vertical meters every day to get awake. He looks even better than most thirty-year-old Europeans. Who stops moving gets old – a real eye-opener.
How special these micro adventures on the skates are, I realized for the first time a few years ago in Barcelona. I came to places I would never have seen if I stayed on the overcrowded tourist paths or sticked with public transport. For example I found tapas bars where only locals eat, which has had a positive effect on the quality and the price. Exactly in those places, I usually get into a conversation with people I would never have spoken to without skates on. In most cases the strangers start the conversation… the big advantage with skates in a foreign city or region is, that people mostly out of curiosity want to approach you, to find out what you are doing and where you are from. This way I often got insider tips, such as a special sky bridge in Singapore, where you can downhill-skate, a hidden market in Sri Lanka which offers the best masala spice, or just the local bakery next door. A real barrier destroyer, these skates!
No matter where I have skated in the world so far, but especially in Asia and Africa: people always honked when they saw me. As far as I can tell, the horn and the thumbs up always were a sign of approval, even if most could not even guess what this is about. The positive spirit was always there. So far, I have almost made only positive experiences. Above all I am grateful for the chance to see how other people cope with their lives. We take a lot for granted here in Austria. We have to be very careful with the privileges we have here. I think they can disappear faster than we can imagine.
Two years ago, I go an invitation to Turkey. At a time when there was great anxiety about what to expect, especially if you come from Germany or Austria. In the end I skated about 25 kilometers across Side and Manavgat – even to areas where certainly no tourists go. What I found: helpful and friendly people. Luck? Perhaps. Anyhow, in most of the discussions it has become clear, that the majority is very open-minded about the political issue and also could not imagine how quickly some privileges would disappear from one day to the next.
Do I believe that „Skate the World“ can change the world? I have no idea, but it changes my world, and I also believe that it changes the world at least a bit of those who I meet and share experiences with. The most important thing I have learned through sports: Walk | Skate the world with your eyes open. Be polite, but critical, because respect has to be earned. Give what you have to achieve your goals, and always question the meaning of these.
Nelson Mandela: „Sport has the power to change the world.“ I believe that.