Wallonhill Houyet is quickly becoming an annual pilgrimage for the skaters of Western Europe, and it’s not hard to see why – deep in the heart of Wallonia, Belgium lies a hill with all the right curves, and if it’s dry enough you should be able to rail pretty much every one of them. Couple that with access to cheap Belgian beer and skaters who party hard and skate harder and you’re left with a great event that’s accessible to most skill levels, all courtesy of the Blutcher Longboard Club. It’s not the gnarliest of hills, but it’s good fun, and the novelty of finding hills in Belgium is almost an attraction in itself.
I drove to Houyet from the UK, accompanied by a dirty old man and a sweaty wasp. The original plan had been to call in at the fabled beer supermarket en route to the campsite (an essential part of the Wallonhill experience for many), but due to delays we were forced to postpone this part of the trip, instead we spent the majority of Thursday night debating which would be the driest part of the campsite before the inevitable rain hit and signed in, ready for a quiet night so that we’d be up for the first run the next morning.
Waking ”early” on the Friday morning, around 10 am or so, I heard the tell tale sounds of raindrops hitting my tent. I silently thanked the Skate Gods that I’d remembered to bring my waterproof gear, before joining the rest of the campsite for breakfast. There were discussions about waiting it out, about the possibility of it all blowing over, but as we finished our tea the realisation dawned that the rain was here to stay. Once the riders meeting was out of the way, the riders crammed themselves into the buses providing the uplifts and our Wallonhill weekend had finally begun. As the buses made their way up the hill some engaged their fellow riders in conversation whilst others meticulously plotted the location of the potholes in their head or searched in vain for a dry line through the hairpins.
Thankfully the event staff had the forethought to mark the potholes and other problematic areas of the road with fluorescent paint, making them easier to spot from a distance. Sadly this wasn’t enough to stop myself and other riders from getting their pucks or wheels caught throughout the day – a mistake to be made only once. As the rain continued and the paint began to wash away, most riders managed to figure out how to not hit a pothole by themselves and continued to skate, assuring each other that it’s better to skate in the wet than to skate in patchy conditions.
As the riders stopped for lunch the rain continued. Whilst most were content with the provided lunch, others mounted expeditions to purchase beer in preparation for the kind of debauchery that can only occur when two hundred and thirty skaters are kept in the same campsite. The food provided was generally substantial, and could even be described as good, although the vegetarian option wasn’t quite up to par, even driving some to the nearby chip shop.
When we resumed after lunch, the track was still positively moist even though the rain had eased off, but as the riders got more comfortable riding in the rain the runs got faster. There was still a feeling that people were saving themselves for the rest of the weekend, yet the quality of riding had definitely improved, even if some of the shut-down slides remained sketchy.
Day one of riding over, the race to the showers began, followed promptly by general good times resonating throughout the campsite as the different nationalities mixed and beverages were consumed. It’s at events like this where you really get the vibe that the longboarding scene in Europe is still going strong and that our family is growing. There was chance to catch up with the guys that you partied with last year and to rub shoulders with some great EU riders, all in an atmosphere that didn’t exclude the newer members of our family. A great time was had, too much (not enough?) beer was consumed and I even had the chance to meet some cool new up and coming riders. I, like many, passed out in my tent at some point and awoke to possibly the most amazing sight.
Sun! There was sun and warmth on the second day and it seemed that the Skate Gods had finally answered our prayers. The excitement in the campsite was palpable as the riders donned their soggy leathers and pads, brushing aside silly things such as hangovers in favour of a nice dry run.
After the first run, the guidelines laid down on the first day of only having four or five riders descend at once quickly went out the window and we saw some massive great mob runs. Slowing down on day two was relatively unheard of, yet the format of faster riders putting themselves towards the front reduced pressure on the less experienced riders and allowed everyone to descend at their own pace. There isn’t really much that can be said for the Saturday as words simply cannot describe the stoke that was shared that day. As a matter of fact, even lunch almost seemed like a chore – on a great freeride hill with decent weather and riders who were loving every minute of it, the idea of stepping off your board (or luge, if you’re in that way inclined) was close to blasphemy.
Once again, there was the inevitable rush for the showers after the last runs of the day, but Saturday night was the night that we partied, and damn do longboarders know how to party. In terms of planned events there was a great video competition and a DJ planned for later, yet out in the campsite there was the organised chaos that is longboarders having fun – birthday celebrations, slacklines, general stupidity and music blasting out of every other camp. The fact that I don’t remember much from the Saturday night speaks for itself but flashbacks of too much beer, unknown spirits, some terrible dancing at the disco and of fighting to get into my sleeping bag at 4am assure me that it was bloody brilliant.
If I thought waking up to rain on the first day was bad, waking up on Sunday was worse. The rain was relentless – clearly the terrible dancing which occurred the night before had brought forth the wrath of the Skate Gods. As the hangovers kicked in the enthusiasm died and the first uplift consisted of only one bus that was half empty. A diehard few were still content to throw themselves downhill in the rain and there were no regrets. Eventually other riders woke/sobered up and joined us on the hill with some tight riding, and although it was in slightly smaller groups than the previous day, as people regained their confidence in the wet we saw some great riding and spectacular crashes, along with a few unexpected sights.
As the final day came to a close, goodbyes were said and riders shared their plans for the next freeride to hit. I can’t think of one person who didn’t say that they’d be back next year, a testament to the hard work and dedication of the Blutcher Longboard Club and the Wallonhill Houyet event in general.
Next year we hope to see the council finally repave the road, more general ridiculousness and a better vegetarian option for those that are awkward enough to demand one (in all honesty a second slice of cheese on the sandwich would be fine). Without going into the increasingly more complex politics of our sport, I can report that Wallonhill will be seeking new sponsors for future events, but change is not necessarily a bad thing and hopefully it will be a great opportunity for the event to grow.
Coming up in July we’re looking forward to the Superluxe edition of Wallonhill in Luxembourg, followed by another End of Season Houyet edition in September. I’d like to take this opportunity to remind readers to act courteously when in the respective municipalities as we want the locals to like love us so that we can see more great events on great hills (seriously, check out the preview video for Superluxe).
Once again, I’d like to throw out a big thankyou to Blutcher for putting on rad events, we look forward to the video edit and I’ll see you all at Wallonhill 2014 (10th birthday edition, woop).
All photos by the talented Natalia Mielniczuk
Check out her page: https://www.facebook.com/NataliaMielniczukPhotography