Barcelona might just be the finest skate spot in Europe. There are open spaces round every corner. Plenty of marble surfaces. And, as the city is built around a collection of hills, it has an array of downhill skating for those willing to step up to the challenge.
Top this off with warm weather, palm trees, beaches and beautiful women, and you have a skater’s paradise.
When George Orwell set off to Barcelona to fight fascism near the end of 1936, in the midst of the Spanish Civil War, he observed that, “It was the first time that I had ever been in a town where the working class was in the saddle.”
I ended up with skateboarding because it gave me the most freedom
Today in Barcelona, it is easy to see that skateboarders are firmly in the saddle.
Between 2008-2013, while taking a BA in business in the Catalonian capital, Latvian-born skater Madars Apse was able to hone his craft as a street skater.
In the summer before he started at university, Apse had already been selected to skate for the Element Europe team. He was 18 at the time.
While studying in Barcelona, he began releasing a selection of video parts for Element. In 2010, he joined DC Shoes Skate Team. And finished his final year at university with Thomas Campbell’s 16mm triumph Cuatro Suenos Pequenos. Which follows Apse and skateboarder Javier Mendizabal skating through Mendizabal’s dream.
In 2013 and 2015, he was voted Kingpin magazine's European Skater of the Year. And, at the end of 2014, Apse turned pro – releasing a board (Madars Apse Welcome Deck) and video Travel Light, Live Well with Element.
As well as being sponsored by the likes of Independent, Mosaic Bearings, Perus wheels, Ashes Griptape and Red Bull, Apse also has his own Youtube show It's a Mad World.
His time in Barcelona did him well.
We caught up with Madars Apse to talk about his roots in Latvia and how he forged his career in skateboarding.
Could you speak a bit about your hometown Ventspils.
It's on the west coast of Latvia and is pretty much the cleanest town in the whole country. We've got a nice beach and skatepark. It's pretty good in the summer time. A lot of tourists come down.
At first, I didn't have money to buy skate shoes so I would skate in sandals
I grew up there and my parents lived next to the skatepark.
That was the Olympic Centre?
Yeah, I lived right next to the Olympic Centre in Ventspils. I tried out basketball, gymnastics, rollerblading, BMXing. I ended up with skateboarding because it gave me the most freedom.
It was pretty much on your doorstep?
Yeah, it was like a three-minute skate.
Were there a lot of skaters in the area?
Yeah, there were like 50 something skaters in my hometown when I started. At first, I didn't have money to buy skate shoes so I would skate in sandals. I'd skate foot-first mongo. Some of the skaters would make fun of me. It was a tough one coming up.
Was there a particular moment when you realised that skating was the one for you?
It came gradually. I guess after I decided that BMX wasn't for me. That pretty much made up my mind.
BMXing, I did one-hand, no hand, no feet. Then, to start doing something else, I'd have to spin my bike around. Or turn myself and fall on my bike.
It was too dangerous so I decided to stick with skateboarding because it's lower to the ground. A little bit lower.
Was your first board a Killer Loop board?
Killer Loop was my second board. My first one was just a €15 board. Then I started saving the money I'd got from selling flowers from my hometown.
When I started skating, I entered contests where you could win a VHS of some American video
And when I was with my family on a trip to Finland, passing through Estonia, I spent my money and got my board. I got some flames on it and I was super stoked.
Were skateboards more expensive in Latvia?
More than the US. The price is similar to other countries in Europe. But then again, back in the early 2000s or late 1990s, Latvians would sometimes have to go to Lithuania to buy a board. Or the other way around. Because there wasn't many shops around back then.
Was it easy to get a hold of skate videos from America?
Not really. When I started skating, I entered contests where you could win a VHS of some American video.
That would be like my main goal of the contest. That was very rarely achieved but when it was, I was the happiest guy in town.
Otherwise, there was this extreme sports show called Yoz on Eurosport late at night. I would stay up to watch that, recording it on my VHS.
I was also into *Tony Hawks Pro Skater. Because, if you finished the whole game with the skaters you chose at the beginning, you get to watch his video. I would finish the game with every skater and watch everybody's video.
It must have been frustrating not having the access to video parts – like we do on Youtube today.
Yeah it was tough. But I had my collection you know. I would have recordings from some contests in Sweden, or I would go to this OG skater from Latvia who lived in a different town and he was actually around the scene in the 1980s/1990s.
He’d gone to contests with Rodney Mullen and stuff. He'd have some tapes that I would borrow from him sometimes.
Do you remember his name?
Sorry, I can’t right now.
You started in a skatepark. How did you become interested in street skating?
I'd watch all those videos. American videos or 411VM [the first skate video magazine; founded in 1993]. Or Adio [skateboard brand] videos. I would try to replicate that.
I was from the third generation of street skaters in Latvia
There was a skater from my hometown who was filming stuff. So him and me would go out to the streets and try to film a skate video. There would be some other guys too who’d add parts to the video. I was recreating what I saw on skate videos in Latvia.
But I really got into street skating when I moved to Barcelona.
Was there much street skating in Latvia?
Well, yeah. There's always been street skating in Latvia, since the early 1990s. I was like the third generation of street skating. It was a small world though.
Did you feel that skaters in Latvia were dependent on the American idea and identity of skateboarding?
Skaters in Latvia have influences from many different places. Some friends of mine were into Magenta, that company from out of France. They had their own style and the Latvian guys would try to replicate that. Then there's homies who'd be into the American style. Or guys who were into the Barcelona style. The internet provided a wide source of options of what style you wanted to pursue.
You started skating in 2001?
What was your first major contest?
Simple Sessions. I got second place in 2005 or 2006, I think. Five years after I started skating. That was a big deal because I did all my tricks in my run. People were looking somehow.
Did you feel, five years in to skating, that it was becoming clear that this was something you'd do professionally?
When I thought of doing it professionally, that was in 2008. I had already got in with the guys from the Element Europe team. I had shown some of my video parts to the Latvian team manager and I'd gotten some Best Tricks at contests. I'd got into Kingpin magazine. The team manager told me to join the team and that made it for me.
But I was already signed up for university. I was going to do the student/skater thing.
How was studying and skating?
My uni was from like 4pm-8pm, or 4pm-6pm, 6pm-8pm sometimes. I would have plenty of time to go skate.
You started putting out quite a few video parts when you were at university.
Yeah. I was on the Element Europe team and they were filming a promo first called Travel Well in 2009. Then they filmed Get Busy Living in 2010. Then, while I was also living in Barcelona we did the Where EU At? video in 2012. The last film that I did during my studies was Cuatro Suenos Pequenos by Thomas Campbell. That was a good one.
Did you find it hard to balance the two?
What I studied was a fairly easy thing to study. I studied business for three years. I had a laid back experience.
Barcelona is a great environment to skate in. Did it help develop your approach to certain things?
Oh, for sure man. The city is built on these hills. So there's a lot of downhill skating. Spain used to be a very rich country, so there's this perfect marble everywhere. I would skate back home from school in Barcelona. Or skate till 4am, and get lost in the city. It was fun.
Since you left for Barcelona, have you been travelling back to Latvia much?
Yeah. But most of the time I'm on the road. I try to be home because that's where my family is. It's good to be close to the family.
I remember the name of that Latvian skater. It's Salvis Skarainis. He was a good dude that had a skatepark close to my hometown. He was a freestyle skater.
And that was a big thing to have an inspiration from Latvia?
Yeah, for sure.