Our trip to Reunion Island was something that had been bouncing around in my head for numerous years; since 2011 to be precise, when i started varsity. And while questionably little was entering my head during lectures i had the time to launch numerous forays into the unknown on Google Maps hunting for roads. First polite little trips closer to home (Cape Town, South Africa) and then longer more ambitious hunting began. And while plenty of gems were found, nothing came close to Reunion Island. The whole island was practically covered in zigzaging little lines running from top to bottom. I then stumbled on a little Facebook group of Reunion Island skaters and made first contact with the crew living on the hallowed ground. But with little time and even less money my plans were postponed indefinitely. But all the while i was lurking hard on their group trying to get a glimpse of what was going down on the Island.
Then earlier this year, my friend, cousin and all round shredder Sam sneakily brought up the topic of a Reunion trip again. Now, running my own skate shop, time was more available, although money was still somewhat elusive. I was hesitant. But Sam persisted, in his subtle way. He’d come slinking along, give quick smile, and say ‘Yo…Reunion ?’, and then he’d be off. So then one day i said: “Let’s fucking do it!”
Then we began saving up cash dollar, reconnected with the locals and made a serious effort. And from what the locals were telling us, the roads were as good as we thought. So naturally our expectations rose. So then, we roped in the third member of the Baboon skatehouse Nick, booked our tickets well in advance, and waited, froth consistently rising.
And then we heard Liam and James rocked up on the Island. And then we saw what straight up pornographic things they were doing to the roads in their edit. And again our expectations rose, this time to an unbearable level. Then finally the day came and the three Baboons got onto the plane and flew out to this mysterious little land mass in the middle of the Indian Ocean.
Getting off the plane, straight off the bat we headed into a speed bump. Nick’s baggage got lost. Coming from South Africa, this was not too uncommon, so we took it in our stride. No baggage? No problem. Then, the experienced travellers that we are, we missed both busses heading to our destination. Close to giving up and curling up in a corner at the airport, we managed to haggle with a taxi driver to take us to the nearest backpackers. So far our trip was a rather challenging experience, partly due to fate, but largely due to our inefficiency.
The following day, after roaming around St. Dennis like cattle (the largest City on the island) we managed to locate the bus and make another attempt at meeting the local skaters. With all our gear in tow marching around in a sweltering heat with no plan and no idea what was going on, we were starting to get a little bothered. Again. But then we found them. And all was good. Chilling at a seaside bar each with a cold beer and a fat grin, the locals greeted us with a bemused look on their face. And we knew straight away, it was going to be an epic trip.
After a quick warm up beer we crammed all our gear into numerous cars and headed straight for the local hill. This is when our eyes were opened to us. This is when the epiphany began. The first hill they took us to was already more technically challenging than anything we have on offer in Cape Town. “Dis on iz okay…is close so we skate. Tomorrow, more steep, more corner. You will see.” And this became the general theme of the trip. We hadn’t seen hills like these. Ever. In South Africa a hairpin is something to celebrate. If you find one, everyone rocks up, gets out the car, looks it up and down, gives his 2 cents and then it gets the shit skated out of it. Until you find another one. Now I’m not one for bashing Saffa hills, but ours is the land of sweeping mountain passes and fast, open road old-school hauling ass. We don’t do corners so much. Sometimes if there is one, we’ll take it. Whereas here they were everywhere. Corners, hairpins, sweepers, s-bends they had it all. Furthermore, in SA our hills are far apart and reaching our spots can be a day trip in itself. And then more often than not the tar is chunky and rough. But God bless the French engineers. The roads on Reunion are something to behold. Proximity and perfection. Rich, smooth, black tar snaking through a lush environment; Never ending, and if you looked over to the side you’ll see the next road winding its way up the slope. All perfectly skateable.
The only hinge is cars. The Island has more cars than they know what to do with. But they drive them in any case it seems. And this is a large factor in how the locals determine their spots. Because technically every road has the ability to be a jaw dropping spot. But the locals stick to the slightly quieter areas and adhere to strict safety precautions. And this is necessary. While the hills are visually stunning, they have severe consequences. The roads are narrow, often with sheer drops and numerous cars and busses frequenting them. The margin for error is small. But the locals have learnt to adapt and progress in such a challenging environment. Each rider receives a walkie-talkie and a car descends prior to the skaters and buzzes everytime it passes a vehicle. This way the skaters get a few seconds heads-up as to when what is approaching them. This system works, but it is not fool proof and skaters still stick to their lanes.
Even so we had a somewhat harrowing experience when Nick exited a corner washing slightly wide and ended up under a car. The car rode over his leg rupturing a nerve and four layers of muscle. As Nick got carted off to the hospital this left us with plenty of time to ponder over the accident and reflect on our own delicate mortality. Of all the hills we’d skated, this had been a mild one at best. And the error of exiting the corner a little wide is one every skater is familiar with. It had simply been a case of the wrong movement at the wrong time. And it happens. As much as one can philosophize and examine these incidents I like to say: “It is what it is”. Because it is. Nothing will change what happened. And the lesson remains: skate safe, wear protection, have spotters etc. Even so, we humans are not the most reliable contraptions and eventually circumstance will catch up to us, but minimizing risk as much as is possible is something we as skaters should always strive for. Anyway, I’m happy to announce that Nick is on the road to recovery and soon he will be on many more roads again, skating the daylights out of them.
With Nick in hospital and Sam back in Cape Town (having booked an earlier departure flight) I, along with my juvenile level of French, was left to explore the island. And in this the locals were extremely accommodating. Having spent many years, if not their whole lives on this floating, drastically shaped and forested land mass, the locals have fostered a strong relationship and sense of pride to the environment and nature. And in this, Reunion has a lot to offer. From dry, shrubby areas to verdant alp-like meadows to dense forest hanging on to sheer cliffs, there are many vistas on offer, each more mesmerising than the next. And perhaps the most incredible of all is the volcano. Surrounded by a landscape akin to Mars with jagged rocks and red sand we were fortunate enough to visit it during its phase of eruption. This was naturally the first time I had seen a volcano and lava and it is a pretty awe inducing, terrifying thing; the sporadic spewing eruption and the pulsing torrent of lava give you a sense that you have seriously underestimated nature. It is so unlike any natural event I had witnessed, it seemed otherworldly.
But after all the skating, hiking and sight-seeing, it was the people that really made the trip. The temperament of the local skaters is very interesting and oddly cathartic. Simply put, they are very chilled. There is not much that will have them lose composure. Things just kind of tend to happen and if they don’t, they will at another, perhaps more suitable time. If we organised a skate we were never quite sure if anyone had understood, or if anyone intended to actually come, but without fail we had rad sessions with many very cool locals.
Inbetween my often incoherent French ramblings and their pidgin English we spoke enough to figure out that we each had stumbled upon a decent group of skaters and during the course of the trip we formed friendships that will last. And as worn out and clichéd as it might sound, it was not the roads that made the trip, but the people we met, the hospitality we experienced and the different culture we were exposed to.
Yep that’s right, I’m ending this article with a cheesy life lesson. Deal with it. It is what it is.
Below are some more pictures for your enjoyment.