Tampere, dubbed as the Manchester of Finland. A city nested between two big lakes that is famous for its industrial heritage and the first electric light in the Nordic countries, its factories made out of red bricks and rapids running through the city. A city famous for Näsinneula seeingtower and Mustamakkara black sausage, but definitely not for skateboarding.
Until quite recently.
Finland with its harsh winters isn’t your typical choice for a skateboarding vacation, but recently both amateur and professional skateboarders from around the world have been showing up, knocking on the large iron doors of an old factory building. What is going on, and why would skaters from the UK, Russia and even California hop on a plane and make their way to Finland. More importantly, why won’t they stop in the capital city Helsinki, but venture down to Tampere?
The simple answer is - good vibes.
The longer answer lies partially inside one of those old red brick factories where Kaarikoirat (Ramp Dogs) have made their home - appropriately named Kenneli, which literally translates to dog shelter.
A couple of years ago the city bought several abandoned factory buildings in Hiedanranta and started to develop the area. Kaarikoirat jumped at the opportunity and in 2016 they managed to rent one of the buildings. Nowadays this almost 1000 square-meter indoor-space features a 10-foot mid-vert ramp, one of the largest indoor concrete skateparks in the Nordic countries and an outdoor pool - all built by skaters for skaters. And the plans for the future are grand.
Obviously, to get to this point, the entire Kaarikoirat crew has put in an incredible amount of work. Kaarikoirat was officially established in 2012 to be able to receive the prize money the group had won from a toilet paper company’s ”good deed” campaign to invest it on their first concrete D.I.Y skatepark. However, the core members have been in the scene for years before this.
The guys (at this point it was still mostly a male-dominated sport) grew up skating parking lots and alleyways, building their own ”skateparks” from wood scrapped from construction sites and the few public parks that existed at that point. Several small and sketchy outdoor parks alongside a better quality indoor park were available, but the city officials had no know-how in skatepark construction and skaters were largely non-existent in the planning stages of the parks or the end-result turned out something completely different than planned for. Even though Tampere had a concrete skatepark with a pool corner - probably one of the first in Finland - the quality was on a completely different scale than what would be acceptable nowadays. In a way, the skaters of Tampere have grown up skating D.I.Y. standard skateparks their entire lives.
After years of complaining, finally in 2008 the city officials revealed an extensive plan for skatepark development to improve the situation. But the joy was short-lived, as it quickly became clear that there was no money reserved to implement the plan and thus the kind words would not translate into action. Simply complaining and waiting was clearly no longer a viable option.
Something had to be done.
Slowly a core group of like minded skaters found their way to an abandoned match factory just outside the city center. They found plenty of scrap material lying around right next to a suitable area where a house had once stood before burning down and leaving a perfect concrete flat for the skaters to use. Slowly something that resembled a skatepark started to form, and eventually the guys started to also use concrete - despite the fact that they had no prior knowledge in building anything from concrete. The internet was their friend and slowly their building skills improved.
One of the first culmination points for the group came in 2012, when the the group secured several thousand euros from the ”good deed” competition for their project to make Tikkutehdas D.I.Y. a ”real” skatepark. Over their travels the members had seen what is possible, and they didn’t see a reason to settle for any less here in Finland. They studied the art of building objects from concrete and learnt what works and what doesn’t. They pooled all of their personal money, raised sponsors, organized events and even collected bottles to supplement the prize money and to make the ends meet.
Tikkutehdas D.I.Y. turned out to be a great success. It acted as a training ground for building and sparked an interested to the Do It Yourself -culture. More importantly it also created a community and brought like minded people from different age groups with different backgrounds together. D.I.Y skateparks were nothing new, but Kaarikoirat managed to accidentally ignite a fire on a much broader scale, as having to create an official organization legitimized their actions in the eyes of the city officials also. Having finally come together in a formal way, the skaters now had the credibility to negotiate with the city officials, whom had finally realized that skateboarding might - in fact - be a legitimate investment in this community sport. Simultaneously the punk-ass skater-kids that started this process had grown up to be well educated adults and were taken seriously.
Little by little the skatepark development plan re-emerged on the tables of the decision makers, and they could no longer keep ignoring it. After long negotiations and lobbying politicians, Tampere finally received the park that the local skaters had been long hoping for. Iso-Vilunen skatepark, officially opened in 2015, featured a major change in the attitudes, as the city realized that without the proper know-how the parks had turned out to be expensive and of bad quality. Iso-Vilunen skatepark was built by professionals such as 'Concrete Proof Skateparks' and Canadian contractor 'Beaver Concrete'. The skaters were also involved in the process all the way from the planning stages to the actual building and the results were clear - Iso-Vilunen is widely dubbed the best park in Finland, even the best in the the Nordic countries, and skaters have started showing up in Tampere only to skate it. Having this park available, Kaarikoirat realized, that they could now host world-class events and felt the obligation to do so. Manserama - an annual pool competition combined together with live music, graffiti and other shenanigans lifestyle activities - was born. The first Manserama was organized in 2015 together with the official opening ceremony of Iso-Vilunen skatepark, and professional skaters from abroad were flown into the city to celebrate the success.
Following the building of Iso-Vilunen, Kaarikoirat got to build a wide mini-ramp under a bridge, right in the heart of the city, which was later illuminated for those dark autumn sessions. However, skating is not only about transitions and despite the name, Kaarikoirat wants to promote all types of skateboarding and improve the communal city space. The members of Kaarikoirat realized that some granite blocks, which used to be in skateparks that were now torn down, were laying around unused. Quickly they coordinated with the city to move those blocks to a plaza downtown. The plaza had been mostly used by homeless people, but after the granite blocks were moved, the plaza quickly become one of the most popular places to skateboard in Tampere. Following the skaters, the plaza also started to attract more crowds and started to feel more pleasurable to hang out also for people who did not skate. Since last summer the city established an art gallery, live music stage and the main cultural department just by the skaters offering all kinds of cultural activities to people from all ages.
These examples had proven that a mutual partnership between skaters and the city officials was possible, and that by being active it was possible to make the city a better place for everyone. However, Kaarikoirat saw this just as the beginning. They had built a 10-foot ramp for the biggest hip-hop festival, and knew that they would need a place to house it for the cold winters.
All of the hard work seemed to start paying itself off. In 2016 the city handed Kaarikoirat the keys to a 680m2 factory building from Hiedanranta area, and the groups’ imagination started to fly. The first task was to install the mid-vert inside, but at the same time they couldn’t help their themselves from dreaming bigger - what if they repeated what they had done at Tikkutehdas D.I.Y, but this time more professionally and in a larger scale. Many of the young men involved were quite talented and already had experience in building, yet they were unemployed. What if Kaarikoirat would facilitate the building of a new, world class sized, indoor skatepark, and bring these unemployed skaters together with more experienced skatepark builders to build the park and simultaneously learn a new skill of pouring concrete.
With skateboarding being an official Olympic sport now, and some more recognized skaters, such as Jaakko Ojanen, making a name for skateboarding in Tampere, the city officials realized the importance of having an world class sized indoor training-facility. When the added benefit of training unemployed youth was combined, the project got a go-ahead and was also awarded some money. However, after making some calculations, the group realized, that to implement their vision they would need more money - a lot of it. Luckily several organizations, the city and government officials as well as individuals and companies believed in the project and somehow, after countless applications, the group had everything they needed. Well - the money was still not nearly enough, but they decided to go ahead and make their dreams come true.
The initiative was called Builders Jam and more than a dozen of unemployed skaters were involved in it. Over the winter the newly formed group worked tirelessly and little by little Kenneli D.I.Y materialized in an old factory building. Not only did Tampere get a new training facility unlike any other, but after the project over 80% of the unemployed skaters that were involved in the project were employed by other companies building professional skateparks.
A success rate this high is unheard of in any other context.
This was the first time any of the groups’ members started to get paid - until this point everything that Kaarikoirat had achieved had been done for the love of the sport, through un-paid labour and even investing most of the groups’ personal money. Somehow Kaarikoirat eventually also managed to pay off the debts that they had acquired while building the park.
The Finnish skateboarding championships, that used to be organized in Helsinki, had been on hold for a while. Kaarikoirat managed to forge a working relationship also with the Finnish skateboarding association, and as Kaarikoirat had a newly built skatepark with a large-scale industrial building suitable for over 1000 people festivities, a contest made a street course right next door the concrete pool, and the know-how on implementing big events, the event was moved to Tampere in winter 2018 and combined with Finnish skate events Manserama and HELride, previously also organized in Helsinki. Professional skaters from abroad were flown in again to support the Manserama and HELride parts of the event and the best skaters from Finland came to battle out for the chance to be crowned ”the best in Finland” as the “Finnish Champs”. The success of the weekend made it clear, that this will become a tradition.
It is clear that Kaarikoirat has managed to make the city a better place for skaters - possible even for the non-skaters. Over the years they have managed to co-create several new places to skate and managed create a space for multiple new, larger scale, events. They have organized skateboard-schools for children and brought in big name skateboarders from around the world. The group has created partnerships between artists, skateboarders and the city officials as well as represented the voice of the youth in countless city and municipality meetings. In short, they have taken an active role in shaping the city into a place they enjoy living in. Tip toeing between collaborating with the officials, but still keeping the original D.I.Y. and underground spirit alive.
As per the Finnish mentality, though, one seems to never be satisfied with the achievements. Kenneli D.I.Y. is the culmination of a lot of hard-work, but only for now. As Kaarikoirat now has the know-how, the tools and a successful working relationship with the officials, why stop there? During the summer of 2018 the group created a big outdoor-pool for public on in the backyard of Kenneli and they have plans to create a full-sized street-course indoors as well as continue to organize various events and skate-schools and to collaborate with the city officials in future projects. Even going abroad one day is not out of questions. The future of skateboarding is looking bright in Tampere. Despite its humble beginnings, Tampere has become a paradise for skateboarders and the skate capital of Finland.