Technically, it’s called Plaça dels Àngels – the Angels’ Square. But nobody calls it that. Most Barcelonians refer to it as ‘the MACBA square’ (MACBA being the renowned Museum of Contemporary Art of Barcelona that’s located here), or ‘skater square‘.
If you ask for directions, locals will tell you that the smooth esplanade is located in El Raval, the most multicultural neighbourhood in the oldest part of the city known as Old Town. But you can also get here by following the sound emanating from this public space: a rolling, wave-like whoosh, and then a knock.
MACBA square is the skaters’ realm. Despite the multiple open-air skate parks in the city, one day, mysteriously, riders started flocking here like idle storks, and never left. They gather, dressed in similar loose-fitting garments and caps, chatting in a colourful Spanish sprinkled with many different accents. They start practising jumps and tricks as early as 8.30am, seek refuge from the glaring noon sun under the cool shadow of the MACBA’s main entrance and linger here through the night, often with a beer in hand. Street beer sellers, skater brands’ PR and talent scouts, carefree tourists and amused pedestrians all gather to watch this lively sport.
“There’s a lot of creativity – MACBA Square is like an open-air street museum,” says Álex Braza, a skater, photographer and social-media strategist. Braza started the MACBA Life Instagram, YouTube and Facebook channels, where he gathers all of the photos and videos taken in the area. His initial idea has now grown into a network that promotes sponsored brand events, prized giveaways for Go Skateboarding Day and temporary installations. They also create new video content about everything that’s happening at MACBA, and have even launched a clothing line.
“Skaters, photographers, graffiti artists… they are curious and they come from all over the world,” Braza says. “They gather and talk and exchange tricks, and they come up with new things. Many trends have started here at the plaça.”
Julian Lorenzo is one of the most renowned skaters in the city – he’s featured in magazines and sponsored tours – and agrees that skaters identify themselves as creatives.
“Many skateboarders are also musicians, artists, actors,” he says. “Skating is an art and so skaters tend to be attracted to other kinds of artistic expression. We are also drawn to flexible schedules so we can juggle work and play and find time for our passions.” Lorenzo himself is also a professional visual artist and is fond of playing flamenco-style guitar.
That free-spirited nature might be the reason why the community prefers skating in the MACBA surroundings and other public spaces, rather than in the many well-equipped skate parks the city council has opened.
“Skateboarders don’t like skating just in skateparks,” Lorenzo adds. “We were born in the street. We want to skate the city as it truly is. In Plaça dels Àngels there isn’t just the perfect, polished skating floor. There are also stairs, curbs, gaps, a huge ledge, slanting surfaces… It’s like that perfect surfing spot for surfers where they can enjoy all kinds of quality waves.”
Skaters also flock to places like Plaça Universitat and Barcelona Sants Station for similar reasons. At Universitat, three long, wide metal ledges at times provide additional seating for passersby and at other times serve as optimal grinding and trick blocks. But the iconic Sants Estació train station is where the original skating aficionados started it all. Just behind the station building, an amphitheatre of white stone steps leads down to a pool of water, flanked on one side by an abstract metal dragon sculpture that acts as an ideal slide for boards. In these spaces, artistic expression and athletic feats go hand in hand.
“In an orographic sense, Barcelona is optimally suited to be skated,” says Lorenzo. “You can move around and skate to almost anywhere. You can visit up to eight or nine different skating spots in a single day.” He explains how the downtown area of the city was renovated for the Barcelona ’92 Olympic Games, so the ground is mostly flat and smooth. Plus, the city has amazing weather year-round, so skaters don’t have to settle for indoor parks.
Lorenzo was one of the many skaters who fell under Barcelona’s spell. After a short visit to take part in the X Games hosted by the city in 2005, he decided to stay for good. “When you are a skater and you travel somewhere, you already have something in common with someone in that city,” he says. “ You belong to a greater community.”
But not everyone in the city has been as happy with this (noisy) status quo.
“I admit that there was a time when things went a little bit overboard,” recounts Lorenzo. “Tourist buses flocked to the area, dropping 50 German kids eager to skate in the square. I understand why the neighbours were complaining about the noise.”
Barcelona City Council was even considering banning skating on the spot for good, but some prominent members of the community took action to set a better example. To this day, the local community checks the area to make sure that nobody leaves empty beer cans behind or rides through the nearby side streets too late in the evening. They also post videos to spread the word, so everyone can participate and pull together.
Braza says that his proudest moment for the self-created network was the #SAVEMACBA campaign, which promotes the peaceful accord between skaters and Plaça Dels Àngels neighbours and shop owners. “Civility is the key,” he says.
The city council has now issued a decree banning skating between 10pm and 7am, and both sides have adjusted to the compromise. Things seem to be finally running more smoothly, at the moment – or rather ‘on wheels’, as they say in Spanish.