Project Trumpmore Interview | Meet the NGO That Wants To Carve Donald Trump’s Face into a 50-Metre Ice Wall

“The faces on the real Mount Rushmore are 18m tall, so we definitely want to top that…”

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A model of what Project Trumpmore may look like in the Arctic Ocean.

Picture the scene.

You’re at the helm of an almighty ship, sailing deep through the ice sheets and freezing blankness of the Arctic Circle. You’ve seen nothing but the infinite ice and murky waters of the freezing landscape for months, and you can’t quite remember the last time you saw the face of anyone with whom you weren’t sharing quarters.

And then it happens.

You see a new face. Or rather, an old face. A face you haven’t seen in a long time. A giant face. An infamous face. A face that looks a little like a potato that’s been left in the shower for too long. A face you recognise all too well.

The rest of the crew join you on the bow. A shiphand drops his beer, and it smashes. A mechanical technician drops his spanner, or whatever it is that mechanical technicians use, and it bounces unnoticed on the deck. The noise of the spanner is drowned out by a PhD student openly weeping, and being consoled on the shoulder of the hearty expedition chef.

In front of them all, is the gargantuan head of US President Donald Trump, carved out high into a 50-metre, 164-foot wall of ice approaching on the horizon, slowly melting into the Arctic Ocean.

This controversial arctic landmark is not something that exists at this moment in time, but as improbable as it may sound, the ambitious “Project Trumpmore” statue is something that newly-formed Finnish NGO Melting Ice are determined to make happen.

We spoke to Nicolas Preito, Chairman of Melting Ice, and the man who wants to commission a 35 metre (115ft) tall ice sculpture of Donald Trump’s face in the arctic region, to ask the obvious question: why?

“The idea of the project is to talk about climate change in general,” he said.

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A comparison by scale of just how large this Donald Trump head would be.

“Our idea is that climate change is such a complex issue that it’s a difficult one to grasp. Our intent is to create a conversation starter through the monument. Every once in a while you come up with good ideas and now we’ve got one. After the US President Mr. Donald Trump’s decision to not sign the Paris Agreement, to pull back from it, and then his willingness to be on Mount Rushmore, for us it was just one plus one and it equalled this.

“We are looking for an ice wall which would be in-land but facing the coast obviously, and that would be around 50 metres high. The minimum we’d be looking at would be 30 metres. On the real Mount Rushmore the faces of the Presidents are 18m tall so we definitely want to top that. We already did a scale model of it which was three metres high in Helsinki which was fun, but we’ve got to think big to make this happen.”

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The three-metre ice Trump that Project Trumpmore built in Helsinki. Photo: Iltalehti / iltalehti.fi

Indeed, President Trump has joked about being added to the Mount Rushmore monument several times in the past few years, and is a renowned climate change denier.

Nicolas continued: “We came up with a good idea and we weren’t keen with just letting it go. There are a lot of people who are like-minded to us. So probably if we think this is a good idea a lot of other people will be too.”

The idea, as the Project Trumpmore website outlines, is to commission an 115-foot tall ice sculpture of Donald Trump’s face in the arctic region, in order for it to melt, to demonstrate that climate change is happening.

Would this really work as a demonstration of climate change?

“I don’t think that climate change per se is something that we can prove with melting ice,” says Nicolas.

“I think it will be a conversation starter and a symbolic gesture. We are in a position and time where climate change is such a complex issue that we need our best minds on it and all of us need to be thinking about what we can do about it.

“The minimum we’d be looking at would be 30 metres. On the real Mount Rushmore the faces of the Presidents are 18m tall so we definitely want to top that…”

“Our hope is that we will talk about climate change in a much broader way once we get the project started. Even though we are talking about the Paris Agreement, that as well is not an agreement without its holes. We need to do more in so many ways.”

For a project as ambitious as this though, the logistics are always going to be the main challenge. Project Trumpmore admit they will need to raise around €400,000 (£350,500) to complete the project as they have it set out in their minds.

“That would be with all bells and whistles,” says Nicolas. “We are now doing calculations on what’s the lowest we can do it with and where else we could get money.

“We are talking about crowdfunding. In Finland for a new NGO to do a crowdfunding campaign is not so clear cut. You need a permit from the police and that takes a long time. We are now trying to partner up with some NGOs in countries where we could do a crowdfunding proposition.

“We have a very detailed plan on how to do it and what kind of things to incorporate. We have an ice sculptor who would be the head engineer or head of construction. He’s done big ice projects before. And then we have to talk about where it’s going to be. There are four possible spots but one, which is our main goal, would be the arctic ice cap in Greenland. It can’t be an iceberg because that’s too unstable.

“We have ideas already of the talking points we want to bring up, not only with the sculpture, but also with a documentary project we are talking about and a hunk of the money could come from the documentary, from a TV channel. We want not only to build the ice sculpture but to do this as a whole project that actually initiates conversation.”

I suggest that given his ego, and his attitude towards climate change, there is a strong chance that Donald Trump would love Nicolas’ project. He laughs.

“Yeah, that would be hilarious. I actually directed my first tweet about it to Mr. President. I haven’t got a reply yet, so maybe soon. I’m not sure.

“I posted a video and asked him ‘hey, we have this project and you’re not that keen on climate change, so maybe you’d like to partner up?’ but still no reply. Fingers crossed. Let’s hope for the best. I understand he has a lot of lawyers with money lying around in different bags or different cheque accounts – so maybe he has some money he can lend us!”

Whether the project happens or not remains to be seen, but given that the aim of Project Trumpmore is ultimately to act as a conversation starter, it’s fair to say Nicolas and his team have already seen some success.

After all, they’ve certainly got people talking.

For the latest on Project Trumpmore, follow the campaign on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

For more from this month’s Green Issue, click here

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The post Project Trumpmore Interview | Meet the NGO That Wants To Carve Donald Trump’s Face into a 50-Metre Ice Wall appeared first on Mpora.

Take Action For A Better Weekend | Can You Have An Adventure With Just 72 Hours In Morocco?

Marrakech, the Atlas Mountains and more, all in three days? Here’s our ultimate guide to visiting North Africa over the weekend…

The best parts of life, are the bits that you put the most work into. Whether it be friendships, health, work, free time or family, it’s always clear which areas of a person’s life to which they give the most of their energy.

With this in mind, the adventurous brand KEEN has launched ‘Better Takes Action’, a campaign that aims to inspire people to put passion and energy into the areas of life that matter. This idea can include your own self-improvement, cultivating the life of those around you, or helping the world at large. It can be through protecting the environment, living sustainably, or just raising money for causes close to your heart. As long as it makes the world a little bit of a better place, it counts towards KEEN’s awesome initiative.

One easy way that we can all take action to better our lives, is by looking at the quality of how we spend our free time. Recently, KEEN asked us to take action ourselves by setting us the challenge of creating the most amazing adventure possible over one long weekend, all with time to get back to our desk by 9am Monday morning. Accepting their bet, we enlisted KEEN ambassador Sophe Everard and jumped on an early flight to Morocco to find what new experiences we could have in 72 hours in Africa. Yalla!

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Friday

While a million miles from us in culture and landscape, Morocco is actually just a little three hour flight from the UK, and the regular flights that run from many airports each day also make it a very affordable option. Booking a 6am flight from Gatwick in April, we threw a couple of outfits, some sturdy Terradora Ethos shoes and hiking boots into hand luggage and travelled to Marrakech, a walled city of Morocco, arriving on a sunny Friday morning.

Marrakech Airport is fifteen minutes away from the middle of the walled city centre where our riad was based. Taxis take a while to flag down, but are affordable at usually around 150 dirham (about £10) and take you straight into the centre of the city’s hustle and bustle so we threw our backpacks into a car and headed towards the madness, looking forward to what our mini adventure had in store for us.

After paying the taxi we entered Jemaa el-Fnaa, the square and market place in the middle of the walled city, for the first time. This square is overwhelming, full of snake charmers, henna artists, fruit stalls and all types of wandering hawkers, it throws you straight into the anarchic and creative vibe that’s earned Marrakech the nickname “Jewel of the South”.

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Through the busy maze like streets, people, animals and especially scooters, which fly down tiny alleyways at a dangerous speeds and from every angle. We made our way through the labyrinth of backstreets, past the cart pulling donkeys, makeshift bread stalls and local children playing ball games to our riad door, happy to lose our bags and collapse in the middle courtyard space for a few minutes, before heading out to explore some more.

“The Atlas Mountains, named after a Greek god that holds up the skies”

That afternoon we entered the city for our first experience of Moroccan cuisine as settling into a kerbside café, we nibbled on Khobz (a traditional circular bread) and rich black olives, before ordering a traditional tagine and watching the street performers moving past our seats. In the late afternoon acrobats and circus performers entertained the crowds, then as the sun set we watched in awe as the crowds transformed and storytellers, music and drum circles and interactive games began to appear all around us. If we thought that the streets were manic during the day, they were nothing compared to the madness of Marrakech’s nightlife.

The streets and bazaars spill over with artistry and after just a few hours in the madness, we’re already smitten with the unfamiliar Arabic culture. Heading back to the Riad feeling drained, we head straight to bed, disbelieving of how much we had already found and excited about the new day.

Saturday

We could have easily spent our whole three days exploring the different areas of Morocco’s most enchanting city, however we had KEEN’s challenge to complete, so the next morning we were up at dawn and out of both the riad and the city, to find other adventures.

Any adventurer worth their salt will have one main Morocco experience they need to achieve during their trip – The Atlas Mountains, named after a Greek god that holds up the skies. Researching hikes up Mount Toubkal and similar peaks, it was obvious that the time restraints on this trip ruled out any serious expeditions, so we decided to explore the country’s amazing landscape and stretch our legs on a hike of the foothills that belong to those gorgeous snowy peaks.

We chose to travel by a combination of car and hikes for the day, a choice made to allow us to explore the maximum amount of the country, while also getting the achey legs of a good hike, with the hot weather versatility and hike ready sturdiness of the Ethos shoes powering us through our journey. Driving out of the city, the first place we aimed for was Amizmiz, a big Berber village around 54 km from Marrakech, nested between olive trees and fruit trees in the mountains. While a larger village, Amizmiz has the feel of a real working town, with adhān calls to prayer echoing over the buildings regularly, as locals go about their daily work on the main street. If you’re looking for a great low lands hike, this is a destination to aim for, that has some very good traditional eateries for a satisfying post hike lunch.

Jumping in the car we left our first destination and travelled down long roads and through tiny Berber villages and the mountain life they contain towards our main hike for the day. The cloudy weather of the morning had cleared and the hike to Imin Tala, one of three Berber villages on the climb to the highest peak at Djebel Toubkal, was clear and beautiful. This village is sat at 4800ft and the route is equally as beautiful as it is terrifying, with hairpin turns, sharp drops and expansive mountain streams and orchards in front and around us. At this level you can see the Atlas Mountain’s peaks in all of their glory. Walking along the sublime and immersive landscape, our boots gripping to the clay and stone paths, and with only the odd shepherd passing us on our route, it was impossible to imagine that we were soon to return to the commotion of the city walls in which we were staying, with its music, merriment and brilliant chaos.

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Sunday

One Marrakech experience that everyone should seek out while visiting the city, is a traditional medina breakfast. On Sunday, with a flight booked later that day, we ventured out early into the square, looking for some sustenance to fuel our last day of exploration.

On the side of the main square, an open fronted cafe was serving breakfast to dozens of locals, the is kitchen nothing more than a small metal cooking cart, with four people running the cookers and food preparation. Baked eggs are a morning staple in Marrakech, served in a low metal dish with plenty of olive oil, so we ordered ours with cheese and tomatoes,with a side of msemen (an unrisen pancake like bread) as well as large amounts of coffee. Looking around at the other tables in the space, it’s obvious that this kind of outdoor communal breakfast is a normal part of city life. It occurs to us that it’s much nicer than our lonely kitchen cereal routine back home.

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After eating and paying our 60 dirham (around £4.50) we finally make our way to arguably the most famous part of this city, its Souks.

The covered marketplaces are a constant flurry of trading, haggling and excitement. Walking through the Souk Semmarine, you can find rugs, jewellery, ornaments and lighting, as well as traditional formal wear. Moving through and to Souk Cherratin, the streets are full of high quality leather products, with the smell of tanned leather becoming more and more potent in the midday sun.

After exploring the larger market, we ventured towards the smaller Souk des Teinturiers, which is becoming famous in the city for it’s showcasing of new local artists and designers and for offering more unique souvenirs than the more tourist focused areas. Haggling is a matter of course here and the traders are not shy about engaging with their customers. As we looked at a ring, the shopkeepers came over and offered us a price. “No thanks, too pricey for us” we say. “No” he replied, “Now you give me your price and we work it out. That’s how it’s done.”

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Late in the afternoon, with a new ring and other little souvenirs, we escape the markets and after being spat out into the hot sun of the central square, find a cafe rooftop for one last mint tea before we had to collect our things from the Riad and head back to the Airport.

KEEN’s challenge to us was to create the best adventure possible in 72 hours, no matter what kind of adventure that might be. What we found, was that with such little time away from our work, we could find many new experiences, explore new continents, and encounter uncommon cultures, just through being mindful of the fact that these experiences were to be worked for, savouring every moment of the time we had. Better Takes Action doesn’t have to be a huge adventure every time. Simply by being aware of putting you passion and time into what really matters, you reap massive rewards.

Back at the office at 9am the next morning, it’s like we were never away at all. Inside our heads however, we are full of memories of hot desert landscapes, Arabian nights of theatre and music and wide open hikes in the sublimity of the Atlas Mountains. We took our weekend, took action to make it the best it could be, and transformed it into a real adventure.

Want to take action in your own life? Check out our Better Takes Action series below!

The post Take Action For A Better Weekend | Can You Have An Adventure With Just 72 Hours In Morocco? appeared first on Mpora.

Talking Rubbish | We Try Out ‘Plogging’, the Swedish Fitness Craze Sweeping UK Streets

Eco-friendly plogging is a combination of jogging and the Swedish ‘plocka’, meaning ‘to pick’…

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It’s a sunny Tuesday night in Edinburgh, which is a rarity for early Spring. It may surprise you to learn that Scotland is not actually a nation known for its exotic tendencies.

The Meadows, the go-to spot for a sun-soaked evening in the Scottish capital, are packed with slackliners, guitar players and the city’s finest not-so-discreetly smoking marijuana. The usual group of mountain bikers are heading off on their Tuesday ride-out in the Pentland Hills. Others are flocking to beer gardens to watch Roma take on Liverpool in the first leg of the Champions League semi-final – a match being billed as one of the most exciting of the football season, and a game which will eventually end 5-2.

We, on the other hand, are going ‘plogging’, a statement which almost certainly requires further explanation.

Plogging is a portmanteau made from combining the words ‘jogging’ and the Swedish ‘plocka’, which means “to pick”. Basically, it’s a combination of jogging and litter picking, and contrary to how that may sound, it has nothing to do with law-enforced community service.

Plogging is the latest Scandinavian craze to make its way to the UK, and in Edinburgh, Swedish 43-year-old eco-warrior Anna Christopherson runs the only plogging club in the city.

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Anna in the Swedish Akva bar in Edinburgh, which runs a bottle return scheme. Photo: Anna Christopherson

“Someone tagged me on Facebook asking if I had heard about it about a year and a half ago,” she tells me. “I hadn’t, but I said to them that we should do it tomorrow.

“We have a running club which has been going for about 10 years and they’re always up for anything. They said yeah, of course.”

The club is in almost every way your regular running club. They meet each Tuesday at 7pm for a run outside Joseph Pearce’s, one of the bars Anna runs in the city. Anna’s bars run a bottle deposit system, where if you bring in an empty plastic bottle you can either get the bottle refilled with water for free or trade in up to five for 10p off a coffee per bottle.

“When you actually start looking for it, it’s horrendous…”

“We’ve been pushing for the bottle system to go ahead in Scotland and just between our bars I think we’ve got 1000 signatures,” Anna says.

Before leaving for the meet, I had tentatively text Anna to ask if I should bring anything, “i.e. a bin bag?”. Anna responded that she’d bring the bags, but to bring gloves along if possible.

This may seem like a simple request, but it spirals into an adventure of its own after three seperate express supermarket chains fail to serve up the obvious, lightweight plastic gloves.

In a panic, and losing all sense, I end up buying a pair of bright yellow “heavy duty” kitchen gloves, then realise Anna may have meant that she actually wanted me to bring gloves for the both of us, and before I know it I’m having an existential crisis.

What if I turn up to the meet in Inverleith Park, on the posher, north side of the city, wearing heavy duty kitchen gloves, looking like Roger Bannister dressed for a Cillit Bang advert, and become the butt of a new joke, as would be expected if you turned up to most new running clubs wearing bright yellow kitchenware? Oh dear.

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Anna plogging on the streets of Edinburgh. Photo: Anna Christopherson

I cave and text Anna asking for glove recommendations. She saves the day by saying she’ll bring two pairs, and on arrival I’m relieved to see they are indeed standard running gloves. Given the disposable nature of plastic gloves, I probably should’ve guessed this in advance.

Anna hands me a bag and we get on our way.

Inverleith Park is, as aforementioned, in a well off area of the city. It’s just a stone’s throw from Fettes College, who can list the likes of Tony Blair and Tilda Swinton in their alumni. It’s not so surprising then that at first glance the park already appears to be fairly spotless.

“At least they’ve got bins here,” says Anna, “but there’s litter everywhere, and it’s getting worse. When you actually start looking for it, it’s horrendous.”

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The view over Inverleith Pond on Park Terrace in Edinburgh’s new town.

She’s right, too. Even in the Pentland Hills, the 100km hill range on the edge of the city, I often come across plastic bottles. With no bins around, I normally stick them in my bag as I go, but this seems a far more alien concept in cities for some reason. Perhaps because of the sheer scale of the issue in urban environments.

Littering is an issue close to the bone of the Scottish outdoors scene – especially after the controversial wild camping ban put in place by Loch Lomond and the Trossachs national park in 2017 which forbid camping on the west shore of the famous loch.

“On Earth Day we ran a total of 10km for two hours and picked up a total of 37kg of litter”

The national park cited antisocial behaviour and littering as their reasoning for the by-law, and while the parks faced a backlash from those claiming they were threatening Scotland’s forward thinking approach to wild camping and the great outdoors, the one thing they couldn’t argue with was the littering taking place in these spots.

On my way to Inverleith Park, with litter-picking in my head, I start spotting it everywhere. Crisp packets in hedges, bottles and bags at bus stops. The overflow from communal bins seems to be the worst. I’ve got a heavy head of guilt already over a crushed Vimto can I stepped over just a few strides outside my flat.

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An unfortunately common sight across the UK.

We start jogging around the perimeter of the park, and immediately it becomes clear that the edges of any building or fence seem to be the resting place of lost litter, partly due to the wind and, of course, largely due to human laziness.

“If everyone just stopped throwing things away and lids were closed on bins then loads would change,” says Anna. “It’s the takeaway culture.”

Indeed, 33 million plastic bottles are bought in the UK every day, and up to 2.5 billion paper coffee cups are thrown away in the UK each year. Most people assume the cups are recycled but in reality only one in 400 cups actually are, because it’s normally too challenging to remove the plastic coating inside the cup in order to recycle the cardboard.

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Takeaway coffee cups are one of the most common pick ups while we’re plogging.

In March 2018, Starbucks pledged $10m (£7m) to producing a fully recyclable and compostable coffee cup within three years, and while that would undoubtedly be a start, you have to wonder how much even that would do.

“Even with recyclable coffee cups,” Anna points out, as we pick some off the ground outside a playpark, “if you don’t group them with compostables, with food waste, there is no point. You have to recycle them with food waste.”

Along the back of the pavillion in the park our jogging ends up coming near enough to a halt.

“Some days we only do plastic bottles, because as you can see, sometimes it doesn’t leave much running,” says Anna, before going on to tell me about one of the groups more recent large-scale plogs, for Earth Day on 22 April.

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Picking up litter, thanks to plogging, is something that is becoming increasingly common for outdoor activists.

“We ran a total of 10km for two hours and picked up a total of 37kg of litter,” she says. “We did things a little differently too – we split into teams for landfill and recycling.”

The recycling team won, so to speak, gathering an equal measures concerning and impressive 25kg of discarded litter which they then recycled.

“After that we were tired,” she says. “Running for two hours is one thing, but this… [going down to pick litter and back up again as you go] it’s tiring, but it’s brilliant exercise.

“You can see how quickly the bag fills up?”

Within 15 minutes of running we’ve already had to empty our bags into bins twice. It becomes a competition to see who can spot and collect the most litter.

“If everyone just stopped throwing things away and lids were closed on bins then loads would change. It’s the takeaway culture”

Most common are the chocolate wrappers and bottles, but all sorts pop up, including two condom wrappers and even a collection of untouched oranges. We don’t know what you’re up to in the dark of night, Inverleith Park, but we want no part of it.

I even come across the contents of one of those condom wrappers at one point, but I don’t have the heart or stomach to pick it up, especially wearing borrowed gloves.

With the rise of the keep-cup across the UK, and campaigns against plastic straws rising, I ask Anna if she does believe that every little helps, and that it’s all making a difference.

She says: “I think it is [a start] but at the same time there are so many people who aren’t ignoring, but who just aren’t aware of it all yet.

“I’m talking about it every single day, to everyone. There are so many one-use items that are just waste, and you have to remember everything just ends up in a massive pile.”

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It is, unfortunately, not hard to find a bin that looks like this.

I remark again about how much rubbish you start to notice when you actively looking for it, and Anna jokes: “now you will never not notice!”

We end the day meeting up with the rest of the running group, probably the only other people in the city who know the definition of plogging, and head out past Inverleith’s scenic pond to one final climb where I forget about the litter and focus on my lung capacity.

Whatever your thoughts on plogging, it’s certainly a workout, and Anna’s not wrong, the ideology and the awareness of the litter does stay with you.

As I make my way home, I research the facts – over 150 plastic bottles litter each mile of UK beaches. Approximately 5000 items of marine plastic pollution have been found per mile of beach, and since 1950, we’ve produced more than 8.3 billion metric tonnes of plastics, enough to cover the UK ankle-deep, ten times over.

And as I think about all that, I pass the same crushed Vimto can I walked over at the start of the day. I duly bend over, pick it up and put it in the bin. This whole plogging idea might not be so crazy after all.

For more from this month’s Green Issue, click here

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The post Talking Rubbish | We Try Out ‘Plogging’, the Swedish Fitness Craze Sweeping UK Streets appeared first on Mpora.

Street League Skateboarding Comes To London

Nyjah Huston, Shane O’Neill and many more of the worlds best pro skateboarders are heading to the UK for the SLS Pro Open

Nyjah Huston - Photo: James Renhard

Main image: James Renhard

Street League Skateboarding is coming to London. The most prestigious, not to mention most financially rewarding skateboard competition in the world is headed to the UK.

On 26th and 27th May (Spring Bank Holiday, so you get a day off on Monday as well) many of the most successful, and most famous skateboarders in the world will descend on London.

The event will be the opening date of the 2018 Street League competition, which is quite the coup for the capital, and further signals that London is one of the world’s leading skateboard cities.

You can get your hands on tickets from today. Just visit the Street League Skateboarding website.

Photo: Street League Skateboarding

Photo: Street League Skateboarding

SLS Pro Open London will not only be a showcase for the cream of skateboarding talent from around the world, including the likes of Nyjah Huston and Shane O’Neill, but it will shine a light on the city’s incredible skate scene, challenge preconceived negative perceptions of the sport, and bring together numerous communities within London and the wider UK.

Not bad for, what is essentially, a bunch of folk playing around on a wooden toy made for children.

“It’s great to see London embracing its rich culture by bringing SLS to the city”

British skateboard legend Geoff Rowley – the Liverpudlian fella from the THPS games, not to mention some of the most acclaimed skateboard videos in history – agrees. “British skateboarding has held some incredible contests in the past that have gone on to grow and shape the skate scene in Europe – and worldwide. It’s great to see the city of London embracing that rich culture by bringing SLS to the city”

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The SLS Pro open will see skaters from around the world hitting a custom-built concrete skate plaza designed, in true SLS style, to push the progression of the sport by really challenging the skaters.

Fans of skating are going to love it, but SLS have also ensured that the casual observer (including the occasional mum and dad who’re taking a grom or two along for a rad day out) are going to be involved as well.

The competition features an exciting yet easy-to-follow format, helped along by instant scoring, which means the action will be coming right down to the buzzer, something everybody can get excited about.

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Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan – a man who’s swiftly proving himself to be somebody who gets why skateboarding is so important to London, said “I look forward to welcoming the world’s top skateboarders to London next month. The capital already has a vibrant skateboarding scene and I hope this event inspires a new generation to take up the sport.” Quite.

The post Street League Skateboarding Comes To London appeared first on Mpora.

The Fjällräven Classic | Conquering the King’s Trail in Sweden

A multi-day hike through the wilderness of Northern Sweden sounded exciting on paper. But we weren’t prepared for just how exciting things would get…

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It’s only day three of our week-long trek, but as we struggle to pitch our tent behind the shelter of a boulder it’s obvious our best-laid plans have already gone out the window – or at least the mesh flap which passes for one. With the winds gusting at over 40 knots (a force nine gale in layman’s terms) we’re lucky the whole thing hasn’t blown away.

The following morning, a grim-faced volunteer at the next checkpoint tells us: “It’s been bad. I’ve just been looking at some statistics. We had 60 tents pitched near here last night and maybe 11 or 12 collapsed.”

“The Classic was dreamt up by Åke Nordin as a way to celebrate the Scandinavian concept of friluftsliv.”

None of this, it’s fair to say, fits with the picture I’d painted to my long-suffering girlfriend Simona when I’d persuaded her to come on the walk with me a month or so before. “Hiking, camping and cooking in the open air. It’ll be fun,” I’d said. “Plus loads of people do it every year, how hard can it be?”

Started in 2005, the Fjällräven Classic is a multi-day trek along a stretch of the trail known as the Kungsleden (or “King’s Trail”) in Northern Sweden. It was dreamt up by the brand’s founder Åke Nordin as a way to celebrate not only the company itself, but also the peculiarly Scandinavian conception of adventure it embodies, known as friluftsliv.

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Twisted fire starters. Wild camping and lighting your own fire is expected in northern Sweden.

Literally this translates as “free air life” but (as you might expect from the people who invented flatpack furniture and the Tetra Pak) there are multiple layers of meaning folded into this neat little word. It’s not just a description of an activity, it’s also tied to a set of beliefs – the idea getting outside is good for you, that access is a fundamental right, and that the outdoors is for everyone, not just the hardcore.

Given the everyman ideals he’s espousing, Nordin’s idea of a fun hike looks quite daunting, at least on paper. The route stretches for 110 kilometres, beginning where the tarmac road ends at Nikkaluokta and winding through broad glacial valleys and past Sweden’s highest peaks. The finish line, which we’re told will take around a week to reach, is in the small frontier town of Abisko, nearly 200 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle.

However, I wasn’t lying to Simona when I told her that lots of people complete the trek every year. From its humble beginnings when just 152 took part, the event has grown exponentially. In 2016 more than 2,000 people finished the Classic, and as we line up at the start, it’s obvious that our fellow trekkers have come from far and wide. We see Canadians, Germans, Koreans, Japanese, many of them obviously fans of of Fjällräven, who’ve dressed head-to-toe in the company’s kit for the occasion.

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Simona, wearing the blues, not feeling them.

“There are actually people from 38 nations at the Classic this year, and only one quarter are Swedish,” says Anna-Luisa Stadelman, one of the startline volunteers, who admits to being something of a Fjällräven fangirl herself. “It’s my seventh year here,” she explains. “I’m German originally but I studied in Sweden in 2002 and first came on the Classic in 2008.”

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Toytown. On certain sections of the route, like the Alesjaure Lake here, boats ferry people and goods between huts and the few tiny settlements.

As we set off, it’s easy to see what keeps people like Anna-Luisa keep coming back to the Classic year after year. Everything is as well-organised as you’d expect a mass-participation event to be. Maps, camping gas and free freeze-dried food are handed out to participants, and there are busses to take us to the start line. When we start walking the group quickly strings out, so it never feels crowded however, and by the time we stop to pitch our tent on the first evening, we’re completely alone.

When you’re this far north of the Arctic Circle in August it only gets dark for a couple of hours each day, and even then the light never fully leaves the sky. This means the sunsets are long, drawn out and spectacular. We cook our dinner in front of an incredible display as the sun goes slowly down over the snow-capped peaks ahead of us, painting the sky orange, red and purple as it sinks.

The following morning is equally idyllic. We’re in no rush, and wander down to the shore of a nearby lake to wash before hitting the trail. The water is bright turquoise, the result of glacier run-off further upstream, and icy cold. Simona, who’s Italian, thinks I’m mental for wanting to swim in it, but the sun’s shining and I warm up quickly once I’m out.

The hiking remains relatively easy until we reach the first checkpoint the picturesque fjällstation, or hill station, beneath Kebnekaise, Sweden’s highest mountain. Fjallraven Classic rules forbid us from staying in the pretty wooden huts (you have to camp from start to finish for the challenge to count). But thankfully they don’t stop us from eating in the restaurant.

Named Elsa’s kök (Elsa’s kitchen) after the legendary hostess who managed the hill station from the 1930s to the 1960s, it’s impressively gourmet given the remote location, serving modern Swedish food to guests seated at long, communal tables.

Our fellow diners are a mixed bunch – day trippers who’ve flown in on one of the distinctive red helicopters that resupply the Kungsleden’s network of huts, hikers who’ve been up the mountain (a hike that’s apparently the equivalent of going up Ben Nevis) and the properly hardcore.

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Still as a millpond. Fresh water is everywhere on the Kungsleden, and you never go long without finding a drinkable source.

One side two wealthy 40-something women from Boston tell us how they come hiking in a different destination every year, travelling from hut to hut while someone else transports their bags. On the other side there’s a young Belgian couple who have already been on the trail for fifteen days. They obviously take this sort of thing very seriously. “We bought a kiln this year so we can make our own dehydrated food,” they tell us.

If the hiking thus far has shown us what attracted the Americans here, then the next few days will give us a taste of the more serious side of northern Sweden – the reason people like our Belgian friends consider the Kungsleden a challenge worthy of their attention.

“As we’re cooking breakfast, we look up to see a herd of wild reindeer trotting across the hillside opposite.”

It’s cold when we wake up, and drizzling slightly. Even through the trees that surround our tent, we can feel the wind is beginning to get up and as we set off and walk out above the treeline, both the rain and the wind get worse. Extra layers are put on, hoods are put up and rain covers are stretched over our backpacks.

We lean forward onto our poles, drop our shoulders and power on. But it’s exposed up here, and the storm seems to make the packs on our backs feel heavier. Suddenly carrying the extra camera gear, which has made my pack a hefty 25kg and taken Simona’s up to 19kg, doesn’t feel like such a good idea.

At one point we pass two fellow Classic participants, a Russian mother and daughter team from St. Petersburg, huddled behind a rock, sheltering against the wind.

They look like they’re struggling, and we’re glad when we see them make it to checkpoint two later that evening.

They’re far from the worst off though. A look at the route map on Fjällräven’s website shows images of happy hikers splashing around in a stream at the next checkpoint, Sälka. Yet it was here that the storm hit hardest, flattening all of those tents. “Some people carried on,” says Marie Olsson, the volunteer who’s been helping people pick up the pieces. “But because they’re staying in the huts it won’t count as completing the Classic.”

One couple have decided to call it a day altogether – as we’re eating our lunch one of the resupply helicopters lands next to us and they climb in, looking very grateful for the rescue. “Their tent was one of the ones that was destroyed,” says Marie sadly. “But also their boots were not good, their backpacks were too thin.” We thank our lucky stars that we’re kitted out in the right gear.

Certainly if the next few days teach us anything, it’s that neither the Kungsleden as a trail, nor the Classic as an event, should be underestimated. The terrain is never particularly steep, but the pathway is often strewn with rocks and can be tricky underfoot. For long sections the trail is just planks over boggy marshland and when the winds aren’t high enough to be an issue, the mosquitoes definitely are.

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Down from on high. The highest point on the Classic route is only 1,140 metres but this far north snow isn’t infrequent even in August.

At the Tjäktja checkpoint we find three volunteers, Mathias, Tomas and Frederick, bundled up in multiple jackets and sheltering inside the check-in tent against the weather. “You wouldn’t believe it,” says Frederick, “but sometimes it’s so hot at this time of year people are walking the Classic with no shirts on. You have to jump in the streams to cool down.”

“Hmmm,” says Simona, as we warm our hands around the cups of tea they’ve kindly poured us. Then we head back out into the rain.

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Somewhere over the rainbow. Stunning moments more than made up for the sometimes inclement weather.

But if there are moments where the Fjällräven Classic doesn’t feel like a summer holiday, they’re few and far between. More often, we find ourselves revelling in the sense of space, blown away by Lapland’s bleak beauty.

As we’re cooking breakfast one morning, with not another soul for miles around, we look up to see a herd of wild reindeer trotting across the hillside opposite. They stop just long enough for me to grab my camera and fire off a few frames, before they disappear over the next ridge.

On our penultimate day we find ourselves heading northwards across a wide open plateau, the sun dipping slowly behind the tents of a traditional Sami settlement to our left. Off to the right, we can see the tongues of two massive glaciers, reminders of the ice age that shaped and sculpted this ancient-looking landscape. “I feel like we might see a dinosaur here,” says Simona. If we did it certainly wouldn’t look out of place.

In the end, we don’t come across any sauropods. But we do come away with an appreciation of why this part of Sweden has attracted generations of outdoor enthusiasts. The Svenska Turistföreningen (the Swedish Tourist Association, or STF), has been managing and promoting this wilderness since it was first formed in 1885.

At strategic points along the trail, they’ve created what they call meditationsplats (meditation spaces) marked by stones carved with quotations by Däg Hammarskjöld, the Swedish diplomat and author.

As the second Secretary General of the United Nations, Hammarskjöld was a man who gave his life to the cause of peace (quite literally – he was killed on the job in 1961). And when he wasn’t working this part of the world, where he had a house, was where he came in search of it.

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A sun-soaked section of trail near one of the meditationsplats.

Taken from his book Markings, the quotes are carved here in Swedish and Sami. Neither are languages that I speak. Nor am I normally given to meditation. But standing next to the stones and looking out at the rugged landscape which surrounds them, I start to understand why it was that Hammarskjöld thought this place was so special.

It’s the same reason Åke Nordin was so keen on enabling other people to explore it. Friluftsliv might be a tricky concept to define in English, but spend a few days hiking here, in Fjällräven’s home country, and it’s instantly obvious what the whole thing is about.

Do It Yourself:

Getting there:

Norwegian Airlines (norwegian.com) and SAS (flysas.com) both fly from London to Kiruna via Stockholm, from £305 return.

Accommodation:

Contestants on the Classic must stay in the tent that they carry with them. However, you can stay in the STF huts along the Kungsleden if you’re not part of the event. Visit swedishtouristassociation.com for the English language version of their website.

At the end of the Classic, we stayed in the Abisko Guesthouse (abiskoguesthouse.com)

Joining the Fjällräven Classic
You can sign up for the next Fjällräven Classic Sweden (or any of their global spin off events) at classic.fjallraven.com.

As a way for international visitors to explore this unique part of Sweden, it really is hard to beat. Fjällräven provide food and gas to participants, as well as organising a finishing party. Navigation is very straightforward but it’s worth remembering that while there are regular checkpoints, you’re on your own for the most part, so make sure you have everything on Fjällräven’s helpful packing list.

The Fjällräven Classic Sweden usually takes five to six days to complete, although you can definitely do it faster – the first pair across the finish line when we took part were trail runners who completed the whole thing non-stop in under 20 hours!

Tristan and Simona’s trip was hosted by Fjällräven. For more info visit fjällräven.co.uk

To read the rest of The Remote Issue, click here.

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