From Iceland — One Man’s Passion Project

One Man’s Passion Project

Published May 15, 2024

One Man’s Passion Project
Photo by
Art Bicnick/The Reykjavík Grapevine

After shredding snow and ripping pipes worldwide, Eiki Helgason brings the joy of skateboarding back home to Akureyri

Eiríkur Helgason, better known as Eiki, is one of the most famous Icelandic pro-snowboarders in the world. After years of living abroad, travelling the world and breaking 20 bones, he’s back in Akureyri, where in addition to running a few businesses together with his brother, he built and runs Braggaparkið — an indoor skate park, with the country’s only bowl. 

I’m from a farm outside Akureyri, so I wasn’t really involved in the town scene. But my parents were always trying to help me find my sports interests — I tried everything and didn’t like anything. Then I tried athletics and I was pretty good at it. But I didn’t like practising and having to come to practice at a certain time. So, I stopped that pretty quickly. Finally, I found skateboarding.

It was a sport I could do for myself on my own terms. And I love that about it. I started skateboarding first. When I already knew some tricks, it was easy to start snowboarding — it’s essentially the same thing, but you’re strapped in.

I got pretty good fast at snowboarding. And then I got my first sponsor. That took me the snowboarding way. Skateboarding, however, has always been my hobby, and I plan on keeping it that way.

Pro rider plants family roots

When I was 16, I moved to Sweden to go to a snowboarding school. I was there for four years and during that time, I started getting contracts and living off snowboarding. Before that, I worked two jobs in the summertime, from morning until midnight, so I could spend the winter snowboarding. I sacrificed my summers for the winter.

Photo by Art Bicnick

I still make a living off snowboarding. But now I have two kids and try to do everything around here and plan my snowboarding trips more. I need two or three trips a year. I try to plan wisely and make the most of the time so I’m away as little as possible.

I kind of made my name established in the scene. So, I don’t have to do all the stuff I used to do. With social media, the world has become one, so it doesn’t matter if I’m travelling to meet people. People can always find me.

Keeping Akureyri skate scene alive 

“I worked two jobs in the summertime, from morning until midnight, so I could spend the winter snowboarding. I sacrificed my summers for the winter.”

When I came back to Iceland after living abroad, I needed something to do when the weather was bad. I looked around for a spot and tried to open a skatepark together with the town. They didn’t want to do anything like this. I thought, “Okay, I’ll do it by myself.” Then they said they’d be ready to help if I did it myself. I found the place, rented it, started building and opened the first half. I went to the town and said, “It’s up and running, looking good. A lot of kids are buying passes. Can you help?” They answered, “No.”

I kind of expected it anyway. Now, we run like a business, like a gym. It’s a stupid business — it’s good for my heart instead of my wallet.

I like doing it by myself, though. I can be in charge of how it runs and what the rules are. I’ve been a pro snowboarder for a while now. I guess this is just one way of giving something back. I want this and, of course, many other kids want this too. It’s not going to be a moneymaker, but I can at least have it for myself, my friends and the kids to enjoy. You’re allowed to spend money on your hobbies, but it’s good I don’t have a sports car as a hobby. That would be way more expensive.

The skatepark is open every day. Those aged 16 and older can buy a pass for a month, half a year or a year granting them 24/7 access to the house. There are cameras, so if I scan a card, I can see that this guy came up at this time, and if something was broken, I can look it up on cameras. But everyone has been really supportive of all the rules, like no alcohol, of course. I would end up in a disaster right away. I just put my trust in grown-ups.

I have free skateboards, free scooters, free helmets. You can just come and the entrance fee is 2000 ISK. I try to keep my prices low because I want everyone to be able to enjoy it. 

I try to do two courses a month — one scooter and one skateboarding beginners class. Also, on the first Wednesday of every month, we have an adult session in the evening. People can come whenever it suits them during those two hours, and we are here to give pointers and help out. People that always wanted to start can come, as can people that used to skate and want to start again. It’s not a course, but you can come, hang out, try to skate, I can hold your hand if you want. It’s more like a helping out session.

Photo by Art Bicnick

[Before Braggaparkið opened,] skateboarding culture was kind of dying. I’ve been skateboarding for 26 years, so I’ve been in two waves. Now is the third one — kids can do it every day all year long. Scooter kids are the ones keeping my business alive — 90% of visitors 16 and younger are scooter kids. But once you go 16 and older, 90% are skateboarders, it’s usually when they transition.

During the first year, I sold 120 season passes, which is nice. But, like with a gym, you stop coming once you buy the season pass. Parents prefer buying ten-time passes now. However, grown-ups, 16 and older, buy the season pass so they can have access to everything. The pass for a year costs 50,000 ISK.

The ramp architect 

This was a steel building factory. When I got the house, it took a month and a half to clean the place first. The owner said we didn’t have to pay the rent while cleaning because the place was very dirty.

Photo by Art Bicnick

I’m pretty good with my hands. We built the first part pretty quickly; it took maybe two months, mostly because I needed the money to buy more materials. We opened the first one and did the other one way slower. It’s way harder to build a bowl.

But then Reykjavík called. They saw what I was doing here and called to ask if I could build them a skatepark on Miðbakki. I built it for them. The earnings I made there went to finish the other half of my skatepark here — the only bowl in Iceland. It took a side gig to finish my side gig.

“It’s not going to be a moneymaker, but I can at least have it for myself, my friends and the kids to enjoy.”

We had flooding here one year ago. The ocean just came here in the middle of class. It was fall and we had 40 centimetres of ocean here. First thing I did was call the people and tell them to pick up their kids. Then I was trying to save everything I could, trying to get it up high. Of course, water from the outside is not an insurance thing. We used crowdfunding and managed to get enough money to buy new plywood. We managed to fix this without losing money. But it took time, stress and work.

Between passion and profit

I like designing stuff — creating something in my mind and making it a real thing. I changed the skateshop to make some money out of the skatepark. The cruise ships park here at the two main ports, so the passengers always walk towards the skatepark. That’s why I opened a kiosk gift shop — where tourists can buy souvenirs. For this summer, I’m changing the entrance into a gift shop as well. There’s more money in that than in skateboarding. Hopefully, I can get myself through the winter with the gift shop.

Photo by Art Bicnick

I design my own souvenirs. I try to focus on Akureyri and the northern part of the country because every other gift shop has souvenirs with Iceland and Hallgrímskirkja. People that come here don’t go home with a Reykjavík magnet. It doesn’t make sense.

I’m always doing something. I have way too many ideas. There’s not enough time — that’s my problem. 

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