18 year-old Evelien Bouilliart is best thing to come out of Belgium since The Smurfs. She’s also the most exciting female skater in Europe, bagging silver at her first X Games at the tender age of 15, and in spite of some serious injuries since, she has high hopes for this summer’s round of comps.
Evelien Bouilliart is poised to drop off a two and a half metre wall on her skateboard. We’re in Kennington, South London for the cover shoot and the watching entourage, including the photographer, stylist, fellow pro skater Maria Falbo, and some passing Mums and drug dealers, draws a collective deep breath before urging her not to do it. “Come on, why not?" she says in her American-English twang, with a big grin. She has a busted wrist, not long out of a cast, which she cut off herself, and a recently turned ankle. And with a summer of big European comps, not to mention the X Games, on the horizon, we know her sponsors will kill us if she hurts herself again.
Evelien started skating when she was ten years old. “They were building a skate park close to my house," she says, “and there’s not a lot to do where I live, in this small town Aalter in Belgium, so when I saw it and I was like, ‘Oh Mom I want to skateboard.’" Like most mothers of daughters, Evelien’s Mum was pretty nonplussed about the idea, citing broken bones and pain. But finally she conceded, saying that if there was enough money in the tip jar at the bar she owned Evelien could buy a skateboard with that loose change. Fortunately for Evelien and girl’s European skateboarding there was.
“I went to this toy shop, bought a crappy skateboard and right away I went skating and was like, ‘Yay!’" says Evelien. The skate park was small, with a quarter pipe and a spine. Of trying to drop in that first day, she says, “There were guys sitting at the park and I was like, ‘Shit, I’m scared.’ Then one of them came up to me and was like, ‘Do you want me to help you,’ and I was like, ‘Yeah', and it went from there." Even though her board was rubbish and the wheels didn’t even go round properly she learnt to ollie and kick flip, and then after a year or so got herself a better board, which helped her go faster, pop higher and nail the bigger stuff.
Fast-forward a few years and Evelien had got herself sponsored by 911 skateshop in Belgium. They needed photos for their web site and the shoot threw up an amazing street picture of her doing a kick flip over a bump next to a road. It got published in a French magazine, and from then her career went into turbo-drive. A guy from Element Europe, who worked in France but was from Belgium, saw the shot and contacted her to be on their Europe team. She’d been on the etnies Europe team but got put on their Global team that year too.
She started to kill in it the comps, and in 2005, aged just 15, was invited to the X Games, where she landed a silver. She says, “I was like, ‘Woah the X Games! I’m invited to go to Los Angeles! What?’ I live in Belgium, which isn’t that big and there’s not a lot of girls who get invited to the big comps. I was really stoked." That year she also got first at Push (the etnies girl jam at the European Open) in Munich, third at the World Champs in Munster and first at the Mystic Cup in Prague.
But after such an insanely strong start to her skate career, the last two years have seen Evelien stuck under some kind of evil injury curse. The last two X Games she’s rolled her ankle just before the contest, forcing her to tape it up, be all stoic, and get on with it. In 2006 she came last, and in 2007 got fifth. She’s been invited again this summer so digits crossed her ankles will behave enough to give her a fair shot at the grand prize. She’s also had her wrist in a cast on and off a lot over the last year. “I hate it when I hurt myself and can’t skate how I want. I want to progress and learn new stuff. I want to show what I can do," she says. Asked why she thinks she hurts herself so much she says, “I just try stuff, and with the stupid stuff I hurt myself. I’m a bit crazy." Not that she has any plans to tone it down in the future.
Considering most girls we know can barely manage a 1mm ollie on a skateboard without getting a butterfly disco going on in their tummy, it’s reassuring to know that Evelien sometimes gets the fear. “I try to be chilled, but at big comps I’m like, ‘Fuck!’ I don’t want to win but just to show what I can do. Just to push other girls to skate, that’s the most important thing. I want girls to see girls skate, and that they don’t need to be scared of guys."
Getting more girls into skating is super-important to Evelien, and her passion for the cause is written all over her face. She’s got no time for girls who hang out at skate parks just to attract guys or because their boyfriend skates. But she’ll always help out the ones who just go for it, and gets a good buzz from coaching at camps such as the Element and etnies camps in the summer. She believes the standard of girls skating is improving all the time, such as the 12 year-old Brazilian Karen Feliosa who was at the last X Games, and thinks in years to come the younger girls will be way better than she is now.
She herself was inspired by the likes of Elissa Steamer and Marisa Del Santo, who was the first girl she ever saw skate a rail. “Right away I thought, I want to skate a rail. I was amazed," she says. Now her best tricks are on rails, which she attacks with serious pace and confidence. She especially likes doing feeble grind down rails, and is also good at getting big airs. She is trying to improve her flip tricks, though she finds it pretty frustrating, “One day it doesn’t work and the next day you get it first try and it’s like, what’s up with that?" She loves how Lacey Baker is so clean with her flip tricks.
The first time she’d ever tried a hand rail it was quite big. She fell at her first two attempts and went home to her Mum with a finger the size of a chocolate éclair, but was stoked she’d tried it all the same. She got her first cast and her Mum, who’d been wise to the injury potential of this new hobby from the start, felt bad. She still worries the same amount now, though is also really proud of how well Evelien is doing, and how much she’s got to travel the last four years. Evelien is finishing her school diploma so “when I hurt myself skating I will still be able to do something else." Though, playing the outsider role to a tee, she pretty much hates everyone at her school. “They’re all into this jump style dancing, it’s pretty stupid and I hate it. It’s a small school and if you’re a bit different from them or even wear a different colour of jeans to everyone, they’ll all talk about it."
But at least she has her beloved skate park, though the local authorities closed it for a couple of years, and it’s only just come back. “One day they needed parking spaces so they took it away," she says. “We had a petition to get it back, and we couldn’t skate anywhere as the police would come and kick us out. We were like, “Fuck where can we skate?" It was especially vital for her as she needed to practice for contests.
Eventually they got it back but the location wasn’t ideal, so it wasn’t as good. She says, “For tennis and football they build a lot of new places but we just got a little park in this shitty corner."
“They think skateboarders are bad people who are going to destroy everything but it’s not true. We just need to somewhere to skate," she says. “If someone wants to throw themselves down something on a skateboard, that’s their thing." Which takes us back to Evelien and this wall drop. There’s this spark in her eyes that says she really wants to go for it regardless of the consequences, and there are clips of her on YouTube going way bigger, albeit with a run up, but we don’t want it on our watch so we talk her out of it. She slumps onto her bum and slides down safely, before skating off into the distance with Maria. Secretly we all wish she ignored us and done the drop anyway.