Ali Boulala on his secret trip to Lyon with Thrasher Magazine
There are a few iconic skate spots: The Carlsbad gap, The Gonz gap at EMB, Wallenberg to name a few. These places are iconic because they pushed skateboarding forward. By becoming places for man to conquer they have become modern quests. Like stories of old, with heroes seeking honor and glory through epic victories that will chime through out history. The tale of the Lyon 25 stair is not exactly like the other stories. This time the dragon was not slayed and the fair maiden was not rescued from the tower.
Maybe that’s why the story of the 25 has become a legend. Was it the final chapter of the book? It was until recently when Thrasher Magazine opened it, wiped the dust away and wrote a new chapter, starring Aaron “Jaws” Homoki.
The skateboarding community has debated for several years on the subject. Should you leave it be and let the legend live on? Or should you keep progressing? Now that it’s been done, is there no more mystique surrounding this spot anymore or is it more interesting than ever?
When we realized that the rumors were indeed true and that Ali had been a part of it, we couldn’t wait to hear the story behind the cover. So here are Ali’s words on what really went down (those stairs).
So how did this story begin?
I received an email from Michael Burnett of Thrasher Magazine, who I’ve known for a lot of years and been shooting photos with a lot of times. That e-mail said something like: “Hey! We need you for a top secret mission in Lyon with Mr. Homoki“. And I recognized the name and kind of immediately thought “Ok, that’s that guy Jaws and he’s going to try the 25”. And that was pretty much the case. Then I talked to French Fred (Fred Mortagne) and said “Hey! Thrasher wants to fly me to Lyon for this mission with Jaws” and then I learned that he (Jaws) had actually already been there, like a year ago on another secret mission”, trying the 25 but did not make it. I really don’t know exactly how may tries he gave it, maybe eight attempts and slammed pretty hard on it, broke his board and really hitting his knee or something.
Thrasher contacts me, saying they need my “expertise” and buys me a plane ticket to Lyon, cause I mean, it’s not like I don’t have the time. So I fly down to Lyon. We stay there for about five days, we hang out, I get to meet Jaws and he’s really excited and happy that I flew down for this and would be a part of this whole thing. He told me that Sorry was one of the first skate videos he ever saw and stuff like that.
We get to the stairs one day and he starts to try it. I can’t remember how many tries he had but he didn’t make it that day. After several attempts we got kicked out of there by security. And it kind of crossed my mind; maybe he can’t do it, or maybe it can’t be done, you know? After the security guards kicked us out we figured, ok they know why we’re here and stuff. The funny thing was that we were staying at the hotel by the stairs where the hotel is located. And we or I thought that maybe this won’t happen because of the security people?
Was there ever any trouble when you tried it?
No no, it wasn’t. But you know that was another thing. I just went there and just you know, tried it. But now it was a different scenario with like eight cameras all over the place and a bunch of people. Even his dad was there! When I was there it was only Fred, a photographer and me, no one else. The second time I was there Jeremie Daclin was there also. But this was like a major production with all the different cameras and just a whole lot of people. It was a bit weird you know, all this, for one person trying one thing on a skateboard?
But isn’t that what that place has become? The whole thing about that spot, it has gotten big, literary.
Ha-ha! Yeah I know but I wouldn’t call it a skate spot. It’s nothing that one would just go to, too skate. But like I said, it was a bit weird but it was cool at the same time that it had become what it apparently is. Anyway, so he kept trying it. One time his wheel came off, like just flew off. He landed on the board and his wheel flew off and he ate shit. And that was one other thing I started thinking about. Maybe the equipment can’t take it. Maybe it’s not the person but the gear? So I still had the thought in my head that it might just not be possible. But at the same time, I would never have tried it if I didn’t think it would be possible.
How many times were you guys at the stairs, all together?
Umm? I think it was about five times total?
Yeah! We were there right away the first day and he started trying it, slammed, then the security guards came and that was that. OK, we’ll come back the next day.
That sounds horrible, to be there already the next day trying it again?
Exactly and by then the guards were already there, putting up a fence, blocking the stairs. Everything seemed impossible, but I told them; when I was here it took like four seconds. So just move the fence and just do it. Don’t even try to argue with the security guards, trying to get permission or anything. Just go for it. Either you make it or you don’t. And I think he tried it once. Removing the fence, going at it didn’t make and the guards got pissed of course. I don’t remember exactly how it went down but on one of the occasions this happened. Then they tried to reason with the staff, asking about permits and what not and one actually said something like: “Ok, our boss isn’t here that day, at that time”. So we went there at that time but the guards were there screaming at us to get out. But you know we were staying at the hotel so.
So everyone was getting a bit worried and started talking about if they should extend the plane tickets to be able to continue but finally it came down to “Tomorrow is the last day, we have to do it tomorrow.” And then someone talked to someone, I believe it was Fred. And after that I think they told us “Ok, you got one hour, at that day, at that time, that’s it!” So it all came down to now or never more or less.
And before he started trying it on the last day I was standing up there, talking to him. And I asked if he was going for the “grab” and he was like “Yeah I think so” and then at that point I was actually for the first time feeling something like Ahh man.. Because deep inside I was kind of hoping that he would go for the regular ollie. I don’t know. Of course it’s just as hard but it is kind of a different trick you know? Like I said, I was hoping that he would just try ollie it because in the end it’s two different tricks. But who am I to tell someone what they can or can’t do? But hey? He rolled away from it and I didn’t so.
And another thing he had was this roll in bank or what not. So he would get enough speed. I remember I was just running like crazy.
That’s actually one of the things that others and we have discussed the fact that the speed was a key issue.
Exactly! So maybe I should’ve thought of that? And he was also smart enough to have a set up with bigger and softer wheels. Cause the flat ground there isn’t the easiest one.
Do you regret not to have put more thought into it when it comes to these things or didn’t you care?
Well, I never thought about anything really. Or there was one thing, after my first try and Flip brought me a different board, which was supposed to be thicker. Like an eight-ply or something? And they told me to use that, because it was stronger or thicker. But didn’t really want to use anything else than what I had so. But during my first attempt I remember Fred asking me to use his board instead because it was wider. But the second time I wanted what I already had. In the end I don’t think it really matters what kind of board you have. But maybe it would have been better to use bigger wheels or something, I don’t know? Either you make it or you don’t so there’s no point in bothering with those kinds of details.
But it was really cool that he made it and it would still be cool if he didn’t. He was really happy that I was there, so it was fun. I guess the reason I was there was more of a vibe thing, in order to make him want to do it.
You were hired as a consultant.
Ha-ha! Well they said they needed my “expertize” but what can I do or say, you know? Jump here, do this, land there! I didn’t even make it.
Was he clean and sober when he did it?
Yeah I believe he was. I mean I wasn’t! I smoked before and stuff and later regretted it when it was time to do it. I don’t think he even drink the whole time until afterwards. When they toasted in Champagne and his dad was like “Yeah baby!” And he started to cry tears of joy. At first I thought he was kidding but it was real. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt that emotional from making a trick. When I was younger it was the opposite. Then I used to cry because I didn’t make the trick. You know when you try something for 200 times and you don’t make it and get devastated and start crying, like a kid who doesn’t get candy. But this was the other way around. He cried of happiness and I get that. But it was still a bizarre situation. His dad ran down to him and also started crying. Then Fred moved the camera to me and I was like; is he crying? I’m the one who should be crying! He just erased me from history, ha-ha!
Did you feel that way?
Well you know, kind of actually, maybe a little. But I still feel like he did his own thing and within a way, another trick.
We have talked before about the fact that maybe that moment in ‘Sorry’ became what it became simply because you didn’t make it. Like it was finally a limit to what can be done.
Yeah, I know. I’ve read somewhere that the cool thing about that part was that my last trick wasn’t even a make. Everyone always saves the best trick for last and my last trick was a fail. But after my attempts I always thought that, well it’s still there and I know that it’s possible. But you know I wanted to skate other things. I’d jumped down a lot of things and I felt like do other stuff and then it just never happened. I wanted to skate “clean” stuff, ha-ha!
Have you ever thought of a particular person that you thought would try it, or that you wanted to try it?
I always thought that Diego (Buccheri) would do it. But I know he went there a couple of times and was just, “No way, you’re insane. I don’t want to do this“. At one time Fred was trying to put the pressure on me, saying that Jamie Thomas was going there to do it. I heard that some crazy Scottish dude had rolled up to it then tried to jump down it without a board and got really hurt. Broke both of his legs or something? I’ve also been told that the Element guys had been there and claimed that “Man, Nyjah is going to kickflip it..” And I just thought, “yeah right”. But I guess if it’s possible to ollie it, I guess you can kickflip it? I don’t know. But I don’t think anyone would want to kickflip that thing really. But as soon as I saw Jaws entering the whole bomb drop scene I kind of knew that he would do it eventually.
But do you think one of the reasons why people maybe would like to let this particular spot be “untouched” could be that he might as well have jumped down bigger stuff already? I mean it’s not like people measures the exact height or length with a ruler?
They actually did. They measured the thing. It was weird. But I asked him that. Haven’t you probably done bigger things than this? And he said, “I don’t know, maybe? Have you?” And I was like, I don’t know? I’ve never measured spots, just tried to see if it was possible. But they actually took the measurements of the stair.
Do you know how many tries it took to finally make it?
I think Fred told me that, all together including both occasions he had like 13 something tries but I’m not completely sure.
Every try wearing those thin vulcanized Dekline outsoles?
Oh! That was another thing! He had like a padded suit underneath his clothes. That was kind of funny. Some sort of elbow pads, knee pads, hip protection, special insoles and stuff. So after he’d made it, Fred was filming him getting all that stuff off and was standing beside him and I said “Whoa? You had all that shit underneath? And he responded, “Yeah man, it’s my armor“. Then Fred turned to me and asked: “What did you have Ali“?
“Me? Umm, a hangover?”
If you want to read more about what Ali is up to these days, then swing by Aliboulala.com and tell him to post more stuff.