Bold, stylish and unafraid to show off, the diminutive Swede is one of skateboarding’s great hopes. However, for the 18-year-old Malmö native, there’s still something scary about performing for a crowd.

TEXT: Niall Flynn PHOTOGRAPHY: Ulrik Hasemann

Malmö, Sweden’s third-largest city, clings to the southwestern edge of the country like it’s afraid of falling off. It has a population of around 340,000 (give or take) and a 16th century castle that I’m told is genuinely lovely. It’s also, by and large, one of the most skate-friendly places in the world.

See, while the likes of Barcelona, Paris and Berlin have been busy reigning supreme as Europe’s trendy, go-to spots for travelling skateboarders, Malmö – with its lovely castle – has been busy getting to work. Today, it boasts a plethora of enviable skateparks, community initiatives, as well as a real, tangible alliance between skaters and their pedestrian counterparts that’s as strong as anywhere in the world. There’s even an official Skateboarding Coordinator in City Hall. 

It’s living proof that if you can convince the relative bodies to invest in a city’s skateboarding (and, speaking more generally, its young people), this is what’s possible: a buoyant, collaborative space, home to an exciting, youthful population that respects the place because, in turn, it respects them right back. 

When it comes to illustrating those triumphs in real terms, 18-year-old Vans pro skateboarder Karl Berglind seems like a good place to start.

The Berglind family made the move from Stockholm to Malmö when Karl was around four years old. Upon arriving in the city, his father, Johan – already a keen surfer – decided that it was high time, at 39, to take up skateboarding. So, when it came to young Karl and his two brothers (one older, one younger) spending time with their dad, it usually meant being at the skatepark. 

“I remember my dad picking me up from kindergarten, then we’d just go to a skatepark straight after,” Karl says, speaking in the gravelly monotone reserved for guys in their late teens. “So I told him I wanted a board too, and he was like, ‘Okay, I’ll get you a board.’ I probably learned to skate when I was four-and-a-half.” 

Today, Karl is a shining example of Malmö’s impressive status as city of skate. Having started his career at just 10 years old, the quick, technical rider is already a two-time winner at the Swedish National Championships. And, as one of the newest additions to the Vans Europe team, he’s a certified Next Big Thing, with a burgeoning reputation that extends way further than his country of birth. 

But it hasn’t always been effortless. When Karl, a self-christened “shy kid”, first began skating all those years ago, the thought of climbing onto a board in front of people was unthinkable (“when I was younger, I couldn’t manage to learn to skate at all. I was too shy, I just hated skating when there was a lot of people around”). It wasn’t long before he decided to quit in favour of hockey: a nice team sport where the focus on him wasn’t nearly as intense.

After four years, he eventually gravitated back to the skatepark (largely due to the influence of his father, who Karl describes as his “idol”). But, despite his progression, the nerves never really went away. “I’ve been competing since I was like 11, but I was never the kid to get super good results in contests,” he says. “I had a really hard time skating in them – and I still do. I think it’s scary having that many people watching just you.” 

It’s something that he’s had to learn to live with. While he recognises the luxury his talent affords him (he averages two or three trips abroad per month thanks to skateboarding), the anxiety that comes with pre-competition preparation is ever-present. “It hasn’t held me back,” he says, “but it’s still scary. I still get super nervous and anxious before a competition.”

For Karl – pint-sized, floppy-haired and boyishly handsome – the boldness he exhibits while riding doesn’t necessarily reflect his off-the-board persona. In conversation, he’s reserved, modest and thoughtful, a striking contrast to the larger-than-life personas that pro skating so often attracts. To some extent, it’s probably the Malmö in him. 

“We don’t have a crazy amount of skaters here,” he says, assessing the rise of his city. “We have one skate shop, which is surprising, as well. But we [do] have super good parks and people who care about it. Malmö has really sculpted my style, and me, I would say.” 

While most parents would have raised their eyebrows, Karl’s family reacted with excitement when he revealed his intention to leave school at 16 and pursue a career in skateboarding (“they were stoked”). But, in an age of ‘skate coach’ mom and dads, the support that Karl has received from his folks is just that: support, not added pressure. “I skate for me and no one else," he says. "I can express myself through my board, it’s just me.”  

The point is this: To Karl, his family and the people of Malmö, skating is so entrenched in the city that the two have become indistinguishable. To try and present skateboarding as anything other than a facet of the everyday is to risk missing the point entirely.

Karl Berglind may be a living, breathing example of the city’s commitment to nurturing talent, but he’s also symbolic of a much larger effort – to fuse skate culture with the city’s day-to-day running. Wherever he is in the world, however he’s feeling, skateboarding’s a part of that. He’s quietly getting on with what he knows. Anything else would be strange. 

“I feel like you could ask a lot of skaters about their defining moments and they’d say, ‘Oh, the time I got first in this contest’ – or something like that,” he says. “But honestly, for me, it’ll always just be a regular day at the skatepark. That’s where I’m most happy, at home. Just any other day.”

Read more stories from This Is Off The Wall, an editorial partnership from Huck and Vans.

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