Interviews like this one feel personal. Not only do we share the same nickname, but I have known Jojo Jacobi, the man behind Winterclash, since before he organized the first edition of the globally renowned competition series, when he actually visited one of the real street competitions I was throwing in the early 2000s. We shared more than a few drinks, went out and partied relentlessly and did stuff for rollerblading. I’m just not sure if we actually ever skated together.
Jochannes, which is Jojo’s given name, is actually a very soft spoken man, quiet and kind, his personality standing in strong juxtaposition to the chaos that is Winterclash. With this being the 13th edition of the comp, Jojo has become older and wiser, not falling for the same traps as he did years ago. While some of you might find his perspective a bit gloom and pessimistic, don’t be fooled. His incredible love for rollerblading keeps both him and the event going, and luckily, will keep it going in the years to come. He’s a man who knows where he’s coming from and where he’s going. Just looking at him is like feeling the pulse of where rollerblading is going. So, here’s the Jojo Jacobi interview, discussing Winterclash and the path it led him to.
Intro and interview: Josip Jagić
Portrait: Olfert Poelen
Photography: Matthew Jasztremski
I was at the 2006 Winterclash for the first time, and then haven’t been to one in a decade until 2016. Aside from being 10 years older and this time taking care of the Be-Mag booth instead of the Ignition Cocktail bar, my impression of Winterclash was the same. Insane energy, chaos and love for rollerblading all around. How did you manage to keep the magic? What is it that makes Winterclash so special?
Well, that’s a tough one. But before I get into it: Where the hell have you been in the meantime?
In an interview back in 2006 or 2007, I got asked the same question for the first time. What makes Winterclash so special? Now that I think about it, I guess the answer today is still the same: Controlled chaos.
Today it’s of course a little more complex than back in the Mühlhausen days, but the basic ingredients remain the same. We refuse to run Winterclash as a professionalized competition. Of course, everything is organized in advance, but at a few key positions we allow our self and our visitors a certain freedom, a certain way of freestyling.
If we are not exactly on schedule because one of the riders is going for that one trick, so be it. If the crowd is starting a party and moving towards the obstacle to be close to the action, well that’s how we want our finals to be. We want Winterclash to be an interaction between riders, our incredible host Miguel, our awesome park rangers and the crowd. We want it to be an over all experience, as pure and unfiltered as possible. That’s only working, if everyone can be a part of it.
Also, we never put the prizemoney too high, to avoid a certain type of behavior and “lets go to war” vibe between the competitors. Of course it’s important who is going to win, but the tricks itself and that special atmosphere are much more important. It’s not an ego show, it’s a blading party. It’s everyone’s blading party!
Tell me something about what we can expect at Winterclash 2018? Both in the competition part and in the side shows?
We are currently working on the new ramp designs and by doing that we will make sure that riders and spectators wont get bored by the competition itself. The ramp additions are playing a major role in keeping the comp exciting and allowing the riders to try something new and push blading in general to a new level.
As for the side-events: Our motto for Winterclash 2018 is “Past Present Future”. We are going to host panels about our history, talk about the current state of blading and of course the future as well. As nothing is 100% sure yet, I cant go into details, but we will release more information about the panels and the people who are going to join them soon. Next to that there might be a photo exhibition, we are thinking about a very special video night, an action packed Thursday evening to get everyone warmed up and of course there’s going to be the usual ones like Best Trick, Best Newcomer, Most Creative Trick and the parties.
Financially, looking at the first Winterclash and today, did you ever expect it to get so hard and to have so much turmoil?
When we started it was all freestyle and without any structure around it. We had no control about how many people would show up, how many people sneaked in and so on. We just went for it and sometimes won and sometimes lost. In 2009 and 2010 things became different because of wanting to professionalize the event itself. We wanted it to become a mega-event and made some terrible decisions. But even if I’m still fucked financially, these mistakes were important in order to be able to look at it from the distance and in order to see what our values are. We understood that Winterclash is a core blading event and not something that belongs in huge event-venues for a mega-public crowd. Once we learned that and once we went back to Area51 Skatepark, we found a way to run everything with much more structure and now the event is run like a small company. That helped to slooowely get out of debt and it was the only logic thing to do in order to keep Winterclash alive and in order to keep doing it without stomach pain year by year. So no, I never expected it to become to hard, but I personally and everyone involved learned a lot from it.
What’s your favorite memory and do you have a favorite Winterclash?
My favorite memory is the time with the crew the week before and during the event. Every year. That’s the best of times. The weekend of Winterclash itself is more running like a high speed movie and it’s hard to lean back and truly enjoy what’s happening. But if I would have to pick one year, it would most probably be 2007. Nothing, really nothing went wrong, every major pro rider was in the building and the level of riding was truly insane for the time.
Afterwards we went back home and life was great and there was nothing to worry about. I miss these carefree days 🙂
My second favorite would be 2013 when Nils Jansons won. He was the last rider to do his last trick and finished the whole event with his 540 ao topsoul. That moment was pure magic. No way that an event can end in a more perfect way.
Aren’t you afraid of getting bored? The people still love it and I see no reason for them to stop loving it, but with little to gain financially, how do you find the motivation to do it year after year?
For as long as we are able to come up with now concepts, new fresh side events and never been done before ramp additions, it will stay interesting for myself as well. Once I get the feeling of being bored, I will rather change something to spice it up again, or make the decision to let it come to an end. As for right now, the event is financially strong and I´m able to pay back debts every year, so that’s great. So as long as people still love it, for as long as we are having fun doing it and for as long as we don’t have to take financial risks again – we are all good to continue.
Business-wise, how hard is it to get outside sponsors for Winterclash? Do you often encounter the question: is rollerblading still a thing?
It is close to impossible. In 14 years of doing it we tried to get outside sponsors and it only happened once by accident. It is complicated because 1. It’s rollerblading and 2. It’s a highly international event. That means that local marketing offices are sending the concept to the heads of international marketing and they send it back to the local division. No one wants to be in charge.
And yes, that questions comes up frequently. And once you show them how blading looks today and how Winterclash looks, they go insane and cant believe it.
Another business question: is there something you could call a business model for Winterclash?
Take a good skatepark with an already existing infrastructure and professional people running it. Sell tickets online and in advance only, to avoid the risk of not knowing how many people will attend. Always expect the worst outcome and be prepared for it. Don’t spend too much money upfront. Don’t do it just because you can. Ask yourself if it’s still fun for your visitors and for yourself. Challenge yourself with adding a side program. Keep it interesting for everyone. Don’t take the event to Berlin and place it in a huge event-venue, thinking you could save blading.
Which sponsors can we expect at next year’s Winterclash?
Grindhouse, LocoSkates, Skatepro, Skatesolution, Kaltik, Be-Mag and Hedonskate are confirmed for sponsoring and tradeshow so far. But we expect many more to join, as most of our friends & partners are with us every year.
We are also working on an idea to pitch Winterclash to outside sponsors one more time. Lets see how that goes.
Is Area 51 the ideal venue for Winterclash, meaning do you think it would be possible to fill a bigger venue with viewers?
Area 51 is the perfect venue for Winterclash. It’s big enough, it’s run by professionals, we can change the course as we like, there are enough hotels and proper public transportation and it’s located close to a huge international airport. Yes, we could fill a bigger venue, but I refuse to take any risks in changing location again for as long as we don’t have to. Let a lone the fact that there is no other indoor park in Europe that officially allows that amount of people inside.
How do you deal with asshole skaters, violence and drug use at Winterclash? As any organized activity with so many people, there’s always bound to be problems?
Every huge group of people contains some assholes. But since 2011 we never had bigger problems. I believe that the vibe at Winterclash is unique and everyone understood that it is up to all of us to make it the best weekend of the year. So why cause drama?!
How do you feel about some of the top pros not coming to the Winterclash in the past few years? As Winterclash still is the most important grassroots rollerblading competition globally, it surely has nothing to do with lack of influence or media coverage?
There are two reasons:
1. Money. Their sponsors simply don’t have the funds to send them over anymore.
2. Pressure. Being one of the top pros and being at Winterclash can be quite challenging. There is no chance to get away, people will be on you all the time. People expect you to skate just like in the videos 10 years ago (which is impossible, since most of them are not used to skate in the middle of such a wild crowd). In combination with reason 1. this is a problem. If you are getting paid properly and if it’s your job to compete and represent and if your flights and hotel is covered – of course you’re going to do it. But if your sponsor cant even pay your flight, it’s a whole different story. You could take the trip yourself and have a good time. But how much of a good time is it really, if everyone is expecting you to skate best you ever skated?
Did you ever consider trying to do a Summerclash in the United States instead of Europe?
No. Summerclash belongs to Mellowpark and Berlin. It is tempting to try something else in another country, but again that would mean taking risks that are hard to calculate – at least if its supposed to be as big as it was in Berlin.
Also, you’re not a member of the judging panel, how many times have you thought to yourself: shit, (insert name here) should have won instead of…
It is impossible to always agree with everything. But that’s why we always had a super awesome team of judges who I totally trust. There have been maybe two or three decisions in the past 10 years that I didn’t agree on. But mostly it wasn’t about the winner, more about someone missing the top 5 or not making it to the finals.
I guess blading is too much a thing of taste – which is good because blading needs to stay diverse. But the more diverse it gets, the more complicated it gets and you cant please everyone.
How important is the support team for Winterclash and would you like to give them a shout out?
The minute that these guys would leave and not be part of it anymore, I would consider stopping Winterclash. Starting with long walks and talks about what direction the next event should take to the times with them in Eindhoven are what brings the joy to it. After all we went through together, I cant imagine doing it without them! I guess this video explains it all: https://vimeo.com/87112306
Jojo, we’ve known eachother ever since before the Winterclash, while you were still on Roces, before Valo. Looking back, what do you think Winterclash made of you, how did dealing with this project in the past years shape you as a person?
When I was 16 and still in school, I wanted to become an eventmanager. My grades were too bad for an education in that field, so I had to work in a shoestore to become a salesman. I know that this was never going to make me happy so I quit 2 months before graduation and put all on one card: Winterclash. Quickly after I got hired by Ignition Skateshop as a event & marketing manager, I got to run Be-Mag for a while, learned a lot about marketing and media and slowly during the years I became addicted with the music festival world as well. Having the experience with Winterclash got me the first small jobs in the new field as well. Now, because of all that experience I got many opportunities and open doors. That’s all because of starting Winterclash and because of learning and growing with it. Without the huge fail in 2010, my life would be perfect today. But even that big fail got its positive notes. So yes, Winterclash shaped me more than anything ever. I learned more than I could’ve ever learned in that eventmanager education and it gave me the confidence to step into undiscovered fields as well. It gave me the confidence to just try and go for it.
How often do you skate, I haven’t seen a clip of you in a while now… still skating Valos?
To be honest, I didn’t put on skates for almost one year. I lost the fun in skating myself and I decided to not be angry about it. Right now, sitting in front of the computer, working on Winterclash and www.hoemepage.com is giving me the exact same joy as skating did before. I am not kidding. And for as long as that is the case, I´m happy.
After so many years, you’re still able to think of new and exciting stuff for Winterclash. I must say, sharing the info on Arlo Eisenberg coming to Holland in 2018 has been one of the highlights of the past few months for me. You already wrote how the Hoedown was a big influence on you, but what does meeting and having Arlo at the Winterclash mean to you personally?
Thanks for the kind words Josip! It is true, Arlo and Hoedown are one of the main reasons to start Winterclash. There is very very few people who had so much impact on blading and what he did with his event, his videos and the marketing behind his brands has been inspiring till today. I cant wait to meet him in Eindhoven and I cant wait to share more news about what we are working on with him.
Summerclash 2018? And why not?
Not sure yet. There is a little chance, but most probably not in 2018. At the moment, not having enough time and not being willing to take the financial risk are the main reasons.
Thanks for the questions and for keeping Be-Mag running Josip! I´m looking forward to seeing you in Holland.