Sarajevo Rising

Sarajevo, Bosnia

Words: Marko Grilc

Photos: Cyril Müller

I reached into my pocket, took out 40 euros and slipped it between the first couple pages of my passport before closing the passport and handing it over to the policeman at the Bosnian border. I did not have international insurance for my car but the officer assured me that in Bosnia, there is not a problem that cannot be fixed…

Ethan Morgan

It was evident at that point that we were in for one hell of a trip, but I had no clue what were getting ourselves into. As soon as you cross the border you enter a new world, so wild, so different, a bit sad, but so cool and joyous at the same time. 

We’d heard tales of the magic street spots in Sarajevo a number of times and we’d been planning on filming a “Grilosode” there for the past three seasons, but the tough snow situation in recent years prevented such a mission from really working out. But this year, on the third of January, it snowed just enough, presenting us with a now-or-never opportunity. I quickly got Zak Hale on the phone and he hit me with an impromptu, “Getting on a plane in Los Angeles now. I will be there tomorrow. Sage Kotsenburg is coming with me and let’s hit up Ethan Morgan, as well.” I was equally thrilled by his commitment to making this happen and shocked at how quickly I was going to have to work to get everything ready. We were about to have an insane crew going to an insane place.

Sarajevo is a city like no other in this world. As we drove in, our guide directed our attention out the window saying, “This bridge is where the first World War was started.” I glanced over at the boys with a dropped jaw. He continued, “This building is from the time we hosted the 1984 Olympics and at that point it was recognized worldwide for its amazing modern facilities and the beauty of the city.” He told us how its position in between the mountains makes it a perfect ski town and the pride of former Yugoslavia and its leader at the time, Josip Broz Tito. He pointed out a river on our left that separated the two sides fighting in the Yugoslavian War of 1991. It is a war that’s still visible every step you take in Sarajevo. Twenty years later, bullet and grenade holes remain in buildings across the city. It is easy to spot the locations where snipers sat and shot at their targets. Our guide, Jadran, was a kid at that point but remembers those years very well. He told how Serbians living in Bosnia surrounded the city, trapping them inside. A tunnel built under the airport, two kilometers long and one and a half meters wide, extended toward the Bosnian side and provided the only way in and out. He said they didn’t have any food, electricity or water for four years and that the only place you could get anything transported into the city was through that tunnel. The whole city was left without a single peace of wood because they would use anything they could light to make fire in the cold winter nights. 

At that point money no longer had any value, and any work one did was paid for in cigarettes. The soldiers fighting would get a pack of cigarettes as payment, which they would trade for food or anything else they might have needed.  Jadran and his mom used the “tunnel of hope” to escape the city, but his dad had to stay back and defend Sarajevo. No man that could carry a gun was allowed to leave. That was the rule. 

Marco greased pockets and flipped his world view

They would send him packages with food and their pictures from their new home in Austria and his dad told them he got a jar of mayonnaise one time and since he hadn’t had a decent meal in so long, he downed the whole jar like it was a can of beer. Many people died in that war, but luckily his dad made it out alive. I asked Jadran what they did after the war and he said they moved straight back to Sarajevo, leaving the Austrian Alps behind. He also said firmly: “I am a man of Sarajevo. I love this city and will never leave it.”

Putting their embattled past aside, the locals of Sarajevo were the friendliest people we have ever met, consistently cracking jokes and messing with each other to keep up the good spirits. It made me so happy to be there because if they can be so stoked after all they have been through, we had to max out our stoke level. 

We travel the world all the time and once in a while you come somewhere and you say to your self; “Damn this place looks like someone made it for snowboarding”. The Arlberg, Whistler’s backcountry, Quebec City are those top locations and I got that exact hyped feeling driving into Sarajevo. The whole place is on a hill and I don’t know why, but they build a rail for every single set of stairs that are there. There are street spots one after another, enough to film three video parts and spend three seasons just hitting those locations.

Zak Hale back 270 boardslide in this unlikely shred wonderland

The first zone we sessioned was an old Olympic bobsled track. It was partially destroyed in the war but there were sections of it that had wall-ride potential. The modern graffitis with old Sarajevo themes, reminded us of the nation’s past. I was standing at the drop in for the wall ride and Jadran looked at me and said, “You see this 20cm x 20cm hole here? This is where they put the gun through. The concrete bank of the bobsled track offered perfect protection.” I dropped an “Oh my god,” and dropped into the wall ride.

After that we worked our way through the city, hitting a few drops, spending a good amount of time at the stadium, where there was a gap-to-down rail setup. We were winching into this thing like we were hitting a jump. Sage landed a perfect tail grab to front board before a police car pulled up, out of which stepped two huge officers with their guns loaded, ready to rock. After a long talk, they explained that someone reported us as terrorists who were trespassing at this stadium. Once again, we put some euros in the driving license, but this interaction required additional measures. Because someone called it in, we also had to pretend like they were are arresting us. We had to drive out of there behind the police car, making it look like we were going to the police station. They waved us off after two kilometers. 

We grew a bit worried as the snow in Sarajevo began to melt, but Jadran quelled the panic, reminding us, “there are plenty of spots up high in the mountains.” He took us straight to the a hotel on Mount Igman, built as one of the most modern places in the world for the ‘84 Olympics, before it served as a headquarters for the Bosnian army during the war. The place was all burned down and ridden with bullet holes and grenade destruction, but it was one of the sickest spots I have seen in a while. Every little peace of concrete had riding potential and we ended up bagging a lot there, just working around it from one side to the other. Rumor has it that the place haunted now and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was. From the glamorous ‘80s, where the rich drank champagne while watching the Olympics, to the cold nights or war time when brave man tried to figure out how to get their city back, all the way to Zak Hale doing this huge wall ride over the gap. The hotel on Mount Igman has seen a lot and it has the right to have a few ghosts hanging around. 

Sage Kotsenburg

On our last day, after snowboarding from dawn to dusk, enjoying the trip of a lifetime, the crew went for dinner at one of the best restaurants in town. We devoured amazing traditional food, mostly meat-based dishes, and paid half the amount you would in most other places. Afterwards we headed into to town to get a taste of the party scene, at which point I realized there is no playing around with the Bosnians. We were about three bottles of vodka in and I looked over as our filmer Mark was talking to this hot chick with long black hair. I started looking around the place and it hit me, I just couldn’t help to wonder how it is possible that the people here were so stoked, friendly and at the end happy, at least from where I was standing it sure seemed so. A place with a lot of highs but also the worst lows holds some magic, that no one can understand. This beautiful city in the mountains of Bosnia, that has the potential of becoming a world famous snowboarding destination, is a jewel in the Balkans. 

The trumpet noises mixed with a lot of bass were coming out of the speakers, as the black out was approaching me with rapid speed. We had to say later to this amazing place and this trip of a lifetime.  

I started looking around and couldn’t help but admire how stoked, friendly and happy the people were. At least that’s how it looked from my perspective. This place has had a lot of highs and endured some of the worst lows but holds a magic that is hard to understand. This beautiful city in the mountains of Bosnia, with the potential of becoming a world famous snowboard destination, is a jewel in the Balkans.

Marco Grilc

We grew a bit worried as the snow in Sarajevo began to melt, but Jadran quelled the panic, reminding us, “there are plenty of spots up high in the mountains.” He took us straight to the a hotel on Mount Igman, built as one of the most modern lodges in the world for the ‘84 Olympics, before it served as a headquarters for the Bosnian army during the war. The place was all burned down and ridden with bullet holes and grenade destruction, but it was one of the sickest spots I have seen in a while. Every little piece of concrete had riding potential and we ended up bagging a lot there, just working around it from one side to the other. Rumor has it that the place is haunted now and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was.