Skateboarders in North Korea Crash Kim Il Sung's Birthday Celebration

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Prohibited from skating, a crew of videomakers traveling in Pyongyang turned their cameras on the April 15 festivities surrounding Kim Il Sung's birthday. The result is a color-saturated, impressionistic look at the fanfare -- pretty much what you would expect a travel diary shot in the style of a skate video to look like. They manage to get one shot of skating in, right at the end of the piece. Patrik Wallner, who shot and edited the video, describes the experience in a brief interview below. 

The Atlantic: What is Visual Traveling? Is it an ongoing project?

Patrik Wallner: VisualTraveling is my website. It mainly contains skateboarding content that I filmed and photos I took from the past six years from different parts of the world, but mainly from Asia. 

What brought you to North Korea? 

North Korea has been one of those places that just kept me really curious for the past years. Once I found out a couple years ago that it was possible to visit for a short visit, I was intrigued by the idea to go within the hermit kingdom and see what possibilities there would be with skateboarding. I went for the first time with professional skateboarder, Kenny Reed in 2010, and tried my luck again mid April, 2012, to see what has changed since Kim Jong-il’s death.

Were you allowed to skateboard at all? 

Freedom is very restricted within the DPRK. You cannot enter the country with a cell phone, you can't talk to local civilians, you can't leave the hotel, you have a secret police officer next to you the entire time, they check your photos when leaving by train, etc. Skateboarding is very harmless in the eyes of the North Koreans, but it’s not tolerated. They kept referring to it as “nonsense,” meaning skateboarding wasn't accepted, and would be denied in most places, especially at any war memorials or statues of the Kims -- places that have marble stairs, ledges, ramps, obstacles that are essential for skateboarding.

What is the music you used for the soundtrack?

While you are within the DPRK, you can shop. Since you can't leave the hotel at night, you can go to karaoke bars, and shops within the hotel. CDs and DVDs are some of the random things you are allowed to purchase. One of the CDs I bought had this song that stuck in my head and worked out well with the footage I captured.


Holy Cow, shot and edited by Patrik Wallner, features Walker Ryan, Laurence Keefe, Michael Mackrodt and Kenny Reed skating through South Asia.

What's next for you?

VisualTraveling has been a project going on for years, traversing Asia on skateboards via ground transportation. We have done trips from Moscow to Hong Kong, Saigon to Mandalay, Bangladesh to Sri Lanka, all avoiding flights. So the next trip is just around the corner, following the Silk Road. We will set off from Beijing in early May and make our way to Ashgabat, Turkmenistan. Stay tuned to visualtraveling.com for more information.

For more videos by Patrik Wallner, visit http://visualtraveling.com/.

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Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg is the executive producer for video at The AtlanticMore

Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg's work in media spans documentary television, advertising, and print. As a producer in the Viewer Created Content division of Al Gore's Current TV, she acquired and produced short documentaries by independent filmmakers around the world. Post-Current, she worked as a producer and strategist at Urgent Content, developing consumer-created and branded nonfiction campaigns for clients including Cisco, Ford, and GOOD Magazine. She studied filmmaking and digital media at Harvard University, where she was co-creator and editor in chief of H BOMB Magazine.

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