Where are all the Lizards? – Independent Trucks in Gran Canaria

07.02.2022 Exclusive, Features
Josh Young, frontside nollie heelflip, Las Palmas. This took Josh a couple of hours and I spent that time alone, under a tree, far from the others. A pigeon (Columba livia) shat on me.

Words: Charleson
Photography & captions: Kingsford

The monstrous, red-tiled wall loomed over me
For many, travelling the world is the greatest boon of skateboarding sponsorship. Skateboarders in the past have talked at great length about the excitement of trying new cuisines, exploring different cultures, foreign swearing and exotic local nectars. However, with the exception of skateboarding and desserts, I find the local fauna of the country I’m visiting to be the most exciting aspect of travelling abroad.

The Canary Islands are of particular interest to science for their flora. The adaptive radiation of plant species and their variations from island to island make them the botanical mirror of the Galápagos Islands. That being said, I’m not that into plants, and the only plants of any interest to the other guys on this trip were those that could be rolled up and smoked.

I did a little digging and found that the Canary Islands are home to their own genus of lizards known as Gallotia in which almost every island has its own endemic species of Canary Islands giant lizard. The Gran Canaria giant lizard (Gallotia stehlini) is the only species not critically endangered. These large, grey reptiles can grow to almost a metre in length. One Gran Canaria tourism website even states that there is no possible way to miss them if you are out walking and that they will happily gorge themselves on any titbits thrown their way. I pictured an island crawling with huge, hungry lizards, which would serve as a great distraction from skateboarding.

On the first skate day, after picking up Manhead from the airport (who had missed two flights due to vaccine passport complications) we drove down to the southern side of the island to skate some brick waves and an up-ledge that has featured in many skate videos over the years. Not being too keen on either spot, I spent considerable time hunting for lizards, but to no avail. I did find a large web with an intricate two-tier web system tightly spun in a rectangular pattern and containing a tropical tent-web spider (Cyrtophora citricola) in a cone in the centre. So that was something. Dougie, Dan, Manhead and Jak cleaned up, putting the hurt on both spots.

Jak Pietryga, switchheelflip, Maspalomas. Jak, the undisputed trip MVP, broke his foot on the last day. Get well soon Jak.
Dougie George, boardslide (from bank), Maspalomas. This small park full of banks is located on a ridge overlooking the Maspalomas sand dunes at the southern end of the island. It was a pleasant place to spend our first afternoon.

By the second day, as the guys continued to clip up, we had slipped into a routine of finishing dinner and heading to the beach. Here the group would make various smoked observations about the small, white sanderlings (Calidris alba) that would dash along the water’s edge and try to befriend a tiny mouse (Mus musculus), which never seemed to stray far from our group each night. Finally, just shy of the halfway mark (and still without a lizard sighting), we made plans to visit the first of a few spots that I’d been dying to skate for the best part of a decade. The first was a steep, red vert wall that I’d first spied in an old Sidewalk article. Here, Ben Raemers had shot a mayday, which back then (and when faced with the spot in person) seemed genuinely impossible. I had since seen it crop up every now and then in magazines and videos, taunting me. This, along with the famous blue quarters painted like waves, long perfect ledges banked on either end and the perfect, red marble out-ledges across some stairs were on the agenda for the next couple of days. I’d wanted to skate these spots for years and the tricks I’d envisioned trying on this trip were geared pretty much exclusively towards them.

First we warmed up at a famous spot with gentle grey transitions and enormous steep hips. Here a few monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) drifted lazily through the air, seemingly unperturbed by the energetic humans shooting around the plaza. After banking a trick and breaking the seal, I was ready to tackle the spot I’d waited so many years to skate. After a few cautious carves that tickled the top, I settled on a trick and went for it, pumping up the transition.

My leg felt like it had ripped in half. I lay on the pavement in agony and unable to walk as the muscles in my calf solidified into knots. The monstrous, red-tiled wall loomed over me, undefeated.

The remainder of the week was spent hobbling around after the others, watching them either annihilate or ignore the spots I’d wanted to skate for years. As I started to regain mobility, I tried the occasional, half-hearted search for lizards, but even in the mountainous, rocky habitats surrounding a secluded full pipe, I saw and heard none. I was living in a pair of Vpormax faux-Nike / faux-adidas hybrid sliders and filthy jorts, while consuming my weight in ice cream daily, slowly making my way through the 30 flavours at the counter. Apart from that, all I could do was watch. The daily outfit and the daily routine.

No lizards. No satisfaction or success after a decade of waiting. Never get your hopes up for anything, because they’ll be dashed on the rocks like an unprepared snorkeller on Las Canteras beach. For me, this Indy trip was a different kind of hellride.

Conor Charleson, frontside treeride, Las Palmas. The effort and skill it took Conor to ollie up the ledge at speed before performing this trick should not be underestimated. 

It was the final day, a few hours before our flight home. I was standing up to my navel in the cool water of the Atlantic, watching a shoal of white seabream (Diplodus sargus) fight to devour what I’d coughed up into the  sea. Bemused and horrified, I was snapped back to reality when Alan Glass (trip manager, organiser and financier, who I should probably have mentioned earlier) doggy paddled up to me. “Remember this,” he said. “When you’re back in London tomorrow morning freezing your bollocks off, remember this moment.”

I took a moment to appreciate where I was and in truth, it really was an amazing moment. Mid-November, I was in crystal-clear water surrounded by fish, about to have breakfast with a group of good friends, all while the sun beat down on us with the same intensity that bakes the Sahara. A flood of equally awesome moments throughout the week rushed back to me: stumbling upon a bizarre Ford Fiesta car rally in the mountains, eating the best tapas of my life surrounded by dramatic, volcanic landscapes, watching the people I was on the trip with go through battles and succeed. We swam every morning and drank on the beach every night. Expectations be damned. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

Watch Jumpy, the accompanying edit by Alan Glass & Tom Gammage, here.

Jak Pietryga, switch frontside heelflip, Playa del Confital. While the others struggled to ollie this gap located at a popular surf spot just outside Las Palmas, Jak reeled off trick after trick. 
Dan Fisher-Eustance, frontside 360, Las Palmas. We spent a lot of time at a manual spot next to these stairs, which would usually be a photographer’s nightmare, but I was content sunbathing, looking for crabs with Conor and watching the surfers. 
Dougie George, frontside kickflip, Presa de Tirajana. After skating here, we discovered that the road through the mountains back to the coast was closed for a rally, leaving us two hours to kill. Luckily we found a small, family-run tapas restaurant in a nearby village and enjoyed by far the best meal of the trip.