Ride the bowl with a Vespa from JC Pieri on Vimeo.
The Dogtown and Z-Boys from Southern California, chronicled in the eponymous documentary, famously used to drain pools and skate the bowls that revealed themselves. It became the advent of the current monster ramps that dominate today’s big-air skateboarding ethos. The Dogtown and Z-Boys happened 30 some years ago, but now, with the success of things like the X-Games and Tony Hawk video games, there are more ample opportunities to skate bowl-like structures like the pools the Z-Boys so famously ripped in the late 70’s.
One such venue is the Bowl of Marseille. It’s a skatepark that’s home to plenty of street skaters that wanted an area to shred without the hassle of commuter traffic. In the fall of 2011, one man decided to flip the script for what was permissible in a skatepark.
Mostly, it’s the BMX bike riders, skateboarders, in-line skaters and other more traditional means of conveyance attracted by the Marseille Skatepark, but one man wasn’t content with the usual. A man, simply called Boulon, showed up at the Bowl of Marseille, and proceeded to rock the bowl like it had never been rocked before: via motorized scooter.
If you’re unfamiliar with a Vespa, they came about around the time of WWII. The Piaggo Genova company radically altered the landscape of cheap transportation right as the Italian political landscape was also going through paradigm shifts with the conclusion of WWII.
In 1943, the MP5 Paperino was introduced, but it wasn’t until 1946, when the Vespa 98 was unveiled and Piaggo & C. S.p.A. filed a patent with the Central Patents Office for Inventions at the Florence Ministry of Industry and Commerce, when the Vespa was really born. The patent protected “a motor cycle with a rational complex of organs and elements with body combined with the mudguards and bonnet covering all the mechanical parts.” The Vespa was unremarkable, but could be produced on with greater frequency to fit with Piaggo’s business model of large-scale production at cheaper costs to the consumer.
The Vespa has obviously undergone a radical transformation since it’s inception during WWII. The 2006 LX model (as part of the 60th anniversary of the scooter), was sleeker and able to go faster than earlier incarnations without losing the maneuverability many view as the perfect compliment to an urban landscape riddled with potholes, pedestrians and other vehicles.
For anyone that’s been on a Vespa, they’re limited in their capacity to achieve speed or air. It’s designed for younger demographics concerned only with getting from point A to point B cheaply and conveniently. The Vespa is a scooter, not a trick bike. But that hasn’t stopped some like Boulon and, more famously, Nicola L’Impennatore, from pushing the boundaries of what the New York Times called: “a scooter, not a full-sized motorcycle.” It might not possess the speed of a motorcycle, but that doesn’t mean it can’t push down barriers for what we think a simple scooter can do.
The Vespa isn’t designed for tricks, and its tendency to wobble can lead to some interesting and sometimes dangerous wipeouts. That’s why incorporating inclined planes like the Bowl of Marseille is so dangerous. The limited propulsion method of the Vespa means jumps on the bowl ride are mild (and therefore trickier to produce) when compared to the BMX bikers or motorcycles that pack more punch. A Vespa is meant to casually stroll along the roadways ceding the street to larger cars and bikes; it’s meant to deliver food orders to your home; it wasn’t designed for the extreme moves initially implemented by the progenitors of bowl-riding, the Dogtown and Z-Boys of Southern California.
Boulon wasn’t interested in the history or the status-quo of a Vespa. He wasn’t laying some grand claim to the Vespa or what it can do on the stunt circuit. He just wanted to ride the Bowl of Marseille, and that’s exactly what he did. The next time you see someone riding a Vespa, most likely on a city street near you, remember that an Adrenalist decided to bring that slowly-chugging scooter to the Bowl of Marseille. While skaters looked on, or grabbed the scooter for a ride, Boulon shredded the bowl like it was a natural fit for the Italian scooter. It isn’t, but we applaud him for putting the Vespa in a new light: one the Adrenalist can appreciate.