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FOUR SEASONS: MACASKILL’S MEGA-SKILLS

Published: The Scotsman (TSMag) 4 December 2010

THE term is overused, but Danny MacAskill is a true internet phenomenon. As of 18 April 2009 he was a ludicrously talented but completely unknown 23-year-old trials bike enthusiast, living in Edinburgh and regularly using the city’s monkey-puzzle streetscape as a giant concrete playpark. He could ride up tree trunks, pogo off park benches and float through mid-air spins in ways that seemed to defy gravity – yet nobody outside the biking world had ever heard of him.

Then, on 19 April 2009, his flatmate Dave Sowerby posted a short film of his exploits on YouTube and everything changed. By 20 April, the film – sponsored by Inspired Bicycles and simply entitled April 2009 – was spreading around cyberspace like the measles. By 21 April it had received over 350,000 views. By the end of the month that figure was 3 million. At the time of going to press, it is fast approaching the 22 million mark.

In the months after his big breakthrough, the question MacAskill seemed to be asked most frequently in interviews was “what will you do next?” and more than once he spoke of his wish to shoot a film on his native Skye. Sure, he went on to make a music video with Doves and yeah, he did that VW Golf ad, but these were merely distractions. What his fans really wanted to see was the follow-up to April 2009 – the difficult second album. Well, in the middle of last month it finally arrived, and it was more than worth the wait.

In Way Back Home – expertly filmed by Sowerby once again, with help from Mark Huskisson – MacAskill makes a meandering journey from Edinburgh to Skye, using some of the most spectacular scenery in Scotland as a backdrop for his riding.

To the insistent stomp of Wax and Wire by Loch Lomond (a band who, despite their name, actually hail from Portland, Oregon), MacAskill somersaults off the ramparts of Edinburgh Castle before tearing up North Berwick harbour, then waits patiently for low tide before launching an unbelievable back-flip off a huge, ramp-shaped piece of driftwood.

A change in the soundtrack signals a change of pace. To A Little Piece by The Jezabels – a moody, sweeping epic of a song – MacAskill takes a boat trip to Inchgarvie Island in the Firth of Forth and gives his imagination free rein, leaping and spinning around the decaying Second World War fortifications in a sort of mad, lonely, post-apocalyptic ballet. Next, the formidable arches of the Cruachan Dam hove into view, and he has fun bouncing around the buttresses and surfing the structure’s steeply sloping sides.

Then, finally, it’s back to Skye, where he wall-rides a whitewashed croft, hops off a few roofs and cheekily rolls along the top of a section of fence outside a police station before cruising through sunlit meadows towards his childhood home.

It’s a mindblowing film – seven minutes and 43 seconds of concentrated adrenaline and joy – but what does it mean? What, as one sour-faced post on YouTube demands, is the point? Some will say Way Back Home demonstrates the power of the internet to create a level playing field where true talent will out; others will suggest it further blurs the line between non-competitive sports and art. But surely the most significant thing about this film is that it shows yet another of Scotland’s top extreme athletes choosing to stay at home in order to practice their chosen discipline.

In 2004, Chris Noble’s part in the surf film Cold Rush showed him surfing gigantic, world-class waves at Thurso East – a vindication of his decision to move to a house on the point there to hone his tube-riding skills, rather than relocating to California or Hawaii. In 2006, Dave MacLeod proved himself one of the greatest climbers in the world, not by travelling to the Alps or the Andes, but by scaling an apparently impossible route called Rhapsody on Dumbarton Rock. And in the spring of 2008, Olympic snowboarder Lesley McKenna drew stunning lines on the Cairn Gorm Headwall – captured on camera by local snapper Euan Baxter – and declared that, on its day, the skiing in Scotland can be as good as anywhere in the world. If MacAskill – and the Noughties – have taught us anything, it’s that we live in one of the greatest adventure playgrounds on Earth.

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