Photos by Zee at Motionstoppers.
Wow, that was quite a weekend. The good music, the bad dancing, the downright ugly Christmas jumpers and not one, but two sick snowboard competitions combined to create a seriously special atmosphere at the London Freeze Festival.
In the run-up to this year's event, some suspected (perhaps not unreasonably) that in moving from the grimey environs of Battersea Power Station to the more genteel surroundings of Clapham Common, Freeze would lose a bit of its vibe. Certainly when the organisers revealed that this year's festival wouldn't feature a Big Air contest there were a few rumbles of discontent online.
But after several days' build-up (most of the bars and the entire retail village were open for the 'apres work' crowd from Wednesday onwards) the climax of the festival on Saturday night was epic enough to silence even the loudest critics.
Arriving after dark on the Saturday evening Whitelines saw the festival before we heard it - two enormous blinking fairground rides towered above the line of Clapham Common's oak trees, beckoning revellers towards the festival arena.
That fairground rides have not previously been a feature of Freeze tells you something about the direction the organisers are trying to take the festival in. There was (they said as much in their pre-publicity) a definite attempt to turn this into something with a bit more mainstream, crossover appeal - making it more of an alpine-themed festival than a snowboard contest with music afterwards.
You wouldn't usually expect us (as a snowboard mag) to be in favour of this move. But a lot of Londoners apparently were, and we have to say the shift in focus - combined with an arena that was way smaller than the spawling (and sometimes empty feeling) tarmac of Battersea Power Station carpark - made the whole thing feel more like a packed out party than in previous years.
This heightened atmosphere also had a positive effect on the snowboarding. While the loss of the big air might have seemed like a blow, replacing it with rail jams meant that the crowd was properly caught up in the action - pressing right up against the fence of the run out area.
This year's Freeze was more of an alpine-themed festival than a snowboard contest with music afterwards.
And while the overall numbers might not have been as big, those who were watching were much more enthusiastic and involved than in previous years - a core group who really knew and cared about what was going on instead of people just waiting to cheer the first dude to do a backflip.
WHITELINES BATTLE OF BRITAIN
Things kicked off with the ever-popular Whitelines Battle of Britain - which pits the best riders in the UK against each other in a bid to win prize money and a place in the later international competition. Alongside the usual suspects like Andy Nudds, Ollie Dutton, Gaz Andrews and Will Smith, a few up-and-coming names had been added to the invite list too, with Matt Higson (whose part in this year's Grindhouse movie is a belter), Nathan Onions, Jason Rickwood and Matt Corry joining in the fray. Meanwhile Sean Tumelty, last year's Cinderella story finalist, had also deservedly received an invite to return.
The standard was high right from the off, with the set-up practically begging the riders to try transfer combos. A close-out rail to drop led to a giant Sure deodorant can (yep, they were sponsoring the whole thing) with a down-flat down and a down bar on the stairset next door.
Gaz Andrews was rinsing out, throwing down steezy 270s on and off, while Sparrow Knox - fresh from winning the Shoreditch Showdown rail jam last week - was showing his customary disregard for his own personal safety, attacking everything in sight. MC's Lucas Bramall and Scott Penman called out tricks as well as abuse, and got the crowd good and hyped.
With 10 riders going through to the final showdown, the judges job wasn't an easy one. But the chosen riders were a nice mix of those you might expect and a few lesser-known faces. But while the 10 battled fiercely, it was three familiar faces - Andy Nudds, Gaz Andrews and Ollie Dutton - who eventually came out on top. The way the three of them rode though they would have taken some beating.
HAIL THE RAIL INTERNATIONAL JAM
All three, plus Sparrow Knox and Rowan Coultas, earned themselves a ticket to ride in the International 'Hail The Rail' competition, which took place later in the evening. There they met the likes of Denis Leontyev, Toni Kerkala, Len Jorgensen and Kas Lemmens (who'd had their faces painted especially for the occasion) as well as our very own Jamie Nicholls.
Len Jorgensen was absolutely rinsing out, chucking in not just 270 gap to front boards on the down-flat-down, but the occasional one-footer - all with his batman facepaint intact. Meanwhile his mate Kas, his face painted like Heath Ledger's Joker, was also getting stuck in. Denis threw a couple of crowd-pleasing frontflips over the close-out and onto the Sure can, and Nuddsy, Gaz Andrews and Sparrow all attacked the set-up with a will, with Nuddsy's solid-as-fook style standing out in particular.
But in the end none of them could match the might of Jamie Nicholls. The Yorkshireman was on mission right from the off, throwing down all sorts of crazy combos (including back boards on the close out then gapping to back board on the down-flat-down!) before scampering up the stairs faster than almost anyone else for his next hit. His hit rate, and the sheer technicality of his tricks (450s on like it ain't no thang!) made him the clear favourite all the way through, and with the home-town crowd cheering his every run, he was eventually crowned a very popular winner.
By the time the contest was over Whitelines, who'd been assiduously "soaking up" the party atmosphere (in the interests of journalistic research obviously), was properly hyped and more than happy to stagger off with the rest of the crowd towards the main tent, where French electro wunderkind Madeon was just starting his set.
We won't bore you with the details of the rest. To be honest we can't remember them that clearly anyway. But judging by the expressions on the faces of the retro-rental-wearing, jaeger-fuelled, fist-pumping ravers, most people felt that Freeze had well and truly smashed it. Here's to more of the same next year!
FREEZE FESTIVAL 2014 RESULTS
WHITELINES BATTLE OF BRITAIN
1st Andy Nudds
2nd Gaz Andrews
3rd Ollie Dutton
HAIL THE RAIL INTERNATIONAL JAM
1st Jamie Nicholls
2nd Denis Leontyev
3rd Kas Lemmens