Ralf Merz aka El Marzo is probably one of the most consistant long distance skaters on earth competing in an impressive 17 Ultraskates in Europe and the USA. Based in Berlin Germany, Ralf is also a fashion icon within the community known for sporting colorful outfits and his signature melon helmet on the track. In addition to being an IDSA board member looking over European interests, Ralf hosts his own event every year towards the end of the Summer.
We asked Ralf about FLÄMING RUNDE and his journey that led him to create one of the most unique skateboard races in the world.
The man, the myth, the melon helmet.First and foremost, tell us the basics about Flaming Runde. What is it? How long? What is the track like? When is it? How many years have you done it?
The FLÄMING RUNDE is a 93 km (58 miles) longboard/skateboard race on the Flaeming Skate circuit RK1 (Rundkurs 1). The Flaeming Skate does have various circuits of approximately 230 kilometers (143 miles) of perfectly smooth pavement, so you can skate almost effortlessly. Only 60 kilometers south of Berlin, these tracks are a longboarder’s dream come true and they are definitely unique in Europe. This year will be the 7th annual FLÄMING RUNDE since I made it a longboard race in 2017. Before that, we did skate the RK1, but with pauses for beer and ice cream. The event still attracts both – competitive riders and those who prefer to take it easy. Over the years, we had participants from all over the world, the best longboarders finished this race in about four hours. After the race we all meet in a local beer garden, have a schnitzel and a few cold ones. From 2017 to 2021 the distance of the race was 100 km, which was a combination of RK1 and RK2. To make things easier, I changed that in 2022 and now it is only the RK1 with its 93 km. This year's edition will take place on Aug 26th.
What in your opinion makes it unique from other LDP races around the world?
First, the course is definitely something special. Not only is the pavement almost perfect the entire way, it takes you through the country side through farms, deep forrests and charming little towns. At the same time, it is very challenging with a slight uphill grade for the first 75% or so. The most unique thing about this race is you really need to navigate as there's countless turns and it's very possible to get lost. Most riders upload the course map to their GPS watches and follow way points until completion. As far as I know, this is the only race where navigation is an important component to success.
What should first-timers know about this race before they attempt it?
First-timers can find all necessary information on the Facebook event page, including links to the GPS file for RK1. Having the GPS file uploaded to your watch ahead of time will make your race go much smoother! There is no registration, no need to sign up in advance. The fee one has to pay to be able to participate is a banana. Most important is that you bring a helmet, some food and enough water. You can refill bottles at the cemeteries that are usually located around a church in those Fläming villages. By the way, the region is called Fläming because of the Flemish and Dutch settlers that came here centuries ago.
How has it changed over the years?
This year I will additionally be hosting THE FLOOR IS LAVA in the evening before the FLÄMING RUNDE, a pump-only skateboard race in cooperation with the “Mall of Berlin”, close to Potsdamer Platz in the heart of our capital city. I hope this way we can make more people aware of LDP, the beautiful sport of long-distance skateboarding.
What is your best advice to someone thinking about hosting an IDSA sanction race?
If someone would like to organize an IDSA-sanctioned race it is not that difficult to do so. The organization will provide assistance. The most important things are to be organized and committed to rider safety. The first year is always going to be tough and attendance might be low, but if you provide a good experience, it will get larger every year. While marathon plus distance races get a lot of the attention, 5k and shorter distances are easier to execute and less intimidating for new riders. They are just as important to the ecosystem. One thing we do in Europe is piggy back off of other existing skate events that aren't necessarily for Longboards but we work with them to create a category. If we get 10 people participating, then it's eligible for inclusion in the IDSA rankings/offical results. There's probably a few opporuntities like this in America and around the world that could materialize into a few more races on the calander.
You live in a very busy city. Tell us about the skate scene in Berlin: in general, LDP scene, great routes, skate spots. What’s your best piece of advice for an out-of-towner that wants to enjoy a skate in Berlin?
Indeed, Berlin is a busy city, but we have a few great spots to skate longer distances. The closest to my home is Tempelhofer Feld, a former US Air Force base. It is a public park now, so we can skate on the old runways. Other spots are the Kronprinzessinenweg (along the Autobahn), the Spandauer-Schifffahrtskanal (along a canal) and the Mauerradweg (a cycle route that follows the former wall between West and East Berlin). But since the Flaeming Skate is so close, I advise everyone to at least skate it once. Although Berlin is a bustling city of more than three million people, there are only a handful of LDP skaters here. However, with Stefan Gransow and Holger Witzel we have a few of the best skaters in our local crew. If an out-of-towner plans on coming to Berlin, we are more than happy to join you for a skate session and show you our secret spots.
Tell us about how you discovered skateboarding and how it evolved into a prestigious LDP racing career?
I got my first skateboard when I was a kid, and I still have it. It is made of yellow plastic, almost like a Penny board. While working in Australia some 15 years ago, I got into skating again. I saw a couple of Aussies commuting to the beach on longboards and I was hooked immediately. I studied James Peter’s Pavedwave forum and replaced my front truck with a 5“ Bennett-Vector. A few years later I signed up for my first Ultraskate (Miami 2014). Since then, I have done 17 Ultraskates in Miami, the Netherlands and the UK, covering over 3160 miles in total.
Bonus Question: What was the most memorable skate session you’ve ever had? OR Bucketlist skate spot/trip?
The most memorably skate session I have ever had was a FLÄMING SKATE that ended in a really heavy thunderstorm. We got so much rain in a very short amount of time that the trail got flooded and our boards disappeared underwater. I am still waiting for the first Asian Ultraskate to happen. I would love to skate there with our Singaporean and Chinese skate family.
A few words from the editor