Two years ago Ali Boulala went to prison following a tragic motorcycle accident that left close friend Shane Cross dead. Now Sweden’s fallen skateboarder is ready to speak out.
It’s hard to believe that only three years ago skateboarders Ali Boulala and Shane Cross were living lives most people only dream of. Travelling the world, partying, signing autographs, sleeping in, doing demos, appearing in countless magazines, cashing cheques and racking up clips for the upcoming Flip video. The two friends and Flip teammates were in permanent vacation mode, no different from the regular state of any well-to-do professional skateboarder. Swedish-born Ali had already spent years pushing the limits of the proverbial party, and seemed content to build on the wild child, punk-as-fuck persona he had already mastered. And his buddy Shane Cross, though younger and still an amateur on the Flip roster, was already becoming accustomed to the pro lifestyle. He was living fast, partying hard, nabbing a ton of coverage and blowing minds with his sheer skill. Without a doubt, he was well on his way to becoming Flip’s next pro. Life was excellent for the two friends. But on March 7 2007, everything changed forever.
The details surrounding the tragic motorcycle accident that left Shane Cross dead and Ali Boulala in critical condition are still hazy – mostly because Ali himself remembers nothing of the incident. The account pieced together by the authorities sounds like this: after a full day of skating, the two settled in at Melbourne’s famous Cherry Bar before stopping off at a friend’s house to drink some beers. At around 1:05 am, Ali and Shane left to drive around town on Ali’s motorcycle. Ali lost control of the bike and slammed head-on into the wall of the Tramway Hotel. It was reported his speed at the time of the wreck was thirty kilometres per hour. Both were riding without helmets. Cross, who was a passenger, died almost instantly. Ali was rushed to the hospital with an entire mess of injuries, including severe brain trauma.
Considering just how serious his injuries were, with the help of excellent doctors and intense physiotherapy, Ali’s recovery was achieved fairly quickly. But throughout the long, painstaking process, his inevitable fate lingered as the date for him to appear before a judge approached. In the end, Boulala would plead guilty to one count of culpable driving. He was given a four-year sentence with a non-parole period of two years.
It’s October 1, 2010. Ali was released from an Australian prison six months ago after serving almost exactly two years. It’s 7pm Stockholm time and Ali is home with his fiancée who he is scheduled to wed in less than two weeks. He speaks patiently and thinks deeply about my questions before carefully answering each one. Despite his admission that he still occasionally experiences some short-term memory loss, I search unsuccessfully for an indication that such symptoms actively exist.
“I still need an operation,” he says after I inquire about his skating. “I have calcium that’s formed in the muscle of the hip which is due to the brain injury. I don’t have proper range in my hip with my hip movement. I can’t lift my leg up that high.”
Though he’s only rolled around briefly on a board since the accident, he expresses no doubts that he will be skating again very soon. “I never really thought that I’d never be able to walk again, it was a battle, but I never thought, ‘It’s over, I’m never going to walk.’ When I knew that I was going to walk, I knew that I was going to skate too,” he says with utter confidence.
Ali’s had a long leave of absence from skateboarding but he’s stayed connected all along, flipping through skate mags his fiancée’ would send him in prison and thinking about it incessantly. “When you can’t really do it, it makes you want to do it more than ever,” he says with childlike excitement seeping through his words.
While most of Ali’s sponsors severed ties with him throughout his recovery and following the jail sentence, his longtime board sponsor, Flip, stuck with him the entire way, keeping his pro board in circulation and even giving him a part in their latest video, Extremely Sorry. And just recently, based on nothing more than his past reputation as an amazing skateboarder, he’s been added to the illustrious KR3W apparel roster. In just a few weeks, he’s scheduled for a European signing tour with Tom Penny, Lizard King and Horsey. It’ll be his first tour in over three years and his first skate appearances since the accident.
Despite all of Ali’s success and notoriety as a professional skateboarder, his absence from the spotlight has somehow given him the impression that when he starts touring again, he will go unnoticed. “Sometimes I go into McDonalds and some random guy will be like, ‘Oh my god let me take a picture of you!’ So maybe I’m not completely forgotten there,” he says. “It’s cool to know that people haven’t forgotten.”
As we continue to chat, I am careful not to push too far or touch on heavy topics Ali may not want to explore or revisit. But as we inch along towards the heart-wrenching details, Ali speaks openly and the pain in his voice seems to bubble to the surface. “Now looking back it seems so weird, like a time warp, like I was just in this capsule,” he says before taking in a deep breath. “Sometimes it feels like that shit didn’t even happen.”
Having no memory of the accident at all, his only vague recollection is strangely connected to a random skate sequence he shot on that fateful day, which later ran in Australian magazine Slam.
“I [only] remember the day because someone told me that was the day,” he says, seemingly in disbelief that such a documentation of the day exists. “Someone showed me the photographs of that day skating. I’m like, ‘Oh fuck!’ If nobody had showed me them, there would be no way of me knowing which day it was. Now I can look back and go, ‘Oh okay, oh my god – it was that day.’ Otherwise I would never have known.”
As we wrap up our conversation, I inquire about his plans for the upcoming year, expecting more details on skating, freedom from behind bars and staying healthy. But the sadness in Ali’s voice thickens as he begins: “Some time in the future I want to talk to Shane’s parents and to his dad. I haven’t really tried to make contact.”
It’s then that Ali talks of how he thought of Shane every day in prison, and of the countless letters he attempted to write to Shane’s family. He tried his best to get the words on paper, to write a letter that might express his regret – that might show just how sorry he is – and possibly bring some sense of closure to both Shane’s family and his darkest remembrances. But the words never came.
“It’s really a very delicate issue. There’s nothing I can really say. I’d like to be able to say some day how sorry I am but it’s fucking hard to get there,” Ali says before pausing. “That’s something that I just have to do one of these days. I don’t really know if there’s anything one can say. I don’t know if that’s ever really going to go away, but I’d like to say something at least. I’m still hoping I can do it someday soon, somehow.”