We are Skateboarders
I started skating when I was 12 years old. From then on it's really defined my identity, ethos and overall world view. I was working in the TV industry when I began to burn out. One night I was checking my work email at 2am because I couldn't sleep from stress. The next day I walked into work and quit. My wife quit her job as well, we moved out of our apartment, put all of our belongings into storage and bought a one way plane ticket. For the next few years, we traveled the world. As always I took my skateboard with me. Every place that I went in the world I connected with someone through skateboarding - whether it was a fellow skater or an Indian soldier wanting to ride my board. Skateboarding really has a magic ability to serve as a bridge over all barriers. It's strange and I can't really describe why - it just attracts people and makes them smile.
Shane (Make Life Skate Life)
Think about skateboarding. The cliche that springs to mind could be a sidewalk in the Southern California sunset, white guys or girls, skating along by the beach. But underneath that idealistic image skateboarding has always been a fringe sport, pushing back at establishment of every kind. Sometimes not even really considered a sport. For Shane Carrick skateboarding is a way of life that led to him to become part of the Make Life Skate Life (MLSL) NGO, taking skating to communities around the world, and painting a very different picture along the way.
When you travel to a developing country, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by how hard life looks there. Even as a life long skateboarder it wouldn’t necessarily be your first thought to build a skate park. What could that possibly do for people who don’t have access to even the most basic requirements of life? Amazingly the answer has been it can build communities, make connections between groups who have previously seen each other as enemies, and bring back childhood for kids who had to grow up way too fast.
In Myanmar, Ethopia, Jordan and Bolivia MLSL have been building community skateparks in some unlikely locations. In many cases the people there have never seen a skateboard, or tried skateboarding. They don’t know the cliches, they just see something fun in a world that’s often incredibly tough.
The skateparks MLSL build are a work of love, made by volunteers who come together from all over the world to build a park for people they have never met, in the hope that skateboarding will influence their lives positively.
Shane (MLSL): During my time in Jordan I was involved in teaching skate lessons to refugee kids from the camps surrounding the city of Amman. The classes would come and go but there were two young Sudanese guys who lived next to the park named Eyob and Hamsa. They were about 14 when I met them. They couldn't get enough of skating. Every time there was a skateboard free for a second, they would jump on it and try to skate. They were hooked from the start. Each day that I came to the park to teach lessons, they were there and they would insist on helping me carry boards, sweep the park, assist with the refugee classes. I never asked them to do anything, it was all on their own accord. After classes were over we would just all skate together for hours. They both progressed at an alarming rate. In the end I had to leave, and they have since become leaders at the park where they teach and act as peers for younger skaters coming up. It was so special to see them find a home not only at the skatepark but in skating in general. They were able to gain a skill that makes them happy which they can then pass on to someone else. To me that's why we all do what we do.
MLSL recently made a film that shows the process of building the skatepark in Annapurna. Breaking rocks, moving tons of earth and welding steel looks tough, but you know that behind the scenes the work that has gone into getting the project off the ground will be just as hard. There’s a a real magic to what they are doing. There aren’t many sports where you can gather a group of friends and build a culture into the landscape of a city. And they are not the only organisation who have had the experience of travelling with skating and finding that has unexpected consequences. Oliver Percovich, who founded Skateistan in 2007, took his skateboard on a trip to Kabul.
Oliver (Skateistan): Skateboarding was completely new in Afghanistan, so no one had preconceived ideas about whether or not it was ok for girls to participate and this meant that we could establish it as an activity for all children right from the start. Because it’s largely non-competitive and there’s no right or wrong way to do it, skateboarding is a really powerful way to get children involved with physical activity, build up their team work skills and encourage their own creativity all at the same time. When Oliver first started running informal skate sessions in a disused fountain in Kabul, he knew he was tapping into something really powerful - he could see that from the effect it was having on the children.
Skateistan is now ten years old. From what started as a project to build a skatepark, the organisation has grown into an award-winning NGO. Part of their success was realising they had a niche where they were gathering together very vulnerable people, often street-working kids who didn’t have access to education. They took the opportunity and now run outreach learning programmes around the skatepark projects. They want to make the impact even greater by developing a toolkit for other skaters starting similar projects, a project which Rhianon is leading:
Rhianon (Skateistan): Next year we plan to build a network for the 100+ social skate projects worldwide, promoting joint knowledge-sharing and collaboration. Skate NGOs are continuously innovating to have a bigger impact in their communities, and by working together we can build support for projects using skateboarding as a tool for youth development.
To find a sport where people are willing, not only to give up their free time to spread the word about what they love, but also to physically fly to the other side of the world and shovel cement late into the night, for free, is a huge demonstration of the strength of the skateboarding community.
If you want to see the impact of a skating, the film ‘Epicly Palestine'd: The Birth of Skateboarding in the West Bank’ shows firsthand how a group of kids found a sport that changed the way they live an oppressive environment. You can feel their frustration, and the limitations on their lives, but also the amazing sense of freedom that skating has given them. Together they learnt to fall over a lot and get back up, try it again and build something strange and beautiful in such an unlikely place. The projects that MLSL and Skatistan are working on, along with other skating NGO’s and organisations are changing and enriching the culture of skateboarding around the world.
Shane (MLSL): Just a few weeks ago I was skating down the street in Brussels with MLSL founder Arne Hilerns, Ethiopia Skate co-founder Yared Aya, international volunteer Rens Van Ert from the Netherlands, and some new friends from Egypt. Everyone's common denominator is skating and that identity makes us all family - we were all just ripping around town, pissing off Belgian drivers. We are skateboarders.
Huge thanks to both MLSL and Skateistan, may the amazing work continue!