Skateboarding has changed a lot since the days when the Z-Boyz were rolling around the dangerous streets of Dogtown, California. Since those year-zero moments, people around the world have taken to skateboarding as a way of expressing themselves, as a way of getting around and, for some, as a way of being part of a local community.
However, in recent years, skateboarding as developed into something else. Something that transcends rolling on the streets near your home, or in the local town. It has grown, and been accepted my more and more countries and cultures. 2020 will see competitive skateboarding become an Olympic event. With this new recognition and mass acceptance, a skateboard has become a passport.
Of course, the very best, most famous skateboarders in any generation traveled the globe, but now the world has opened up to everybody. A skater can pack their board, head for the furthest corner of the planet, and find like-minded people. Discovering new places and putting your mark on them is at the very heart of skateboarding, and far-flung travel only makes these opportunities greater.
And no longer is it just the classic skate meccas like Barcelona, Marseille, Los Angeles, and San Francisco that are attracting people. Skating is taking people to places that could have even the most hardened backpacker scratching their head and looking for an atlas.
The simple language of skateboarding - the highs and lows, the persistence and the joy, and the innate pleasure of seeing somebody do a trick so logic-defying that it’s impossible not to be impressed - is universal.
Perhaps the most remarkable side-effect of skateboarders’ wanderlust in recent decades has been the development of the altruistic side of the sport, as travelling skaters fall in love with local communities and want to give something back. In 2007, the non-profit Skateistan program began in Kabul, Afghanistan, started by Aussie skater Oliver Percovich. It educates young children, over 50 per cent of whom are girls, and teaches them skateboarding in a safe environment. Skateistan has since opened programs in Cambodia and South Africa with the same aim.
Like Percovich, Tom Caron-Delion has skated since he was small. Born and raised in South London, he was lucky enough to already be in one of the best skateboarding cities in the world.. However, Tom was bitten by the travel bug when he went to Japan on a promotional trip for skateboard brand Yardsale.
"Skateboarding and travelling go hand in hand. We’re always seeking new places we’ve never skated"
The trip proved all too brief, so Tom chose to return a year later, and found that, despite the language barrier, he was welcomed back into the Tokyo skate scene with warmth. Already a keen photographer, he started shooting the city at night, when he and his fellow skaters would cruise the streets, avoidingthe hustle and bustle seen in the daylight hours.
“The more I travelled, the more I began to realise that being a skateboarder meant having an extensive family in every corner of the world," said Caron-Delion, recalling times when he was offered free lifts, places to stay, and even meals, just through being part of the skateboarding family.
Travel has also changed the life of London based artist and illustrator Gaurab Thakali. Born in Nepal, he moved to London in 2006 aged 15, a year after he’d first picked up a board. All of a sudden, Gaurab found he had access to good quality skateboards, and an abundance of skate spots dotted around the city - a far cry from what he’d left behind in Kathmandu.
1996-2001 AccuSoft Co
A few years later, Gaurab began to notice videos of kids skating in Nepal appearing on social media. Gaurab had a family holiday back to Nepal booked that summer. Naturally, he packed his skateboard. When he arrived, it was immediately obvious that the while enthusiasm for skateboarding was there, but the infrastructure was not. “It was very clear that they still didn’t have any adequate spaces to skate or any way get hold of decent equipment," said Thakali.
A few years later, he was back in Nepal, and found that in nearby Pokhara the country’s first skatepark had been built. It had been created by a mixture of local skaters and Australians visiting the area. “We could tell the scene was beginning to thrive there already," said Thakali, “but they still needed more help to improve the situation as there was threat of the skatepark getting demolished."
Back in London, Gaurab hooked up with London skater Daryl Dominguez, who’d also visited the park. Before long they realised that they both wanted to help this emerging skate scene based around a makeshift skatepark on the other side of the world. From that conversation, Skate Nepal was born.
Skate Nepal began raising money for the scene that emerged from the Pokhara park. In 2017, with the help of some other skate based organisations, Gaurab and Skate Nepal managed to build Nepal’s first proper skate park, complete with quarter pipes, handrails, and smaller features for beginners to practice on.
“Since my last visit 2 years ago, the scene has grown rapidly" says Thakali. “The number of skateboarders had tripled and even the older generation seemed to be taking an interest, astounded by the tricks they were witnessing. Skateboarding and travelling go hand in hand. As skateboarders, we’re always seeking new places we’ve never skated. In this case we didn’t discover incredible new spots, but we came across a premature skateboarding scene.
“I’m glad that I could be part of the community that helped to push the scene towards a positive future and to provide opportunities for both young beginners and original members of the Nepal skate scene."
SkatePAL is another organisation that is helping children through skateboarding. Australian born, filmmaker and skateboarder Sirus Gahan traveled to Tel Aviv at the tail end of summer 2014. SkatePAL had just set up a project in the troubled West Bank with an aim to teach children how to skateboard in a safe and secular environment. They needed volunteers and Sirus jumped at the chance. “I saw the early potential SkatePAL had and realised that there was the chance to tell an incredible story, from a lesser-seen region of the world."
Through skateboarding, Sirus got to see a side of Tel Aviv rarely shown on TV. Mornings were spent chasing the smell of fresh falafel and sage tea around street corners. In the afternoons, Sirus and the other volunteers ran skate sessions for the local children at a youth club, where they’d built a wooden mini-ramp and other obstacles. “Teaching children who only spoke Arabic - of which I know about three words - meant a lot of instructions were misunderstood. Thankfully, skateboarding is a language in itself" laughs Gahan.
"In the West, skateboarding is often seen as a nuisance, but in the West Bank we'd draw crowds of 30 to 40 civilians, cheering and showing their support"
At night, when the air cooled, Sirus and the other volunteers, explored the city on their boards. “We’d scour the dusty streets, hunting for smooth surfaces and skateable, marble obstacles.
“In the West, skateboarding is often shunned and seen as a nuisance, but in the West Bank we would often draw crowds of 30 to 40 wide-eyed civilians, cheering and showing their support. Locals were happy to perform for the camera and would often show me a magic trick or a dance move, all of which feature in the films made during my travels."
Of course, the political situation around the West Bank was as volatile then as it remains today. However, through traveling there and seeing it himself first hand, Sirus got to witness a side of a city that the news cameras don’t show.
“Skateboarding is so significant to me. It has taken me to destinations all over the globe and provided me with a physical, mental and creative outlet. Of all the places I’ve been lucky enough to visit, Palestine is certainly the most memorable.
“Seeing these kids experience the thrill of rolling just a few feet allowed me to relive the same excitement of first discovering skateboarding. What I witnessed gave me a great sense of hope for the future of the Palestinian youth."
People averse to skateboarding may roll their eyes, but when it’s taken around the world, when a board becomes a way of meeting people, or the key to a city, it’s truly amazing what this sport can do. The impact it’s having on lives around the world is undeniable. Not bad for a wooden children’s toy.