Thursday, December 9, 2010

Skateboarding in Afghanistan: The paradise within

In war-torn Afghanistan, a glimmer of hope shines bright in an otherwise dark existence, and it comes on a small board with four wheels.

A skateboard.

Skateboarding in Afghanistan?

Yes, it's true. But not only can you find boys and girls skateboarding the streets of Afghanistan, you can find a state-of-the-art, indoor skateboard park in Kabul. It’s called Skateistan and it is giving children new life.

Murza doing an early grab on
on the big quarterpipe
Murza, 17, who lives in Kabul: “When I was living in my own village of Charekar, there was always fighting. I am so used to it that it doesn’t scare me anymore. We can’t escape the violent situation. It’s been happening throughout my life, and it will continue into the future.

“I used to wash cars...Now I work at the skate park.”

The story began when Australian skateboarders Oliver Percovich and Shama Nolan took their skateboards to Kabul in 2007. Children were mesmerized. They wanted to learn to skate. So the Aussies started a small skate school in Afghanistan.

It didn’t take long for skateboarding to take off among the youths, prompting the Aussies to think bigger about how they could reach more kids. The answer? By bringing more skateboards to Afghanistan and building an indoor skatepark.

As detailed in a USA Today article, Percovich pitched his idea for establishing a school and skateboarding facility where children could skate year-round.

The embassies of Canada, Norway, Denmark and Germany listened, and soon donations from those countries reached $600,000. This got the attention of Gen. M. Zahir Aghbar, the president of the Afghanistan National Olympic Committee.

The committee provided land next to the National Stadium, where reportedly the Taliban once held public executions and maimings before the U.S. overthrew the repressive regime in 2001.

On Oct. 29, 2009, Skateistan, the world’s first co-educational skateboarding school, opened on 17,800-square feet of land that once saw only destruction.

Now it sees Afghan children -- sees them communicating, sees them building relationships and confidence, sees them being kids, having fun.

Today, 320 regular Afghanistan students are receiving training from experienced skateboarders in a secure environment, spending an hour in the classroom for every hour skating.

Zazilla standing on a bombed-out tank overlooking Kabul
Zazilla, 12: “At Skateistan, I don’t feel that my surroundings are ruined, I feel as though I’m in a nice place.

“I can feel people questioning my right to skate. Their opinions are meaningless to me. I really like skating and I won’t stop.”

The story of Skateistan and what skateboarding in Afghanistan means to Murza and Zazilla and other Afghan youths is poignantly told in the eight-minute documentary below entitled “Skateistan: To Live and Skate Kabul.”

Filmed in Afghanistan in January, it won Best Documentary and Best Photography at the L.A. Film Festival in September.

In October, Skateistan posted the documentary by Diesel New Voices on YouTube, where it continously reaches out to the world to tell its story and generate donations to keep the Afghanistan program going.

From the Skateistan website: “For many youths, this is the only schooling they receive. Several of them have spent their days working on the streets of Kabul since the age of 7 or 8. And the girls have virtually no other chance to take part in sport. To keep doing what it does, though, Skateistan requires donations immediately and is asking for your help."

If you are so moved, see how to donate here. It must be noted that Skateistan is a non-governmental organization.

* * *

The documentary shows kids skateboarding in the desolate streets of Afghanistan amid destroyed buildings. This is contrasted by the shots of skateboarding in the pristine, peaceful confines of the indoor skatepark. Ironically, a missile shell dissects the base of one quarterpipe.

Skateistan's logo is more telling of its message: A skateboarder breaking an automatic weapon in two.

Murza: “I don’t want war anymore...

“My hope is that my country is led by someone who is able to bring peace.

“Until then, the future is uncertain.”

Thanks to GrindTV Outdoor for the tip, Skateistan for the photos.

Follow Outdoors720 on Twitter at @outdoors720

Other interesting posts on Outdoors 720:
The next Tony Hawk is already soaring to new heights
Bicyclist stunt-artist video goes viral on YouTube
Surfing legend Kelly Slater gets a bronze statue


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