Ironically when it gets to the point where you start to get chucked out a lot and people don’t like it, that’s probably when the projects been successful in some ways because there’d be a lot of people skating in the country.
– Charlie Davis (SkatePal founder)
20 August 2019 / article: Matt Beare
When I first heard about the non-profit organisation (NGO) SkatePal I instantly got hyped on what they were doing, but it wasn’t until I had a video call with Charlie, the founder of SkatePal, who explained what they are really doing, that I thought “oh shit! This is really something incredible”. From first glance it seems like SkatePal is just building skateparks in Palestine – not that this alone wouldn’t already be something amazing – but the real purpose of SkatePal runs much deeper.
When Charlie first visited Palestine 11 years ago skateboarding didn’t exist. He took his board with him and when he went out skating in the streets the local kids were amazed by it, and all wanted to try it. In Palestine, conflict is part of the daily life for the people, including these kids, and after Charlie saw their response to skating he had the vision that it could in someway change their situation and give them a breather from the negativity they’re forced to live in. It was this realisation that gave birth to SkatePal and ever since, Charlie has been working hard to make skateboarding exist in Palestine and to make it last, by building an entire self-sustainable skate community from scratch. Pushing the growth of skateboarding might make a lot of Western Grandmothers feel a little uneasy, but over there it’s perceived quite differently.
photo: Dana Alwazani
building a scene.
I’ve never really experienced the construction of a skate scene from scratch. I’ve experienced the death of one, which happened back when I was in school and being a chav (a British badboy) became much cooler than skating. SkatePal on the other hand have created a scene from the ground up. But what does that even mean? What does it take to build an entire scene?
Well, I’m glad I had nothing to do with the process because after speaking to Charlie I quickly realised I'd completely underestimated what it takes. You might think you just need to build some skateparks, inject some boards into the country and boom! Scene built. But in a land where skateboarding means as much as Santa Claus does to a pigeon, and a skateshop doesn’t even exist, a lot more is needed, which Charlie went on to tell me:
The actual building of skateparks is a minor part of the main objective. If you just built a park and left it there there’d be no one skating anymore because the boards would have broken, there’d be no one there to buy skateboards from, and people would be like who are these guys that came in and built a park and just left, and now there’s nothing there, which kind of defeats the point of doing the whole project in the first place.
What we’ve been doing is forging strong friendships with a lot of the kids in the country, and then using social media to show them that Palestine is a destination in general, showing them what’s happening, and trying to connect them all so they know that there’s a scene and there are people skating in other areas of the country. Making sure you go back and you see the same people every year and you stay in the village, like in Asira I think this will be our 5th year there, so people get to know us, they have faith in us and they can trust us, and that’s quite important to keep the scene going. So even if we just went back and were doing classes all year in a square that’s at least building a community which is going to last after you leave, whereas just building a skatepark in itself is great if there’s already a scene that can come and take it over, but if there’s not yet a scene that’s strong enough to take it over by itself, you need to have a plan of sticking around for a long time, building relationships, choosing people to help you out who can then work there and do a good job after you leave.
photo: Christian Nilsen
So it’s the classic teach a man to fish situation instead of just tossing him a salmon, which makes perfect sense. It’s exciting to think that skateboarding is still being reborn in different parts of the world. To a large extent the skate community is a pretty welcoming and an open-minded one, but we still have our weird rules like no mall grabs, no pushing mongo unless it’s switch, along with other tricks you should and shouldn’t do. In places like Palestine where these “rules” don’t exist and aren’t determining the path someone takes when they learn to skate, it allows people to be more creative which could blur the lines of what’s acceptable worldwide, and ultimately strengthen the global skate community. Who knows, maybe we’ll all be mall grabbing in 10 years.
The main thing that we’re trying to do is make everything self-sustainable so we don’t have to exist there in like 3-5 years’ time. That’s obviously important for a lot of NGO work; to spend a lot of time focusing on getting a lot of local skaters involved so they can take over the work. Hopefully in 3 years or so we won’t have a job to do there any more technically, just offer assistance.
So the way to construct a skate scene really goes beyond just skating, it’s actually built on trust and solid relationships between the people, and once these are in place it can start to survive on its own. Build the scene and leave it in the hands of the newly bred skaters, pretty clever really, and ingeniously sneaky. The main person that will have the role of keeping skateboarding alive in Palestine is a skater called Aram.
photo: Emil Agerskov