Skateboarding in Palestine

Skateboarding in Palestine

When you think of the Middle East, you may not associate it with action sports. Certainly not with skateboarding. California - yes, Ramallah - no. So it may surprise you to learn that there is a newly emerging skateboard scene... in Palestine.

Not long ago, no-one had ever seen a skateboard rolling through the streets of the West Bank, but now a small group of teenagers is attracting the attention of skaters all over the world.

I was lucky enough to meet some of the pioneers of the scene to find out what it's like trying to build a skateboarding community in a place where you can't even buy a skateboard.

"People here just don't know what skateboarding is" says 16-yr-old Amr from Birzeit, "They think we're weird." He laughs mischievously, "I don't give a s**t about other people's opinions." It seems the rebellious spirit of skateboarding has accompanied its arrival here.

In the de-facto capital Ramallah, you can find Amr and his friends together with the first ever Palestinian skaters - Aram and Adham, who are still only just college age. Adham got given a skateboard by a passing tourist and the seed was planted. Today, more and more young people are picking up a board for the first time, and loving it.

"It's very exciting to be in the country when it's just emerging" remarks Charlie Davis, a skateboarder from the UK and the founding director of SkatePal, the first charity to help promote skateboarding and provide facilities for it throughout the West Bank.

Inspired by the work of organisations like Skateistan in Kabul, he is keenly aware of the benefits that activities like skateboarding can have for young people in troubled regions.

"Kids react to different things. Some like football, some like basketball, some like skateboarding - it's up to them. We stay away from the politics and just make it about sport."

In neighbouring Israel, world-class skate parks and trendy skate shops can be found in every city. Unfortunately, they remain out of reach to most Palestinians. Even something like skateboarding is often defined by the challenges of living under the Israeli military occupation.

"There is a skate park in Kfar Saba - it's ten minutes away" says Sajed, a skater from Qalqilya in the north of the West Bank, as he looks out from the balcony of his apartment. "But they built the wall. I can't go there" he sighs, pointing to the huge concrete barrier that surrounds the city. "I'm like a bird in a cage."

Philph E. Burbs is the director of 'Epicly Palestine'd: The Birth of Skateboarding in the West Bank', a new documentary about the Palestinian skate scene, showing in selected venues across the UK and available to view online now.


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