How Skateistan gave skateboarding a mission for change

How Skateistan gave skateboarding a mission for change
Skateistan’s The World On Board campaign unites the global skate community to transform even more young people’s lives through skateboarding.

Skaters have had many faces: from California-drought delinquents to Olympic Gold medalists, fashion icons to academics. Over the past 60-odd years this subculture has broken the mould again and again. But today, with the help of global non-profits like Skateistan (and ambassadors like Tony Hawk), a new story is being told. Skateboarding is becoming a movement for change.

It all started with a fountain

The world of skateboarding looked very different back in 2007, when Skateistan began. Skateboarding was embedding itself within the cultural mainstream, with the release of EA’s skate. and Nike SB’s first video ‘Nothing But The Truth.’ Money was streaming into the industry and everybody wanted a piece.

Unsurprisingly, that money wasn’t very evenly distributed. The progress skateboarding has seen since, in terms of issues of identity and equality was in its infancy. And the ‘social skate sector,’ as it’s today known, did not exist. Skateboarding was first-and-foremost a boy’s club, its reputation as a place for the outcasts of society quickly waning.

Meanwhile, in a disused fountain in Kabul, Afghanistan, Oliver Percovich was running around trying to get his skateboard back from the local girls and boys who would repeatedly pinch it from him and demand lessons. Upon finding this “toy” in their community, these kids were planting the seeds of an entirely new, alternate image of skateboarding: as a tool for education and empowerment.

One giant push

The physical and psychological benefits skateboarders had been experiencing since the Sixties were suddenly cast in a new light. As Skateistan grew – opening education and skate facilities in three locations across Afghanistan, as well as in South Africa and Cambodia – more organisations began to pop-up around the world, too. A lineage of sorts began, with volunteers at projects like SkatePal, going on to found their own projects, such as Free Movement Skateboarding, and so it went from Cuba to Kenya, Bangladesh to Brazil.

Over the decade that followed, Skateistan grew to reach thousands of children every year at its schools, offering skateboarding and creative learning for girls and boys who needed it. But the broader ‘social skate sector’ was growing faster and further than any one charity could have imagined. Thanks to celebrity ambassadors like Tony Hawk, as well as the work of cultural advocates (Mimi Knoop, Kim Woozy, Neftalie Williams, the list goes on), mainstream skate culture was beginning to shift across the board.

This was a “new wave” of skateboarding. The community-led approach to starting new projects proved that individuals wanted to work together to “spread the shred,” and as representation grew for women, LGBTQ+, BIPOC and people with disabilities, new alliances were born between fringe and mainstream actors. Pushing Boarders and similar networking opportunities saw unity on a scale never before seen, with speakers coming from all over the world. Skaters were once again breaking the mould of what their culture could be.

Get up and try again

In 2018, with the global skateboarding community now in contact like never before, questions were being asked about how conversation could translate into ‘action’. Enter The Goodpush Alliance, started in 2018 as a free platform created by Skateistan to unite the global network of social skate projects and volunteers.

Just one of many enterprises channelling skateboarding’s newfound thirst for progress, Skateistan’s The Goodpush aimed to change how the growing social skate sector communicated and acted, through democratic and inclusive practices. Five years on, The Goodpush has over 800 registered members from every continent (except Antarctica, for now), and offers resources and grants for projects working in specific areas, like LGBTQ+ representation, racial equality and migrant support.

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic hit in terrible unison with another serious challenge for Skateistan, its staff and students: the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan. With huge changes in its operations, especially across Afghanistan, Skateistan took a hit and had to adapt. But, as the students in their programmes show every day, falling breeds true resilience. This was an opportunity for new learnings, new partnerships and a new chapter.

“The Goodpush was a growing part of our work back in 2020, and it was showing us the power of collective impact across the sector,” says Hala Khalaf, Co-Executive Director of Skateistan. “With the limitations mounting on our schools during the pandemic, and in Afghanistan after the governmental change, we focused more than ever on expanding to new locations.” So began ‘Skateistan In A Box’ (SIAB).

SIAB was a new way for Skateistan to partner with existing organisations in new locations, supporting them with funding, syllabuses, networking and equipment. Today, SIAB exists in harmony with the schools and Goodpush, rather than instead of. But with growing needs across migrant communities, as well as risks placed on young people by climate change and conflict, SIAB offers a diverse range of safe spaces where children can learn, play and shape their futures in otherwise uncertain contexts.

The World On Board

It’s 2023 and many are calling this the time of poly-crisis. For the millions of young people existing at the intersection of war, environmental collapse and inequality, opportunities for education are scarce and play is, at best, a luxury. Many children can’t just be children anymore.

Concurrent crises demand unified action. That’s the bottom-line of Skateistan’s new campaign, launched this week with the help of long-time Skateistan advocate Tony Hawk. 15+ years of expertise, 20+ program locations and a network of over 800 social skate projects are the engine behind this global movement for change. Dubbed The World On Board, this alliance is stronger than ever, thanks to the connections that skateboarding has fostered over the past two decades.

Huck has supported Skateistan, as well as countless other initiatives in skateboarding’s “new wave,” for years now. But Skateistan’s The World On Board aims to show that the true face of a skater is not the rebel or the medalist, neither the icon nor the academic, but all of these individual identities uniting as one, in an international community and a single call.

So, with the NGO already well on their way to a $1,000,000 goal by the end of the year, allowing them to reach 10,000 monthly participations across 50 countries by 2027, this is a call for unity. A call for people everywhere, skaters and non-skaters alike, to join the movement to give children what they need to just be children.

You can donate to and support The World On Board over at Skateistan.

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