Photographer Kévin Métallier heads to Ethiopia in search of undiscovered skate spots.

Photographer Kévin Métallier heads to Ethiopia in search of undiscovered skate spots.

Biarritz-based skate photographer Kévin Métallier has been fascinated with Ethiopia for years. In January, he finally put a trip together to explore the country with a couple of friends, skaters Michaël Mackrodt from Berlin and Oscar Candon from Paris.

“It has a pretty amazing history; it’s the cradle of humanity and apart from a brief occupation by the Italians that began just before WWII,  maintained its independence throughout the colonial era,” says Kévin. “No one has ever organised a proper skate trip there, so it was cool to be the first to do it. Locals don’t see you as a tourist, but as a crazy big kid playing and doing crazy tricks with a skateboard. It’s a great way to meet people and discover places.”

They began in Addis Ababa, a chaotic and fast-paced capital pulsing with energy. “The entire city was under construction, like an urban mutation,” says Kévin, who befriended a local taxi driver who helped them navigate the urban sprawl. Together, they spent days driving around the suburbs to find spots, while he taught them phrases in Amharic along the way.

The trio then flew on to Bahir Dar, a stone’s throw from Lake Tana, a source of the mighty river Nile, where the pace of rural life was far more relaxed. “People are impressed if you start saying a few words in the local language,” he says. “It makes it easier to start communicating, playing with the kids and cracking jokes with the farmers. They forget about the camera and you can capture those natural moments.”

What made you think Ethiopia would be a great place for a skate trip?
As far as we were aware, no one has ever organised a proper skate trip to Ethiopia before. So we were really motivated to see what we could find. We knew that the climate in Addis was pretty good for skating all year as it’s pretty high. The city is getting bigger and bigger so we were pretty sure we would find some good undiscovered spots out there.

Did it match up to your expectations?
The country was kind of similar to what I had in mind in terms of landscape and the way of life in the city. I’ve travelled a lot in the Maghreb so I’m familiar with the region. But Addis Ababa took me by surprise, it was way bigger than I thought.

It was crazy to see two different worlds living in the same city. There is a big gap between the modern city centre and the old villages in the suburbs. Travelling around Addis can sometimes feel like a crazy journey through time. The different experiences for people there are way more pronounced than many other countries I’ve travelled through.

Before going there, a lot of people told us not to go because they thought it was a dangerous place, at risk from terrorism. But when you’re there you can see it’s totally different to how the media portrays the region. It’s pretty safe and Ethiopians are really welcoming and friendly.

What makes a skate trip a great way to experience a country?
Hardly any of the kids there had ever seen a skateboard before, so there was always a crazy atmosphere around us. People got really surprised when they saw us on our boards, cruising, pushing and doing tricks. Loads of them wanted to try to skate and play with our boards. Even the old people and the taxi drivers! We were like aliens to most of the people there. Even more so when we went to the rural areas, but people are really happy to meet you. Most found us really entertaining. Even if that wasn’t the purpose of our skate sessions, it was definitely another way to meet people and discover places.

What did you get up to apart from skating?
When we weren’t skating, I spent most of my time by myself in the poor suburbs or the small villages near the cities, walking around with my camera and trying to interact with people. I learned few words and basic sentences in Amarique with a taxi driver we meet in Addis and another one in Bahir Dar, who taught me how to count up to 30.

It’s a small thing but on my travels I’ve learnt that if you start speaking a few words in the local language people are so impressed. It becomes way easier to start communicating. People are really friendly, especially in the small villages, where they don’t have anything but they are always happy to invite you drink milk or eat chat with them. I loved playing with the kids and making fun with the the old farmers. It was a great experience.

What attracts you to street photography?
When I started photography more than 15 years ago – mainly shooting skateboarding – my favourite playground was the street. As I started travelling, I got even more interested by the street and all the things that go on there. A big part of modern life happens in the street. It’s a natural theatre where you can witness the substance of cultures. You can catch the atmosphere of a city, even an entire country. All differences are mixed in the street and architecture becomes the wallpaper to your photos.

Check out more of Kévin’s rad photography from his trips around the world.