HUCK × VANS
MEET THE KROKSBÄCK KIDS, SWEDEN'S MULTICULTURAL SKATE FAMILY

How a Malmö skatepark
created a sense of belonging in
a neglected neighbourhood.

TEXT: Maxime Brousse PHOTOS: Nora Lorek

It’s an exceptionally hot summer morning in Malmö. The Swedish city is in the midst of one of its most sweltering Julys on record. Although it usually struggles to manage 18 degrees in the warmer months, this year has seen the temperature hitting over 30 most days. As a result, the streets are considerably more quiet than usual.

Kroksbäck skatepark is a case in point. As the midday sun reaches its peak, the all-concrete spot feels uncharacteristically peaceful, with barely a single spot of shade in sight.

Across the park, a scattered group of children make use of the professional-standard, custom-built bowl. One is pushing as hard as he can, but his deck keeps fleeing from underneath his feet. From the sidelines, a woman wearing a hijab keeps an eye on her granddaughter as she enthusiastically skirts around on her board. She waits patiently, her headscarf protecting her from the sun.

This is not the Kroksbäck park’s biggest crowd. Since its launch in 2016, it has become a bustling hub for the local community, offering children in the area the chance to test out their skating skills and socialise with their neighbours. It has also been drawing in skateboarders from around the world, thanks to its world-class design credentials (the park was built and donated to the area by Vans, for the Vans Park Series World Championship final).

A park for the pros brings skateboarding to the kids in Kroksbäck.

A park for the pros brings skateboarding to the kids in Kroksbäck.

Nora, 8, moved to Malmö when she was five and shares a bedroom with her three brothers. “For me Lebanon feels like home. All my relatives live there and it’s just very different to here.”

Nora, 8, moved to Malmö when she was five and shares a bedroom with her three brothers. “For me Lebanon feels like home. All my relatives live there and it’s just very different to here.”

Today, Kroksbäck is being minded by two supervisors: Ralph Sandberg, 38, and Patrik Olsson, 52. The pair are getting ready next to a large yellow container where boards, helmets and pads are stocked. They’re both members of Bryggeriet, the “skateboard high-school”, which opened more than a decade ago and plays an important role in Malmö’s skate scene.

“I’ve been involved with Bryggeriet since 1996, when I was a kid,” says Ralph, a tall, tough-looking figure with a warm voice and a large machine gun tattooed on his forearm. “When I wasn’t at school, I’d help them with the park. And since this park opened, I’m here every weekday from three to five pm, from May to September.”

Normally, he explains, around 20 to 40 children come to the park each day, with the majority coming from Kroksbäck or nearby Lindängen. “We give them skateboards, teach them how to skate and we even help them with their lessons sometimes,” he says. “It’s not only about skateboarding because some kids don’t like to skate all the time; they want to do other things, too. It’s a time to hang out… And if you want to skate, you can skate.”

“I definitely see myself in these kids,” adds Patrik, himself a father of four. “We don’t care who you are or where you’re from. Everyone is equal. And if any problems arise, we sit down and talk, like in a school class. But we don’t have much trouble over here.”

Patrik’s statement may come as a surprise if you look at the local press coverage. Type ‘Kroksbäck’ into any search engine, and it’s likely you’ll only see stories of burning cars, shootings, waves of violence, or Chihuahuas being sold on the black market.

As a young city growing rapidly, Malmö has become emblematic of Sweden’s immigration policy, and is often scrutinised by the media – either to praise the way communities live together, or to stoke the paranoia surrounding acculturation.  

With more than 50 per cent of its 300,000-plus residents having at least one parent born abroad, Malmö can be considered Sweden’s most multicultural city. According to national data from 2014, 14 per cent of the city’s inhabitants have originally come from countries outside of Sweden – the most represented being Iraq, Serbia, Denmark, Poland and Bosnia. Lebanon, Iran and Turkey follow closely behind.

Unfortunately, there is a growing hostility towards immigrants in the country, and it will no doubt play a role in this year's general elections, where the Sweden Democrats are on track to becoming the country’s second-most important political group. The far-right, openly anti-immigration party has already had some victories: while Sweden received over 160,000 asylum applications in 2015, it has since clamped down and opted for Europe’s lowest standards. In 2018, the country will only accept 14,000 asylum applications.

It doesn’t help that some parts of Malmö – including Kroksbäck and Lindängen – have been put on a police list of “vulnerable areas”. For many in the media, this list has been interpreted as a collection of “no-go zones” which police wouldn’t dare enter – though this is far from the truth. According to several officials, police and firefighters are even more present in these neighbourhoods. In fact, according to Sweden’s National Council on Crime Prevention, crimes are tackled faster there than in other areas.

“Two of the municipality’s most important tasks are to help people feel safe and secure in the city and ensure that Malmö’s residents feel involved and included,” reads the city’s website. “These tasks are mainly carried out in the daily work in schools and leisure and culture sectors, preferably in cooperation with civil society.”

Monchery, 9, who dreams of becoming a veterinarian when she grows up, drops in with the help of Patrik Olsson. “My mum was born here, I was born here. We are Swedes but our family are Romani people from Europe.”

Monchery, 9, who dreams of becoming a veterinarian when she grows up, drops in with the help of Patrik Olsson. “My mum was born here, I was born here. We are Swedes but our family are Romani people from Europe.”

Monchery, 9, who dreams of becoming a veterinarian when she grows up, drops in with the help of Patrik Olsson. “My mum was born here, I was born here. We are Swedes but our family are Romani people from Europe.”

Monchery, 9, who dreams of becoming a veterinarian when she grows up, drops in with the help of Patrik Olsson. “My mum was born here, I was born here. We are Swedes but our family are Romani people from Europe.”

Monchery, 9, who dreams of becoming a veterinarian when she grows up, drops in with the help of Patrik Olsson. “My mum was born here, I was born here. We are Swedes but our family are Romani people from Europe.”

Monchery, 9, who dreams of becoming a veterinarian when she grows up, drops in with the help of Patrik Olsson. “My mum was born here, I was born here. We are Swedes but our family are Romani people from Europe.”

These tasks are precisely what Bryggeriet aims to carry out in Kroksbäck. By teaming up with Vans, the organisation is introducing new opportunities to a stigmatised part of town.

Not only does it allow Malmö’s skaters to use the park, it’s also bringing skateboarding to an audience that would traditionally be kept away from it.

“There are many immigrants in this neighbourhood,” says Ralph, who was adopted from Haiti himself when he was just nine months old. When asked about how the park reflects Malmö’s multiculturalism, he begins to list local children with families from Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and Ghana, who are all regular visitors at the park. “I don’t care which culture or religion you have,” he says. “It’s the person I care about. It doesn’t matter where you come from.”

Monchery, a nine-year-old local girl of Romani heritage, is cruising confidently at the bottom of the bowl. Patrik watches her with a steady eye as she attempts a trick. “Skateboarding is fun, and there’s always new stuff to learn,” she says, with enthusiasm.

Monchery lives in Holma, and has been visiting the park since it opened two years ago. “I saw a girl skateboarding here and felt I wanted to try it, too,” she remembers. “The first few times I just fell all the time. But if you’re not falling, you never get better – so I just continued training with the help of Ralph and Patrik.”

She tends to skateboard alongside her friends Nora and Masoma, who are both eight. Nora, who was born in Denmark, splits her time between Malmö and her father’s family home in Lebanon. Masoma, who has Afghani heritage, arrived in the city in 2014 from Tehran, Iran.

“Me and Nora were there when they started building the skatepark,” Masoma says. “Our school is right next to it. It was difficult but I wanted to try so we started training. I’m not that good but it’s fun! I like that everything goes so fast.”

“We’re not that many girls here but it’s cool to see more coming,” adds Monchery. “Sometimes I’m the only girl here and the guys watch me strangely wondering if I can skate. But of course I can!”

Ibrahim, 15, came to Sweden when he was five along with his parents, brother and sister. “I was born in Iran but my parents are from Afghanistan. I don’t even know which city I grew up in.”

Ibrahim, 15, came to Sweden when he was five along with his parents, brother and sister. “I was born in Iran but my parents are from Afghanistan. I don’t even know which city I grew up in.”

Ibrahim, 15, is hands down the most motivated kid at the park. For the majority of the day, he’s been trying to learn how to ollie out of the bowl. “I fell in love with skateboarding the first time I tried,” says the teenager, whose parents moved from Afghanistan to Iran, before settling in Malmö when he was five.

Ibrahim is a dedicated skateboarder, coming to the park every day with his equally passionate 10-year-old brother, Ismael. The teen is one of the few kids in the neighbourhood who has his own gear. “This is a new board that I got from Bryggeriet,” he explains, gesturing proudly at the skateboard in his hands. “They lend it to me – but the trucks and wheels are mine.”

Unlike most of the kids who come here, Ibrahim has been skating since before the park opened. “My first time, I just tried to skate on the street,” he remembers. “It’s great that they built this park so I could learn more and use their skateboards.”

Ibrahim, who hopes to one day work in computer programming, sees the park not only as a place to ride but also as a space to socialise. Since he began skating at Kroksbäck, he has built up a community of close friends that he seldom gets the chance to see outside of it. “I got so many new friends through the skatepark,” the teenager says, with a smile. “I really feel happy in Malmö. The city is beautiful.”

A few minutes before 5pm, a cheerful 10-year-old called Mariam co.mes by to say a quick hello to Ralph. It’s a sweeping visit. Sweden is experiencing its hottest summer in over two centuries, so many kids are opting for the beach rather than the concrete, while others are spending the holidays abroad, or in their parents’ home countries.

Mariam, just like Ibrahim, is an enthusiastic skater with her own gear. Ralph convinces her to quickly skate for a while and she agrees; rolling around the park, circling effortlessly around the bowl. Every now and then, she stops to help her younger brother, who is dressed in full Spiderman gear, and experiencing a skateboard for the first time.

“I come from Baghdad, in Iraq, but I have been living in Malmö for seven years,” the 10-year-old tells me. Before the park opened, she used to spend more time at home. What she likes most about skateboarding is feeling the wind in her hair.

Mariam, 10, and Nora, 8, at a local fun fair. “I’m from Baghdad in Iraq,” says Mariam, “and came here when I was about three years old, so I don’t remember anything from there. My parents don’t talk that much about it.”

Mariam, 10, and Nora, 8, at a local fun fair. “I’m from Baghdad in Iraq,” says Mariam, “and came here when I was about three years old, so I don’t remember anything from there. My parents don’t talk that much about it.”

Kroksbäck skatepark feels like a safe haven. As one of the area’s only community-focused, child-friendly spaces, parents have the security of knowing that their kids can enjoy it in peace. They’ll meet their friends, learn a few things, exercise and have a good time – all under the supervision of caring, passionate adults. It’s become an emblem of the power of public space – and the old adage, ‘Build it and they will come.’

As the session draws to a close, most of the children pack away their borrowed equipment and begin their journey home. Only Mariam, her little brother and a 14-year-old called Vincent are still around when a shiny black SUV with a Danish number plate pulls up (Copenhagen is just a 45-minute drive away).

Shortly after the engine’s turned off, two men get out of the car with boards under their arms, and wheels stocked in a small black case. “That’s Rune Glifberg,” Patrik tells me, pointing at the older one.

As the pioneering vert skater sets up, Mariam starts fooling around with her brother, who is nervously learning to balance on his board. The visual gives a strong sense of what this place can mean to different people.

Like the professionals, many of these children are finding a home in this concrete heaven – it was built for skaters of all abilities. People come from all over Europe to ride this place, says Ralph, adding: “Last week, a couple of French skaters slept here for four days in their tent.”

Still, you can’t help but feel like the place belongs more to the Kroksbäck kids than to any other skater, no matter how good they are. When choosing to build the park in this area, Bryggeriet and Vans wanted to foster a long-term relationship with the local residents who walk past it every day.

And, in the two years since the park opened, it has stayed pristine since day one. There isn’t a single speck of graffiti, and you’d have a hard time finding trash lying around. “People from the neighbourhood respect the park because they know their little brothers and sisters like to be here,” says Ralph.

It’s a little after 5pm when Mariam and her brother return their borrowed equipment and head home for the day. Patrik waves them off. Skateboarding may not shape the children’s lives in the way it has shaped Glifberg’s, he says, but it will no doubt leave its mark.

“These kids like skating, but maybe when they grow older, they’ll turn into adults and have to find a job,” he adds. “I hope some of them will stick to it.”

Read more stories from This Is Off The Wall, an editorial partnership from Huck and Vans.