inside ethiopia’s growing skate scene
Last month over 50 volunteers from 20 countries came together with local skaters to build Ethiopia's first skatepark, in the capitol city Addis Ababa. Prior to the park being built, locals' only option was street skating. As in most countries, this meant navigating the authorities, being pushed out of spots by security guards, having boards taken by cops, and dodging cars on chaotic roads. In Addis it's common for skaters to pay off security or offer to buy them a coffee in exchange for a slice of uninterrupted time at a favorite spot. Things are a lot simpler now they have their own ramps.
In less than a month, the park's construction brought local skater's dreams to life. The team that led the build, Ethiopia Skate, began as a website and Facebook page five years ago. After a while, the rapidly growing group were meeting all over the city to scout skate spots. From their very first meetings, they talked about getting a park. It's finally happened.
It began when the group contacted German organization Make Life Skate Life (MLSL). With teams of international volunteers, MLSL have built skate parks in India, Jordan, Bolivia and Myanmar.
With the park finished, the group are hyped. "I didn't think it would be this big, I dreamt of a smaller version but this is unexpected," said thirteen-year-old Eyob Desta. Ethiopia Skate Founder, Addisu Haile Michael told i-D there are, "so many kids texting me, calling me, saying it's the best day of their life...everyone is crazy and hyped up. We've been waiting for this for years now."
A decade ago, this would be unheard of. When Addisu started skating a lot of locals didn't even understand what the sport was. "Back in the day, people thought it was a very dangerous game," Addisu remembers. Fellow skater Eyob Desta said his parents still think it's not safe. "My family doesn't want me to skate. People in Ethiopia, they don't see it as a type of sport, they see it like some type of danger, or gangster."
Despite lingering reservations, perceptions of skateboarding in Ethiopia are shifting. "It's changing like crazy," Addisu reassures us. "They can see how many people are coming here: everybody is interested now."
MLSL also brought boards, wheels, trucks, clothes and shoes with them. The new equipment has added to the growing number of new skaters. Ethiopia Skate now have over 150 members, with more kids showing up every weekend. Addisu is excited about the positive impact the park will have on the new crop of teens coming through. "I was a shy person and it helped me make a lot of friends, I want this for the kids too. It's really good as a community, and we formed without even knowing it. It's pretty cool."
18-year-old Micky Asfw, who first saw skateboarding on MTV, agrees: "We are like brothers, we love each other so much, we care about each other, everybody cares about each other like a brother or a sister."
Text and photography Tessa Fox