Why you should care
Because fun on wheels knows no borders.
Skateboarding is not big in the Arab World, but there may be a new mecca: Amman, Jordan. Gear? Infrastructure? Suspicious passersby? Nothing to get in the way of shredding and flips.
Granted, they’re not professionals: Very few could hang with the skaters from L.A. or Barcelona. But they’re passionate. Even on a cold and rainy November day, around 10 gather to skate along Al-Thaqafeh Street — also known as “Culture Street” — a spot favored for its wide variety of smooth ledges, stairs and bars that help them perfect their skills. “We are like a family. It’s a small one, but we are always happy to welcome new people,” says Mohamed Zakaria. He was one of the first to skate in the city, more than a decade ago, and has become the heart of the community. He’s also the owner of Philadelphia Skateboards, the first skateboard brand in the Middle East.
The skate park will feature the usual ramps and half-pipes, but also lessons for newbies and free skateboard rentals.
It’s not only locals skating Amman’s streets. Expats, from art students to financial experts, bring their boards to the party. It’s not about the scene per se but rather about a community, says Jakub Novotný, a student from the Czech Republic who came to Jordan to learn Arabic and has become the regular tall blond figure of Amman’s skateboarding crew. “It’s more about supporting each other and learning together,” he says. And they’re about to get a nice boost in the form of Amman’s very first community-built skate park, 7Hills. The initiative is the combined dream of local skateboarders like Zakaria and German nonprofit Make Life Skate Life, which promotes skateboarding to underprivileged youth in developing countries; they’ve built similar projects in India and Bolivia. Together, they persuaded the city council to donate a largely unused park in the heart of the city and raised funds — more than $19,000 — through a crowdfunding campaign. American Jon Chaconas quit his 9-to-5 job as an engineer to help make 7Hills a reality. The 300- to 500-square-meter park will feature the usual ramps and half-pipes, but also lessons for newbies and free skateboard rentals for those who can’t afford to buy gear.
But it’s possible the novelty of the new public space will wear off. That’s what happened to “Culture Street.” It was designed in 2002 for community activities — when Amman was named Cultural Capital of the Arab World — but it’s rarely used by anyone besides skaters. And not everybody is thrilled with the idea of having such a large skate park nearby. Some locals are trying to stop construction, filing formal complaints with the city council. “Some neighbors are scared that the park will attract young men that will then stay and hang around their area creating all sorts of trouble,” says Shima Tal, consultant at the Greater Amman Municipality.
Do refugees really need skateboarding? Doubtful. “Of course you can say it’s cultural imperialism to come here and tell kids, ‘You should try this, you will really like it,’” admits Chaconas. “But the thing is … they will.”