Every played sport worldwide has a sporting family and teams that represent a specific area or a team. But there is a sport that not only forms groups but builds a community with their own unique style of dressing, talking, lifestyle and culture that makes them stand out from others. Similar can be said about skateboarding.
The early skateboard, which is said to have originated in the United States in the 1940s, was a crude contraption where a wooden box or a board was attached to roller skates wheels. The design however, eventually graduated to a sophisticated sports equipment constructed from a seven to eight plywood deck with polyutherethan wheels attached to its underside.
The sport took approximately 75 years to become an Olympic sport when in the year 2016, it was announced the skateboarding will be represented at the Tokyo Olympics 2021. The Olympic event also helped the sport garner recognition in Pakistan. The event, also coincided with the fact that more high-quality skateboards were imported into the country this year and a skateboarding community also began to form here.
In 2010, a Facebook group named ‘SkatePakistan’ was made by then 20-year-old boy Shaihan Hassan, who had moved from Abu Dhabi to Pakistan in 2008. He searched for the Skateboarding community in Pakistan, much like the one he had been part of in Abu Dhabi but upon in his inability find one here, he decided to form his own.
Shaihan has been skateboarding since I was 14-year-old. In these past 17 years, he has been a part of the Skateboarding community in Abu Dhabi for six years. After he moved to Pakistan, he saw that no one was talking about this sport so after searching for two years, he created a Facebook page to create a community here for skateboarders.
“I knew that there must be more people who care about or have an interest in this sport. About a few months later, about 10 of the skateboards got connected to the group, and we started sharing each other's experiences,” he said.
However in Pakistan, a country where this was a low-key sport, Hassan had to struggle to keep the community alive. “None of the members then stay constant. Some had to leave due to their jobs, or some left the country. One of the problems that we faced to bring people to this sport was the availability of skateboards. No shop was selling them locally. Some of them that were available at the toy store were not enough to skateboard on. Most of us had buy them from abroad,” he added.
In 2016, this group of skateboarders gained some attention when they were called at the launching event of a brand in Islamabad that appeared in two advertisements that featured skateboarders. It was the same year when the qualifier for the Olympics was being held but Hassan and his partners could not participate due to financial constraints.
Another active 21-year-old skateboarder Moiz Babar from Sialkot, who was inspired by the video game Hawk's Project 8 to begin skateboarding said that due to globalisation and the availability of the internet, people are getting to know much more about skateboarding these days and are considering it a sport.
“I would say I've seen it become popular in recent years but still, there are a handful of people who do it,” he said. Hassan added to this by saying that the young generation using different types of social media contact him to ask how they too can begin skateboarding.
“Gradually, we started to build the community-made efforts to bring investors and international skateboard brands to Pakistan. But still, we were able to get high-quality ones. The quality was average and were too expensive,” said Hassan, adding that skateboard was the first thing that skateboarders needed and then the facilities.
Currently, Pakistan has a lone skate park in Wah Cantt, where some skateboarders go to practice and pursue their hobbies. “The main reason for the limited popularity is the missing facilities. We don't have skate parks, concrete urban sites and wooden ramps to practice or to hold competitions,” said Hassan while explaining that the three types of skateboarding competitions are all park events, which require a skate park, a street event that requires a concrete levelled urban site and the vesting event that requires a wooden ramp.
He added that some of the newly built mega housing projects do have the types of streets we require, where the skateboarding community in Pakistan is being made. “Some of the top housing projects that are built on the latest construction techniques do have the type of streets we require, and I hoping that this will help our community grow,” he said.
“Another downside of being an unpopular sport in the country is that we don't get the required skateboards. The Chinese brand, Zoo York, has opened its dealership store here in Pakistan but their boards are so expensive. One skateboard costs around Rs18,000 to Rs, 20,000. Unless more companies come in, we won't be able to get high-quality skateboards at a cheaper rate," he said, adding that the opening of these international brands is one of the reasons this sport gained popularity this year.
On the other side, Babar bought his first skateboard six years ago from a local toy shop. “Those skateboards are of no use but that was the only one I could get back then,” said Babar.
Talking about the facilities, he said that good quality skateboards are extremely difficult to find in Pakistan and you have to get them from abroad. “Few individuals are selling good quality ones but they sell it for very high prices. Also, we need skate parks and good flat places to skate if we want to progress but sadly these facilities are not available in Pakistan. I usually skate on roads at night time when there is no traffic,” said Babar.
Despite being an unpopular sport, Pakistan has decent talent and several skateboards. Hassan informed that currently, there are around 150 to 200 skateboarders in Pakistan with 25 to 30 being women. “We do have talent but the thing is when they don't see a future [in the sport] and the fact that the falicities are missing, they opt-out. Many skateboarders have been skateboarding for two to three years but don't have that much skill level. When they come to us in community gatherings, then some other senior skateboarders and myself teach them and help them improve their and skill levels,” he said.
The debut of skateboard at the Olympics saw eight out of 12 medalists in four events under the age of 20, while the other four were from the 22 to 27 age bracket. According to Hassan, this is a sport of youngsters and they should be taught from an early age. “The Olympic results are clear proof of this. We saw competitors as young as 13-years-old winning the Olympic medal. This is where the work needs to be done. The focus should be on developing facilities for the youngsters,” added Hassan.
Meanwhile, Babar also seconds Hassan on Pakistan having the talent. “There is a kid from Islamabad who is extremely talented but I've seen and interacted with good skaters from Lahore as well. It's a difficult sport and many skaters haven't really progressed due to the lack of facilities,” said Babar adding that no one in Pakistan is taking it as a profession as there are no facilities and all the skateboarders, including himself, are just currently skating as a hobby.
Hassan also said that the international non-governmental organisations provide the donation and funds to the third-world countries where this sport is growing. “This year in March, we were given 12 skateboards, six in Hyderabad and six in Lahore by a non-profit organisation called 'Salad Days of Skateboarding.' Along with the skateboards they also provided guidance on building a safe and inclusive skateboarding programm,” said Hassan.
He also added that many other NGOs want to work with the local NGOs to build skate parks and ramps in different cities of Pakistan. “Soon they are to begin their work and hopefully, every city in Pakistan will have a skate park,” he added.
The global mix-up
This sport that currently comes under the organisation, 'World Skate' mainly for roller skating, has caused confusion amongst the skateboarding community. “Right now, the international body for roller skating under which skateboarding is also regulated. Due to this, in countries including Pakistan where Roller Skating Federations are already working, it has created difficulty for skateboarders to create their own bodies,” he said.
He added that they are working on developing some organisation or federation under which all of their activities are carried. “We want that all of the work being done with the brands, NGOs and local skateboarders come under a single umbrella but we are still to figure out how this will be done,” he said.
The Way Forward
Skateboarding, which is gaining popularity in Pakistan, is attracting many international sponsors but they are not interested in working with the government but the local NGOs. “The reason for this is the lack of presence of a local body of skateboarders in Pakistan. They don't want to get involved with the government. They just want to build skate parks and provide facilities to the Pakistani community,” he said.
Giving an example, he said that an international non-profit organisation, 'Skateistan', uses skateboarding and education to empower children. Over 2,500 children, aged between 5 and 17, attend Skateistan's programmes in Afghanistan, Cambodia and South Africa. “Their motive is to focus on the areas where the children have faced difficult times of their lives and engage them in health activity. They build skate parks and schools. They ask the kids to do hour-long skating activities and then go to school to get an education,” said Hassan.
He concluded by saying that we have to build a local body to represent all the skateboarders in Pakistan and help them, and Pakistan grow in this sport so that by the time of the next Olympics take place in 2024, Pakistan would be ready to represent at the Olympics.