Print Edition - 2014-10-11  |  On Saturday

The will to skate

  • Although Kathmandu is anything but a skateboard-friendly city, a group of youngsters have been keeping their passion for the sport alive
The will to skate

Oct 10, 2014-

There are good reasons not to take up skateboarding as a serious hobby or sport in Kathmandu. First of all, the terrain—there is no skate park or halfpipe (concave ramps for doing tricks) and hardly any smooth asphalt topping the city’s roads. Secondly, the costs—professional skateboards can up to five-digit figures .

None of this keeps a group of Nepali youngsters from skateboarding, though. One of them is 22-year-old Ujwol Dangol, a key figure in the Kathmandu skateboarding scene, who connects skateboarders and BMX riders all around the country through his popular Facebook page, and offline, by employing his personal charisma.

He can usually be found cruising around the basketball court at the Public Youth Campus, in Thamel, with a handful of friends. They ‘rear wheelie’ along the court, practice high ‘ollies’ (the basic jump) and flip their boards through the air. If one of them successfully executes a ‘heelflip’ (a flip along the longitudinal axis), the others clap and cheer. And as soon as Dangol sits on a ledge to have some water, a cigarette, to chat, one of his friends will often use his board as an obstacle to be jumped over, or a local kid hanging around will grab it for a short round.

Dangol knew that he wanted to skateboarder from the moment he saw a Chinese tourist doing it in Thamel in 2008. And he was elated when his brother presented him with a board, even though it was just a toy and not even covered with grip tape—abrasive paper essential for doing the ollie and many other tricks. He didn’t ask his brother to buy him a professional skateboard, and even if he had asked, he wouldn’t have gotten one.

Back then, the only way you could get a professional skateboard in Nepal was to ask your relatives abroad to bring one. That was the situation a Kathmandu-born Swiss named Marius Arniko Arter found when he visited the city 11 years ago. He hadn’t brought along his skateboard, but he absolutely wanted to skate here. Luckily, he was a professional carpenter and obstinate enough to make his own skateboards during his stay in Nepal. This led to him and some of his friends founding the Arniko Skateboard Ltd, which  today produces up to 300 hand-carved skateboards every year, and also has an outlet— Arniko Shop—in Thamel.

That’s how Nepal came to have its first skateboard shop. Still, the goods there are mainly sold to tourists, as they are priced above the average young Nepali’s budget. But apart from his business, Arter supports Nepali skaters by bringing used or even new boards for free or at outlet prices from Europe, along with other skateboarding gear.

“Arniko was the first to sponsor us,” says Dangol, wearing a “Lakai”—a cap he got from Arter. Dangol’s current board—of course, he is not riding his no-griptape toy-board anymore—however comes from another donor: Shawn Ward, a pro skater originally from Canada and now living in Bangkok, who visited Nepal last year. Ward, a huge inspiration for Dangol and fellow skaters, showed them tricks and gave them tips on how to execute them. Plus he was sponsoring two rails and two ramps, and he keeps sending used boards from Thailand every few months.

Unfortunately, when Ward was in Nepal in 2013, at a small competition held at the Bhrikuti Mandap fun park, he also demonstrated an attitude that is widespread among skaters worldwide and consists of smoking, drinking beer, and not respecting rules. That led to the skaters being thrown out of the fun park, and since then those rails and ramps are stacked in a backyard that belongs to Dangol’s friend. If the skaters want to use a ramp, they have to find a car to ferry the ramp from the backyard to one of their skating spots. Or, they just go to Pokhara, where there is Nepal’s one and only skate park. The park is made of concrete and is located in a private backyard on Lakeside. Luckily, the man who designed and funded everything, Pokhreli skateboarder Ram Koirala, keeps it open to be used by everyone.

Just a few weeks ago, a small skating contest was held there, organised by Dangol, not for finding out who was the best, but for bringing people together. After four years of being shredded by skaters, however, the park is somewhat damaged. That’s why Koirala has started constructing a new one, which will be slightly bigger. So it looks like at least for the Pokhreli skateboarders, the good times will continue.

In Kathmandu, on the other hand, in the absence of a park, the skaters have to skate on the street or in public places like Patan Durbar Square. And that’s where the police don’t like them hanging out. “About every skater in Kathmandu has stories to tell about the police confiscating or destroying their boards,” says Dangol.

But despite the constraints they have to work with, Kathmandu’s skateboarders are investing time in the pursuit of their passion; in fact, the numbers are growing.  While there were an estimated five skaters in Kathmandu three years ago, Dangol says there are now 30 to 40 of them dedicated to the sport. His Facebook page “Skate and BMX- Nepal” gets dozens of likes per week, and has a total of around 4,500. He  is doing what he can to keep the spirit of skateboarding alive, and in the near future, he might be spending more of his spare time at a real skate park instead. Ram Koirala, after getting done with the park in Pokhara, is planning to construct one within six months in the Capital as well.

Published: 11-10-2014 09:02

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