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First-ever professional skateboard tour hits Palestine

Juicebox Gallery

By Matt Matthews - September 22, 2016
Section: [Main News] [IN PICTURES] [Features]
Tags: [sports] [culture] [Nablus]

'Radical Islam’, reads a graffiti tag in Nablus skate-park. Sketched below it is a bearded Imam, a broad grin on his face and a skateboard in his hand. On Saturday, September 10, he watched the park being put through its paces by the Isle skate team.

Isle were in town for the first professional skateboarding tour in Palestinian history. The week-long trip, organized alongside SkatePAL, wrapped up on September 16.

Sylvain Tognelli is a French skateboarder who has been signed to Isle since he turned professional in 2013. “Living in France, Germany or England, all you get to hear about is the negative side of things in Palestine, the war and the bombs. But it’s not like that at all,” he told the Palestine Monitor.

He added that several team members “were a bit nervous” about the trip. But their expectations were confounded as they tracked down local skate spots in Ramallah, Nablus and Bethlehem.

“In Ramallah, all the local kids came out, and it was great to hang out and skate with them,” Sylvain recalled.

Co-organisers SkatePAL have previously grabbed global headlines by kitting out local kids with decks, building skate parks such as the Nablus rink and inviting international volunteers to share their skills with Palestinian skaters and instructors.

“One of the guys in the Isle team, Chris Jones, has been coming with us for two years as a volunteer,” SkatePAL founder Charlie Davis explained. “So he managed to convince some of the Isle team to come out.

“Palestine is obviously a politically unsafe place, and the occupation affects people’s lives all the time, so they’re here to make a tour video and show that it’s a viable skate destination,” he added.

The Isle demo in Nablus went down in the skate-park in Asira El-Shameliya, a village in the hills above the city. The 2015 build was a collaborate effort between SkatePAL, the Asira council and a local charity, The Palestinian House of Friendship (PHF).

“The youth here are frustrated because they have absolutely nothing to do,” said Majed Sawalha of PHF. “But if we can change this city, we can change any city.”

Majed views Nablus society as more conservative than in Ramallah or other West Bank skate spots, and said it took some time to convince local bigwigs to give permission for the skate park build.

He continued: “at first people were suspicious, and said [skateboarding] is not productive. But when people see that their kids are not traumatised any more, but that they’re exploring and giving their heart and soul to something… they change their minds.”

Osama, 18, is a Nablus student who has been skating since before the Asira park was built.

He told the Palestinian Monitor he was glad to finally have a proper park to hone his skills, and excited to skate alongside the pros. “I’m not as good as them, but I love it anyway,” he added modestly.

As the Isle team shredded the Asira park, more and more children arrived from the city below. By the end of the afternoon there were around 50 kids hanging around, watching the pros and getting a helping hand as they wobbled off on their boards.

With the sun beating down on the exposed park, Isle team members, SkatePAL volunteers and local skateboarders took refuge in the shadow of a half-pipe.

And as the conversation came round to possible slogans for the Isle tour video, one suggestion in particular stood out: “skateboarders, not state borders.”

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