Wednesday, June 24, 2009


KABUL -- It was an unlikely scene in the Afghan capital on Sunday as dozens of boys and girls took to the streets on skateboards, weaving in and out of traffic, past market stalls, donkey carts and hooting cars.

Police in a pick-up truck provided an escort. With sirens blaring, officers shouted commands through a megaphone at motorists telling them to make way for the kids of Afghanistan's first skateboarding school: Skateistan.

"In the name of God!" cheered one man at the side of the road, clapping and smiling in disbelief.

"Long live Afghanistan!" the children shouted in reply as they skated past.

Wearing white T-shirts adorned with "Skateistan" logos, the children zipped from the national stadium -- once the scene of public Taliban executions -- to another part of the city to take part in a competition in honour of world Go Skateboarding Day.

One of the world's poorest and most conservative countries seems like a strange place to set up a skateboarding school, but the founders of Skateistan say it has proven a remarkably successful way to reach out to marginalised kids.

"It's more than just skateboarding," said Oliver Percovich, an Australian who co-founded the school in 2007 with just three skateboards and has since watched it grow with Western donations of $650,000.

"It's a way to connect with the youth of Afghanistan. These kids are the future leaders and we hope that through skateboarding it can provide a little bit of a level playing field for both the rich and the poor," he said as skateboarders as young as eight skidded behind him trying tricks.

At the moment, all the children have to skate in is an old, disused fountain in the middle of the city, but this week the school will lay the corner stone for what will become Afghanistan's biggest indoor sports arena.

The new 1,800 square metre Skateistan indoor arena will have a skateboard park and two air-conditioned classrooms equipped with computers where students can study in between skating.

Percovich said his school has attracted a wide range of children from street beggars to those from wealthier families. His school has even helped three children back into real school, by paying what they used to earn working on the street and allowing them to teach other children to skateboard.

Ten-year-old Fazila from Kunduz in northern Afghanistan, used to beg on the streets, maybe getting $2 a day. Now she is back in school and teaches other girls how to skateboard.

"It's a good thing. It benefits people. It's good for both boys and girls. Those who are interested should come and skate here," she said, smiling.

Girls were out on the street as well as boys, something still unusual in Afghanistan where women athletes often train in private and some have been attacked for taking part in sports.

"This is the only sport in Afghanistan where girls are in the public sphere. It's very important for people to see that," said Percovich.

The Maloof Money Cup, presented by etnies and Monster Energy, today unveils its much anticipated 2009 Street Course. Designed by Geoff Rowley and Joe Ciaglia with design assistance from Colby Carter, Mark Waters and Pro Skaters Lance Mountain, Braydon Szafranski and Erik Ellington, the course was inspired by real street spots, including the Sunset up-down corner ledge on Sunset Boulevard, the Barcelona Ledge and the Big Fours and 12-stair from Rincon in San Diego. In addition, there are near replicas of Pier 7 and the Mission “3-up-3 down” in San Francisco, as well as UC Irvine’s 6-stair hubba and rails.

The new bump-to-picnic feature was chosen by the TransWorld SKATEboarding staff from thousands of entries and suggestions submitted to The winning feature was designed by Chris C. of Manalapan, New Jersey.

“What makes this contest so special is that the Maloofs are real people, they are genuine and they truly want to make the best skate environment possible,” said MMC GM Tim McFerran. “They listen to the skaters and ask them what they want to skate in a street course. Because of that, last year we saw a higher caliber of skaters and tricks that you just don’t see at contests. This year, we had an overwhelming response from guys wanting to compete. All of the biggest names in the skate world, like Paul Rodriguez and Ryan Sheckler, and guys like Marc Johnson, Mike Carroll, Bryan Herman and Silas Baxter Neal who rarely skate contests, are competing this year.”

“It’s an awesome course,” said last year’s Street champ Paul Rodriguez. “I’m really looking forward to skating it this year and just competing with all the amazing skaters that are in the contest. Some of these guys haven’t competed in contests in years, so it’s going to be really cool.”