A new generation of urbane youth in Kenya are redefining skateboarding from a mere pastime to using it for community’s benefit while placing Nairobi in the global map.
George Zuko the founder of the Skateboarding Society of Kenya (SSK), wants to encourage more young people to try skateboarding: “In Kenya, most of the youth have nothing to do. They sit at home and can’t get a job… it’s fun for them to come and blow [off] some steam. Skateboarders in Kenya are a minority… So we usually see each other as a family,” he told CNN’s Inside Africa programme.
One of the society’s members, Abuga Aroni, began longboarding when he was studying in the United Kingdom and watched videos on YouTube to help him learn new tricks. Now he is sharing his own videos to help encourage others to join him in his passion; Aroni explains: “There isn’t a community as such and I’m trying to change that slowly by building a social media presence so that people know this kind of sport is there.”
Ten years ago, Nairobi’s skateboarding pioneers learned the power of skate videos and social media. Leo Kilel, a member of SSK, explained how one video, titled ‘Play Skate’, influenced the current skate scene in Kenya: “Skate videos form a very big part and role in pushing the scene and galvanizing guys to do better in skateboarding. So for us ‘Play Skate’, as a young scene, was the first full skate video done by Kenyans and that actually gave us the inspiration to follow through and come up with our own project.”
As a result, dozens of skateboarders could be found at Nairobi’s central Uhuru Park. However, as the crowds grew, the skateboarders realised they needed a space that was bigger and free from the danger of cars.
With the support of international group Skate Aid, the SSK built the biggest skate park in East Africa. Located at the Shangilia School in Nairobi, the park is a labour of love the entire community helped to build.
Kilel explained how the 1,000 square metre park has benefited skaters since its opening in 2013: “The park has impacted Kenyan skateboarding significantly. We have a couple of de facto headquarters in the city but this was also the pillar for the advancements skateboarding has made in Kenya.” Daniel Gluche of Skate Aid East Africa agrees: “The park is a magical place… Let’s let it be a place of inspiration.”
One individual who has greatly benefited from the new park is 12-year-old Ezra, who had no home and lived on the streets before he began skateboarding. His natural talent caught the attention of the other skaters and Zuko soon moved Ezra into his own home, with the SSK pulling together to raise funds to help get him into school.
Kilel reflected on Zuko’s decision to take Ezra in: “You talk to anyone, they know who George is… he’s this kind-hearted skater who is cool with everyone. [Taking in Ezra] was a special thing, because taking street kids, strangers, into your own house and dedicating your time to take care of them, that’s maturity. It’s spectacular.”
Valerie Olenyo, one of Ezra’s teachers, explained how the young boy has become something of a local hero as a result of his skating skills: “He’s amassed everybody, even the neighbouring school. We found that pupils climbed those walls to see him [skate] and he made us very proud. So around here he’s made our school famous, because it is the only school who has students who are skating.”
The programme learns that the SSK are not just a group of skateboarders; they look after each other and care for their community. Kilel explains: “It’s like a brotherhood, sisterhood movement somehow – like a family. It’s street family we’ve created for ourselves because we come from very different backgrounds.”
Inside Africa also followed the young SSK members as they participated in a national competition and met some of the young girls who are challenging stereotypes within the skate scene