Founder of Skateistan
What’s going on in your life right now?
Right now we’re wrapping up everything for the end of the year. It’s been an amazing year for Skateistan, in 2016 a lot of things came together. I’m just reminiscing about all of the amazing things that happened over the last year.
When and how did you start skateboarding?
I started just before my 6th birthday, I got a skateboard from my cousin Alex. He was a skateboarder in the 70s and he gave me his skateboard in the 80s. So I´ve been skating for a very long time!
Where did you grow up, and where are you living right now?
I grew up in Melbourne, Australia and also in Papua new Guinea. Right now I live in Berlin but I do a lot of travelling, so I’ve probably only been in Berlin about half of this year or maybe less. More than half of this year I was travelling, but Berlin is where I’m based.
What skate spots would you recommend in Berlin?
There’s quite a few really good skate spots. I’m so bad with names and places but I really like a skatepark that is located near Prinzenstraße in Kreuzberg.
What places would you recommend for someone visiting Berlin?
I think the time to visit Berlin is definitely in the summer, when the nights are really long and it’s beautiful along the canal and in the parks. One of my favourite places in Berlin is an old airport, Tempelhofer Feld, that got turned into a massive park. It’s located very central in the city and it’s a really awesome place to check out. There’s big parties and people go skateboarding or running there. It’s a pretty interesting place with all the old runways and the old airport building. And a lot of refugees are currently living inside of the old airport.
When is your favourite time of the day and why?
My favourite time of the day is really early, maybe five o’clock in the morning. I like that time because it’s nobody around, it’s quiet and I don’t have any distraction. I usually go for a run and then I do some meditation. It’s a time where I don’t have my mobile phone on, I don’t have to check any e-mails and I don’t need to engage with anybody or anything. That’s definitely my favourite time in the day because it’s very quiet.
If you could re-live one moment in your life, which one would it be?
I think something I’d really like to re-live is just an average day when I was around 11 years old, because my father died when I was 14. Just a moment when the whole family was together, maybe at dinner time, everybody sitting there and just being a family.
How do you think people around you would describe you?
I think people would describe me as passionate, maybe a little bit eccentric and I think they see me as a very determined person.
How and when did you come up with the idea of Skateistan?
Well, I went to Afghanistan in February 2007 and I brought some skateboards with me. When I got there it was winter but after a while when the weather got better, I pulled the skateboards out and started skating around the city. I saw that half of the population was under the age of 15 and they didn’t have many opportunities, they needed something to do and engage in. That’s where the idea came from. It wasn’t a complete concept then, it was really something that was a work in progress and it still is.
What’s the next step for Skateistan?
I’m really excited to do something in Jordan, we just did a trip there. It’s going to be really exciting to work with all the refugees, especially the Syrian refugees that are currently in Jordan, that’s our next step. We’re also going to expand our program in Cambodia, we currently have two locations there, and we want to build a new facility.
What was it that made you want to do a collaboration with Cheapo?
I really liked what Cheapo stands for, equality and rights for all human beings. This is something that Skateistan stands for as well. We’re very proud about our association with Cheapo.
What has the Skateistan foundation gained from the collaboration?
A lot of money has been raised for Skateistan through the sale of the watch, over 20,000 USD. People have been supporting us in a really big way. That´s the equivalence of 20 children being able to go to Skateistan for a whole year. That’s a very big contribution to what we are doing.
Next season the Skateistan X CHPO sunglasses will be out, tell us about that!
We are super excited to do another collaboration together with Cheapo. Sunglasses are very important in South Africa, Cambodia and Afghanistan where we work, they are all really sunny places. So I’m looking forward to see our educators wearing the glasses, working with the kids. It’s a really cool collaboration. The name of the sunglass model is Rumi, Rumi was a poet that came from Afghanistan. He was actually born very near Mazar-e-Sharif where we have a skate school and we visited the site of his ancient home a few months ago. He is one of the most amazing poets of all time and I think it’s a beautiful name for the sunglasses to remember Rumi and maybe some people will discover his poems and fall in love with them.
What are your plans for the future?
I intend to keep working for Skateistan for as long as I live. I’m very excited about that. Next year I’ll be taking some time off to regain some energy and I’m going on a big motorcycle trip all around South America, so I’m very much looking forward to that.
If anyone wants to support Skateistan, what should they do?
Right now we have a campaign called ‘Give her five’ where we encourage people to give 5 dollars, 5 euros or 50 SEK, anything with the number 5 in it. This is all to help us create more opportunities for girls and the work that we do with girls all over the world. People can go to our website and follow the instructions for the ‘Give her five’ campaign. That would be amazing.
Illustration by: Iñaki Azpiazu