Since its inception as a sport in California sometime in the 1950s, skateboarding has become a global phenomenon, exported from the United States to the farthest corners of the world. Some countries have been slower on the uptake than others, for reasons ranging from prohibitive social norms to devastating wars, but in the face of all this adversity many small, tightknit skateboarding communities have managed to thrive and show that skateboarding is more than just a way to pass an afternoon, it’s also an important factor in bringing about positive social change.
While skateboarding is not officially recognized as a sport by the Castro regime, the scene has nonetheless managed to grow despite all efforts at suppressing the burgeoning skate culture over the years. The sport arrived on the island with emissaries and soldiers from the Soviet Union back in the late 70s and remained a relatively niche phenomenon until the 2000s, when skate-based charities like Amigo and Cuba skate began bringing skateboarding gear to the island. This foreign support was the key to the scene’s growth (Cuba still does not have its own skate shop) during the US embargo, but now that US-Cuba tensions are beginning to ease, Cuba may be slated to become the next major skate destination in the Western hemisphere thanks to these well established roots.
Afghanistan has been a battleground for 40 years now, the country torn apart by various proxy wars and its own internal feuding. An unlikely place for a skate culture to grow perhaps, but nevertheless this is exactly what has happened. It began with an Australian skateboarder who arrived in the country in 2007 with a couple of decks and a drive to improve the lives of local children. Unbeknownst to this Aussie at the time, this was the beginning of Skateistan, an NGO responsible for building two schools in the country (complete with skate parks) and helping to empower young girls by way of a deck and four wheels.
In a vacant parking lot just down the road from the Vatican embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital, it’s not uncommon to hear a wild commotion in the afternoons and on the weekends. This non-descript spot, you see, has become the de facto meeting spot for the Addis Ababa skate scene, who rendezvous here for skate outings and to distribute new gear to skaters in need through a grassroots organization called Ethiopia skate. The country is no stranger to hardship, with wars and famines defining a significant part of its 20th century history, and as such its skate scene is relatively new. But if the photos and videos coming out of the country are any indication, Ethiopia is well on its way to becoming the skate capital of the African continent.
Like Cuba, the sanctions on Western goods in Iran have made it difficult for Iranians to adopt skateboarding. Reports from the country count around one hundred skateboarders in Tehran, a woefully small number for a country of nearly 80 million people, a result of the difficulty of importing decks and various skateboard parts from the West. This hasn’t stopped Iranian skaters however, some of whom have turned to making and distributing their own decks, a process that was vividly captured in the VisualTraveling minidoc series, which documents skateboard cultures around the world.
A country infamous for its secrecy, the cult-like status of its head of state, and the brutal measures brought against anyone who dares to dissent, North Korea seems like the last place on earth where an activity with such anti-establishment origins would be allowed to thrive. Yet in 2012, the first skate park was unveiled in Pyongyang, which either suggests that the country is loosening its stranglehold on all things even remotely Western or was simply trying to create another convenience for foreign tourists. Given the media blackout, it’s tough to say just what the skate scene in North Korea is like, but at least we know that it exists (probably).
Istanbul, Turkey’s capital, is truly a global crossroads. It’s where East meets West, and the melding of these two forces is all too apparent in the city’s vibrant skate scene. In addition to being heavily influenced by the Western brand culture, Turkey has given birth to a number of its own skateboarding brands, crews and shops, making it a scene that truly stands alone in its unique adoption of the best elements from foreign and local skates scenes.