The SkatePal interview

We first met the SkatePal team back in January in Berlin where they were trying to raise awareness and funds for to create a new skatepark over in the town of Jayyous in Palestine to help introduce skateboarding to those who otherwise may not be able to get involved and help create a self-sustainning scene. The project itself seems pretty daunting to say the least, however with two amazing concrete skateparks already completed over in Palestine, SkatePal were up to the challenge. Flash forward to present day and the SkatePal team are working hard alongside the locals to complete the new park which is shaping up nicely... How do they do it? we spoke to Charlie who started the organisation to find out a little more about this amazing initiative. 

Hey guys, thanks for taking the time to talk to us! For those who may not know, can you introduce yourselves and let us know a bit about Skate Pal

Hi I’m Charlie, from Edinburgh. I’ve been skating for 15 years and working in Palestine for 10! I started SkatePal in 2013, after I finished a degree in Arabic. SkatePal is all about creating a skateboard scene in Palestine through building skateparks, holding skate classes, sourcing and distributing equipment, organising skate trips, and promoting Palestine as a skating destination in general. 

So how did Skatepal come about? 

I first went over to Palestine after I finished school in 2006 to teach English and music as a volunteer in a youth centre in the north of the West Bank. I took my board with me on the first trip and the kids were hyped as they had never seen someone skating before. I remember thinking if someone were to introduce skating here it would take off, although at the time I hadn’t seriously thought about creating a project like SkatePal. I have been back to Palestine every year since my initial trip, taking out different friends with me each time. I decided to study Arabic at university in 2008 and it was around that time that Skateistan started out, which gave me the confidence to think ‘this idea would feasibly work!’. So when I finished studying in 2012 I began planning a small wooden skatepark build in Ramallah (the de-facto capital), as by that point I knew the language and the place pretty well.

There seems to be quite a big crew involved, whos on the team sheet?

The actual day-to-day crew is pretty small actually! It was just me on my own running SkatePal until 2015, when I met Theo (Krish), and now it is mainly us two with the help of Phil (Joa) and Chris (Jones) helping us. Saying that, we are very lucky that we have a huge crew of volunteers that have helped us since the beginning of the project (over 100 people and counting!) and we wouldn’t be anywhere without them! These are the guys (and girls) that give up their time to come and teach skateboarding and help us build skateparks, all for free. Shout out to the SkatePal family!

So where are you guys currently based?

I am not really based anywhere haha! I was living in Spain the last year, but spend my time between the UK and Palestine a lot too. Theo is based in London, as are Phil and Chris. 

How has the general response been from the Jayyous population about the project? Are the kids hyped?

There is already a group of kids in Jayyous who have been skating for over two years, mostly thanks to Mohammad Othman from SkateQilya who has been supporting skaters in the area for a long time now. They are really excited about the new park and have been up on site helping out after school which has been great. The rest of the village have been super supportive and helpful. The local council are fully on board, and we are sourcing all of the materials for the park from local shops around the area.

What’s the main obstacles you guys encounter when taking on these kind of projects?

The biggest issue we face with all the projects is the importation of skateboard equipment. There are no skate shops here so we bring almost everything over in our suitcases. One of our main aims with SkatePal is to work out a sustainable means of importation and distribution so that the local skaters do not rely on international volunteers bringing over boards. 

Once the park is finished, who regulates it and keeps it up to scratch? I can imagine you create some strong bonds during the building process…

For Jayyous Skatepark we have partnered with local non-profit SkateQilya for this project, and they will be managing the park upon completion. They have been running skateboarding summer camps for kids in Jayyous and the surrounding area for the last two years so we know the park is in good hands! We will be sending volunteers all next year to come and do classes alongside some of the local SkateQilya volunteers. For us, building the park is just the first step, but making sure it is maintained and working well within the community is essential. We aim to have at least two years of our volunteers teaching and skating with the local kids at the sites we build. Many of the volunteers at our skatepark in Asira Al-Shamalyia this year are returning volunteers who have been out working with us in 2016. They have become good friends with the kids and their families, and these connections are what we focus on, as this network of friends and skaters is central to the ethos of skating that we want people here to enjoy! 

SkatePal's Asira Al-Shamaliya Skatepark. P[hoto: Sam Ashley

All Photography by Christian Nilsen

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