When I think of Ethiopia my thoughts are usually of the bittersweet injera of my grandmother's house and the shoulder shaking of the Ethio-jazz clubs, so discovering the new skater trend sweeping Addis reminded me just how fast everything is changing in my absence. I never made it into the skateboarder crews, but have always admired the dedication and freedom you see in skaters in action. Channeling feelings of joy, creativity and stress release is why at just 16, Abenezer Temesgen and friends founded Ethiopia Skate, a not for profit organisation aiming to promote skateboarding across Ethiopia with the belief that it can be a tool for empowering youth and creating new opportunities.
Since their launch, the Ethiopia Skate team have managed to collaborate with international brands including, Make Life Skate and secure over 200 skateboards for young kids who can't afford them. They’ve also featured on popular sites like One Nigerian Boy, The Berrics, Transworld Magazine, Frank151, Africa Skate and many more. More impressive however is their campaign to build Ethiopia's first ever skate park.
Opening up a whole new side of Addis to me, I caught up with Abenezer to find out if skateboarding can really change lives, and the best places to get started.
Ethiopia's Skate Scene
“The skating scene in Ethiopia is not that big, there are only a few skaters on the streets and no skateparks whatsoever. We organised the two first-ever skateboarding competitions in Ethiopia and built a mobile miniramp for the kids to skate on which was the first of its kind in Ethiopia. We travelled all over Ethiopia teaching kids to skate but didn‘t have enough boards to give to them, until a skate shop in Austria collected more than 200 boards and skateboarding gear to donate to our cause which is helping us grow the skateboarding scene.”
So where do all the cool kids skate?
"The best places to skate in Ethiopia are Ambo, Addis Ababa, Hawassa, Bahir Dar, Harar and Mekelle. It‘s hard to give specific spots as there are no official skateparks (yet). But as soon as Ethiopia Skate reaches its goals, we‘ll have multiple locations in the country specifically (re)designed for skateboarding, and we‘ll have a map on our website showing skaters how to get to the spots."
"South Africa is the leader in skateboarding in Africa. They’ve been holding big skate contests and other skateboarding-related events and all the international skater brands are in South Africa too, supporting and sponsoring the skaters. Africa Skate has been doing a lot for skateboarding all over the continent- they’ve also been supporting us since day one.
The one African skateboarder I admire most is Thalente Biyela. He grew up without his parents in the streets, there was nobody who helped him, but then he discovered skateboarding and that‘s what got him out of his problems. Now he’s skating for the biggest brands in the world, been to the largest skateboarding competitions and is now becoming more and more famous and is even making a movie about his life. We‘re friends and I look up to him."
But does it really change lives?
"In my opinion, skateboarding is very important for kids, as they learn many valuable life lessons. First of all, they learn that you have to start small, since you have to get a feeling for the board before even thinking of doing any tricks. Then it teaches them that only practice makes perfect, there‘s no born pro skater who just jumps on a board and magically becomes Tony Hawk.
Finally, it teaches them that success is only possible if you‘re willing to give everything you’ve got and most importantly, NEVER GIVE UP! In other sports, you have a coach who teaches you everything, but in skateboarding, you have to learn yourself. There might be people who can show you certain moves, but as long as you don‘t do it yourself, you won‘t learn. That‘s how life works, too, and that‘s why it‘s important."
How did you get involved with Make Life Skate Life?
"We were contacted by Make Life Skate Life in October 2013 after they’d seen our Indiegogo campaign video and wanted to help out. They aided us in creating a presentation for the city planning bureau showing various plans and incentives on how to improve the situation in the city not just for skateboarders but for the entire community. We are still in contact and they are willing to help us with future projects as well."
The Big Dream
"5 year plan: Build multiple small and large parks in all major cities in Ethiopia, design and produce our own boards (including tracks, wheels, griptapes and of course decks), hold many different competitions for pros and amateurs alike from all over the world to come to Ethiopia to skate, become self sustained by building a skate shop as well as a school to provide education for the less privileged.
Ten year plan: Extend parks and build multiple shops and schools all over the country to really give everyone access to skateboards and education. Extend educational system to include photography and video courses as well as editing classes. Build the largest skate camp in Africa (something like Camp Woodward) and have skaters come from all over the world just to stay there, skate and learn more about our culture. Then extend this to include BMX, inline skates, gymnastics and other extreme sports like parkour/free running and climbing."
Dream it, believe it, be it!
"The most surprising element in our story has been the internet. It is incredible how fast information travels through there, you post a little thing on Facebook and suddenly there‘s people interviewing you, blogging about you or writing magazine articles about you. It‘s just amazing how a single email can suddenly get you a lot more attention than you even hoped for and we‘re really thankful to everybody on the internet who has been or will be supporting us in the past, present and future of Ethiopia Skate."
How to get involved...
Simply spreading the message is a great first step. The more people know about Ethiopia skate, the better, because it will be easier for us to find sponsors and partners for various projects all over Ethiopia. Sharing our articles and videos helps a lot to get the word to the right people. If you want to directly support Ethiopia Skate, the best thing you could do is donate money, skateboards and skateboarding equipment, because there are many kids in Ethiopia who are eager to start skating but cannot afford the necessary items. If any skaters from abroad were down to come to Ethiopia and show off their skills, it would greatly boost the kids‘ skateboarding morale and make them more interested in the sport.
To find out more information on Skate Ethiopia visit and how you can get involved click here
Author: Alae Ismail, Co-Founder of SBA