Durgha wasn’t allowed to participate in the Indian Skateboarding Championships in Vishakhapatnam – that was the status when she jumped on the bus with 20 other Janwaar kids in the early morning hours on December 20, 2018. She was too young, the organizers said. The seven year old couldn’t care less. Full of joy and curiosity she went. And at the end – being the youngest participant in the championships – she won!

Durgha cruising the arena in Visahkhapatnam.

Durgha looks slightly fragile but this is only the first impression that strikes you. When you look at her fancy clothes she might seem very “girly” – all pink frocks and frills and so on. But her looks and dresses are misleading. When it comes to taking a stand she acts just like a strong boy. And trust me, she does take a stand and can be very convincing. Durgha will never take no for an answer – and she is always pushing the boundaries. Very untypical for a young girl in a village.

Fearlessly and with a big smile on her face she was cruising the skatepark. She was simply enjoying her ride. Not a single sign of anxiety. A natural born skateboarder. And by doing so she left everyone else in her category (girls under the age of 12) behind, including four other girls from Janwaar.

Durgha rocked the show.
And again, she couldn’t care less.
With a naughty smile on her face she just kept on enjoying.
In ease.

The championships were a pretty big event. More than 4000 kids participated in 14 disciplines over the course of five days. Vishakhapatnam became the capitol of roller sports. Skateboarding was for the first time part of this circuit. For our kids it became a “village outing” 🙂

Emotions and excitement were flying high in the days before departure. The skateboarding bug had once again spread over the entire village. They got their skateboards ready and helmets and safety gear got cleaned. They packed blankets and sleeping bags for the 30 hours train journey. Arun, one of our eldest, collected all their aadhar cards and assured that every kid got updated with the latest news. He and his brother Anil became the treasurers for the trip. Arun also made sure that each kid got a new pair of shoes! He took the entire caravan one day to Panna – our next bigger town. There they “stormed” a shop and each of them selected her/his own pair. The Barefoot Skateboarders were no longer barefoot 🙂

The Barefoot Skateboarders got new shoes 🙂

Every day more and more kids joined and at the day of departure there were 21. The bus we hired was supposed to leave at 5 am so all of them could comfortably reach Jhansi railway station before noon. But this turned out to be wishful thinking. They only left 7.15 am – it took them more than two hours to gather all the kids from the various corners of the village. While they were waiting for the last ones to finally show up they weren’t thinking that the train in Jhansi might NOT wait. This didn’t even come into their minds 🙂 Such innocent thinking is actually beautiful – what is time? – but this day it was streching Mannan’s and my nerves. What to do if the kids don’t make it and miss the train? While developing a plan B for our worse case scenario we kept tracking the bus. At 8.15 am it reached Madla where Pappu – our local backbone and only adult in the room – jumped on the bus, packed with home made delacacies by his wife “Auntie Rajnee”. She is the best cook in town and the kids love her food. Now, with everyone on board the race to Jhansi could start.

The 190 km long journey leads through some small towns and villages – it winds through the typical Madhya Pradesh landscape, open fields, scattered trees and small hills. Buffaloes, goats, picks, goats and once in a while a monkey along the road. The villagers you see are very poor – it’s the heart of the Bundelkhand belt which is far left behind. It shows some roughness and wilderness which has its very own beauty.

The 15 seater bus packed with 22 people and all their luggage, helmets and skateboards made its way. It must have been cozy and warm in there. The kids were in high spirits and all excited to go on this trip. At 11 am they passed Mauranipur and for the first time we had hope that they might make it on time. I had to join a meeting by then and asked Mannan to keep me updated via Whatsapp. At. 12.20 I received the news that the entire gang was standing with all their equipment at the right platform at Jhansi Railway Station, 15 minutes before the train arrived. The driver had done a marvellous job!

A very happy Asha welcomed the kids on the train. She had boarded the same train in Delhi where she is now for her studies. Their beds were scattered over various coaches so it was quite a hazzle to keep them all together – especially when food and chai were served. But the elders among them managed well. They accompanied the little ones when they had to use the bathroom and checked every now and then if everything was allright. The Janwaar gang in full swing! Arun said: “I hardly got any sleep on the train, maybe five hours during the two nights. There was always something to take care of :-)” The ticket-guy on the train had a tough job, he was chasing them all over the train – but unfortunately he could only walk while th ekids were leaving him behind on their skateboards.

It was in the early evening hours on the second day when the Janwaar Express reached Visakhapatnam. Mannan picked them up at the railway station. If he expected an exhausted and tired gang he was proven entirely wrong.

Kids cruising Visakhapatnam

The kids were ready to rockn & roll. Not at all bothered that their bunk beds in the hostel weren’t ready – they went straight away to the venue. They inhaled the atmosphere of more than 4000 young people gathering for one huge sport event and directly dived into it. Full- and open-heartedly.

Once they reached the skatepark they were almost annoyed. Lavkush, a 13 year old Yadav boy and the best illustrator in Janwaar, said: “Our skatepark is much nicer!” Also Arun felt disappointed. The flat concrete arena was poped up with ramps and slopes … it was a completely different setting from what they’ve probably expected. But very quickly their dissatisfaction vansihed and turned into excitement. And the arena became theirs. Literally.

In their blue tiger t-shirts it’s hard to miss a Janwaar kid. Seven to 19 years old, they all look smaller than their age, all of them a bit too skinny, but they skateboard confidently, fall without fear and are back on their feet in no time and continue to cruise. The parents of other participating kids were mesmerized. Soon conversations started, the people were curious to learn more about these kids. And when the parents heard their story, they just fell in love with it. It wasn’t just the kids’ daringness that stood out, it was above all their willingness to help and support others. When ever a Janwaar kid saw any kid struggling to make a move or master a new trick, they would quickly jump in and help. At least five kids learned how to drop from a ramp during the championship itself.

Arun helping one of the Rajasthan kids to drop

So many people came and congratulated Mannan for coaching these kids. They could hardly understand that these kids never ever had a coach, leave alone a trainer! All self-learners, self-organized and co-creaters of their very own tricks. Some of their moves they learned from youtube 🙂 It was difficult to crasp for the parents and audience because it is so against the odds of what they usually see and practice! But they loved what they saw and their hearts were melting. One parent even asked if Arun could come to Mumbai and teach her daughter skateboarding. A few people wanted to know more about our initiative and the ways in which they could help. Some even took care of a few meals for our kids.

Every now and then the kids took a break from skateboarding. There was so much else to explore. While the girls loved the swings – Durgha, Kalpana, Dilasha, and Suman spent quite some time there – the young adivasi rascals Gopal, Baliram, Vinay and Ramji prefered the beach. The warm sun and the cool breeze from the sea made the weather perfect to hang out. They’ve never seen the ocean before. It was as if the waves and the power of the water embraced their bodies and took them to even higher heights. They were filled with energy and didn’t get tired at all. Running, jumping, laughing – just having a great time and being 100% kids. It was a joy to see. Luckily they resisted their temptation to jump into the water – the current at these beaches is really dangerous and no one was allowed to swim 🙁 You can’t have it all, obviously!

Baliram, Ramji. Brejesh and Gopal (left to right)

The championships were a blast. After two days of practicing, chilling, playing and exploring, the championships began. To cheer up the crowd as well as the participants they arranged the “longest ollie contest” – meaning who could jump over the most boards would win. With each run the number of skateboards to be jumped over increased. In the first round 60 kids participated. After the 6th round (ollie over 6 boards) only three kids remained in the competition – the beat was on for the first gold, silver and bronze medal. Round seven (jumping over 7 skateboards) marked the final: it was between Durgesh from Delhi and Arun from Janwaar. The crowd cheered them up. The cheers were louder though for Arun. He had to run first. In ease he mastered to jump over eight boards! Now it was Durgesh’s turn. Dead silence. He started up fast, jumped and …. got stuck at the last board. Argh! Enthusiasticly all the Janwaar kids rushed towards Arun to give him a high five! A bit too early though. Durgesh had two more attempts. The tension raised. Durgesh went on his second run … and crashed again. His third try – again he couldn’t master. But now it was no longer about winning or losing – the whole crowd wanted Durgesh to succeed. The judge followed their demand to let Durgesh try over and over again … at the end it was only Arun who mastered eight boards. Finally the Janwaar crowd could scream and celebrate Arun! The championships had begun.

Arun jumping over five bords.

The main competition started shortly after. More than sixty kids had registered – Janwaar made one third of them. Allez Les Bleus! The games were on. And it became a gold rush for the Janwaar kids – for the boys and for the girls. But just like it was two years ago when we held our first Janwaar Skateboarding Challenge all of them were champions – all of them were part of the very first national championships in skateboarding! It was a premiere and the Roller Skating Federation of India (RSFI) has done an awesome job. The only drop of bitterness was this ongoing protest and refusal of some skateboarders who did NOT attend to accept the RFSI for what they are – the official national body for skateboarding.

If the crowd would have ti name one outstanding skateboarder they all would have agreed on Arun. Beisdes his great social skills and the responsibilities he is ready to take he really performed well. His willingness to succeed, his power on the board thrilled everyone! Well done!

All in all the Janwaar kids won 10 medals:

8-12 years Girls
Gold – Durgha Adiwasi
Silver – Suman Kumari
Bronze – Kalpana Adiwasi

8-12 years Boys
Gold – Ramkesh Gond
Bronze – Brijesh Adiwasi
(these two are brothers)

12-16 years Girls
Gold – Priyanka Yadav

12-16 Years Boys
Gold – Arun Adiwasi
Silver – Shailendra Yadav
Bronze – Ajeet Yadav

16 Above Girls
Gold – Asha Gond

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