I’ve just come back with three young kids, one from Delhi and two from Janwaar, from the Skate World Championships in Skateboarding – held in Nanjing, China. 27 nations sent more than 150 athletes so it was a great opportunity for India to send three young skateboarders to such a highly rated competition – actually the first competition ever to be held as a qualifier for the Olympics in 2020 in Tokyo where for the first time skateboarding will be an Olympic discipline. Accordingly the skatepark was top of the pops and so were the participants – highly motivated and bursting with energy.

First training session of the girls.

This event could have been such a blast for India’s skateboarders but unfortunately it revealed the HUGE gap existing between parts of the skateboarding community and the Roller Skating Federation of India (RFSI). And here is why. Only recently, as Josh Friedberg, director at World Skate worldwide, explained to me, it was decided on world level that skateboarding will be represented under the umbrella of the national Roller Skating Federations. This is the rule of the game all over the world. The structure is defined so that state-level federations (e.g. the Roller Sports Association Madhya Pradesh), recommend to national level (e.g. the RFSI) and national level sends to international events (World Skate). And this has led to a huge uproar within the skateboarding community. I somehow understand that Indian skateboarders feel “mis-represented” by the Rollerskate Federation and – at least as far as I can say for India – there is hardly any communication between the Rollerskate Federation of India and the actual skateboarders. But the skateboarders’ reactions became very personal and insulting. Why is this so? Why is there such boiling anger and no way out of this dead end? Honestly, I don’t know.

The skateboarders say the federation is corrupt, hasn’t the faintest clue about skateboarding and doesn’t inform or keep in touch with them. The federation says that it does inform them but either the skateboarders don’t react or only come up with ridiculous demands. Aware of such fights in various countries, the World Skate has reacted and opened up the opportunity for any individual skateboarder to participate in international events WITHOUT being represented by a federation. So this option does exist and skateboarders could avail themselves of it. Hence why they aren’t using this option is a very legitimate question. They can earn their brownie points at the events and the moment they reach a score high enough to qualify for the Olympics, no federation would NOT send them anyway. No federation would turn down a qualification and refuse to send an athlete.

Having said this, however, even though the three kids who went were all sent by the Rollerskate Federation of India, they had to cover all their expenses from their own pockets. Not a single INR was given by the government. All the RSFI did was to help out with the visa application which was very smooth and easy, and they provided one person to accompany the kids.

With regard to our two kids from Janwaar, Mannan and I took the very conscious decision to embrace this opportunity and work hard for it – even though it was a last minute call. The invitation came only a week before the kids were supposed to leave. So within a week we double-checked on the seriousness of the organizers and the event and we then decided that yes, our kids should go. The next step was to start a crowd funder and ask our network to contribute. We worked day and night for five days to achieve our goal – and we made it! We raised 2.8 lakhs INR (aprrox. USD 3860) and we were able to send the kids – and we chose a girl and a boy, Asha and Arun.

Asha and Arun at Delhi Airport – ready for departure.

Thankfully there was an individual who trusted us and provided us with a cheque days before we reached our target. Because payments needed to be made. And it made us feel good that three other people offered the same – all without being asked. This is what you need your network for. And this is why I would never ever misuse it. This cheque was the shining gateway for the kids – and now we can happily pay it back! It was a huge effort and much hard work to get this done. It didn’t come easily and it didn’t come for free.

Skateboarding is still very new to India. It only started maybe 8 years ago with small spots in Goa and a very first skatepark in Bangalore, which unfortunately had to close down. Nick Smith and the holystoked team paved the way.

This is an interview I did in 2013 with Shake from HolyStoked

It’s still a small community and there’s hardly any market for it. Rollerskating is at least ten times more popular according to market sales. So skateboarding becoming an Olympic discipline could actually be a BIG LEAP FORWARD. And it should be embraced by everyone – it’s a great sport with a great culture.

However this is the situation in India. There is a distinct lack of:

  • basic infrastructure (facilities, trainers, equipment, budgets)
  • skateparks on a professional level
  • government support at state and national level

If you look at China for example, Nanjing, a town of ten million people 300 km west of Shanghai, has taken its chance and has become the skateboarding capital of China. They have world-class skateparks, excellent training facilities and very good trainers.The government and the municipality have decided that they want a skateboarding team and so they provide the necessary facilities. I took our kids in the evening hours to the Nanjing National Skateboarding Center where they could train with their Chinese counterparts. They were surprised to hear that these kids had been training all day … strictly disciplined. There were 25-30 young Chinese skateboarders every day – there were trainers, equipment and support.

Asha at the Nanjing Olympic Skateboarding Center.
Part of the Chinese team during the competition.

I am not sure if the Chinese example – I could also say the “treadmill” – is really a preferable alternative, but it clearly shows what government support and the right kind of execution can do.

We in Janwaar are committed to driving skateboarding forward. And we do this in a quite unusual way – by NOT going where skateboarding communities already exist, but by creating new communities. This is what we have done over the last three years and we are proud to say that today in Janwaar we have a great pool of pretty decent skateboarders. Some of them are really good. Meanwhile our model has been replicated in various places. One skatepark has been finished closed to Udaipur in Rajasthan – and already “new” skaters are cruising through the park, thanks to our partner Decathlon who have provided 35 boards and safety gear for these kids. Another park in a small village, ProtoVillage, in Andhra Pradesh, 120 km north of Bangalore is up and coming– it will be finished in the next two weeks. The third one is in the Nuapada district in Odisha, right on the Chhattisgarh boarder. A small ramp is already in place and the kids are enjoying their first roll-outs. The skatepark is located in a police compound and aims to bring the police and the community closer together. The fourth one is part of the new Prakriti School in Noida, where skateboarding has become a core part of their sports activities.

And now there will be a NEW skatepark in Janwaar. This is great news. Thanks to Skateroom in Belgium and Walead Beshty, an artist based in Los Angeles, we will soon be able to start construction. You may ask why another skatepark in this tiny little village? There is a very simple answer.

Since the organization responsible for running the existing skatepark – the Janwaar Castle Community Organization (JCCO) – has blatantly failed in its duty to take care of it and isn’t clear about if and how we can use it, the villagers and our group decided to go ahead and build a new one. You may remember that almost two years ago, right after our first Janwaar Castle Skateboarding Challenge, I left JCCO – I couldn’t agree with their way forward. Since then JCCO hasn’t moved a finger in Janwaar except to lay obstacles in the way of our own work and make it harder. They’ve accused me of selling the kids overseas, they’ve been around the village telling people – without the slightest shred of evidence – that I was dishonest with money and would mistreat and abuse their kids if I took them abroad and so the list of smears and defamation goes on. But what actually happened then – which surely must have given them pause for thought – was that the entire village turned against them and stood with me, Mannan and our team, and in no uncertain terms told these smooth operators that they wanted us to stay.

What a unifying moment in the village!

Over the last year no one in the village has seen hide nor hair of them. Even today we still don’t know if JCCO has received the one crore INR (approx. USD 138,000) which was promised to us by the MP of our district during our Skateboarding Challenge. He is the father of one of the directors at JCCO. If they have received it, they surely haven’t spent it for Janwaar.

The status quo is that the skatepark is now grossly neglected and in a state of utter dilapidation. The flood lights don’t work, the security fence is broken and the Bamboo House is literally falling apart. The solar panel infrastructure and the toilets we built are rotten and can’t be used. The water pump is out of order and the water supply for the villagers, which was core of our endeavour back then, is no longer there. It’s a crying shame! Not only for the whole village but also for all those others who put so much time, money and effort into making the skatepark happen!

Our new skatepark will be owned by the villagers and the kids themselves – and it will run under the our new label of The Rural Changemakers. With this new park and our mini skatepark at the Villa Janwaar – we have a very solid infrastructure. What’s more, we have one of the greatest pools of young skateboarders in India – 18 of them will participate in the 2018 National Championships on December 22/23 in Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh. And we only hope that many more skateboarders from all over India will join – it’s open for everyone, no matter if you are associated with a federation or not.

We will try and use the potential we have to improve further the economic situation in the village. We already have home stays in our village which are loved by our guests from around the globe, we have a bicycle rental station and soon there’ll be a little skate-shop. But if we could get government support, not in terms of skateparks but in terms of trainers, equipment, and medical support, we could create one true hotspot for Madhya Pradesh skateboarding which could then become a national centre. This would not only “produce” healthier kids, it would also create employment. It would be a constant source of income and social status and would flourish in a region which is so notoriously under-developed. It literally could kick-start a village and its surroundings into life.

Asha and Arun have already travelled abroad twice. They have become India’s ambassadors for this sport. They’ve given interviews to the World Skate Federation and are now known in the skateboarding scene. They are certainly not the best skateboarders (yet 🙂 – but they are trustworthy and convincing ambassadors.

Their performance in Nanjing I felt was quite impressive. Asha, being almost a “senior” in the bowl, overcame her fears and dropped in as often as she could. She was overwhelmed by the energy and the decisiveness of her competitors – and I guess she understood in a very new way what dedication and focus mean. In her age group in India there are hardly any other girls who would have taken this challenge like she did and performed like her. For this alone she deserves all the credit. Arun actually became better every day. After his “first look” into this bowl he really was motivated and trained as often as he could for his great run. When he fearlessly dropped into the deep bowl during the competition, the bowl was his. One could feel his will to succeed – and the entire audience was with him and honoured him with a huge round of cheers and applause when he’d finished. Both of them, Asha and Arun, were filled with pride when they watched themselves on the big screen.

Asha on the BIG screen.
Arun cruising the bowl.

From its modest beginnings our Janwaar story has all the potential to become a case study of how to transform a rural environment into a vibrant international hotspot for skateboarding.

6 thoughts to “Skateboarding in India – Challenging. Chaotic. Constructive.

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  • Tanyang hassang

    Hey, my name is hassang and im 17 years old boy im glad to see that india is also taking part in olymphics for skateboarding and im also looking forward to work hard on my skateboarding skills i’ve been street skateboarding for months now but i belong from a state called arunachal pradesh where we don’t have a single skatepark and nor good equipments gears and also there are very few skaters but i hope that as time passby our goverments will provides us some place to skate
    See i have a goal to become a pro skater so that i can represent india in olymphics and im happy that there are many skaters who are doing that i wish you best of luck for every challenges during your preparation ,and sorry if you don’t understand my comment im not that good in english 😊✌️

    • Ulrike

      Hi Tanyang. I love Arunachal Pradesh – such a wonderful state. Beautiful mountains, forests and rivers. Found the dwarf elephants there 🙂 Please come by in Janwaar any time – we are happy to host you!

  • Poushali Nag

    I am truly inspired by your story of change , it is motivational and it gives me hope that sporting talents in India are getting exposure as well as bridging the gender disparity in villages. I am sorry to know about the difficulties financially u r facing to provide them with equipments and trainings. I think u should apply to NSDF(National Sports Development Fund) for financing or to private groups like Tata or JSW.

    • Ulrike

      Could you help us on this Poushali?


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