By BEREKET DIRIBA, Correspondent JULY 25, 2015
ust a few years ago, you would not have seen a single skateboard on the streets of Addis. But things are different now. What once turned heads is now becoming a more common sight — although it’s still rare enough to turn most heads.
Nine years ago, Addisu Hailemichael had his first encounter with a skateboard. “That moment was a calling indeed. Since then I just got hooked to it,” he recalls fondly. Hailemichael is one of the people responsible for the growing popularity of skateboarding amongst the city’s youth. Together with his friend Abenezer Temesgen, and with the help of Sean Stromsoe, an American photographer, the young man established Ethiopia Skate, the first skateboarding community in the country.
Breaking New Ground
Hailemichael says skating is a life changing sport. It helped him make friends and become more outgoing and creative — that’s why he wants to continue skating as a profession. Yet Addis did not take kindly to skateboarding when it first hit the city’s streets, and most people considered it a risky activity.
“People only knew how risky and dangerous the sport was, and their response was not that inspiring, but now it’s just a different world. Everyone wants to skate; everyone wants to hang around with the Ethiopian skate crew,” says Hailemichael.
“Back in the days I used to skate in my neighborhood Kasanches. For now we are skating in an empty parking lot around Sarbet in front of Adams Pavilion, and a regional youth center behind Lafto Mall,” says Hailemichael.
The Ethiopian skaters are now attracting more crowds and more youth and people of different ages are joining the club. Skating is different because anyone of any age or gender can enjoy the sport, Hailemichael believes. “You can hang around with your elders and still learn and have fun,” he says. “We are a little short on girl skaters but we are always looking for and encouraging girls to try the sport with us.”
As pioneers in the field, Ethiopia Skate hopes to further the spread of skating in Addis Ababa. “Our plan is to make as many good skateboarders in Addis Ababa as possible, and also throughout Ethiopia,” Hailemichael said. He plans to keep on building skate parks, and in the future hopes Ethiopian skaters will compete in skateboarding competitions around the world.
However, the sport’s growing popularity in Addis, and the resulting number of youth joining the skateboarding community, presents a new problem — a lack of skateboards and equipment. In the early days of Ethiopia Skate, the skateboarders had to share three boards among 25 people. “It was difficult, but we enjoyed it still,” recalls Hailemichael. In time, the group met a number of foreign skateboarders and found a sponsor, helping meet the need. But every week brings new skateboarders, and Hailemichael admits, “It’s kind of hard to keep up.”
That doesn’t stop him from sending out an invitation to skateboarders and non-skateboarders alike to join the group during a skating session. So if you’re in Addis and have a free Sunday, find the Ethiopian skaters and have some fun.