Most of us come in contact with concrete thousands of times each day. It forms underappreciated and forgotten pathways that ease our daily routines. Roads and sidewalks make our commutes simple, but are they transformative? Can concrete change lives?
SkatePal is shining light on the power of concrete. This non-profit organization works with communities throughout Palestine, positively impacting the young people through the art of skateboarding. With more than half of Palestinians under 21 years old, SkatePal speaks to the youth movement and uses the sport to forge connections — influencing and encouraging kids to witness the endless possibilities created by urethane wheels rolling over curved cement.
Founder of SkatePal, Charlie Davis, found himself in Palestine in 2006 — where he taught English after graduating from college. He brought his skateboard and caught the eyes of kids in the area, who swore there must be magnets in his shoes. Skateboarding was extremely new to Palestine, and he was part of the revolution.
“I didn’t come at it from a NGO, ‘Where can we help in the world?’ type way,” says Davis. “I just did it because I happened to have gone there after school on someone’s recommendation, happened to have a skateboard, and just happened to see the kids were interested. I thought, ‘I’ll bring back some boards and see how it grows.’ It could equally have been anywhere in the world where there wasn’t skating.”
Davis spent the next years studying Arabic and teaching in Tunisia. Once he felt comfortable with the language and Palestinian culture, he thought, “I can do something big.” SkatePal was established in 2013. It has continued to grow ever since, regularly bringing volunteers from all over the world to build skateparks and provide skateboarding lessons, as well as deliver new equipment to the youth across the West Bank.
SkatePal’s first major project was a four-foot mini ramp. After it was built, they gave lessons to the local children every day for eight weeks. The interest was undeniable. The organization then built Palestine’s first concrete skatepark in the summer of 2014. An additional concrete skate park was built in October 2015.
Each of these parks are in different areas of the West Bank, spreading the sport further and further across the region.
“We’ve seen in Asira it’s become like a community spot for families,” Davis says. “You’ve got the skatepark for kids who come to skate and you’ve got a play park for smaller kids and their parents come up and they’ll have coffee, chat with you, make some food.”
SkatePal has made positive impacts on the communities it serves by using its empty land near schools and abandoned play parks, giving life to places that were otherwise neglected. In doing so, it’s opened up a space for families to socialize as well as a safe space for kids to simply be kids.
“Skateboarding gives them the chance to escape themselves and focus on something positive and creative,” Davis says. “It redirect angers and stress, you learn self-discipline and self-belief. You try, you fail, you get up and you do it again.”
Davis loves skating, but he sees the big picture, too. He stresses the potential impact of skateboarding has in areas of conflict.
“Quite often you find an overarching feeling of hopelessness, because so many things are off-limits,” he says. “You’re kind of blocked, quite suffocated because of the nature of the social-political situation. And so if you can show something new that they can get into and can work towards.”
The villages where SkatePals’s parks are located are religiously conservative, but they’ve shown little apprehension to the organization and its mission. Most sports in the region are separated by gender, with mainly boys participating. If girls participate in sports, events are held separately. In Palestine, skateboarding falls somewhere between a sport and a pastime, so people are unsure of what to make of it.
“One of the biggest advantages is that it dissolves, unlike quite a lot of sports, it dissolves barriers between race, gender, class, and age,” Davis says. “You just have to have a board to have fun. You create a family.”
Davis’s next goal is to pass SkatePal over to local groups and skaters rather than existing as a foreign entity. He sees the program becoming self-sustaining within the next three to four years.
“You just have to skate and you will understand about leadership. You will understand about helping people up. You’ll understand about not ostracizing people, because skaters have all been in that position before.”
These concrete skate parks may be nothing more than concrete, but to the youth of Palestine, they are opening up a whole new world.
“With skating,” Davis concludes, “you have to create things yourself out of nothing.”