Throughout the years, skateboarding has become increasingly popular in the Middle East. Not to say it has never existed before, but the sport is now becoming part of mainstream culture within the region.
From once being frowned upon in Saudi Arabia to now being encouraged, skateboarding has started to take a big step in the Kingdom with competitions like “FISE World Series” taking place in 2019 and brands exploring more regional campaigns. Despite one of the main challenges being a lack of support from government authorities, skaters continued to pursue the sport in hopes of encouraging a better future with dedicated spaces and facilities. Today, Saudi Arabia has its very own extreme sports federation (SAESF), multiple skateparks, and increased interest in the sport.
Hypebeast Arabia got together with Riyadh’s skaters Rakan Ghaith, Firas Ali and Jeddah-based Ali Bin Mahfouz to know more about the scene, what got them into the sport, and their hopes for the future.
Mahfouz got his start after watching countless videos on YouTube and taking it upon himself to be one of the first in the Kingdom to show an interest in a sport that was relatively new. “This gave me my own space to grow and learn more about skateboarding,” he says. Ghaith shares his initiation by remembering, “I saw a friend of mine on a board. I had never seen anything like it in the country before and this was back in 2012. I was so interested that I had to try it. Standing on it, trying that first push and going in circles brought me a lot of joy and that was the start of it.” Similarly to Mahfouz, the Riyadh-based skateboarder then began to watch YouTube videos where he found his true passion and wanted to learn. “Back then, everyone was rollerblading and I wanted to be that black sheep. It was then that I wanted to be a skateboarder. Just a couple of days later I went on and got my first skateboard from a sports shop, wasn’t the best one, but it was the start,” he adds.1 of 4
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Alongside skating, Mahfouz is also the founder of Saudi Arabia’s local skate shop SiteenStreet, located in Riyadh and Jeddah. After a few years of skating and needing new parts, he was inspired to launch his own store. “I had to order parts online from the US and wait a week or so for them to arrive. At this point, our group was now made up of around 10 skaters in Jeddah and we were all facing the same issue. So, I decided I should do something about it and I started contacting suppliers and seeing what my options were,” he explains.
Today, within the Kingdom, skateboarding has been taken up by clothing labels, artists, and many more. “Back then, most of the community looked at me as someone who was trying to be American because they didn’t know what skateboarding was and it was hard for them to accept it,” says Ghaith. “It was looked at as a source of havoc or destruction and we didn’t have any skateparks, so we were skating the streets and getting kicked out most of the time. All this changed when people started recognizing the sport. More skaters popped up and a couple of skateparks were built. The community started to accept it,” he continues. Ali adds, “I think there have been significant changes recently and it’s growing especially through fashion.”
Today, Saudi Arabia is home to multiple skateparks including the popular King Abdullah Road Skatepark, Jeddah Corniche Skatepark, BLVD Skate Park, and many others. When looking at go-to spots within Riyadh, Ghaith shares, “I love Olaya park. It isn’t a skatepark but has a space in the center that’s the perfect spot – smooth ground with benches and stairs. I used to go around it for hours nonstop when I was first learning how to skate.”
“I hope skateboarding gets more recognition and we start building a bigger community in Saudi Arabia. I hope there will be more skateparks as well,” Ali expresses. “I am hoping that the skate scene in Saudi Arabia grows big enough to the point where there will be regional competitions and maybe one day, international competitions as well. The Saudi Sports Authority has already been investing in the sport and we’ve already had a Saudi Skateboarding Competition. This will further promote the sport in the country and the region,” Mahfouz hopes.
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