x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Skaters on board for their day in the sun

Die-hard skaters will brave the afternoon sun and perform tricks for the public in Abu Dhabi and Dubai today as part of worldwide Go Skateboarding Day.

Evan Collisson, a graphic designer, shows his skills with a skateboarding trick called an ollie.
Evan Collisson, a graphic designer, shows his skills with a skateboarding trick called an ollie.

DUBAI // Die-hard skaters will brave the afternoon sun and perform tricks for the public in Abu Dhabi and Dubai today as part of worldwide Go Skateboarding Day. Despite temperatures expected to hit 43°C, the skaters will be showing off their skills in a series of "best trick" competitions. Crowds at the Corniche in Abu Dhabi can catch the hour-long spectacle starting at 1pm, before the skaters head to another area of the capital for a further round of stunts.

At 6pm, as the sun sets, they will set up at Dubai's Deira Fountain, one of the emirate's top street-skating haunts, and perform another hour of skateboarding wizardry, hopefully enthralling spectators with tricks such as "The Ollie" and "The Boardslide". Between 7pm and 8pm, they will take over a section of Deira that skaters have dubbed "Sparks" for the sparks that usually fly from their boards there.

Go Skateboarding Day was launched in 2003 by the International Association of Skateboard Companies to promote the sport, and it has grown into a global event. The skaters taking part represent just a fraction of the estimated 1,000 who now practice the sport in the Emirates, and who often learn their tricks on video-sharing websites such as YouTube. The UAE's ever-expanding infrastructure, particularly its use of marble, has created a playground for street skaters and is sparking interest from professional skaters around the world.

Tony Hawk, 42, an American professional skateboarder and regarded as the best of all time, performed tricks in Abu Dhabi last April while in town for the Laureus Awards. Videos of travellers skating in the Emirates can be found online and a team of 20 local skaters are now being sponsored by various international board manufacturers. One of these is Evan Collisson, 23, a graphic designer who moved to Dubai eight years ago from the US.

The UAE "has really become a world-famous destination for skaters," said Mr Collisson. "[We] look at spots with different eyes. Stairs, or a handrail or a ledge, represent different possibilities." A skate park built for the X Games at Dubai Festival City was gifted to Dubai by the US sports broadcaster ESPN last year and is managed by the Rage skate shop, which has several outlets in Dubai and regularly holds competitions for young skaters.

Asphalt areas have also been introduced to newly opened community "pond parks" by Dubai Municipality. A 16-year-old half-pipe installed in Al Mamzar Park by the same authority at the request of local skaters appeared in the skating magazine Thrasher's list of "Places to Skate Before You Die". The skaters try to find open public spaces where disturbance to passers-by is minimal or skate during the night, when most of the city is asleep.

"We were out in Dubai Marina and Jumeirah Beach Residence skating until 6am this morning," said Mr Collisson, who works at Rage and founded skatearabia.com, an online forum aiming to connect the Middle East's skateboarding community. Bradley Kirr, 33, a keen skater from the US state of Ohio, organised the first Skate Biladi contest at Al Mamzar last February. The two-day event drew approximately 300 participants along with hundreds of spectators.

Scott Chambers, the founder of Surf Dubai, was a judge at the competition, having been among Dubai's first skateboarders. He was introduced to the sport on arrival in Dubai in 1991 by his older brother. "It's really amazing to see how the sport has grown," he said. "It was always a bit of a struggle for us. There were about 20 of us and we used to live in the Chicago Beach Village, where the Madinat Jumeirah is now."

At that time, he said, attitudes to skating were not always positive and there were few places they were welcome, a situation that is quickly changing. "When I look at it now and what people like Bradley Kirr are doing for the scene, it's incredible," he said. loatway@thenational.ae