Isle x SkatePal:
Nick Jensen Interview

To conclude last year's collaboration with Isle Skateboards, we caught up with Nick Jensen to talk about painting, skating and his work as Isle's Creative Director. Interview by Theo Krish.

Nick and Jacob Harris in Palestine. Photo: Sam Ashley

Nick and Jacob Harris in Palestine. Photo: Sam Ashley

How did the Isle Palestine trip come about in the first place? Was it easy to persuade you to go?

Thats a good point actually. Chris (Jones) was always saying on the Isle WhatsApp group 'let’s go to Palestine!' I kept ignoring it because it was exciting but I’m a bit of a pussy when it comes to travelling. I get really anxious and I felt like it was going to be really intense and stressful leading up to it. Then I realised stop being a fucking pussy it's going to be amazing!

And was it less stressful than you imagined?

Absolutely! It was one of the most fun trips I’ve ever been on, it wasn’t at all stressful for me, just really thoroughly enjoyable. In my head Palestine was a twelve hour flight away but then I realised it was an Easy Jet flight four hours away. It’s just because so much crazy shit has gone on there that you compartmentalise it and put it in this place in your mind where you think that it's miles away because somewhere so close can’t have that much trauma.

Isle were the first official team to tour the country. So that trip and the way Jake’s portrayed it is the way that other professional skaters...

...will receive the first ever skateboarding on that landscape.

Exactly. People who have never heard of Palestine before are going to discover it through Pieces of Palestine.

Yeah and it looks thoroughly different. It’s got a touch of the Mediterranean, it’s got the Middle Eastern quality, it looks like a bewildering, magical place and I don’t know many other places that look like that in footage.

Nosegrind revert on the Palestinian version of St Paul's chalky walls, Nablus. Photo: Sam Ashley.

Nosegrind revert on the Palestinian version of St Paul's chalky walls, Nablus. Photo: Sam Ashley.

Do you think the way Jake's put the video together is going to alienate some people? 

In a way I think Pieces of Palestine challenges the idea of what a skate video actually is. It's really different - it sits in a space halfway between journalism and a skate video. It doesn't lead up to a heroic moment with a 'well done they saved Palestine' or an amazing tre flip down twenty stairs. It's just an intimate portrait of some lads going around Palestine. It's not that straight forward, you don’t go from A to B and get to understand the role of the piece.

I think it's going to cause people confusion on both sides; the skate side and the non-skate side because they won’t necessarily understand what the value of the piece is or what it's designed to achieve. I think that's the whole point of Jake's film, but it will definitely cause a lot of confusion I think.

Since working with Jake on Vase have you left him to do his own thing?

It hasn’t been my place to step in. When we do Isle projects like Transworld (Cinematographer Project) we kind of conceptualise and brainstorm together, but with the Atlantic Drift series it's been one of those things where it’s not an Isle production. So he’s kind of delivering his own vision. 

With Pieces of Palestine, although it was made with Isle, I think we had this understanding that it wasn't a branded piece. So it was more just Jake feeling confident in his style and pushing it in a new direction as a filmmaker in his own right, working alongside but not with Isle. He’s getting stronger in his own vision so he feels more confident in his decision making right now.

Visiting the Samaritan village, Nablus. Photo: Sam Ashley

Visiting the Samaritan village, Nablus. Photo: Sam Ashley

Tell us about the history of Isle...

Let me work this out... Isle is about four years old. It started when Paul Shier came up to me, we were skating in Kings Cross and Blueprint was kind of going under due to the recession and loads of things like that. It was getting managed by someone else in the States and it just wasn't working out. Paul quietly said to me ‘would you be interested in starting up a company with me and doing the design work?’ I was obviously excited and said yeah!

Then Sylvain (Tognelli) and I went to LA on a Lakai trip and we’d always stay at Paul's house. Me, Paul and Sylvain sat down and properly discussed it because at that point it was still a bit of a hypothetical option. We worked out a mass quit from Blueprint and orchestrated it that way so everyone could quit at once, so everyone was in the loop. People didn’t know that Isle was going to start but that's a different story. Everyone on the team was over it and it was a known factor that people were going to jump ship. The way it was being run wasn’t the Blueprint it used to be.

But in essence Isle started out of the love of skateboarding, wanting to do something that was different to what was already out there. We felt that we already had that option, trying to show skating in a different way and the design of skateboards in a different way. We had a really strong crew and vibe and it was born out of that connection.

Other than you three had you already chosen the rest of the Isle team before leaving Blueprint?

No, after we quit Blueprint we kind of worked out the team, it happened quite organically and quite slowly even though some people don’t think it did. 

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Were you involved in any of the art work in Blueprint before this happened?

No.

So the aesthetic of Isle has no crossover?

Only in that I skated for Blueprint and (Dan) Magee who was the mastermind behind the graphics and all the editing, he was the kind of director and creative for Blueprint and I had a strong connection with him. We used to skate together all the time. So there was definitely a crossover in terms of understanding the value in Britishness. There is a crossover in some ways but for me with Isle it was a case of 'right ok Nick time to do a set of designs'.

I come from a painting background, I generally make oil paintings on canvas. So when it came to doing the designs, I wasn’t very sure on how to use Photoshop. So I just decided to make objects in the same way I make paintings, things that physically exist on the wall and photograph them and use that photograph to turn it into a screen-printed graphic. The first series we did felt really scary to me because I didn’t know if it was good or not. But it got really well received.

Which was the first series?

The studio series, with frames and one had a palm tree with sand on. 

And that was the first time you'd ever designed a board?

Yeah.

Had you ever thought about designing boards for Blueprint?

Not really, I’d never engaged with it. I was into painting and I'd never really thought that painting would physically translate onto a board.

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Do you feel differently about that now?

Well I don’t feel that differently about it now, because I still don’t put my paintings on the boards (Editor's note: since this interview was recorded Nick used one of his paintings for Casper Brooker's pro board). 

There have been times where people have said 'oh put that on a board it looks really cool', but I don’t see a link at this stage. For me it was for more just about really engaging with what it means to make a skateboard and I’d never had to think about it in that intense way. I mean it took me a while, about two months, to figure out how to do that for the first Isle series.

So you basically hadn’t considered designing boards full stop…

No, because it takes quite a lot mental energy to consider a concept for a board and I’d never even fantasised or imagined that. It wasn’t in my mind. Until someone said you should do it, it forced me to fully engage with it and think 'ok these are the parameters I have to deal with, these are the problems I need to solve'.

And did Shier fully back your ideas from the beginning?

Yeah he was very trusting, he had no idea what to expect really. We had a chat about it. It was still really very sketchy, it was very like 'what the fuck, what are we going to do for our first series?'. We didn’t really do that much of a brand exercise at the start like ‘this is what we are going to be or this is what it represents’. We tried, but we're skaters, we're not that professional, we don’t know how to work like that. If we did work like that then maybe it would feel more wooden and constructed.

Did the reception of the first series help you to have confidence in your work?

Yeah it spurred me on and actually I’ve just realised that a major point is that I used to run a gallery in my flat and show contemporary art. So I knew what it was like to show work on white walls and organise the work of different artists. I have a massive interest in that world so I think that crossed over into the way I treat the boards, almost like the white wall in my gallery.

That make sense as to why there is a lot of white in Isle’s imagery.

Yeah. That white is supposed to be like a gallery wall. 

Tranquilize, 190 x 140 cm

Tranquilize, 190 x 140 cm

Where does your inspiration come from for art and skating? Is there an overlap between the two?

Yeah definitely. When you see a skater interacting with a space in a way that feels original, that's exciting and it's the same with art really. You see a painting and it has a certain energy to it that you maybe haven’t experienced before. It's a really innate feeling that's difficult to articulate, it's just a drive that makes you think 'I want to be involved in that'.

That's something I get from Isle videos and British skating in general, things feel achievable and that inspires you to go out and skate...

Yeah I think there is definitely that. With Vase I think it came down to the way we made the installations for the video. We were quite happy to reveal the scrappy nature in which they were designed. So you might see the masking tape holding up an object or you might see a finger holding it. It wasn’t about being super slick and professional. It's about the process of an idea just as much as the idea itself. 

For example in art, Picasso doesn't just make a masterpiece. If you go to an exhibition you see all these amazing etchings where he goes through a thousand options before he gets to where he wants to be. There's a lot of working it out and that's what skating is, you don’t just wake up one day and smith grind a twenty stair hand rail. 

Something that really shows this creativity I think is Mike Arnold’s Lloyds part; you can take one area and use your brain and skill and really do some inventive stuff. It doesn’t mean you have to do something super impressive like flying down loads of stairs. You can use the space and do something simple. I think there's a materiality to Isle, bringing things back to basics, nothing is too slick.

Nick & Jake pulling strings behind the scenes in  Vase.

Nick & Jake pulling strings behind the scenes in Vase.

How do you see the work you do for Isle vs your solo work? 

It's just different, tapping into different a world. In skateboarding I’m thinking much more about graphic design. When I’m making a painting I’m not thinking about design at all. So my mindset is in a different space. It's not that one is better than the other, it's just a different mind space, a different channel of thinking. The people I’m inspired by are slightly outside of those graphic-y things or they work well because I love the way they look on canvas which you don't get on a wooden screen-printed board. They're a different medium so I don't try and pretend that they're not.

I guess with skateboards you always have a constant - the shape stays the same whereas a painting can be any shape...

Exactly. You can’t crop a painting to be really narrow and weird unless it's been designed in that way. Also there is the reproducibility of skateboards to consider, you need to make six in every series and quite a lot of them are different designs.

With paintings I don’t think of them like a product. It's a bit more like poetry, you think of ideas and you get it out there and it has a moment in time. It's not reproducible. With boards you're working towards a market of people and what they like. You have to think slightly differently, like is this is going to really ‘pop’ off the board.

In the art world, Ad Reinhardt (abstract painter) could make an all black painting as a declaration of the end of painting, this final black space. The idea is beautifully poetic but that's not going to work on a skateboard. It'd just be black and people aren't interested in that sort of revolutionary concept he was dealing with in the 1960s, people would say 'fuck off'! I want to look at a picture that's going to function on a skateboard that's going to make me want to ride it.

You're thinking about the end user whereas in painting it's more about yourself.

Yes absolutely. Like your theory on your existence. It's a bit more existential, a bit more personal.

Curiosities shelves in Nick's studio.

Curiosities shelves in Nick's studio.

You mentioned before that the Curiosities series was the best selling Isle series? 

Yeah I think they were the best selling because they do a few things really successfully. They allow you to represent different characteristics of the skaters, they play on different shapes, shadows, colours and tones. They're really enjoyable on the eye and as a series they look great together. They interconnect like a jigsaw puzzle.

Yeah they bring a very touchable 3D element. If there's any deck you're going to put on your wall it's one that looks like it was already there.

Yeah. Like Trompe-l'œil, it's an illusion of space.

How'd you come up with that? 

Chris Aylen, Shier and I were thinking about those cabinets of curiosities and we were looking at these old dusty ones in museums. I thought we should do that but in more of a gallery vibe, keeping with the white aesthetic and we made it to scale. We made the shelves. So if you look at the shelves in my studio at the moment they're the same height and width as a skateboard. There's something nice about that relationship between one-to-one ratios. It keeps it real and not about being too illusionistic and show-off-y.

Do you usually design those on your own?

With that series Chris Aylen was very involved with me. We’d spend quite long periods of time at my studio arranging objects on the shelves for that series. As it's gone on our roles have slightly shifted and I'm doing a bit more graphic work. 

How did the Isle x SkatePal Curiosities board differ, did you approach it in the same way?

With this one there was more of a dialogue. Normally it's me and Chris thinking about a skater. With this one it was about speaking directly with you, someone who goes to Palestine all the time and has a working relationship with those memories and ideas, combined with my own experience of what makes a board look cool in terms of colour.

How do you think the board stands up against the others?

Yeah I think it looks like it's just part of series. It doesn't have any thing overtly different in any way. It hasn't got a political agency with it. It's just about objects that remind us of either a person or a place. It serves the same function.

That fits nicely with Pieces of Palestine. What you see on the board is what we brought back from that trip...

Yeah memories as well like, the the Taybeh beer. I have really fond memories of talking with Ala (Hilo) and learning so much about Palestine over a beer in Singer Cafe (Bethlehem). 

Ok moving on. What are the difficulties of being a board company in 2018?

The main difficulty is that the market is over saturated. There are so many companies now that it’s quite hard to compete. It's harder to stand out because everyone can kind of move around a bit and that's acceptable, whereas before it was like companies stuck with one style.

But that's a challenge I enjoy because it means it's a bit more engaging and pressurising to think ‘alright how are we actually going to do something different’. That can be achieved through the skaters, through video editing, it can be through any way in which you represent yourself. 

At the moment you balance your work between running Isle, skating and painting - would you eventually like to be doing Isle full time?

Well I do love doing Isle because it's a bit like letting off steam in a way, but I guess I wouldn't want to do it full time. I wouldn’t want it to overtake painting and skating and become a pure job because it’s just not who I am. I like the fact that it's a bit like a mini family - we enjoy feeding off each others ideas and that way it grows naturally and stays quite organic. It’s exciting and feels flexible in that way. It feels like we can do anything we want. 

And you don’t have the pressure of having to fulfil shareholders wishes or this sort of thing?

Yeah exactly, I think that just wouldn’t feel real anymore.

So on the flip side, would you ever want to do painting full time?

Yeah I would actually. I would like to do painting full time.

Searching for my Shadow, 170 x 130 cm

Searching for my Shadow, 170 x 130 cm

Is that something you’d like to do when you are 'done' being a pro skater?

Well I mean it's just not my choice, because it depends on how successful you are. If I was represented by a really big gallery and people really wanted to buy my work and I could make a living out of it I’d love to, but I can’t choose that. At the moment I don’t make enough of a living out of it to support myself.

What's next for Isle?

What I like about it is that it’s not that planned. It’s up to the team and how we all decide what our next trip is or what our next project is. For me it's about things like the guest series, growing relationships with interesting artists and asking them to design a board.

I think it's really interesting to take people who aren’t necessarily inside the world of skateboarding and get them to think about how their work could fit in that format. It's less insular. Being less tribal about it and getting more people involved helps to break down those barriers down, which for me is quite exciting.

Last Question. How has becoming a father impacted your art and skating?

(Laughs). Well I think it's too early to say ‘cause he’s only a few months old. Not as much as I thought to be honest - it’s been a joy and I’ve still managed to do everything else so I recommend it.

What about the next one?

I think one is enough for now!

Thanks Nick!

Keep up to date with Nick's painting and skating:

nickjensen.co.uk

instagram.com/nick__jensen

 

Volunteer Interview:
Lorna Brown

If you've bought a copy of our new SkatePal magazine, then no doubt Lorna Brown's illustrations will have caught your eye. 

Lorna came to Palestine in 2016, volunteering as a skate instructor in Asira Al-Shamaliya. In between skating and teaching, she somehow managed to find time to work on loads of paintings. We absolutely love her work and were stoked when she agreed to contribute towards our magazine!

Have a read below to find out where Lorna gets her inspiration from, then go buy our magazine to see more of her work!

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Tell us about your background - how did you get into illustration?

I pretty much went into illustration straight from school. I studied Technical Illustration and then completed my degree in Scientific and Natural History Illustration. It wasn’t about being an artist for me. It was more about the challenge of representing information visually. I came out of University in 2001 and painted anything I could to make a living. Portraits, greetings cards, stuff for magazines, anything that people would pay me for, trying to make a decent living in an industry that was about to fall into recession.

I took a hiatus from illustration that coincided with taking up Roller Derby which sapped all my creative energy for 8 years. I travelled the world coaching Roller Derby and playing at the highest level that I could before retiring in 2014 following my fourth sport related concussion! I supplemented that with working as a photographic retoucher - using my painter’s eye to make images for billboards and magazines look ‘better’. That was when illustration and skateboarding came back into my life and the break away helped me to work out exactly what I wanted and needed from both of those things. 

Vegetable shop in Asira Al-Shamaliya.

Vegetable shop in Asira Al-Shamaliya.

How would you describe your work? 

My work now is weirdly specific. I paint buildings and places in watercolour that I feel have stories to tell. I’m drawn (haha) to the character of spaces, to the rough edges, the lived-in bits. It has now become a bit of an obsession. I can’t go anywhere without spotting things that speak to me, that want to be painted. I can walk past a thousand shiny glass skyscrapers and not bat an eyelid, but give me a crumbling corner shop with a dustbin next to it and I have to capture it.

What made you want to volunteer with SkatePal? How did you find out about the charity?

I had this vague notion that I would like my paintings to be more than just ‘stuff I see around London’. I wanted to tell a bigger story. Illustrator-journalist style. That idea really took hold of my imagination. I have a journalist friend that I was going to travel to Beirut to see and base a project on there but that fell through. She then sent me SkatePal’s call out through Huck Magazine saying they were looking for female skateboarders to volunteer and something about the timing just felt right. The combination of skateboarding, coaching kids, adventure and the ability to tell a story through my paintings was the perfect mix. In the end I came out to Palestine for five weeks from the end of August to the beginning of October 2016.

Skating & Painting: Video by Ben Grubb

What were your preconceptions of Palestine before arriving? How much did you know about the region beforehand?

I must admit that I didn’t know very much. I had this idea that there was a wall and everyone on the Palestinian side were left to their own devices. Then, before coming out I contacted a charity that does peace work in Palestine and talked to the Director about the kinds of places I should visit on my trip to tell the story of the place through the buildings. We talked for a long time because it turns out that there is a huge amount to say, so by the end of the call I had a big list of places that I wanted to visit on my trip.

However, at the same time, I didn’t want to read blogs or watch videos on the place before I went out. I wanted to have that magic of seeing somewhere for the first time with my own eyes, to be inspired by that. To not let preconceptions colour my experiences. There was also a little bit of burying my head in the sand for a couple of months beforehand because I was nervous about the whole trip and found myself ignoring it on the horizon.  

Mount of Temptation, Jericho

Mount of Temptation, Jericho

You were extremely productive during your time in Asira, I feel like you were painting pretty much every moment outside of skating. How did Asira and the West Bank in general inspire your work?

I’d given up a lot of work to come on this trip so I made a deal with myself before I came out that it wasn’t a five week holiday, that I needed to work hard whilst I was there to make up for the time away. However, once I got started it turned out that the environment was so inspiring that it was a pleasure to sit down every day to paint. It almost became a meditation and a way to help me process the things that I was seeing and the emotions that were being stirred by the place. 

The dichotomy of the everyday village life in Asira with the military occupation became an important part of the work I produced. I’d heard so little about what life is like in Palestine that I couldn’t even imagine what it would be like. It was the same with the friends and family that I told about my trip. The preconception that it is a dangerous place - everyone I spoke to was basing their mental image on an idea from some news reports in the 90s.

I felt like perhaps my paintings could add some more colour to those mental images, and maybe some humanity. I aimed to be either skating, collecting references, or painting the whole time when I wasn’t at the skatepark with the kids. By the end of the five weeks I’d managed to visit every city on my list so I was really pleased with that, as travelling within Palestine was something that had been concerning me before I arrived.

The separation wall, Qalqilya

The separation wall, Qalqilya

The majority of your work is themed around buildings and architecture. What do you look for in a illustration subject? 

Like the deep lines in an old person’s face, I love to see some sort of history etched on a building. I love the idea we have that buildings are so permanent but actually when you pay attention they are changing all the time. I like small businesses that represent the vision that someone once had. Living in London, buildings are my landscape. Perhaps if I lived in forest I would paint the trees.

One of my favourite quotes is by Winston Churchill “We shape buildings, thereafter, our buildings shape us.” You really get a sense of that when standing next to the Separation Wall in Qalqilya. This huge grey structure, casting a shadow across the land, it’s a symbol. Then when you go and look at the same wall in Bethlehem and it is covered in brightly coloured graffiti you can feel the resistance of the people. 

What's your process for working on a piece?

My paintings take too long to complete outdoors so I start by taking reference photos. I get as many angles as I can of the subject, because I like to be free to construct my composition. I then sketch the proportions and different angles in my sketchbook to work out which kind of perspective will suit the subject best. The most time consuming element is the construction process. This involves a ruler, set square, calculator and my technical illustration knowledge.

I draw it all up in pencil on watercolour paper using perspective lines and it takes hours. I guess that’s where all the decision making is happening but I often get frustrated with how it can take 6 hours to put a few hundred lines on a piece of paper. I then ink all the linework on top without using rulers to keep the natural feel. Painting is my favourite part and the most meditative. Aside from having references open on my laptop, I try not to touch a computer in the whole process. 

Tyre shop, Asira Al-Shamaliya

Tyre shop, Asira Al-Shamaliya

Skating the tyre shop. Photo: Paula Viidu

Skating the tyre shop. Photo: Paula Viidu

How was it teaching the girls in Asira? What were the difficulties and successes?

In all honesty, before going I wasn’t sure how ’skate lessons’ would work. Having been self taught and used to skating on my own most of the time in London, I didn’t really know what teaching skateboarding would look like. The realities of it were much more organic and natural. The kids were great at asking for help when they needed it, and we quickly tuned in to spotting new comers that might be too nervous to get started. The language barrier was definitely the most difficult aspect, I’d spent some time learning Arabic before heading over but it was just basic conversation rather than the intricacies of where your weight should be to do an ollie. Yet we got by. We relied on body language, demonstrations and more often than not, a helping hand and a smile of encouragement.

The thing that extends beyond language though, is seeing someone actively overcome their fear. I never got bored of being a witness to that. It felt like the greatest privilege to be the hand that reached out and helped someone drop-in for the first time. To believe in someone else’s ability more than they believe in themselves and then witness them achieve it. Even to see the frustration when the kids were practicing a new trick, it was all so familiar. These commonalities taught me so much. Despite the places we were from being so different, our past and our future, our cultures and habits, within the skatepark everything felt exactly the same the world over.

Hitching a lift in a tractor with local skater Abdullah

Hitching a lift in a tractor with local skater Abdullah

How did your ideas about Palestine change throughout the trip? What have you learnt?

The hospitality and warmth of the people we encountered changed me as a person. Coming from a place with so much privilege yet simultaneously so much dissatisfaction, to a place with so little and the people were generous and loving, I couldn’t help but be changed by that. I just kept thinking about stupid things that make people angry or despair back at home and how silly they seemed. I guess it put a few things in perspective.

Why do you think skateboarding is important for people in places like the West Bank? 

I know that skateboarding isn’t the answer for everyone, but for a few people it can change their whole world. For the kids in Asira, it seemed to give a lot of them a place to just be kids. I suppose anything creative has the capacity to help people to feel free. Whether it be music, art, dance or skateboarding. I think that feeling of freedom can help you cope with the other aspects of your life that smother your heart. Skateboarding teaches you control and discipline but can also become a form of expression and hope. In my opinion, people without hope are dangerous to those around them. When all you have in your life is the feeling of being trapped, with nothing under your control it can lead to dark places.

Yet this kind of volunteer-run skatepark is as much about the growth of the volunteers as it is about the kids. It gives the volunteers the chance to hear the stories that don’t normally get heard and to feel the warmth of the people. We really felt like part of the community and grew so attached to the people we met. That’s something we will carry with us through our lives as well.

Vegetable shop in Asira Al-Shamaliya, as seen in the new SkatePal magazine. Photo: Christian Nilsen

Vegetable shop in Asira Al-Shamaliya, as seen in the new SkatePal magazine. Photo: Christian Nilsen

Does design work pay the bills? How do you balance between work, life and skating? 

Between retouching and illustrating my bills get paid. Coming back to skateboarding after having competed on a team sport at international level however means that I have zero desire to let skateboarding take over in the same way, and being older means that skating a couple of times a week is about all my body can handle. At the same time, I can definitely feel that itch of withdrawal rising if I don’t get to skate for a few days in a row. Maybe it’s just taking over slowly so that I only notice when it’s too late.

Do you have any plans to come back with SkatePal in the future?

I hope to for sure. Whether it is for a full month or just a visit to see all the great people I met we’ll have to see what happens. Plus I don’t think that Basma will forgive me if I don’t come back! We became such good friends.

What are you up to at the moment?

I’ve just finished making a book of my paintings following Street Art in eleven cities around the world and how the work on the walls reflects something of the unique sociological environment of each place. The idea was inspired by my time in Bethlehem .

Right now I'm working in New Zealand but I have a base in Malmö that I’ll return to in the Spring because the skate culture there is so welcoming. I really love Malmö, after so much travelling in 2017 it was the perfect place to hole up for a few months at the end of the year, paint and write by day and then skate in the evenings.

The book, ‘Painted Cities’ will be out in May 2018 printed by Head of Zeus.

Sofa drop, Asira Al-Shamaliya. Photo: Noah Hella

Sofa drop, Asira Al-Shamaliya. Photo: Noah Hella

What would you say to other female skaters considering volunteering with SkatePal?

It wasn’t nearly as scary as I had built up in my head. There are so many friendly ex-volunteers happy to chat about the practicalities of getting around that it actually makes it easier to see this part of the world than if you were doing a just a regular tour. Being settled in one place for a long time, one of the things I found most surprising was spending time with female groups within the town. We went to a couple of wedding parties and a dinner where we (the female volunteers) were welcomed into a world that men don’t get to see. In fact that was a really special part of the trip and something I had not seen spoken about much before. 

Anything else you'd like to add?

I think I’ve probably said enough….

Thanks Lorna! 

Follow Lorna on Instagram - www.instagram.com/lornastration

Buy the new SkatePal Magazine here.

 

 

 

Isle x SkatePal:
Jacob Harris Interview

A while ago, we sat down for a pizza and pint with Jacob Harris to chat about his Pieces of Palestine edit, Atlantic Drift and his ongoing work with Isle Skateboards. Interview by Chris Jones and Theo Krish.

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T: Let’s start at the beginning - what got you into filming skateboarding?

I don’t know, I think I just wanted to copy skate videos that already existed, but I would alway envision more skits and stuff and I was always excited about that. The first skate video that I ever made was when I was 12 and it was all like kung fu fights and I was editing little lightening bolts coming from everyones faces and stuff.

TK: What were you influenced by at the time? In my head I’m thinking videos like Mouse or Goldfish.

At the time I hadn’t seen anything like that. It was just influenced by shit films, just wanting to create narratives with your friends.

TK: Who was in that first video?

Josh Cox was in that video but no one else that anyone would know the name of.

TK: What about these days, where does your current inspiration come from?

It's kind of hard to say because sometimes when you put sound, music and footage together you just know that it works and that it's probably referencing something you’ve picked up from somewhere else, but you couldn’t necessarily say what that is.

TK: Would you say the stuff you’ve done since Vase has been more 'you being you' rather than you doing things for Isle?

Yeah totally. Not having to worry about selling boards or keeping within the consistency of an image means that you basically have complete freedom and I try to take advantage of that. But Pieces of Palestine is still meant to be in line with Isle output.

CJ: So whilst it fitted in with the aesthetic of Isle, did Pieces of Palestine feel more like an independent project, like the Atlantic Drift series?

I wouldn’t say that I borrowed from Atlantic Drift at all apart from using a lot of 16mm but that's kind of my set up normally now anyway. It was skewed slightly anyway because it’s a video that's in collaboration with you guys (SkatePal), so it had to be useful in different ways compared to a normal Isle edit. I would say that there are more audiences to address.

CJ: What was your process for fitting it in with SkatePal?

I wanted to give slightly more of a voice to the people of Palestine. I didn’t want to give too much of a voice to anyone in particular because I didn’t want to create too much of a narrative, but I just wanted to show the place. Obviously we are making something non-political, so the tack I took was to show a little bit of the place and the easiest way to do that is to have somebody from there talk about it.

Palestine is a place where it’s much more about the people that are living there than rather than the space itself. It's a place that doesn't exist in the global imagination of skateboarding that much. So it’s about showing that skating does exist there, just in a different way to what we're used to.

TK: I find it interesting that you say it doesn’t have any link to the Atlantic Drift because for me the aesthetic sits perfectly in-between Vase, Atlantic Drift and the Nicaragua edit.

It’s definitely going to be similar in a lot of ways because anyone who creates things has their language. I don’t think that I’m a craftsman in that I can choose to work in a lot of different ways, it’s more like I have a territory that I patrol. For me they are all very separate but I can see that to someone whose not inside my brain they’re definitely similar, but that's just because they come from me. 

CJ: One thing that I’ve always liked about your edits and maybe this is me reading too much into it, but there's perhaps intentional hidden references or messages in your videos. Were there any hidden messages in POP?

I totally get what you’re saying and I agree. I think that ‘messages’ is the wrong word because when you make something you can try and explain it using other examples or a similar feeling or idea. I figured out that I try and make things feel a lot like a memory and feel like you’re watching something that has happened before or maybe happened to you. So I try to create these kinds of archetypal images but that's perhaps over analysis, it’s probably a bit more instinctive than that.

I know Palestine is a very complex place and region politically and socially and I didn’t want to try and put my own narrative over the place. I was only there for 10 days and I knew that any attempt to do that would be offensive and would probably fall short of the complexities of the place, so instead I just tried to let the place speak for itself.

CJ: Did you have any idea what things you wanted to try and focus on before you went to Palestine?

I watched some other videos and looked at photos of Palestine but I didn’t really know what I wanted to represent beforehand. I’m always interested in places that are less visited and where global capitalism has crept in in strange ways and I enjoy looking out of for that.

CJ: That cultural cross over is something that's interesting in the very nature of skateboarding existing in somewhere like Palestine.

Yeah it’s something that's a bit surreal at times. It's really fun doing what we're doing but at times it's easy to take skateboarding too seriously and for some guy in the street it may seem absurd - and it is absurd! You obviously question 'what are we doing here?'.

Throughout the edit I would continually ask myself ‘what is the purpose of this film?’ And I guess it was to encourage people to visit Palestine.

TK: Do you feel happy with the outcome of the film, do you think it does that?

I don’t know because I don’t really think one of my skills is to make a place look attractive. That’s not what I naturally lean towards when I look at things, but I hope so! It’s a beautiful place so it kind of speaks for itself.

Jake takes a break from filming to 180 switch nosegrind at Asira Al-Shamaliya skatepark.

Jake takes a break from filming to 180 switch nosegrind at Asira Al-Shamaliya skatepark.

TK: We chatted the other day about how you don’t read the YouTube comments about Atlantic Drift and stuff, but how do you think people will respond to this edit and do you care?

I did imagine an audience quite a few times whilst I was editing but I don't know. It’s way less skating and it’s a bit more indulgent in a lot of ways but I hope that it’s enjoyable to watch.

CJ: How did the edit change over the period of time you were making it?

To start with I didn’t try to structure it. One night I just went through the footage whilst listening to a Roy Orbison song and thought that it was sick. Whenever I get 16mm back I usually watch it whilst listening to Roy Orbison just because it goes really well. I didn’t edit it for a long time because I was busy and we were waiting for an opportunity to bring it out, and then when I came back to it I found it really difficult to structure.

I didn’t really know how to structure it because I was editing it almost a year later and I couldn’t really remember what had really happened, so I thought it would be good to structure it around people's memories of the trip. So that was a turning point really, I got everyone in and asked them questions about what they remembered and I was like, 'okay this now makes it easier for me to understand the edit'. Even if it still doesn’t make that much sense it makes a hell of a lot more sense than it did before!

Filming session at Qadura park, Ramallah. 

Filming session at Qadura park, Ramallah. 

TK: Your recent films delve more into sound, which is still quite unusual within the format of a skate video. Is that a direction you're looking to keep exploring?

For me it comes from shooting film and most of the time when you shoot film you don’t record sound simultaneously. So that’s where it came from. Basically when you first try and do that you do it badly and that sounds really interesting and amazing because when things don’t quite match up it creates this interesting effect. And that interests me as I’m always trying to explore ways in which that can work and that's fun.

TK: Is there anyone else who influences you in that respect?

I don’t think so. I know Pontus (Alv) has done stuff with sound before but I don’t think it came from there. I think he was one of the only people doing it really, he didn’t take it too far but I remember really liking what he did. 

TK: Yeah I remember watching Strongest of the Strange and it felt very different to everything else at the time (2005).

Yeah I loved that video.

TK: It created another world that you don’t usually get from a skate video and I’m personally really interested in seeing how people take this direction.

I would hope that if there’s ever a time where you could do something different it would be now. Like obviously we are over saturated with content that's all quite similar, but I feel like people should really enjoy someone taking things to another dimension.

I mean 50% of video is sound really when it comes down to it and if somebody is trying to engage you in a way that is relatively unexplored I feel like there should be a lot of mileage in that. A skateboard video is about bringing people into this sort of world and if a part of that world is lacking then it's going to be less powerful.

TK: Did you feel more pressure with Pieces of Palestine as a result of the popularity of Atlantic Drift? 

I made a decision to do what I want to do as it seems to work better that way and I don’t really feel the pressure. I feel that if I like something then I’m happy and there will always be people who are like ‘what the fuck are these jelly fish?’ And then there are always going to people that are into it. But if everyone started slating it then I’d probably hide in my shell.

I’d be lying if I said that when I made Atlantic Drift I didn’t imagine an audience because there are still certain things that are kind of my duty to do, which is make a video that's as entertaining and dynamic as possible so that people who spend time skating in front of my camera get the shine they deserve. If I went on a complete flight of fancy then people would probably switch off and wouldn’t see people like Casper (Brooker) and Tom (Knox) skating. So I have to keep within certain boundaries and sometimes I work on edits and I’m like 'this is too much' so I have to reign it in.

Getting gnarly with Chris Jones in Asira Al-Shamaliya.

Getting gnarly with Chris Jones in Asira Al-Shamaliya.

TK: Do you think Palestine fits the aesthetic of the Isle guys skating?

I would say yes because no one was forcing themselves to skate things outside of their element. There were plenty of spots we didn’t skate and the ones we did skate reflect the things the guys usually skate.

CJ: How was your experience with 16mm film going through Ben Gurion Airport?

I mean usually airports are fine with it. They’ll put it through the scanner and fob it all or whatever they do but in this case they were like 'no we're going to open your camera up to see what's inside'. And I still had half a roll of film inside, and I was like ‘please could you not expose it because it’ll destroy the film’ and they said ‘you can either finish the film or its going to be destroyed’ so I said ‘great what can I film?’ and they were like ‘this rainbow wall over here’.

So I pointed my camera and filmed about a £100 worth of rainbow wall and I was like ‘is there anything else I can film’? And surprisingly they let me film the air field which I actually used at the end of the New York Atlantic Drift episode. The security woman next to me thought it was very funny and said ‘is that what you use to film instead of your iPhone?’ I was so fuming at the time so I didn’t really respond (laughter).

CJ: Haha. Is there any connection between the Isle x SkatePal board and Pieces of Palestine?

I had nothing to with the board so not intentionally, but I’m sure Nick (Jensen) took a similar approach in making the board. The film is called ‘Pieces of Palestine’ because I didn’t want to cast my narrative over the place and I couldn’t make an edit make that much sense if I did. I’m sure the same applies to Nick in that he wouldn’t want to try and represent a place in just one or two images, it’s better to take archetypal objects and just have them be there. 

TK: OK last question - what keeps you filming?

I don’t know, I would like to say that it's to push my friends but I'm not sure. I guess I get some sort of  validation and gratification from it. It’s fun! I’m lucky to be able to make things how I want to. But if I really wanted to make my own things then it probably wouldn’t be skateboarding (laughter). But within a certain framework I’m very lucky and I still love skateboarding.

Thanks Jake!

Interview:
Abdullah Milhem &
Majd Ramadan

We caught up with Abdullah Milhem and Majd Ramadan, two of the best skaters in Palestine - to ask them about how they got into skateboarding and the impact it has had on their lives.

Abdullah. Photo: Sam Ashley

Abdullah. Photo: Sam Ashley

Ok let's start from the beginning - how did you start skating? What was your first skateboard?

Abdullah: I started skating three years ago, I found a fake skateboard in a second-hand shop in Qalqilya, then I joined a local crew called the X-games team, which were a group of rappers, beatboxers, graffiti artists, free-runners and skateboarders. In 2013 an organisation called Tashkeel donated money for us to build the mini-ramp in Qalqilya. Kenny Reed came to help with the building and he gave me my first real board: a Real deck, Thunder trucks and Spitfire wheels. That year I also met Charlie when he came to visit our ramp in Qalqilya, just when he was starting SkatePal. He was really nice and told me about his projects.

Majd: The first time I saw someone skating in real life I think was in 2012. It was Charlie with his team skating at the plaza (in Ramallah). I was walking by, saw them skating and stopped for a bit to watch them. Charlie was doing a fakie 360 flip or something, but at the time I didn't know what the trick was - I just thought 'wow!'. So I talked to him and now we're friends. My first skateboard was from a toy shop in Ramallah, which now I know was a rubbish board, but at that time it was the best skateboard I could get!

Majd takes the unconventional route at the Plaza, Ramallah. Photo: Emil Agerskov

Majd takes the unconventional route at the Plaza, Ramallah. Photo: Emil Agerskov

You're both from different towns (Qalqilya & Ramallah), what's the difference between skating in these towns? What do your parents think?

Abdullah: I live in Qalqilya, which is one of the most conservative cities in the West Bank. People here (until recently) did not accept anything new, including skate boarding. They used to kick us out of every spot - they hated our guts just for being different. But as years went by they got used to us. Ramallah, however, is considered to be more liberal because of the interaction with the outside world, unlike Qalqilya which is completely surrounded by a wall. So skateboarding in Ramallah grew much faster because people were more welcoming to the sport. My family didn’t like it at first but they got used to it eventually.

Majd: Some people like it but most people think that it's just a toy for the kids. My family don't really like it, they always tell me I should grow up and stuff like that. 

Abdullah - Frontside 180 at the SkateQilya mini ramp, Qalqilya. Photo: Emil Agerskov

Abdullah - Frontside 180 at the SkateQilya mini ramp, Qalqilya. Photo: Emil Agerskov

How did you guys meet each other? Do you think you would have met each other if you didn't skateboard?

Majd: The first time I met Abdullah it was at the SOS skatepark in Bethlehem with SkatePal volunteer Maen Hammad. I don’t think that we would know each other if we weren’t skating! 

Abdullah: I don’t think I would've met Majd if one of us didn’t skate. After meeting at SOS, we had a session in the plaza in Ramallah. Majd had only just started skating by then, but I enjoyed watching him landing new tricks. He is always excited to skate, even though his father doesn’t like it. He is one hell of a skater and I'm glad that I’ve met him!

What impact has skateboarding had on your life?

Abdullah: Skateboarding changed my life. It gave me that sense of freedom that I was dying to have, it changed the way I saw my surroundings: everything turned into a playground. Even the wall around the city is just a sick spot for wall rides! SkatePal also made a huge change as they managed to create a skate scene that we were desperate for. They united all the skaters in Palestine, gave them boards and built skateparks, spreading the freedom and joy of skateboarding.

Majd: To be honest, I wouldn't be skating without SkatePal, especially Charlie and Theo. We don’t have a skate shop here, so my shop is SkatePal haha! They always get me a board when mine breaks, so without them I wouldn't be able to skate! 

What impact do you think Asira skatepark has had on the skate-scene in Palestine? 

Abdullah: It had a huge impact. It created a chance for kids to have a place where they can have fun. It gave them something to do instead of wasting their time just hanging around in the streets doing nothing.

Majd: Yeah I agree. People in Asira love skateboarding so much now! 

Abdullah, you recently helped out teaching with the SkateQilya summer camp with Kenny Reed - how was that? 

Abdullah: It was an amazing experience, seeing Kenny back in Palestine shredding and teaching kids with him was really fun. We had 23 boys and girls skating at the camp every day, which was great. I used to be the only skater in the city, but now thanks to SkateQilya there are a lot of kids skating. It was like a dream come true as I saw girls starting to skate through the streets of a conservative city. We're hoping to create a better future for the kids who are trapped inside the walls of the Israeli occupation.

Photo: Emil Agerskov

Photo: Emil Agerskov

How has SkatePal evolved since you got involved?

Abdullah: It has been an amazing experience working with SkatePal. I've met so many people from around the world who came to teach kids here. It's been great introducing them to our culture, and telling them stories about the people of this country. I’ve made a lot of great friends, and I was able to see how skateboarding brings people together and brings joy to oppressed people.

You both came skating with the Isle team when they were in Palestine. What was it like skating with them? Would you like to see more pro teams visiting the West Bank?

Abdullah: It was mind blowing! I couldn’t believe it at first - watching them land one banger after the other. It was good for the skate scene because people were able to see that skating is not just a game but rather a way of life, something that adults do as well as kids. We hope to see more pro teams in the West Bank, because it would inspire and motivate us Palestinian skaters, knowing that we are not alone. Also when pro teams come it brings more attention to the skate scene in Palestine and the Palestinian issue in general.

Majd: It was awesome to have a pro team like the Isle crew in Palestine. It meant a lot to me, but to be honest I didn’t skate much during the sessions, I just sat down and watched them do crazy stuff that I’ve never seen before except in videos haha! I would like to see more teams like that in Palestine for sure!

Chiling with the Isle team in Ramallah. 

Chiling with the Isle team in Ramallah. 

Majd & Chris Jones

Majd & Chris Jones

Why do you think skateboarding is important for boys and girls in the West Bank?

Abdullah: It is important because it’s self-liberating and is a peaceful way of resistance. It sends a message to the world that no matter what happens, we will live our lives like normal people. We are human beings who deserve to live.

Majd: I think the most important thing is the feeling of freedom. Even if I was feeling sad, I just pick up my board and go skating and have fun. I don't know what else to say!

What are your hopes for the future of skateboarding in Palestine? 

Abdullah: I hope to see more people skating, more skate parks and maybe a skate shop. It might be hard but hard isn’t impossible.

Majd: I hope that skateboarding get much bigger and better in the future here in Palestine! 

What are you doing now / planning next? 

Abdullah: Next year I'm hoping to study Film in the US. I dream of travelling the world, sharing the stories of Palestine through film.

Majd: Right now I’m studying in Birzeit university.

What trick are you learning right now? 

Abdullah: Lazer flips and they are a pain in the ass!

Majd: I'm working on inward heel flips and nollie bigspins.

Almost done, how would you describe Charlie?

Abdullah: A great friend who dedicated himself to spreading the freedom of skateboarding.

Majd: I will describe Charlie later hahah. I love him.

Anything else you'd like to say?

Majd: I would say thanks for everyone that makes this happen. So much love from Palestine! 

A few quick ones with @majdramadan3 at the Plaza #ramallah #skatepal

A post shared by SkatePal (@skate_pal) on

It counts! More stunts from @majdramadan3 at the Plaza #ramallah #skatepal

A post shared by SkatePal (@skate_pal) on

Thanks guys! 

Keep up to date with Abdullah and Majd on instagram:

www.instagram.com/majdramadan3

www.instagram.com/a_milhem40

Volunteer Interview:
Kristi Sanders &
Bella Warley

A few months back we chatted to SkatePal volunteers Kristi Sanders from California and Bella Warley from Leeds, to find out how they got on teaching the girls in Asira Al-Shamaliya during the month of Ramadan. 

image_00023.jpg

What made you want to volunteer with SkatePal? How did you find out about the charity?

Kristi: I discovered SkatePal though a friend who randomly tagged me on a SkatePal Instagram post. For maybe 20 seconds I stared at the image of a SkatePal volunteer holding the hands of a young Palestinian child learning to skate.

Something about that photo, the feeling I got when I looked at it would supersede any apprehension or anything else going on in my life. It was an intense reaction. Obviously I applied. Three reasons the trip appealed to me were; Palestine is a fascinating country, one month seemed like a reasonable amount of time, and there is no greater feeling than sharing the stoke. Plus it was written in the coffee grounds. 

Bella: I was at a gig which was raising money for SkatePal – I think Charlie’s brother is in the band which was playing so I found out more about the charity through him, emailed Charlie and got accepted as a volunteer!

Teamwork is the dreamwork! Bella & Kristi help Lydia on the quarterpipe. 

Teamwork is the dreamwork! Bella & Kristi help Lydia on the quarterpipe. 

What were your preconceptions of Palestine before arriving? How much did you know about Israel / Palestine before arriving? 

Kristi: With the exception of a few Ilian Pappe books and Joe Sacco’s Palestine, I really didn’t have a grasp. 

Bella: A lot of people’s reactions were ‘ooh do be careful!’, so I was a little nervous to begin with since a lot of media only refers to or talks about Palestine in the context of conflict and war, thus forming many people’s opinions of the place for them.

I tried to do as much research as I could about the history of the two places before I went out, but it is hard to get a real grasp on the situation without experiencing it first hand, and more importantly talking to people whose lives are affected by present situation – so before I went out I truthfully had what turned out to be a tiny grasp on the state of the political climate, and what the wall means to both Palestinians and Israelis.

Kristi & Basma

Kristi & Basma

What was it like being the only female volunteers on the trip?

Kristi: It was my good fortune that Bella volunteered the same month as me. We definitely bonded. Even if a thousand females volunteered, Bella and I would have become fast friends. She’s just that kind of person. At the park however, more female volunteers would have been helpful. It could be a bit hectic with so many girls needing our help. It wasn’t that the boys (volunteers) weren’t assisting. They were! But the girls naturally gravitated to the female volunteers. 

Bella: It was absolutely incredible being the only girls on the trip. I was prepared for it to be different, as in what it means to be a young woman in the Middle East compared to in England. Kristi and I certainly had some new and interesting experiences while being shown how to act appropriately (as a woman) in public by our friend Batool.

However it was amazing to connect with the other girls out in Palestine, whether they were skateboarding or not, and finding common interests and similarities and differences in our respective cultures. It was pretty awesome as well since we also had some great male volunteers to hang out with in the evenings, since it was rare for women to go out unaccompanied by men to play pool at night time, so we fortunately had people we could go with. 

Bella & Batool

Bella & Batool

How was it teaching the girls in Asira? What were the difficulties and successes?

Kristi: Difficulties…I remember one day so many girls showed up that there were simply not enough boards to distribute. That was a bummer. The successes! There were so many, everything from encouraging the most timid of girls to step on the board, to witnessing the most surefooted and advanced skaters progressing at light speed. 

Bella: Well, since we were out there during Ramadan, we were prepared for fewer girls to be turning up to lessons, for obvious reasons. Although it was not overrun with girls, there were certainly a good amount of committed female shredders who were there almost every day without fail!

One of the most obvious struggles, which I’m sure, only applied during Ramadan, was that the girls (although doing very well to hide it) were thirsty and hungry and tired. Despite all this, their resilience was admirable, they never lost energy or interest and with regular sit downs they still progressed at lightening speed. 

Anas & Lydia prepare to drop-in

Anas & Lydia prepare to drop-in

One of the most incredible things was watching the slightly older girls, who could see that Kristi and I were struggling along in broken Arabic, would interpret our movements, and translate what we were trying to say to the younger girls – and from that they were more than happy to take the reigns and begin coaching and helping each other. It’s one of the best things to know that this is a sustainable project and does not wholly rely on the help of the volunteers to keep running!

Another obvious success in my eyes was seeing how skateboarding builds up the girl’s confidence, they command their own space in the skatepark and will let a boy know if he has cut in front of her! One of the nicest memories I have was watching Kristi and 11 year old Basma in the line-up and Basma having her turn amongst a crowd of young men, and finishing to a sea of cheers from them all. 

Bella & Jawad

Bella & Jawad

How did your ideas about Palestine change throughout the trip? What have you learnt?

Kristi: Before my visit my ideas on Palestine were pretty vague, but when you invest mutual time and experiences in a community your perspective inevitably forms. As for the people of Palestine, I felt nothing but hospitality and love. Generosity is a cornerstone of life in Asira and I suspect all of Palestine. We were offered car rides everywhere we needed to go, hosted for Iftar meals (evening meal during Ramadan) by several families, provided left-overs of food. Bella and I were even gifted clothes, jewellery and cheese (thank you Batool, Abu and San, and Doha!). 

Bella: Before I came out I was talking to a friend of mine who had been to the village where we stayed and he had said what an amazing friendly and welcoming place it was, and in truth, he couldn’t have been praising enough. I have never visited a more peaceful, welcoming, inclusive place, with an amazing sense of community and an even more amazing attitude to strange foreigners dawning on them!

This of course is not always the case and geographically, there are cities, which are much more heavily affected by the wall like Qalqiliya – where there are more obvious indications of conflict. Even in those places though which we visited at weekends the general attitudes of most people were friendly and welcoming, and not to mention these young people had so much zest for life, something I think skateboarding fits so well with. People we met were so proud of their country, and for good reason. It is a beautiful, interesting, cultural and vibrant place. 

Why do you think skateboarding is important for people in places like the West Bank? 

Kristi: The West Bank is an agitated area. Occupation has bred a feeling of powerlessness for Palestinians. Skateboarding offers an opportunity to redirect some of the frustration into a different energy, one that is creative and cathartic in nature. This is where skateboarding rules. 

Culture, language, land and resources can be taken away. The visceral feeling of skateboarding, of learning something new, of expressing your unique self CANNOT. Skateboarding nurtures a sense of belonging, binding people from different backgrounds together. It can be collaborative in spirit and typically thrives under this community synergy.

While there is nothing more glorious than sharing the stoke of skateboarding with others, skateboarding is not reliant on that community to survive. This is an important distinction because the happiness that derives from skateboarding is not dependent on others but within the individual skater. It is a powerful tool for both connection and self-empowerment. Ownership of one’s capabilities and potential, is something that no one can take away. 

Kristi lends a helping hand to Lydia's rock-fakie.

Kristi lends a helping hand to Lydia's rock-fakie.

Bella: Skateboarding is important for people in the West Bank, and people the world over because it is a feasible and practical hobby to acquire - requiring very little other than you and your board. It teaches young people to care for something, to develop a skill, and to spend time outside.

The kids in the West Bank are growing up in an oppressed environment, where their resources and opportunities are fettered and so what they need are ways to express themselves and show the world what they are capable of! Skateboarding also plays such a key part in developing kids confidence. In the month we were there, the ones that started out a little shy or nervous on the board became louder and more outgoing as the days went on, and I hope that translates into all other aspects of their lives!

Fundamentally, skateboarding is some of the best times I have ever had, and you can tell with the kids who eventually start to feel more comfortable on the boards, how much they love it when their huge grins are staring up at you. 

What stood out for you on the trip?

Kristi: The spirit of generosity was off-the-charts. Between the numerous car rides, Iftar dinners, and parting gifts, the people in Asira were so giving! There was one moment in particular. While I was helping this one girl, Meenas learn to rock-fakie, another less experienced girl was saying something to me in Arabic. I couldn’t understand what the girl was saying, but Meenas did. Tail on coping, ready to drop in Meenas withdrew her board and said to me. “She needs your help more.”

Without waiting for my response Meenas pulled her board away from the coping and said. “Could you please help her drop in.” It was subtle, but moving. Meenas forfeited her own desires for someone else! The crazy thing is that Meenas was not the only one to give way to someone who needed it more. On more than one occasion the kids offered up their “skate-time” for another skater. 

Bella: The thing that stood out for me was the kindness of everyone we met. It was so ingrained in their nature to share with us everything they had, food, drink, stories, experiences, plans for the future, their homes!

Their attitudes towards each other was amazing, friends, brothers and sisters at the skate park would all share boards, and stick together and encourage each other, teach each other and shout for each other wanting praise for landing a new trick. It is important to me to have someone to enjoy skateboarding with and that is something these kids will always have due to the nature of their community. 

Basma: rock-fakie

Basma: rock-fakie

Do you have any plans to come back with SkatePal in the future?

Kristi: I would welcome a return visit!

Bella: I most definitely want to come out with SkatePal in the future, to see what the first generation of Palestinian female skateboarders grow up to be like! I’m still at University so still have the long summer holidays, so if I can find the money, the time shouldn’t be a problem. 

What’s your local skate-scene like? 

Kristi: Skateboarding is so prevalent in Southern California that you could randomly show up at a skate spot or park and it’s likely you’ll know someone there. I skate with an amazing crew that enjoys the more DIY-backyard style of round-wall, so in that sense the scene is a fraction smaller.

Skating is so interconnected I feel like my core crew has grown, extending from Southern California to Northern California …from California to Portland to Colorado, from the United States to Canada to Spain and now… Palestine. Connection is a key component to skateboarding. It’s part of the beauty of skateboarding. 

Bella: Even though it is still heavily male dominated, the scene in Leeds is so prominent - the park is always rammed and you can always hear a skateboard around the streets of the city. There are regular girls only nights too at our local indoor park where the scene is insane, so many young girls come along and absolutely kill it. 

What would you say to other female skaters considering volunteering with SkatePal?

Kristi: DO IT!!! 

Chilling with Fahmi and Abu Ali. 

Chilling with Fahmi and Abu Ali. 

Anything else you'd like to add?

Kristi: Many thanks to the people and families that hosted our dinners; The Jawabreh family, the Sawalmeh family, Jarara’a, family, Abu Khalid (the Mayor), Mohammed Sawalha, Mohammad Othman, Maad Abu-Ghazaleh.

Thanks to all the friends and family that supported the funding. Jacks Garage for sponsoring a large portion of my campaign and gifting the children with goodies. Thanks to the incredible group of SkatePal volunteers that kept it haram. I love every single one of you! And SkatePal, for offering this amazing opportunity. 

Bella: Don’t hesitate for a second!! Try and find the time because it was one of the best things I’ve ever done - working with kids is always going to be a wicked experience but getting to do it and skate at the same time is something special. Seeing the young girls skating is amazing and knowing that your work is helping globalise the sport and also break down gender barriers in the Middle East is pretty cool.

Finally, Palestine is somewhere worth visiting either way, just err on the side of caution as you would in all foreign countries and you’ll be fine! 

Thanks Kristi & Bella! 

If you're interested in volunteering with SkatePal in 2017, drop us an email at info@skatepal.co.uk or head to our volunteer page for more info.

Daniel Clarke Interview

Last month we launched our new SkatePal deck and t-shirt series designed by London based illustrator Daniel Clarke. 

We love Dan's work and are stoked to welcome him to the SkatePal family. The boards are now available online (see below), so we caught up with Dan to talk about his design work and where he gets his inspiration from.

Dan in his studio

Dan in his studio

Tell us about your background -­ how did you get into illustration and designing boards?

It goes back quite far, around when I got into skateboarding about 14 years ago. I used to always paint my old boards and then me and some friends started making our own board graphics with spray paints and stencils. A couple of years later my local skate shop needed a new board graphic so I learnt how to use photoshop and did a series, unfortunately it never happened but it's not too surprising haha I was only 13 years old..

Nothing much happened after that until I went to college and studied graphic design, there I learnt how to screen print and started making my own t shirts, after this I went to Camberwell uni to study illustration and there I got really into illustration and printmaking. In my second year of uni Dan Magee (at the time he was running Blueprint skateboards) got in touch as he'd seen one of my prints through Jacob Harris. He then asked me to work on some boards graphics with him which really helped my design skills to develop. My first board was for Smithy and then from that I did 5 or 6 more for the rest of the guys on the team. 

Dan's SkatePal deck and t-shirt design.

Dan's SkatePal deck and t-shirt design.

The board in it's natural habitat: Palestine

The board in it's natural habitat: Palestine

How would you describe your work?

I'd say my work is heavily influenced by architecture and urban environments, more recently I've been exploring more natural forms too. The architectural influence comes from skateboarding though, as I'm always looking out for new spots to skate and in a similar way for my work I'm constantly looking for new shapes/ patterns and structures to illustrate, sometimes they both come together.

Heygate Estate Series

Heygate Estate Series

What made you want to get involved with SkatePal. Did you know much about Palestine or the charity before getting involved?

I'm good friends with Chris so he'd clued me up on it all and therefore I knew a fair amount about it. I'm really into the project so when you guys got in touch I was stoked, I'd actually been thinking of contacting you so it was perfect.

What's different or difficult about designing for a deck (and in this case a screen-printed one) over doing something for print / online etc?

I guess the shape of the board is a restriction, but restrictions tend to help as you know what you have to work with. Other than that it's all quite similar, just that you have to separate the colours and work with a limited palette. I've really enjoyed the challenge as it's allowed me to simplify my work a little.

Where did the inspiration come from for this SkatePal board?

The inspiration came from the landscape within Palestine and existing 'Visit Palestine' posters (below), whilst including traditional elements such as the olive branch and the pottery.

You obviously do a lot of pretty varied work. The majority of stuff you do is for clients outside of skateboarding right? How does your approach differ when designing for skate companies vs more corporate clients?

That's right, most of my work is for publications and clients outside of skateboarding. These clients usually approach me with a particular brief and sometimes there isn't loads of room to explore. However with skateboard graphics, there tends to be a lot more freedom as it's usually based on the aesthetic with a loose theme. I enjoy the freedom given when designing board graphics as it lets me come up with something that's more like my personal works. 

Arch & Fragment

Arch & Fragment

You recently did some designs for Habitat (which are great!). How did that come about? Would you like to be doing board designs more often?

Mark Suciu hooked this one up, so stoked on that as it's actually been my dream to do one since I was a kid, 12 year old me would be hyped. I've known Mark for a long time and I had some graphics I wanted to show to Joe at Habitat and he passed them on and a few weeks later it was going ahead! I'd love to keep on doing board graphics for sure.

Does design work pay the bills? How do you balance between work, life and skating?

It does pay the bills now yeah, it was a struggle for a while, balancing jobs and stuff which meant I didn't have a lot of time. Consequently I ended up skating less than I'd have liked to, but now things are a bit more steady and illustration is my day job I'm getting back on the skating a lot more.

What are you up to next?

I have a few things coming out soon, one of them is with the Barbican which will be dropping in a month or so, and then I'm working with Goma Collective and Gaurab Thakali (check his work!) on a project from a recent trip to Rio De Janeiro. This will be dropping in the next few months and will be along a similar vein to this Skatepal collaboration.

Thanks Dan! 

The Daniel Clarke SkatePal deck and t-shirt series is now available online at The Palomino and in-store at Parlour Skate Store and Brixton's Baddest Skateshop.

Check out more of Dan's work at daniel-clarke.com

Many thanks to Lovenskate for their continued support in printing our boards and t-shirts. Check the video (above) to see how the boards were made!

SML Wheels Interview
Aaron & Ariel Wilson

To celebrate the launch of our new collaboration with SML Wheels, we chatted to Aaron Brown (SML) and artist Ariel Wilson, to find out what drives their work and what inspired them to get involved with SkatePAL. 

Aaron Brown Interview

Tell us about the history of SML, when did you guys start out and what was the idea behind it? 

I feel like the history of SML is kinda long so I'll keep it short. I've always had random companies since I was in Jr High. Once I got into High School I started working at Liberty Boardshop and saw a whole new world of skateboarding. I was so fresh haha. Liberty is where I met everyone. At one point James, Austyn, Rob, and myself have all worked there.

Once I got a job at Liberty I started hanging and filming a bunch with James Craig, Gershon Mosley, Danny Garcia, and Ronnie Creager.  Once Austyn was old enough (13) we let him start cruising with us. too We would make these crew videos called "Razor Sharp" and have a party for the premiere when somebody's parents went out of town. After hanging/ filming with James long enough I turned into the Blind filmer, James and I would pretty much skate every day all day together. 

Fast forward a couple years, James and I are skating/ filming and are having a really good day. He gets some tricks and we decide to call it and give our friends a call to play poker. We all meet up at James house. This is before your emails went straight to your phone and I remember James would check his email everyday as soon as we walked in the door from skating. So we're all in a good mood starting to get the cards out, grabbing beers and stuff and I just see James' face changing as he's reading an email. He let's us all read it and its this super generic office space-type email thanking him for his services at Bones wheels and saying that he wasn't needed anymore. It was straight copy and paste style.

We later got to the bottom of it and there was a certain Bones rider who didn't think James was "Elite" enough. A couple days later one of our friends that rode for Bones told them he was going to quit because they kicked off James, Bones called James and asked him back on the team but it was too late we already started brewing up SML. I think James still has that email haha. 

Chris Jones, Hippie Jump in Athens. Photo: Sam Ashley

Chris Jones, Hippie Jump in Athens. Photo: Sam Ashley

You've got a pretty diverse and heavy hitting team, with Chris Jones and Tom Knox holding down the London connection - how did you guys all meet and get involved together? 

Yea its pretty much my dream team of skateboarding minus a few. I love all these dudes styles, tricks, spots they do the tricks at, and just the overall way they look at skateboarding. As for the London crew, Chris Jones was the first London dude we got on the team. That happened through Wes at Rock Solid. Wes shares a similar perspective on skateboarding as us and knows what we like. He showed us some footy and I passed it around to the team and they were down. Tom came on after Chris, to be honest I'm not sure if Chris or Wes talked to him or if he reached out but I'm super stoked that he's on.

Mike Arnold is the latest guy on the team and is from the London area [Bristol - ed.] as well. All these dudes are so fun to watch. I trip out everyday when I see the people that ride for SML.

What made you want to do the SkatePAL wheel? Did you know much about Palestine or the charity before getting involved?

We're always down to give back to skateboarding any way we can. Us being a small company its hard for us to do that sometimes. Chris brought SkatePAL to our attention and let us know what you guys do and that he's a part of it. He thought it could be cool to do something together. Any time a team rider brings something to my attention that is important to them I'm always down to try and make it happen. We all got copied on an email and it just went from there. Now we got a rad wheel collaboration and some new friends! 

Is this a full time job for you? What are you up to when you're not working on SML?

SML is a full time job but we have yet to pay ourselves haha. It takes up a considerable amount of time and everything just goes back into the back account for the next season or whatever comes up in between. I'm really lucky that I'm able find work in the skate industry. When I'm not working on SML I'm usually filming or editing, thats how I pay my bills.

I mostly film and edit skateboarding stuff for different companies, but I've done a bunch of random stuff. I do behind the scenes stuff for Snoop, a lot of videos for Rastaclat, some stuff of models, I did this 13 day time lapse for this artist DFACE which was pretty fun. I was doing some stuff for this headphones company for a bit so we'd shoot a lot of NBA players. Went to Eddie Murphy's house to shoot a little Christmas video of him and his family. It's all random and fun. 

What is the importance of 'play' to you? Both in your work and the world in general… 

It's kinda hard for me to put into words. I'm fortunate enough that my work is my play and play is my work. I'd go crazy if there wasn't an element of fun to everything I do, that's what keeps me going. New, fun, and exciting. I guess you could say everyday is a Monday or everyday is a Saturday depending on how you look at it haha.

What's next for SML?

Next for SML is just trying to put more work and energy into it. I feel like we could do so much more that this is only the beginning. Everyone in the SML family is stoked and ready.

Anything else you'd like to add?

Have fun, be happy.

Ariel and Olive in the studio

Ariel Wilson Interview

Tell us about your background - how did you end up getting involved with designing skate wheels and what's your link to SML?

I’m a freelance illustrator/designer based out of Long Beach, California. Working freelance has been great because I get to work in a lot of different modes, and with a lot of different people. I got involved with SML after Aaron saw my work on Instagram and reached out to me. The brand seemed like a natural fit for my work and they are all really great guys so I was grateful and excited to work with them. When I’m not working from home I teach art to residents of a treatment centre for at-risk and special needs youth. I also try to squeeze in time for personal projects and painting. I’m never bored and get to live off of my favourite hobby so I’m thrilled.

You obviously do a lot of pretty varied work, including wheels, board designs but lots of stuff outside skateboarding too. Where does your inspiration come from for your designs? 

I’m really drawn to work that has a story or a unique point of view, and most of my stuff has an underlying narrative quality. I love storytellers. In keeping with that I’m really inspired by folklore, personal or communal histories, and memories. Most of the work I do outside of the skate industry is for non-profits or small businesses. 

What's different or difficult about designing for a skate wheel over doing something for print etc?

So much! Any time you are designing something you have an allotted amount of design “real estate” to work with, and the real estate for wheels can be tricky for me. For one thing they are small, or in this case SML (sorry couldn’t resist) which means you can’t get crazy with tiny detail that won’t translate well in printing, and on top of that there’s a hole in the middle of the design. Most of my work tends to fit in a perfect square so designing in a circle is a fun challenge.

What made you want to get involved with the SkatePAL wheel. Did you know much about Palestine or the charity before getting involved?

I do a lot of illustration work based on different cities/cultures, primarily because it creates a situation where I have to do mini research projects on different places around the world. It’s like a fun homework assignment for me to learn about stuff I might not otherwise. I try to take all that research and translate it into simplified icons that are easily recognised by people that know the place well, while also easily understood by people who don’t know the place. I didn’t know about SkatePAL prior to working on the wheel. When asked to design something for you guys it seemed like a fun opportunity to do a little research, but this time for a great cause rather than for my own amusement. Win Win.

What are you up to next?

I’ve spent the last 6 months working on making an art book that explores the relationship between skateboarding and art. In the first half of the book I Interviewed some of my favourite artists who skate, and included images of their work. The second half of the book is a collection of collaborations between me and a few skate photographers. I made gouache paintings from their photographs and then fused painting/photo together. Right now I’m working on finalising edits on the first proof, and trying to organise an art show/book release somewhere in Long Beach by the end of summer. Aside from that, lots of fishing and camping.

Anything else you'd like to add?

I think kids having an outlet/mode of expression is one of the most important things in helping them grow into well rounded and thoughtful adults. So I admire and respect the work that you guys are doing and am grateful to be involved! Cheers, Ariel.

Thanks Aaron & Ariel! 

Join us for the SkatePAL x SML Wheels launch event at Brixton's Baddest Skateshop, this Thursday 6th July, 7pm.

The SkatePAL x SML wheel will be available in the UK via Rock Solid Distribution. A portion of sales from the wheel will go towards helping us build more skateparks in Palestine.

Look out for the SkatePAL x SML Wheels edit coming soon!

www.instagram.com/smlwheels

www.instagram.com/arielnwilson

Volunteer Interview:
Rachael Sherlock & Rae Smith

We caught up with Rachael and Rae, two skaters from London who volunteered with us in early 2016 to teach at our skatepark in Asira Al-Shamaliya.

What made you want to volunteer with SkatePAL? How did you find out about the charity and how long did you come for on this trip?

Rachael: I first saw a video and interview with (previous SkatePAL volunteers) Lilly and Danni on the Girl Skate UK page and remember doing loads of research into what SkatePAL was. Then a few months later I saw a post looking for more female shredders. I’d always wanted to volunteer abroad and because this was skate related it made sense that I’d be more useful doing this than your bog standard teach English abroad placement.

Rae: Skateboarding has changed my life completely and now I want to give this life changing gift to as many other people as possible. I found out about the opportunity through Rachael - she told me she was planning on going and told me about SkatePAL needing more female volunteers. I was pretty nervous to apply because I've only been skating less than a year, so I was stoked to get accepted! I went for one month and I think I could have stayed for longer as it was such a rewarding experience and there was so much to do every day - it was awesome to form friendships and see people make real progress with skateboarding. 

Basma prepares to drop-in

Basma prepares to drop-in

What were your preconceptions of Palestine before arriving? How much did you know about Israel / Palestine before arriving?

Rachael: I’d previously been to Jordan but this was very different. I thought poverty might be the main kind of problem, but this wasn’t the case.

Rae: I've been following the Israel/Palestine situation for years but always found it super confusing and complex. I'm a big believer in the idea that you can't really understand something until you've experienced it - and to be honest, even visiting the area isn't the same as living there, so I don't presume to have any real concept of what it's like for the people we met. 

What I can say is that I've always wanted to help in whatever way I could, but didn't really know how. I was on the fringes of some activist groups for a while but it never felt like the right direction for me. Through skateboarding, just by doing what I love, I've been able to offer something in some small way without even trying, which is the raddest thing of all! I hope to continue doing what I love and I'll just see where it takes me, hopefully towards more positive and rewarding experiences like this :)

What was it like being the only female volunteers on the trip?

Rachael: It was actually alright. The first couple of weeks I was really nervous and careful not to offend anyone by wearing the right kind of clothes and trying to cover up tattoos etc. but towards the end I was much more comfortable and we’d made lots of friends who didn’t seem to care that we were different.

Rae: At first I was pretty nervous about it. I'd been to places before where I hadn't fully understood the culture and had accidentally offended people by showing my shoulders, for example. So we were really cautious over the first few days about how we dressed and acted. But as we got more comfortable we realised that the people had a good understanding of our culture being different to theirs and they didn't expect us to behave in the same way as them.

I mean we didn't go around wearing anything inappropriate but we didn't have to stress about covering our arms and ankles. I guess the only frustrating thing for me was not being able to do anything without someone else by my side - it meant that anything I wanted to do or anywhere I wanted to go I had to find someone else who also wanted to do that or go there. The good thing about this was that it helped us build empathy for the way that many women have to live.

Check out the first of three vlogs from Rachael and Rae's time in Palestine

How was it teaching the girls in Asira? What were the difficulties and successes? 

Rachael: The main difficulty is that older girls are not allowed/ do not feel comfortable skating in the park with the boys. This poses the problem that for them to skate we need more female volunteers and more female only times. In the future I hope they can maybe set up a routine Girl’s Night like we have in London.

Rae: It was amazing. There were a lot of challenges - language barriers, lack of resources, clearing the park for girls only sessions, etc - but ultimately we overcame them all by just skating and having fun. The girls were strong, adventurous, confident and really hyped to be learning something fun and physical. I have a lot of hopes that skateboarding will be championed by the girls of Asira, that they will be inspired to fight for their right to skate as they grow older and that we'll see some awesome girl skaters coming our of their in the future - but for this to happen we really need more girls to go out there and encourage them :)

How did your ideas about Palestine change throughout the trip? What have you learnt?

Rachael: I’ve learnt a lot about the political history of Palestine, though I wouldn’t like to try and express these views to anyone as I tend to stay out of politics! I was also warned by so many people prior to the trip that Palestine is dangerous. But the people we met made us all feel very accepted and safe.

Rae: I guess I thought that poverty was going to be the biggest issue, but we had our eyes opened in some small way to many other issues that seemed be equal factors - like the isolation people experience when they aren't allowed to leave a place and how this prevents their culture from progressing with the times, the frustration it breeds and the lack of hope that begins to develop amongst the people. It's something we see in poor and deprived places in the UK too, when people are trapped and isolated by poverty. It felt strange to be able to relate that aspect of what we saw back to places in London in some way. 

Meenas on the mini-ramp

Meenas on the mini-ramp

Why do you think skateboarding is important for people in places like the West Bank? 

Rachael: Children in Palestine are very vulnerable, in the sense that nothing good can come of the occupation, therefore, these children need something positive to keep them motivated. I think a huge benefit is not just the skating but the fact that SkatePAL volunteers come from all different parts of the world. I think it’s good for the children to be motivated to skate and learn about how to mix with different cultures and religions in a way that we do naturally in London.

Rae: I think it's important for so many reasons - I guess ultimately it's a tool but unlike most tools it doesn't have one specific purpose. The good thing about skating is that it's both social and personal - it's something that can be shared but at the same time each person takes from it what they need. For some of the people there it's a new love. Something they'll cherish their whole lives. For some it's a physical activity, which can be really empowering, especially for the girls who don't have a lot of opportunity do things like this. For some it's a psychological activity, a way to zone out of all the problems and issues that are going on and focus on something else for a few hours - which can be really therapeutic. Some will use it to form friendships around the world, and for others it's just something to do for a bit, which is still important when there is really very little else for them to do apart from work.

What's awesome to think about though is that these people are approaching skateboarding with an entirely new perspective and are being introduced to it in a unique way - so they could literally do anything they want with it, take it in new directions - the potential is amazing. Many people also told us that the skatepark is like a beacon of modernity in the town. It's inspiring people and giving them new ideas and new hope. They've already built a brand new children's play area right next to it and have plans for the whole area to be transformed. They've been talking about building a cinema and we've already seen women start to try it out as a legitimate activity for them to do too, which is super important.

Do you have any plans to come back with SkatePAL in the future?

Rachael: I’d love to come back as I really feel attached to a lot of the kids and would love to see them grow up! I might go out for a long weekend in late October/November if I have any holiday left at work.

Rae: I would love to but unfortunately I have no idea when I'll be able to. I have many of the people we met on Facebook and talk to them every day, and I really want to see how people have progressed and keep in touch with all the families who were so kind to us. Their hospitality made the whole trip so rad and we're so grateful!

What are you up to now, what are your plans for 2016?

Rachael: Back working full time at ITV. Hoping to help run some lessons down at southbank this summer with Like a Girl co.

Rae: Right now I'm back in London doing freelance art work and I might be moving to Vietnam to teach art for a year in August - so I'm kind of waiting to see what happens. Also trying to learn axle stalls.

So you're both part of the Nefarious crew (all female skate crew in London), tell us about that...

Rachael: Nefarious is great. It’s not about being the best skater. It’s about being a team, drinking, eating pizza, watching skate films etc. I recently broke my arm and if it wasn’t for Nefarious I would have instantly stopped skating despite the fact it makes me happy. Sometimes the views of other people, like my parents, make me feel embarrassed that I skate, because they don’t understand what it’s like to skate and what it does for me (keeps my brain and body healthy!). Nefarious gives me the strength and support I need to do something that I love and not be ashamed about my gender or age.

Rae: As Rachael said, it's something that gives us all confidence to skate and connect with other girls who love skating. Without Nefarious I wouldn't be skating at all, and I wouldn't have ever even found out about SkatePAL. 

What would you say to other female skaters considering volunteering with SkatePAL? 

Rachael: DO IT. The girls are buzzing to be able to skate but they need female representatives in the park in order for most of them to be allowed to do it!

Rae: For me this is what skateboarding is all about. If you feel the same then definitely go as it will have a profound effect on your life and on theirs. 

Anything else you'd like to add?

Rachael: Many thanks to Charlie and SkatePAL for the opportunity, to all our fundraisers for making the trip possible and to my bosses at Good Morning Britain for organising my time off! x

Rae: I'd like to say to anyone who thinks they might not be a good enough skater to do this, that I think it's actually kind of awesome to go there and be a beginner. A lot of the kids and adults too responded really well to watching me fail at things and learn things with them - it gave them a sense that this was something they could learn and progress at and they were super hyped when they learnt something quicker than I did and they got to teach it to me! 

Also a huge thanks to everyone who supported our trip and took an interest in what we were doing :)

Thanks guys!

Find out more about the Nefarious crew over at their Facebook page.

Check out Rae's website over at

If you're interested in volunteering with us send an email to info@skatepal.co.uk

Volunteer Interview:
Maen Hammad

We caught up with US-based SkatePAL volunteer Maen Hammad, to chat about his Palestinian heritage, teaching with SkatePAL and his recent Ted Talk.

Tell us a bit about yourself. You grew up in the states right, but your family are originally from Palestine?

Yea, so I was born in Palestine in 1992, and lived in Ramallah. My mom and dad are both from Palestine as well. We moved to the US in 1994, when I was two years old. I spent the rest of my life in the US from then on. I currently live in Washington, D.C. right now studying for my Masters.

How did you start skating? What impact has skateboarding had on your life?

My parents got my older brother a really cheap, fake, skateboard and we started to mess around on that. I ended up really liking it, like a lot. I convinced my parents to get me a real skateboard from our local skateshop and the rest is history. 

I also had a bunch of my neighbours who were my age and they were starting to pick up the sport as well. It was a neighbourhood effort, and I think that is how it impacted me the most. Skateboarding was the tool that brought us all together. This was before the days of cellphones and Facebook. So everyday after school we would all meet at one of our houses and skate until our parents yelled at us to come inside to do our homework.

Skateboarding’s ability to create a community of friends is powerful. It allows each individual to develop at the sport, while being part of something much bigger. I met like 50% of my friends from skateboarding. Also, it was always such a great way for me to let loose. Granted I was a teenager and my life was extremely normal, but it was my go-to method to relieve stress and just relax, mentally.

When did you first come to Palestine? What prompted the trip? How long did you stay?

I used to visit Palestine every couple summers while I was growing up, however I stopped when I was like 13 years old. So when I went in the summer of 2014 this was the first time I went back in about 10 years. I had just graduated and wanted to spend a summer bettering my Arabic, so I went to Birzeit University (near Ramallah) to study for 3 months. 

What were your preconceptions before this trip?

Even though I had been to Palestine like 6 times before that summer, this was the first time I was going by myself. I had always had a pretty routine schedule the previous time: go see grandma, go see my aunts and uncles, eat a couple falafels, and then go back to the US. So I had a pretty simple idea of what was actually happening in Palestine. 

How did you find out there was a skate scene in Palestine? And when did you come across SkatePAL?

I was studying in Birzeit, which is this little Christian village on the outskirts of Ramallah. I was walking in the village to go to a café to watch a World Cup match and I randomly stumbled upon 4 kids skateboarding. I almost shit my pants in shock to be honest! I’m not a religious dude, but I can’t help think there was some divinity in me randomly stumbling across 4 random skaters in the holy land. I had brought my skateboard with me and would cruise around on my off time, but had no intentions of actually finding skateboarders. I quickly befriended them and would skate with them after class that summer. 

I'm assuming this was the Birzeit boys then? Amr, Salameh, George and Ibrahim?

Yea it was them. They were skating at the top of the Birzeit roundabout and I went up to them and told them I skated. I think they were hesitant to believe me, they must have thought I was being an obnoxious tourist or something. I was wearing Nike running shoes at the time so I didn't have the outfit of a skater. I asked to borrow their board for a second and did a tre flip. After that, they were psyched. I got their numbers and started skating with them the rest of the summer. They were the ones who told me about SkatePAL, how they get most of their gear from the charity and how this “dude Charlie always comes to Palestine and hooks us up with decks, wheels, and trucks.” I emailed Charlie and he quickly got me involved, which was awesome. 

Chilling with Abdullah and Eihab at the ramp in Qalqilya.

Chilling with Abdullah and Eihab at the ramp in Qalqilya.

You've visited a few times now. How have your ideas about the place change across the trips? What made you want to come back?

Well what made me come back was just how powerful of a story I was seeing with the skaters. I needed to be a part of what was happening. I went back to the US at the end of the summer and dropped out of law school the day I got back (I was supposed to be a boring lawyer? How obnoxious is that). 

My perception of Palestine changed drastically after that summer. I met and befriended so many creative and interesting people. Their stories actually inspired me and I learned first hand the sort of lives these people face living in the West Bank. I knew that I needed to come back, that 3 months was not enough to truly understand the place and I was absorbed in it. After I knew I was going to come back to Palestine I told Charlie and he offered to let me host classes in Ramallah, which was perfect. 

How has SkatePAL evolved since you got involved?

SkatePAL is evolving so fast and that is imperative because of the demand for skateboarding. No matter where a SkatePAL park is put up it will have a small army of skaters within a week. Skateboarding is so new in the West Bank and people love it - men, women, children, old people. I think that everyone can see how powerful a tool it is for these kids. I mean the core of SkatePAL's constituents are the kids - and the kids are ecstatic to skate, always. The evolution of skateboarding in the West Bank depends on SkatePAL and I have all the confidence in the world that Charlie will help this go above and beyond these expectations. 

Maen hosting SkatePAL classes in Ramallah

Maen hosting SkatePAL classes in Ramallah

Why do you think skateboarding is important for people in places like the West Bank?

The barriers, obstacles, and aspects of marginalization these young people face requires an outlet if young people are to attempt to live a normal life. This outlet is through skateboarding. Like I mentioned earlier, skateboarding was the tool that helped me to let loose and interact with my peers.

The adolescents and youth of Palestine need this. Skateboarding allows individuals to self-develop, increase self-esteem and foster a community within their peer groups where they can interact together. Young Palestinians are dissatisfied with their lives, so giving them an outlet lets them mitigate this dissatisfaction and frustration. I saw it first-hand, skateboarding is their escape - a much more necessary escape than what I had growing up.

You’ve just done a talk about skateboarding in Palestine for TED x. Tell us about that. How did that come about?

So I made a short documentary about my trips in Palestine. The documentary discussed many of things mentioned before, about skateboarding as a tool for self-development. Out of the blue, someone organising the TED x conference reached out to me and asked me to participate.

It was an eight minute talk and it was very well received. I think most people in the US are clueless about Palestine. Actually, I am 100% positive they are clueless. So this was a very appropriate way to a shine a light on the Palestinians and share just a small segment of their story. Most people have preconceptions even at the mention of Palestine, but this talk didn’t mention any of that. It shared the story of a couple Palestinian skaters and how they are using skateboarding as a tool to live more normal lives.

Watch Maen's Ted talk below:

Tell us more about your life in the US. How is the skate scene where you are? What are you up to at the moment?

So growing up I lived in a middle-class suburb in Michigan, the skate scene was pretty good. We had a lot of skateparks, and some street skating. Our winters were brutal though, like 5 or 6 months of snow, so I got mad good at skating my garage. 

Now I live I DC. DC has such an awesome skate scene, it is drastically different than Michigan. Everyone skates street and they are so damn good. I kind of miss Palestine because of that. I mean there is only like 15 people in the whole West Bank who can kickflip, so it felt great being a solid skater there. Here? I see like 15 year old kids doing switch big flips off of 10 sets. I feel like the old dude at the skatepark I used to make fun of 10 years ago haha.

How do people in the US respond when you tell them about your roots?

People usually have a pretty hard time understanding that I am an immigrant, I guess I come off as very American to them. But for the most part people are very open and intrigued when I tell them about me going back to Palestine and explaining to them about the skate scene.

Teaching at the Skate-Aid park in Bethlehem

Teaching at the Skate-Aid park in Bethlehem

Do you have any plans to come back with SkatePAL in the future?

I hope so! I need to wrap up my Masters program before I can bomb West Bank hills again, but I do plan on going back to Palestine soon. I know the next time I go back that the skate scene will be much more thriving. From what I am hearing from the Palestinian homies back in the West Bank more people are hopping on boards, and they are getting damn good.

What would you say to people who are considering volunteering with SkatePAL?

I would recommend for anyone interested to do it. It was a life changing experience for me. I dropped out of law school to do it and have never been happier with my decision. You learn so much just by speaking and skating with these kids, it is something I will hold on to forever.

What are your hopes for the future of skateboarding in Palestine?

X-Games 2017 Ramallah….a man can dream. In all honesty though, I hope that the skate scene becomes more thriving - not that it isn’t, just more so. I want to see skateparks in all corners of the West Bank and even a couple proper skateshops. I think the day that skateshops exist and skateparks abundant there will be no stopping the skate scene - the kids love it too much to stop.

What's your favourite skate spot in the West Bank?

Ramallah Plaza all day. No questions asked. 

Thanks Maen!

 

 

 

 

 

SkatePAL Interview:
Aram Sabbah & Adham Tamimi

Aram Sabbah and Adham Tamimi from Ramallah were two of the first people to start skateboarding in the whole of Palestine. In this interview, we find out how they met SkatePAL founder Charlie Davis and began skating together - the journey it has led them on and what they're up to at the moment.

Ok let's start from the beginning - how did you both start skating? 

Aram: A friend of mine gave me one for my seventh birthday or something, he brought it back from the UK when he was on holiday. But at the time I didn't really care that I had one.

Adham: I started skating properly 'cause of this American dude that was skating around at the place where I had dabkeh (traditional Arabic dance) training. So this dude comes up to me while I’m watching him and he’s like 'Do you want to try?'. I had a go on his board and fell hard on my ass straight away! Aram hadn't started skating at this point yet, so after I met the American dude I asked to buy Aram's board off him, which he sold me for 150 NIS (£30) or something. 

Aram: At first I thought skating was a childish thing, but after I watched Adham skate then I wanted my board back haha! So we ended up sharing that board for a while and skating together. It became the only thing to do in Palestine beside hanging out with friends and going to school. I was around 15 years old when I started skating with Adham.

Were there any other skaters in the country at the time?

Aram: We were the only people skating in Ramallah, there were two or three skaters in Qalqilya I think but that was about it.

Do you remember what your first board was?

Adham: The board we shared was a Darkstar board. My second board was a Philly board (Jordanian board company), I remember learning kick flips on that one.

Who was the American guy, did you ever meet him again?

Adham: I really don't know the dude, all I know he's from New York. 

How did you meet Charlie? What did you think when you first saw he was building a mini ramp in Ramallah? What did you think about his idea for SkatePAL?

Adham: Some guy told us about some Scottish dude that wanted to build a ramp, so we head out to the spot (in Ramallah) and start to skate the uncompleted ramp.

Aram: At that time we didn't know how to drop in - we just had the concept from watching 1,000 videos on YouTube. So we're skating, then two blonde guys shouted from the window "Heyy! Nice one mate!" it was Charlie and his brother Jack. Charlie told us about his idea and what he was aiming for, we were excited as fuck to hear that someone really wants to do something with skateboarding in Palestine! 

Adham: We talked about everything and we were thrilled with the idea, and from that point, stuff started happening! It was really exciting.

Aram & Adham at the first SkatePAL ramp in Ramallah, 2014.

Aram & Adham at the first SkatePAL ramp in Ramallah, 2014.

Aram & Charlie teach the basics during skate classes in Ramallah, 2014.

Aram & Charlie teach the basics during skate classes in Ramallah, 2014.

What were your preconceptions of working with a UK charity?

Adham: At that point, we didn’t assume anything, we were just like 'yeah let's just do this' so we could skate some stuff. Like thinking about it now, it all happened fast, yet, a lot of work was put in - one day I’m skating in the street, the next I’m in Zebabadeh skating the first concrete skatepark in Palestine.

Aram: Uhmmm I thought it was cool that I'm going to work with a UK charity that aims to help the Palestinian youth. 

Aram, you had a bit of set-back in your skating a few years ago, what happened?

Yeah, I was shot during a protest at Qalandia checkpoint in 2014. At first I didn't realise that I'd been shot, but as soon as I got in the ambulance I was just thinking - 'Shit! I can't skate anymore.' I was really frustrated that I got shot in my leg, I thought that if I got shot in the arm then maybe I could still skate.

Once I'd settled down in the hospital my next thought was - 'Where's my phone? I have to text Charlie to tell him I can't skate tomorrow because I got shot'. I was meant to have a class all day teaching with the kids. I was scared of Charlie's reaction.

[text message conversation between Aram and Charlie] 

Photos: Sam Dearden, 2014.

Photos: Sam Dearden, 2014.

The pair   chill out whilst waiting for Aram's leg to heal. 2014

The pair chill out whilst waiting for Aram's leg to heal. 2014

Well thankfully you made a full and speedy recovery! How do you think skateboarding and SkatePAL has impacted your lives?

Adham: Skateboarding changed my perspective on the world. Like I used to see a set of stairs, just normal stairs, with two options: go up or go down. Now all I see is hammers going down at the spot, you know! Things only a skater would understand hahah. SkatePAL got me to meet a lot of cool people and Charlie hooked me up with a trip to skate in France, so it pretty much changed a whole lot in my life!

Aram: Wooo thats a good question!! It's difficult to describe the impact, but it's huge! Skateboarding has made feel like I'm free - that there's nothing in the world that can stop me from doing what I love to do! SkatePAL made that feeling grow bigger and made me feel like I'm really doing what I love. 

It also showed me that teaching other people to skate is the best feeling. When you give a kid a skateboard and watch them skate non-stop for hours and see them smile because they're riding a skateboard, that makes you feel really special.

SkatePAL also taught us to make the best of your situation. You can skate whatever you have: old deck, new deck, nice ground, awful ground. Take your skateboard, go anywhere. Skate it. 

Adham 5.0's on a trip to France.

Adham 5.0's on a trip to France.

Aram and Adham meet Kenny Reed at the Tashkeel ramp in Qalqilya.

Aram and Adham meet Kenny Reed at the Tashkeel ramp in Qalqilya.

How has the charity evolved since you got involved?

Adham: Ha, you gotta ask Charlie that! But honestly I can’t tell you because he does what he does good, and doesn’t look back.

Aram: It's really grown a lot recently. It's getting stuff done faster than before now because it has become a well known charity, and it all happened in two or three years, so for me that's a big success.

So you're both in different countries studying right now. Can you tell us what and where you're studying and why you chose to go there? 

Adham: I’m in Cyprus, I’m trying to get my Bachelors degree in Economics. I chose it because I got a 50% scholarship, so why not right haha!

Aram: I got a scholarship to study Acting and Theatre in Tunisia. I've been in love with acting since I was a little kid, I used to act in TV commercials and stuff when I was little. I didn't choose Tunisia because I like it, it's just because I got a scholarship to study there - and as you know free stuff is good stuff! 

Adham Tamimi, 2014. Photos: Sam Dearden.

Adham Tamimi, 2014. Photos: Sam Dearden.

Adham pulls a blunt-to-rock fakie at the Tashkeel ramp in Qalqilya.

Adham pulls a blunt-to-rock fakie at the Tashkeel ramp in Qalqilya.

How's the skate scene where you are? 

Adham: In Cyprus it's pretty much worse than the Palestine skate scene - they have a couple of metal ramps which someone could get killed using because of how rusty they are. I reckon there's like ten or twenty skaters where I am.

Aram: The skate scene in Tunisia is not that strong. When I skate down the streets people will be looking at me like 'what the fuck is that guy doing?' It's the same as in Palestine two years ago, but there's a couple of skate parks around and some pretty good spots to be honest.

How do people respond when you tell them you're from Palestine? 

Adham: In Cyprus it's cool, because there are a lot of Arabs here. But where I used to live six months ago (Washington D.C) - man! Let me tell you living in D.C I met a lot of people. Some of them, instantly start giving us love, many are shocked that we could even speak English, and others hate us and instantly think we’re killers. 

Aram: In Tunisia, people's faces turn from normal to excited or happy - they love Palestine, I mean who doesn't!? I always get the phrase 'God be with you, you soldier of freedom' and that makes me feel powerful and fearless!

Aram boardslides at the Plaza in Ramallah, 2015. Photo: Emil Agerskov

Aram boardslides at the Plaza in Ramallah, 2015. Photo: Emil Agerskov

What are you planning to do after university? Will you move back to Palestine or keep travelling?

Adham: Im going to try and open up some type of way to earn money without having anyone boss me about, or get a Masters - and Wall Street here I come! Maybe after I've finished Uni I'll go to Palestine but not for more than a year or so. But eventually it’ll be my home that I'll always come back to. 

Aram: I'm aiming to get all the knowledge and degrees that I can get! Knowledge is the best thing that a man can have and when I reach that I'll go back to Palestine and help my homeland in every way possible. But yeah I wouldn't mind traveling around the world too. I love to travel and keep moving here and there - get to know the world that I'm living in and see things I've never seen before. But in the end there's no place like home.

Aram during the opening ceremony at Rosa Park, Asira Al-Shamaliya, 2015. Photo: Emil Agerskov

Aram during the opening ceremony at Rosa Park, Asira Al-Shamaliya, 2015. Photo: Emil Agerskov

Why do you think skateboarding is important for boys and girls in the West Bank?

Adham: I think it helps you to understand other aspects of life and see stuff in a different way, it's very eye-opening. For Palestinians especially it helps to release all that tension that builds up inside us from what happens around us everyday. It also helps people to be more focused and independent. Skateboarding is all about dedication and having fun while doing it.

Aram: Skateboarding is good for the mind, body and soul. Palestinian kids are always getting stressed out from the life they are living and skateboarding helps to takes that stress away and not think about the Israeli occupation itself. When you're skating, there's nothing to think about apart from focusing how to balance yourself on the board.

Aram tests out the mini-ramp at Rosa Park with a boneless, Asira Al-Shamaliya, 2015. Photo: Emil Agerskov

Aram tests out the mini-ramp at Rosa Park with a boneless, Asira Al-Shamaliya, 2015. Photo: Emil Agerskov

What are your hopes for the future of skateboarding in Palestine? 

Adham: Hopefully it grows so big, that when a skater outside of Palestine hears the name, they think of the skateboarding scene first, instead of war and stuff like that.

Aram: I hope it keeps growing, until it reaches a point where it's normal to see a skateboarder skating down the streets or grinding the blue rail (in Ramallah). I want to feel that I'm not one of the few skateboarders in the country. I want the skateboarding community in Palestine to be like in the US or Europe: to see more than the same ten skaters everyday and I think SkatePAL is going to help us reach that.

Aram Sabbah. Ollie in Ramallah, 2015. 

Aram Sabbah. Ollie in Ramallah, 2015. 

Photos: Emil Agerskov

Photos: Emil Agerskov

What do your family and friends think of you skating?

Aram: They think that I'm doing something good. They're proud and happy for me because they know how much I love it!

Adham: They think it's pretty cool. Like at first everyone thought of us as outsiders, which we technically are - but then the whole thing went mainstream with rappers and celebrities skating and stuff, so now they think it's cool.

Are you coming back to Palestine this year?

Adham: Yeah in the summer holidays, June to October.

Aram: Yeah!! We're gonna shred the skatepark in Asira!

Aram addresses the crowd during the opening of Rosa Park, 2015. 

Aram addresses the crowd during the opening of Rosa Park, 2015. 

Aram & Charlie, selfie at the Rosa Park opening day, 2015.

Aram & Charlie, selfie at the Rosa Park opening day, 2015.

Almost done, how would you describe Charlie?

Adham: Without him there wouldn't be anything to skate in Palestine!

Aram: He's the boss. I mean he's a great guy, with a great looking butt (haha!). I mean he's the one who did all this, if it wasn't for him there wouldn't be this new skatepark in Asira.

Anything else you'd like to add?

Adham: Yeah. Thanks for the interview and thanks to everyone who ever helped the skate scene in Palestine and those who are still helping it. So shout out to them and thank you skateboarding!

Thanks guys! 

Find out more about Aram and Adham's story by watching Epicly Palestine'd: The Birth of Skateboarding in the West Bank.