Free Movement Skateboarding Interview

One of the most rewarding aspects of the past five years has been watching former SkatePal volunteers set up their own organisations in different parts of the world. Will Ascott and Ruby Mateja visited Palestine in 2016 and now run the amazing Free Movement Skateboarding, working with refugee communities in Athens. We caught up with them to find out how it all began…

Will & Ruby. Photo: Alexis De Tarade

Will & Ruby. Photo: Alexis De Tarade

Hey guys, so you’d never actually met before volunteering with SkatePal right? How did you get involved in the first place? 

Ruby: I first heard about SkatePal in 2016 through a friend, Sirus Gahan, who had been out to Palestine earlier that year and made a short film about his time there. At that point, I’d been skating for about 8 months and had seen only a couple of other girl skaters about. The film struck me, not only because it gave a glimpse of a place I’d always wanted to visit, but mainly because it was so incredible to see so many girl skaters fearlessly ripping around.

Will: I was sent in the direction of SkatePal by my pal Harriet Alana who runs Brash Skate & Create. We joined forces and put on a little fundraising skate jam, then I got out there in October 2016 and met Ruby, we immediately clicked! 

Ruby teaches Esinat to drop in. Asira Al-Shamaliya, 2016.

Ruby teaches Esinat to drop in. Asira Al-Shamaliya, 2016.

Cool! At what point did you start discussing the idea of Free Movement Skateboarding?

Ruby: I suppose it was around half-way into our month-long trip there. We were both inspired by the atmosphere in the Asira skatepark - hearing stories and seeing first-hand the positive impact skateboarding has had for the local kids was really incredible. 

Will: We had some vague ideas about the other billion contexts in which a skate project could support a disadvantaged community. In fact, there’s a certain olive tree where we sat and discussed all this stuff really early on, which Ruby subsequently drew on a birthday card and then I recently got tattooed (cute right!)

I flew from Palestine directly to Athens and found myself volunteering in a community kitchen for displaced people. I started formulating ideas for a project there, knowing it needed to be mobile to reach the remote refugee camps. A chance encounter with UK Charity Help Refugees founder Josie Naughton in the kitchen gave me the chance to pitch my idea and she was into it. I can’t tell you how surreal that was - I remember calling Ruby and having this realisation that we were both at a point in our lives where we could drop everything and move out here and do this. Things just started happening after that!

Will lends a hand whilst volunteering with SkatePal in 2016

Will lends a hand whilst volunteering with SkatePal in 2016

How did you find that transition from Palestine to Athens? 

Ruby: To be honest we didn’t really have much time to think about it! So I think that made it easier. It was only a few weeks after Palestine that Will called me from Athens and said we had to set up a project there. We spent the next few months planning, fundraising, securing funding from Help Refugees, and gathering as many second-hand skateboards as we could. It wasn’t until we’d packed up everything into the van and started to drive out there that I had a moment to sit and think - ‘right, what’s this going to be like then?.’ Obviously I’d thought about things in terms of the project, but as regards to myself living and working in Athens, not much. 

It was great though, Athens is such a fascinating place. We spent the first week there checking in with other projects, the local skate shop Ministry of Concrete, and just skating around exploring the whole city. I guess it was about four months into living there that we both suddenly felt super burnt-out. We’d gone into it full force, and although things were going really well, we’d taken on a lot and hadn’t stopped to think about giving ourselves a rest. This was a really important point though, and with the support from some wicked friends, we started to see things in a different light - to pace ourselves and gather the support around us that we needed. 

One of the locations where Free Movement hold clasess. Latraac bowl & cafe. Athens. Photo: Demetrios Ioannou

One of the locations where Free Movement hold clasess. Latraac bowl & cafe. Athens. Photo: Demetrios Ioannou

How did things actually take shape once you’d arrived then?

Will: We spent about a month getting ourselves accommodation and checking out potential partner projects. We just wanted to make sure our delivery was what was needed and we were working with people, not treading on their toes. 

Ruby: We were really lucky to secure funding from Help Refugees, who fund all sorts of humanitarian, solidarity and emergency-relief projects throughout Europe. Things would definitely have taken a lot longer without their support. But with their backing, we managed to turn the idea into an established project in just four months. Really the key to all of our operations has been partnering with existing projects / NGOs as well as gaining support and advice from them. 

By partnering with other projects already established in refugee camps, we were able to gain access by essentially becoming part of their program. This cuts out the long and bureaucratic middle man and meant that we could start teaching sessions almost immediately. These partnerships also gave us a crucial insight into the context we were to begin working in, and essential training on understanding the effects that experiencing long-term trauma and stress can have, especially for young people. 

Ruby and Malak. Asira Al-Shamaliya, 2016.

Ruby and Malak. Asira Al-Shamaliya, 2016.

What are the similarities and differences you guys face working in Athens compared to Palestine? 

Will: The kids we work with in Athens have often experienced significant trauma in the recent past, aren’t in formal education and have no experience of skateboarding. Whereas in Palestine, the kids had relatively stable day to day lives and most young people are in school. The impact on behaviour this gives the kids in Athens is pretty significant. Our role is a lot closer to youth work than I think people realise. We are trained behavioural specialists and understand how to support kids who have been through trauma, it’s a lot more than skateboarding. Learning when to stick on the teacher voice, giving an ear to problems and being a regular, reliable person in their turbulent lives took some stepping up, but I’m honoured to do so, ‘cos these kids are sick!

Ruby: The main similarity would be that the young people we teach predominantly come from a Middle Eastern background. So that little bit of Arabic tailored to the skatepark we learnt in Palestine certainly comes in useful! Although the outcomes and intended goals of our projects are very entwined, the actual operations and day-to-day sessions are quite different. We have to keep most of our sessions really structured - especially those in the camps - because we set up our skatepark in an open area where hundreds of kids live. This means that we have to establish clear boundaries and rules - so that the people participating in the session can concentrate and get the most our of it, whilst trying to make sure we keep things as safe and calm as possible! This is why we arrange regular trips to local skateparks and hold weekly sessions at our small DIY park - because then the kids get to experience more of a natural and relaxed skate session.

In the most simple terms, the experience in Palestine gave us the confidence to go ahead with FMS, having seen that such a charity can thrive and progress. Greece is the first port-of-call for many displaced people heading West from countries such as Afghanistan, Syria, and Iran. So most of the kids we teach are also from a Middle Eastern background. Volunteering in Palestine gave us a good understanding of the culture there, which was very enlightening in the way that it broke down a lot of the preconceptions you might hear about Muslim communities. We were welcomed, despite our differences, by all the locals in Asira. 

Will leads a stretching session before skating begins. Athens, 2017.

Will leads a stretching session before skating begins. Athens, 2017.

Will told me about the difficulty of taking photos in the camps, which obviously makes social media updates quite tricky. How do you get around stuff like this?

Will: We can’t take photos in camps due to government restrictions. We also can’t take photos of any individual’s face without their parents permission, but the consequences for this are higher than many think. There was a case of an NGO’s promotional material being used as evidence to prove that a family had safely travelled to Europe via Greece, resulting in their deportation. These are the most vulnerable kids in Europe, they are stateless and have next-to-no protection as such, especially if they are paperless.

This really effects the kind of media we can put out – any photos with kids faces have been carefully worked out, we go with a translator to their parents and carefully talk through the consequences of participating. Although the parents are often enthusiastic to have their child represented in a positive way that breaks the standard narrative of the refugee crisis, this proactive approach to safeguarding their identity is crucial for both us as an organisation and them as individuals.

Will and the Free Movement mobile ramps.

Will and the Free Movement mobile ramps.

What's an average day for FMS? Aside from scrambled eggs & dill of course : ) 

Ruby: Well that’s an essential part of course! Due to school hours and the climate, most of our sessions take place in the afternoon and evening. Which means the mornings are strictly for long breakfasts. But yeah, generally we have pretty chilled mornings, then get any meetings, admin-y stuff out the way before jumping in the van and driving to one of the locations we teach in. 

Will: We’re up to 9 sessions a week now, so most days we offer 2 sessions, moving between public basketball courts, parks, refugee camps and skateparks. We pad up the kids, give them a yoga warm-up, teach them to skate, catering to mixed abilities, we pack up all the ramps and do it again somewhere else. With a falafel wrap in between (some things never change!).

Ruby: There’s a family in the camp that make the best falafel wraps and we have their number so we can pre-order whilst we’re driving over. It’s a pretty good set up.

You guys hosted the Globally Stoked panel at Pushing Boarders this year - how did you find that experience? Where do you think / hope the ‘skate-charity-sector’ is heading?

Will: Pushing Boarders was truly one of the best weekends of my life. It really meant a lot to be acknowledged on that platform amongst our heroes. Me and Ruby worked super hard on creating a narrative for our talk, culminating in a call to others to push skateboarding away from corporate, over-competitive, energy drink crap and towards diversity, community and slappys. I really hope to see others open up their skate scenes to those that need it most. Skateboarding’s rich culture must embrace those it has excluded and allow them to push in their own direction. The only bit of skate culture that truly matters is pissing about with mates and I like that more when my mates are mixed genders and aren’t from exactly the same background. 

That considered, there are a million contexts where this works and a million different angles to take on it. There’s a lot of people that would benefit from the community, mental calm and sense of freedom skateboarding brings. People should feel empowered to start at the most basic level by giving a kid a board, or building a kicker or helping someone drop in and seeing where it goes. Chances are, there’s a lot of people who need skating more than you.

Ruby: It was great to have a proper sit down with other skate charities and discuss important topics which effect all of the work we each do. We already had a pretty clear idea of how things run at SkatePal, and have been in conversation with you guys since starting Free Movement, but it was good to discuss things in person and gain more understanding of what goes on behind the scenes.

Having us host the panel with four longer-established charities created a nice dynamic, where we could learn from the achievements / mistakes made and in turn have a discussion that was enlightening and constructive for the audience. I think our main ‘agenda’ going into it was to highlight the positive impact skateboarding can have for young people living in areas of war and conflict, show how gender parity and diversity within skateboarding can be achieved, to create more of a network between our charities and inspire other people to do something similar. I hope that skate charities all over the world will continue to support and encourage each other - this is happening already so I’m sure it will carry on. Events like Pushing Boarders are important for keeping this connection and conversation going. 

Glad you enjoyed it! What’s happening next, how do you plan to make it sustainable? 

Will: Next year, we are looking at getting a second vehicle so we can reach more camps. Thousands of refugees are being relocated to Athens as the overcrowded refugee camps of the Greek islands have failed to provide dignified accommodation. So with this great demand for further outreach, we will use a second vehicle to split our team and cover more places, using a greater number of volunteers to maintain quality. That’s where the reader can come in – we need more volunteers out here! 

Ruby: For me personally the plan is just to get back out there! I’ve been in the UK for a while now recovering from a knee injury, so I can’t wait to rejoin the team properly and get stuck in. We’ve got the Women’s Program running now and I’m really excited to be there as it develops and get back in touch with the local skate scene as well. 


Whose involved in FMS at the moment? 

Ruby: We’ve got a sick little team at the moment - as well as Will and I, we’ve got Joe and Amber who joined us in August. Joe’s been out in Athens working with solidarity projects for a few years now, and Amber runs Women Skate the World - which was formed with Nanja (also during their time volunteering in Palestine). Another ex-SkatePal volunteer, Zelia  has been working with us on and off this year, but is joining the team officially in January. We also have three local instructors - Spiros, who’s been working with us for over a year now, and Lydia and Olympia who joined the team last spring. That’s the core team, but we also receive a lot of support from volunteers and people who work with partnering projects in Athens. 

Sounds like a great team. Anything else you’d like to add? 

Ruby: We’re still on the look-out for some land to build a permanent skatepark in central Athens, so if anyone has the hook-up let us know!

Thanks guys! Keep shredding : )

Stick the kettle on and check out this great documentary about the work Free Movement Skateboarding do:

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.


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!

Isle Skateboards visit Palestine

This month we welcomed the Isle Skateboards team to Palestine for a week long tour of the sites, sounds and skate-spots of the West Bank! 

The guys skated with the kids at our skatepark in Asira Al-Shamaliya, as well as visiting spots in Ramallah, Nablus and Bethlehem. Special thanks to Chris Jones for making the trip happen (and congratulations on turning pro!). 

Check out some behind-the-scenes pictures from the trip, and look out for an article and video about their experience dropping in Free Skate Mag soon!

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

Nefarious Skate Crew in Asira Al-Shamaliya

Current SkatePAL volunteers Rae Smith and Rachael Sherlock of the Nefarious Skate Crew have been blogging about their time teaching at our park in Asira Al-Shamaliya. Click the image below to see how they've been getting on so far and watch their first vlog! 

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.