charlie davis

Five Years of SkatePal: A Message from Founder Charlie Davis

Charlie_3.jpg

First and foremost, I would like to express my gratitude to everyone who has supported SkatePal over the past five years. There is not enough space here to mention everyone individually who has helped us along the way, but you all know who you are, and that we would not be here without you all!

Over the past five years, we have had over 200 volunteers from 25 countries who have travelled out to Palestine to get involved with our projects. None of this would have been possible without the time, money and effort that they have put in, not to mention the countless others who have fundraised for us and spread the word of what we do.

I did not imagine, five years ago, that I would be here writing this message, and it is an honour to have met and worked with such dedicated individuals who have inspired me to keep going. A special thank you goes to Theo Krish, who became the second Director in 2015 and has shared the responsibility of running the charity since then.

Charlie with some of the first skateboarders in Palestine, including Aram Sabbah, Adham Tamimi and Mai Alem.

Charlie with some of the first skateboarders in Palestine, including Aram Sabbah, Adham Tamimi and Mai Alem.

From figuring out how to build a 3ft wooden mini-ramp in 2013 with my brother and a couple of friends, to co-organising the first ever international skateboard conference - Pushing Boarders - in 2018, and planning our fourth concrete skatepark in Palestine, we have come a long way and have learnt a lot!

There have been a couple of stand-out moments in the past five years which have inspired me to keep going and reaffirmed my belief in what SkatePal is doing:

After completing our first concrete skatepark in Zebabdeh, I remember chatting to some of the parents who said it was the first time they had seen the Muslim and Christian children playing together. They attend different schools and had usually played separately but skateboarding managed to break through those barriers and bring them all together. 

Zebabdeh, 2014.

Zebabdeh, 2014.

Later on in 2016, during the first year of year-round classes at the Asira Al-Shamalyia skatepark, I was sitting watching skaters from around the country skating the park together, whilst I drank tea with local parents and others who had just come up to relax at the park. For the first time it struck me that these skateparks represented much more than just a place to play, but they had become community hang-out spots with such an inclusive atmosphere that you didn’t have to skate to enjoy yourself. 

Asira Al-Shamaliya Skatepark. Photo: Sam Ashley

Asira Al-Shamaliya Skatepark. Photo: Sam Ashley

It had also became a cultural melting pot where volunteers from all over the world came to meet the local residents and you could see first hand how much everyone benefited - not only the local children. The family vibe at these parks was also exemplified by the fact that girls and boys were skating together, and mixed sports sessions are very uncommon in the more conservative areas of Palestine. 

It has been inspiring to witness the growth of skateboard charities during the past few years - particularly those that have been established by past SkatePal volunteers. The Concrete Jungle Foundation working in Peru and Angola, Free Movement Skateboarding working with refugees in Athens, and Women Skate the World working internationally, were all set up by ex-SkatePal volunteers.

Aram Sabbah. Photo: Emil Agerskov

Aram Sabbah. Photo: Emil Agerskov

From the beginning, the ultimate goal of SkatePal in Palestine was to create a self-sustaining skateboard scene that would continue with local skaters at the helm. We are delighted to announce that Aram Sabbah, one of the first skaters in the country, who has been with us since day one, will be taking on the role of local manager in Palestine in 2019. 

It has been wonderful to see SkatePal grow into a close-knit, international family, with whom it is a privilege to work.

Charlie Davis,

Founder & Executive Director

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

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.