Bringing skateboarding to refugees

We all know how skateboarding makes us feel; stoked, uplifted, confident, happy ... empowered? I think so. There are many charities using skateboarding to these ends and I would like to introduce you to a recent addition: Free Movement Skateboarding, bringing all the above to the refugees in Athens.  Co-founder, Ruby Mateja, tell's all ...

Logo"Last October, I travelled to Palestine to volunteer for an incredible charity called SkatePal. They have been running skate projects in the West Bank for quite a few years now and recently built Rosa Skatepark just outside a town called Asira Al-Shamaliya. Volunteers travel there every month to run skateboarding sessions for the kids in the local community. It was here that I met Will Ascott - the other half of Free Movement Skateboarding - and we began to talk about the possibility of setting up our own similar project. There are so many places that would benefit from a project like SkatePal and, having seen first-hand the positive impact it has had on the whole community in Palestine, we felt inspired to spread this elsewhere.

Will travelled straight to Greece from Palestine, where he had taken up a position volunteering at the Khora Community Centre in Athens. Within a week of being there, I received a message from Will saying that this was the place we need to set up our project. There are 25,000 refugees currently living in camps and squats in Athens and a large percentage of these people are under eighteen. 'There's so many kids here' he told me; 'their basic needs are mostly being met but they need a fun outlet to channel their energies into'.

IMG 0942

From here we began to formulate our project, Free Movement Skateboarding, and tailor it to the specific situation in Athens. Will was able to start forming relationships with the refugee population, the local skate scene and other charity projects already running in Athens; all of which showed great support for our project. Back in the UK, we were lucky enough to set up a meeting with the charity Help Refugees, who are at the forefront of supplying emergency aid, shelter and education to those seeking asylum in numerous countries throughout Europe. We presented Free Movement Skateboarding to them and they enthusiastically offered to support us in launching our project out in Athens.IMG 1068

Skateboarding ties together a perfect mix of managed risk and therapeutic exercise. It takes a lot of concentration so whilst you are doing it you tend to just be thinking of the present moment. It doesn't allow much room for your mind to wander. It is a non-fail activity where participation by all is encouraged and everyone supports each other; no matter their age, ability or gender. The gender gap within Western skateboarding has been rapidly decreasing over the last few years and it continues to be seen much less as a male-dominated activity - which is amazing - but it still has some way to come. What is so incredible about projects like SkatePal is that where skateboarding has been introduced into these cultures as a nascent activity, it does not carry that stigma of it ever having been a male-dominated sport. The sessions we ran in Palestine were completely varied, sometimes with more girls skating than boys. To see the young girls so fearless and empowered whilst skating was truly wonderful; especially in cultures where the women generally take on a very traditional role. Things are moving forward and skateboarding seems to be at the forefront of this positive transition.IMG 2577

We will promote gender-equality in all of our sessions in Athens. We will also keep them open to Greek children as well as the refugees - who mostly come from Syria and Afghanistan - in order to aid the integration of the refugee children into Greek society. The bonds made whilst skating can naturally overcome any boundaries which might exist between them. We aim to have mainly Greek people teaching the skateboarding sessions and, as a long term plan, we wish to hand the day-to-day running of the project over to them. This way, we can create a refugee skate scene that is fully integrated in the existing Greek one.

We are extremely pleased with the support Free Movement Skateboarding has gathered so far. We have had 50 decks donated along with lots of other skate equipment and safety gear. With the other funds that we have raised we have managed to complete these decks into full set-ups. I want to say a massive thank you to Lariatt Skate Shop in St. Albans for helping us to make this happen."IMG 2820

Ruby and Will left the UK at the beginning of the month and so began their journey to Athens - with a fully packed van! Stopping at various refugee camps and communities throughout France and Italy en route, they ran some one-off skate sessions and donated some boards so that the kids there can continue to skate; with a hope that this would sow the seed for future projects in these places too. Finally arriving in Athens, Ruby and Will set to work on designing and building wooden ramps which they will transport around different camps so that maximum participation can be encouraged.

Look out for regular updates of their progress on their Facebook and Instagram pages.

If you would like to donate, please go to their MyDonate  page.

Words and pictures by: Ruby Mateja


Read More

  • #skatecommute365

    #skatecommute365 submission

    "Lots of people skate to work, school, the shops, to their friends house and back again. This skating goes unnoticed and unrecognised; this project intends to address this, and bring all those little victories of skating, all those stolen moments of fun that get lost along the daily commute, back to the forefront, to celebrate them and the skaters who tirelessly do them, come rain or shine.

    The goal of this project is to collect 365 skater commutes - it doesn't matter what you do it on, as long as it fits the description "skateboard". We're looking for penny riders, street skaters, electric Longboards, pintail cruisers or dedicated downhillers on their precision trucks. Whoever you are, if you commute by skateboard we want your story.

    365 days, 365 stories, 365 otherwise unnoticed acts of pure skating. You can't glamorise the drizzle soaked, leaf- covered pavements, the puddles, the short sneaky pavement bombs, the ungraceful duck and weave through gridlocked traffic like you can Cali hills. There's no shiny 4 minute glitch mob song follow run for this type of skating. It's tough, it's gruelling, but it's skating, and a core part of being great on a board: fast reactions, traffic sense,the ability to hold your balance, to tolerate any surface. To not flinch at short steep janky hills, to not think twice about braving roads the same as cyclists, to racing them and winning. To finding unrideable spots and proving anything can be ridden.

    This is your commute. One posted, every day for a year. And at the end, we hope to make a printed copy of the entire year. The scene is bigger than just downhill. It's the everyday skating that holds it together at the core. Be a part of that."

    Here's where you can submit your story about your commute - it can be a regular run to a place of work or study, the Friday night burn from home to the pub, your weekly shopping run route, whatever! Grab us a picture of you with your board, host it somewhere private (imgur has free uploads, google drive, dropbox, onedrive etc. Instagram images can be manipulated into a collage, and then linked if you want to get artsy)
    Whatever your regular commute, we want to hear of those little victories of skating you have every day:




    Your answer
    Your answer
    How long have you been skating?
    Your answer
    Setup, and why you ride it
    Your answer
    Describe your #skatecommute route: any good hills, any nice smooth bits, any janky bits?
    We love details; give us the emotions, the stress at junctions, the fun of carving a park, describe your route :)
    Your answer
    The worst bits
    What's the least fun part of the journey? Is it seasonal like leaves? Is it a bit of road or a junction? Was there this one really bad time during a hurricane?
    Your answer
    The best bits
    What part of your commute gives you that little buzz: is there a kerb your like to pop down, a banked driveway you carve up, a bus you skitch, a pedestrian phase on a junction that leaves the road clear for you to bomb?
    Your answer
    Picture of you (and your setup?)
    (paste the URLs here: facebook photos are fine, right-click them and copy link):
    Your answer
    Pictures From your route (paste the URLs here)
    (paste the URLs here: facebook photos are fine, right-click them and copy link):
    Your answer
    Extra info to help us out
    Below this line is stuff that you won't see published, but helps us find out how to contact you, and how you found Thrill mag.
    Your answer
    How did you find out about thrill mag?
    Never submit passwords through Google Forms.
    This content is neither created nor endorsed by Google. Report Abuse - Terms of Service - Additional Terms
  • Paris Dock Session with Sabina Edwards

    Sabina fills us in on the Paris Dock Session.

  • Lords of the Swords - Edition #8

    Lords of the Swords is the Uk's #1 amateur skateboard filming event.  Luke Mac Duke tells us a bit about it ...