At least in heaven we can skate

Join the Lebanese Skateboarding Association in their efforts to:

  • Lobby to secure opening of safe public skateboard parks in Lebanon.
  • Increase awareness about skateboard.
  • Increase public knowledge about the sport and its benefit.
  • Cooperate with municipalities, NGO, sponsors in order to raise funds to secure the opening of public skateparks.
“At least in heaven we can skate” is a post written by Mohammad K. Dandashli and appeared on Hibr.

by Rita Kamel

Attentively observing and easily captivated, I found it difficult to distinguish feelings of intrigue and envy. It was somehow awkward experiencing this rush of motley emotions around an activity I was acquainted with. But until I began frequenting “the alley”, the notorious skater and metalhead hangout, and its unpretentious yet dynamic scene, I had never grasped the sheer gratification it provided not only as a pastime, but as a subculture that, like all others, had distinctive features surrounding it. One would assume that the vital act of a trick-free ride on a skateboard would be easy enough to execute; however, my sore hip and spine conveyed otherwise. The view of skateboarding world-wide, especially in the West, may be leaning toward acceptance; however, it remains in that gray area of being a “weird” phenomenon.

Skateboarding’s fluctuating popularity

Skateboarding has an ambiguous, yet prolific history. The social stigma encompassing skateboarding, especially in Lebanon, has posed a challenge for the associated skater minority.
Back in the late 1940s, surfing was “the thing”. The waves aren’t always surf-able. Thus, what was dubbed “street surfing” was born. Eventually, what was initiated as an alternative to surfing evolved into skateboarding as we know it today, possessing its own styles and tricks.

Unsurprisingly though, skateboarding didn’t reap popularity on the spot like most trends. It was a shift back in the days when the slightest divergence amongst younger generations was “immoral” and “bizarre”. Take into account, of course, that skateboarding is in fact not in the vein of most fads where you just had to have a “deviant” hairstyle, wardrobe, taste in music, sexuality, lifestyle or attitude to merit credibility. Skating’s popularity fluctuated in the 1960s before it ultimately dwindled, but the 1970switnessed skateboarding’s resurgence. Despite skaters being a laid-back, vigorous, and hedonist lot, when it comes to skateboarding, little matters beside the skill and talent of riding and performing tricks on a board down the demanding path of earning legitimate acceptance into a clique. Unwarranted arrogance renders a skater inept or a flat-out poser. Although skating is the central component in the skater subculture, it’s anything but isolated from other subcultures, of which first and foremost are the ones related to music.

The culture of skating

Punk’s political and social ideologies, fashion, DIY attitude, and definitely music dominate the skate scene. The infatuation with heavy metal music among many skaters also passed on with it the “predominantly white, middle-class, uber-masculine, sexist, homophobic and racist male” stereotypes. Moreover, skating remains, to some extent, associated with juvenile delinquency, social deviance, defiance and, by erroneous deduction, illicit drug use.

Aside from the esthetics, techniques and stereotypes of skateboarding, popular culture has also attested to skating’s sway. A devoted alliance of films, magazines, websites, organizations, shops, companies, parks, endorsers, and enthusiasts are striving to preserve the thriving essence of skateboarding. When I first watched “Lords of Dogtown”, a fan-favorite, I was enticed by the storyline, which not only revolved around the lives of three of the earliest and most influential icons in skateboarding, but also the struggles Tony Alva, Jay Adams and Stacy Peralta, the original “Z-Boys”, encountered; from competition to jealousy, to greed, exploitation and rivalry; and eventually, the realization of the true meaning and worth of friendship. What I personally enjoyed was the overall liberation and pleasure skating with the boys provided.

Skater bonding

Another element that had significance in the Z-Boys’ biography was the trouble they got into for skating in empty pools during the dry Californian summer. Today’s skaters enjoy the luxury of attending skate parks, which represent a safe haven for peers to skate, mingle, and socialize. Still, I believe that despite the apparent improvement, the indulgence in social networks and technology has deprived the latest generations of that raw kind of bonding, independence, and outlet.

Nevertheless, the media have indeed helped refute the negative view toward skateboarding, encouraging younger generations’ participation with the consent, if not support, of their parents.

Even without the media, skateboarders still manage to turn heads on the streets, granting them the attention they crave and deserve. Although not solely a sport, skating’s athletic aspect helps kids stay fit, occupied, and make friends without necessarily being indoctrinated to living up to the subculture’s stereotypes and abandoning their individuality just to fit in; conforming isn’t a pre-requisite for enjoying skateboarding.

Lebanon’s current skating scene

Lebanon, another brick in the wall, has turned skateboarding for the scene into something it shouldn’t be, an endeavor. The scene in Lebanon may be modest, yet it’s far from dull. Boards are being imported from the US and a skate park has recently begun welcoming passionate skaters. One of the scene’s notably pleasant characteristics is the familiarity its size and containment have given Lebanese skaters. Perhaps it’s the scarcity of skaters that lead to this spontaneous solidarity tactic. The compromise, of course, is having skateboarding remain relatively underground and frowned upon in a society unaccustomed to living and letting live. Still, knowing all the skaters in your city has its perks. For having others to share common interest with, learn from experiences and, most importantly, feel accepted and prejudice-free is the first step towards developing character.

The sketchiness probably makes skaters feel wayward, enigmatic and more zealous toward skating, but to most non-skaters in the streets of Beirut, it’s a Western cultural invasion of their traditions, under the guise of globalization. With their horrifyingly noisy wheels, they plan to deafen people into submission to the West! As if the West is this utopia where skaters never face police brutality. It’s really absurd if you think about it; I mean why would people pick on skaters? Should they join gangs, steal, and kill to be revered in Lebanon? Truth of the matter is concealed in a plain psychological justification, which boils down to: people who are uncomfortable with themselves ridicule others to feel better, whereas people who are comfortable with themselves should have no reason to interfere in others’ affairs.

Skateboarding has indisputably sustained many titles, some of tolerance and assent, others of scorn and disdain. Still, none of them will do it justice as much as citing it as one of the most enduring ways of life both culturally and socially. As for Lebanon, well, I guess few things can be done to redeem a nation scarred from decades of war, social repression, and sectarian and political tensions. Change will probably come, but in a steady manner, not revolutionary; as generation after generation become increasingly tolerant. I personally reckon today’s skaters won’t live to see the day they dream of, when they can roam freely, without the need of constant vigilance hindering the joy of skating.

Pardon the pessimistic yet truthful reality I have come to realize. Unfortunately, it seems in Lebanon that the sight of carrying an AK-47 around will always be more acceptable than carrying a skateboard, a guitar, a beer, a joint, a condom, a rainbow flag, and many others on a virtually endless list. But hey, should those AK-47s decide our fate, at least in heaven we can skate.

This article is written by Mohammad Dandashli, commonly known as Mohammad “The Ghost”Dandashli. Main photo is courtesy of Rita Kamel. Embedded images are courtesy of the Lebanese Skating Association.

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