Menelik Delelgn, 36 and one of the skateboarding pioneers in Ethiopia, had to face a lot of challenges when he started the sport 17 years ago.
A bewildered family and society as well as disapproving law officers were some of the challenges he faced initially, recently added upon by the restrictions caused by COVID-19 pandemic.
“They think you are crazy when they see you skateboarding in the streets, because the Addis Ababa road is full of traffic jam, so if someone saw you with a board in the middle of the street, the police they want to cut it, they want to take the board from you, families and friends say are you crazy, you might have an accident,” Delelgn told Xinhua. “Once you love the sport, accidents mean nothing. You fall down and you get up, that’s the situation.”
Recently, Delelgn had to face another challenge to his dreams of spreading the skateboarding phenomenon because of movement restrictions amid COVID-19, which are only being lifted now.
“For eight months we were unable to travel to skateboarding facilities for practice, we were unable to receive skateboarding supplies and receive foreign skateboarders who used to come regularly,” said Delelgn.
With the advent of social media which has eased the promotion of skateboarding to the youth, however, Delelgn is optimistic about the future of this spectacular sport.
“The kids are loving it, so we should build more. We need support from the government and any individual companies. We need to build in Bahir Dar city also, we have a team over there, so we need to reach for them as well as in Mekelle and Dire Dawa cities. So, just like spreading all the culture of skateboarding,” Delelgn said.
While Delelgn, who has been suffering from the sports-related injuries, has largely retired from competitive skateboarding to focus on the promotion of the sport, Ruel Fisseha, 22, is still dreaming of representing Ethiopia in competitive events, notwithstanding current challenges.
“Challenge is police in the city, and the traffic police when we cruise around, they don’t like it. Now, we’re exposed to a lot of skate parks now, we’ve been exposed to a lot of media now. Now, they kind of like us and appreciate our existence in the city,” Fisseha said.
Fisseha’s passion for the sport also stems from the sustained individual efforts needed to perfect his risky hobby.
“It’s an individual sport, you get up, you get back down, you get down, you get up, so it’s kind of you can do anything in life, so as long as you know how to get back up, skateboarding really changes life,” Fisseha said.
Fisseha’s passion for the sport has led him to co-found a company “Kushnetta Skateboarding” which allows him to self-finance his skateboarding hobby.
“Other kids that skate here, when the skateboard is broken, they don’t know what to do with it. You repurpose it, you make jewelry with it, key chains, necklaces and earrings,” said Fisseha. “We make a lot of stuff with it and sell it back to the community, so that’s how it generates income to give back to do such kind of renovation stuff right now. If we continue growing skateparks in this country, a lot of people would be more creative in their day-to-day lives.”
While athletics is what comes to many people’s minds when they consider Ethiopia’s sporting achievements, Ethiopian authorities are starting to take notice of skateboarding’s potential.
Gossaye Alemayehu, sports association control team leader at Addis Ababa Sport Commission, said notwithstanding limited capacity, the commission is helping support the growing skateboarding scene in the city.
“We’ve already started to set aside budget for skateboarding coaches, as well as facilitating the provision of skateboarding facilities in Addis Ababa,” said Alemayehu.
Alemayehu admits that there are a lot of challenges still for skateboarding to be considered as a mainstream sport in Ethiopia alongside athletics and football.
“There is still a need for a lot of effort to promote skateboarding in Ethiopia, starting with the sport needing to get a lot of media exposure to expand its appeal across Addis Ababa and the country,” he said.