Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital, is a city in transition. Sub-Saharan Africa’s first light rail glides above busy roadways, and everywhere you look there seems to be a new building under construction, each one taller than the last.
Though skateboarding may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Addis Ababa, the skate scene is growing right along with the city.
Much of skateboarding’s rising popularity is due to the efforts of an unlikely community on the streets of Addis. In 2013, I met a 16-year-old named Abenezer Temesgen teaching about 25 local kids how to skate in an empty parking lot in the Sarbet neighborhood. The group had only a handful of boards among them—there was no skate shop in the country—but that didn’t slow them down. They reminded me of the pioneers of skateboarding in California in the 1960s.
I soon canceled my flight home to join their crew.
We organized weekly skate sessions at the parking lot, attracting youth from all corners of Addis who were eager to get on a board, and formed a collective known as Ethiopia Skate. We posted photos and videos online and drew a global following. Skateboarders from around the world sent money, skateboards, and other gear. Dozens of passionate skaters received their first boards through donations.
Ethiopia‘s skateboarding scene has continued to grow. In 2016 Ethiopia Skate collaborated with Make Life Skate Life, a nonprofit that builds skate parks around the world, to crowdfund and build Ethiopia’s first skate park. Over 60 volunteer builders from 20 different countries came together to build Addis Skatepark, the country’s first. And skate communities in smaller Ethiopian cities, like Bahir Dar and Sodo, are sprouting. Last year the country got a second park, in the town of Hawassa, about 173 miles south of Addis Ababa.
The kids who were learning how to skateboard in a vacant parking lot five years ago have inspired the next generation of skateboarders and have helped provide dedicated spaces for the sport they love. They’ve become part of a larger movement, and the energy to expand that movement across Ethiopia continues to grow.