Feb 8, 2011

Skateistan: To Live and Skate Kabul

As a teenager, I was in awe when I found out that the small rural county I called home was planning to build a skatepark. After all, skateboarding was far from being the most popular recreational activity (hunting is without question, infinitely more popular) in my area and there were only about ten skaters at my high school. Nowadays, it seems like every town has a skatepark or two, including war torn Kabul, Afghanistan. In the short documentary Skateistan: To Live and Skate Kabul directed by Orlando von Einsiedel, the viewer is briefly exposed to the culture shock world of Afghan guerilla skateboarding. In the documentary, young Arabs skaters cruise through monumental rubble, weaving through gnarly animal heads and debris-ridden battle zones. One young Afghan skater mentions that not many of his countrymen understand the world of skateboarding, thinking that the young skaters feet are attached to their skateboard by some type of magnetic field. The 200l American blitzkrieg-style 'Operation Enduring Freedom' invasion may have not given the people of Afghanistan the freedom that the United States of America had promised but at least they now have an indoor skatepark. 

In Skateistan: To Live and Skate Kabul, a 17 year old skater named Murza discusses his turbulent and violent upbringing in Kabul, Afghanistan. Although Murza was not exactly happy with Taliban-occupied Afghanistan, he still prefers it to the American occupation, as he feels that his country had much more stability when it was run by the infamous Islamist militia. The popular sk8 phrase "Skate or Die" has a more literal meaning for Murza when you consider the intemperate and chaotic world the youthful Afghan boy skates in. Murza originally had a job slavishly washing cars in the wintertime, which often resulted in frozen and cracked hands, surely not an admirable trade even in Afghanistan. Muhammad must be watching over Murza during holy Jihad, as the Afghan boy now has a dream job teaching skateboarding at Kabul skatepark. Like most skateboarders around the world, Murza describes skateboarding as an addiction that causes symptoms of withdrawal when one is unable to push wood. I never thought I would find skateboarding inspiration in Afghanistan but Skateistan: To Live and Skate Kabul is undoubtedly an attestation to the universal appeal of sidewalk surfing. 

The most flaring flaw of Skateistan: To Live and Skate Kabul is the length (around 9 minutes in length), as you only get a taste of the Afghan skateboarding in this original micro-documentary. I would really enjoy watching a documentary that follows a group of Afghan skaters over a period of a year, to find out if they are caught in a skate session that turns into sniper battle or terrorist bombing. Thankfully, a feature-length documentary on Kabul skatepark, Skateistan: Four Wheels and a Board in Kabul, is being released sometime in 2011. I sincerely hope that the Kabul skate park is not destroyed by a suicide bomber or American troops, especially when you consider that it is one of the few things that these children without childhoods have to look forward to. I doubt any skateboard teams will be touring through Afghanistan anytime soon, so it is up to the first generation of Afghan skaters to produce their own local skateboarding heroes. With their own national culture being annihilated right before their adolescent eyes, at least these kids are able build their own subculture in the slightly less dangerous atmosphere of Kabul skate park.

-Ty E


Phantom of Pulp said...

Fascinating. Thanks for the direction to this gem. I, too, was a mad skateboarder when skateboarding was not as mainstream as it now is. I still ride occasionally and love it. It is very addictive. The rush is incomparable.

Soiled Sinema said...

Phantom of Pulp: I am glad to know you're a fellow skater. Watching skate videos was one of the things that inspired me to search out hard-to-find cinema.

-Ty E