TRIPOLI (AFP) – Libyan Mohamed Abderraouf put a foot on his board and launched himself across Tripoli’s first skatepark, a welcome break in the conflict-battered capital with few facilities for bored young people.
“I can’t describe the joy,” said the 18-year-old, who bought his first skateboard in 2020 and had only been able to practise on street corners – until now. “I’m going to come a couple of times a week.”
The free, open-air facility opened over the weekend in central Tripoli, to the delight of young skaters who spent the afternoon sweeping up and down the halfpipes and taking selfies with their friends.
“I’m really happy, because before there wasn’t a dedicated place for skating,” said Rayan al-Omar, 18, who has been skating for a year.
The United States-(US) funded facility was built by Make Life Skate Life, a charity that has set up “free-of-charge, community-built concrete skateparks” in Iraq, Bolivia and India.
Australian Wade Trevean, who designed the 800-square-metre Tripoli site, said volunteers came from far and wide to help build it, a process that took about six weeks.
“There are people from New York, people from Belgium, Germany or Australia,” Trevean said.
“The happiness and positivity here are amazing.”
Local skaters played a role in the project too, part of a seaside park that also includes a cycling route and five-a-side football pitches.
The rest of the complex was completed a year ago on the site of a former base of the ‘Amazons’, the entourage of female bodyguards of deposed dictator Moamer Kadhafi, and seen as a symbol of his extravagance.
Since he was overthrown and killed in a 2011 revolt, Tripoli has endured successive waves of violence, meaning few resources were put into leisure and cultural facilities – already almost non-existent under Kadhafi.
So almost two years since the guns fell silent following the last major battle on the edges of the capital, the opening of a skatepark in Tripoli generated a lot of attention.
For young Libyan skateboarders, interest in the sport reflects a yearning for normality, to be like other nations and other young people.
Abderraouf said such a project would have been “unimaginable” until recently. “Thankfully it is here now,” he said. For Make Life Skate Life, the “overall goal” of the skatepark is “to create a safe community space where people from different backgrounds can come together and positively interact in a playful way”, the organisation said.
“Apart from creating immediate local employment, the skatepark aims to contribute to a healthier, more active, more engaged, and happier society,” it added.
The group said they will hold free weekly skate classes of 60 girls and boys – split equally – who would otherwise not be able to skate, with boards and safety gear available to use.
Trevean extolled the virtues of skateparks for building community.
“People are skateboarding but also people come here to hang out, exchange ideas, have conversation, meet new people,” he said.
“I know the benefits of skateparks, and I truly believe in them.”