Courtesy of Skateimpact Courtesy of Skateimpact

The Coolest Kids in Alex

Tue, May. 16, 2017
CAIRO - 16 May 2017: The sun is shining mercilessly on the streets of Alexandria this Friday afternoon, with temperatures in the high 30s. But the heat isn’t stopping a group of about 15 skaters from riding their boards on an open plaza near the city’s ancient Roman Theater. The skaters take turns showing off their skills, with loud cheers erupting whenever a skater lands a trick.

One of the skaters is 23-year-old Hana Azmi, who tells me it is her first day out skating in nearly two years. She is among the first female skaters in Egypt, having skated on and off since 2007, when she got a skateboard for her 13th birthday. “Skating is the hardest sport I’ve tried, because you have to control both your mind and your body as well as the board. You have to have the guts to perform a trick many times, even though you know you’re going to fall and that it’s going to hurt,” she explains.

Azmi used to dream of skating professionally, “going pro” as skaters says, but Alexandria and the rest of Egypt lack proper skateparks. “Outside of Egypt there are good facilities and competitions for pro skaters, but we don’t have that here. To go pro, you have to compete in a lot of different tournaments in order to gain access to the title games—it’s a sport. Here, it’s a bit different. It’s more of a community and a subculture,” Azmi says.

Skating is a somewhat new subculture in Egypt. The foundation of the community was laid in 2005 when Skateimpact opened. The store is the only one of its kind in Egypt and is at the core of the Egyptian skating community.

Omar Adel, who is 20 years old, is another skater hanging out and riding his board around the open space. Adel got his first skateboard some nine years ago. “The first board I bought broke within the first week because it was bad quality. So my friends told me that next time I should buy my skateboard at Skateimpact. I went there and met Omar and Cherif Herrawi. I asked them how I could join the skate community, and they introduced me to some of the other guys and told me to come to their skate sessions.” Since then Adel has been a big part of the Skateimpact team and the skating community.

The sun is still baking on the smooth surface of the plaza, and the skatersvdecide to call it a day. Cooling down in the shadow of a big monument, many of them are satisfied with the tricks they have landed this afternoon, several of them sporting fresh bruises from their less successful tricks.

We head from the plaza to Skateimpact’s shop in the Ibrahimiya neighborhood. Adel is DJ’ing, while another Skateimpact member, Karim Alexander Forsberg, is driving. Azmi is sitting next to me, and she tells me that they are often kicked out from wherever they are skating by security guards. “It’s very hard to skate in Egypt, because it’s not considered a sport like football or swimming, so when you’re skating in the street, people always give you weird looks,” Adel adds from the front seat.

From the outside, it’s hard to tell that Egypt’s skateboard hub is right inside a gray apartment building on a quiet street. There are no signs, and like a secret club, you have to know it is there. But that is part of the concept behind Skateimpact, Omar Herrawi tells me, once we all make it inside. The two brothers founded the store to give skaters a place to buy proper decks and parts, and to create a space where people could come and just hang out and discuss their interests—a place the two brothers did not have when they initially started skating.

“When I was a kid and I wanted to skate, I had to wait for a friend to come back from travelling abroad to bring me a new skateboard. And if you ordered via mail, the package was usually damaged or lost on the way,” Herrawi says.

Aside from colorful boards, t-shirt and caps and a work bench for repairing boards, Skateimpact is furnished with sofas and there is a computer in the back where some of the skaters are watching YouTube videos of professional competitions. The skaters all feel at home in the shop. “Skateboarding is not a sport. It’s a lifestyle. It’s an art form, a way of expressing yourself with a skateboard,” Herrawi says, explaining that a lot of people who start out skating eventually move on to another artform, for example drawing, graffiti, music or photography.

“What is good about skateboarding is that you get your midlife crisis early. Why? Because when you’re in your teenage years you think that you have what it takes to become a pro-skater. So once you figure out that it’s maybe not going to happen, you start to rethink your life and discover other ways of expressing yourself creatively,” Herrawi adds.

His theory seems to stick. Herrawi himself has studied fashion, Azmi is majoring in architecture this summer and Adel plays keyboard and guitar, when he is not studying business at university or skating. For the group, skating has opened new doors that have led to creativity in new shapes or laid the foundation for new friendships, Herrawi explains.

“When you skate, you find yourself.”
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