“In Nepal they are in the year 2074, which I only know because in April I celebrated New Years Eve over there along with some other 75 like-minded volunteers from 20 different nations. We had the mission of building the first international standard skatepark in a country where skateboarding is only a couple of years old and where only two really small shitty parks existed before. It was supposed to happen in Pokhara, the second largest city in Nepal and the country’s number one tourist destination for mountain climbers and hippies alike. Responsible for this project and gathering the donations to finance it was once more the non-profit Make Life Skate Life Foundation which so far has realized projects like this in India, Bolivia, Myanmar, Jordan and Ethiopia. So this year it was happening in Nepal, and just to start with the facts: we built a 650 square meter park in 18 days, and even though it was completely d.i.y., so to say, and took place in one of the poorest countries of the world, we manged to finish with a high quality product even three days before the official opening. Wo/manpower is all you need to make things happen, ‘nuff said.
It was my first Make Life Skate Life adventure and I had missed all of the previous ones mostly because being on the road all the time as a professional builder I was never too amped to also work my ass off under the harshest conditions during the little holidays I got. But then I was in Costa Rica a couple years ago to work on a similar project and remembered how good it had felt to give something worthwhile to the kids who literally have nothing. And I’ve always heard stories about these recent projects from fellow builders who have been there, and were to go again, about the cool people you were supposed to meet. So for me that was the main reason to book a flight to Nepal, which apparantly isn’t the number one travel destination for skateboarders, to meet brothers and sisters from all over the world who are into the same thing and willing to spend money, time and a lot of sweat to build a skatepark in a far away country for the pure belief, and possible fact, that skateparks save lives. And that’s exactly what happened. You could say I gained 70 new friends in those four weeks I was there and with the positive energy we shared and spread you could easily save at least all those 70 plus lives for a year or two. I reckon, social media can’t beat that, and it was so cool that every day after work you would spend the evening and eventually night together with a different random crew doing whatever, and we all got along so well. It was maximum awesomeness to say the least and I know that all those in attendance will confirm just that.
We all know skateboarding itself is the best thing ever (if you’re not busy making love), but this was something special. Some of the people who joined us don’t even skate which is pretty rad when you think of it. Yes, it was all about the energy, and Pokhara, set in a valley on a lakeside in front of the Annapurna Range with some of the highest mountains in the world, is a place with a special energy. But that might change soon because tourism and therefore the city itself is growing rapidly. While we were there the first KFC was just opening and they’re currently starting to turn the local airport into an international one, looks like things are gonna get ugly sooner than later, at least after some time, sir. (That was actually one of the local sayings which soon became a running gag, because if you leave western civilization in whichever direction, things tend to take a while which you just have to get used to. But even in Nepal things will happen eventually, just after some time, sir.) Sometimes I felt really bad about all the partying and ridiculously high-level hash-smoking we did. I mean, in a way we were there to lead by example and at times I thought maybe the local people are way better off when they just stay in the mountains and live their lives like they did for thousands of years. But then again that’s a very selfish (not to say western) way of thinking, and if you have doubts, well, crack a beer and roll-up another one. The body aches from shoveling dirt and concrete in 35° degree heat (95f) all day and needs nutrition. If this is your holiday you better play by the rules, and do your rooftop-yoga in the morning to level it all out again. Sweet as…
Nepal is probably different than most all other places in the world. At least you can easily say that when the first thing you see in the morning on your daily way to work is a cow in the middle of the main road chomping on a bloody newspaper you know you’re far away from home. So talking about city life, the little paved roads they have in the country are kinda chunky to say the least. The 200 kilometers from the capital Kathmandu to Pokhara consist of a spectacular roller coaster bus ride which takes around nine hours if you’re lucky, but offers some amazing views. Back in the city it’s all dirty and dusty and there’s a lot of smog and noise from all the traffic. But traffic is slow because it’s organized chaos as in most third-world countries, so the skate back home from the work-site, which was a little out of town at the olympic stadium, quickly became my daily highlight. It was so much fun cruising through all the buses, trucks, cars, scooters and bicycles. When it was not downhill you could easily hold onto one of the passing vehicles and most of the time the driver and /or passengers were beyond stoked to witness such stuntmanship firsthand for the first time ever in their lives. Then you had to avoid cracks and potholes, occasionally ollie over some cowshit or whatever other mess was dropped on the road and crowd surf on the sidewalks when the road was unpassable because it was not finished yet. You had smiling people waving at you and excited kids or barking dogs chasing you, it was like a bloody video game! So it really became my mission to show them locals that a skateboard is not only a toy or some kind of sports equipment, but also a simple and fun way of transportation. And with the traffic like that depending on my medi-pack intake in between, I usually was at the hostel way before those who took the bus after work. They showed up after some time, sir, but let’s keep it as a fact that there should be a big market for skateboards in Nepal. We just need to show how to use them, and let’s face it, they definitely have some challenging downhills.
As for shreddable street spots, they’re far and few between. Usually there’s something involved that makes them unskateable, like big cracks or just shitty materials in general. If there’s a good spot it’s probably somewhere super busy and the streets are way crowded at all times during the day. And since there’s almost no street lights in town it’s kinda hard to skate those spots at night. But, of course, we did some street skating, we even went on a photo mission once and soon learned that skateboarders are not welcomed everywhere, even in Nepal. Some people give you the bust and not a shit if you’ve landed your trick or not, like everywhere else in the world. We also learned that a session is definitely over once a sand storm rolls in and you can hardly see what’s happening ten meters in front of you. Yeah, weather and climate are intense in Nepal and when it rains it rains heavily, but you’re kinda grateful for it because it cleans up all the dust and dirt. We also had some fun sessions in the little skatepark at Lakeside, the country’s very first one which consists of a decent miniramp and a weird but nevertheless usable tiny street section that has seen better days and is packed once you skate it with more than five people. Add some little kids who just started skating on our donated boards and you will have what you could call a hectic session, and don’t forget the scorching sun and high altitude! It looks like the park is gonna be demolished soon, though, to make room for another ho(s)tel which there are already more than enough of at Lakeside.
Two things sucked about my month in Nepal. Without a doubt it’s super motivating when the kids ask if they can use your board while you’re busy building a skatepark for them, ‘cause you know what you’re doing it for. Problem is that sometimes you don’t get it back and are lucky enough if it shows up again a day or two later. I wouldn’t say the kids steal them, with all the poverty around they just have another definition of sharing. But several boards got lost during the grand opening and it’s a real bummer when you build a skatepark and have a hard time skating it afterwards or wanted to film that gap you saved for the last days but can’t anymore because your board is just not there. Some of the boards re-appeard after some time, sir, even mine as I was told, but I was long gone back home by then. Bummer number two, even though a minor one that we didn’t take too seriously, was a diss we got from the main Nepalease skateboard website pretty much claiming we were a bunch of hippies (not so wrong on that) who had built some useless tranny park and had never heard of Street League. Well, I had seen the local skaters skate, and when I first saw the design we were about to build (actually for the first time on these projects there was a real plan and design) I kinda thought the same. In my eyes, too, the park is lacking a bit of street design, because that’s what the locals skate and seem to need. Then again, the park we built is exactly what they didn’t have before in Nepal and now they can learn and appreciate to skate stuff like that. If there’s one single rule in skateboarding besides having fun it should be to try and skate everything. And if you want a curb or whatever else please build it yourself or just fix some street spots – concrete ain’t no rocket science. Maybe all you need is a sober Mr. Fix-It… All in all, I wish I could have seen a little more of the rural Nepal, not to say the mountains, but I just didn’t have the time and money. Actually for the first two weeks I was completely broke because my bank card didn’t work at any of the local ATMs (never expect it frst try in Nepal) and I had to get a Western Union transfer going which was not too easy either. Some of us went on treks into the mountains during or after the build, and me and a dozen others spent one of the last nights another 500 meters way up with a great view of the valley and the Annapura Range at sunset/rise. That gave me a short glimpse of all the beauty and welcoming people this country has to offer, but I am still super stoked on the fact that I have visited this really special place which I would probably never have experienced if it wasn’t for skateboarding. It’s just a great key to the world, and I know, my dear Confusion readers, I don’t have to tell you that because you’re living it yourself. So don’t forget to get on the road once in a while, you’re gonna meet some of the best people whom you’re gonna miss dearly once you get on that plane back home.
So much about the Annapurna Skatepark project in Pokhara, Nepal. I /we would like to thank every single person involved in whatever matters of this project and the Make Life Skate Life Foundation. It would be no use listing all the names since with that many I would forget some and misspell a few, and every single one of us mattered just as much as the other. I told you before about the energy this eclectic group regained. All of my love! Special thumbs up to Curtis, though, who hooked us up with some sick skate shots, and all the other photographers who made this article possible in the first place. And thanks to J. Hay for letting us spread the word and gospel through this amazing magazine that he struggles to keep alive. Paper in a world of data and d.i.y. in a world of ignorant bastards. For life and for real! Now go crew yourself and do something amazing…
– Arne Fiehl vom BOARDSTEIN
For further information and donations check out www.makelifeskatelife.org
Annapurna Skatepark (Short Documentary)
Video by Outtallecturals
Presenting Ekaterina Anchevskaya & Aryan Ashoori’s documentary on the construction of Annapurna Skatepark; the first international standard skatepark in the landlocked Himalayan nation of Nepal.
In collaboration with Outtallectuals, Make Life Skate Life, Skate Nepal, ALIS, The Community Collective, HolyStoked Collective, Refurb Skate, and many more.