You might not know it, but one of the most dynamic and radically adventurous skate scenes happening right now is in Ghana's capital, Accra. Nevertheless, the vitality of the country’s skate scene seems less a by-product of prosperity and more a willful, self-propelling act of determination.
Sandy Alibo founded the sports NGO and collective Surf Ghana with the dream to nurture and equip the striving local skate scene. Now a decisive part of that dream is being realized: a fully fledged skate park. “We need a space. We need to be visible,” Alibo tells me. “People ask me, ‘Why now?’ I think we are finally ready.” For both the founder and local skaters, a lack of infrastructure and support in the past has been frustrating — but still not enough to snuff out the underground fire growing on the streets. With the first skate park in the works as we speak, it seems like another step towards releasing the brakes that have been holding back skateboarding’s growth on the continent.
A location is secured, a blueprint has been drawn up, a crowdfunding campaign is raising funds, and the project has already pulled some prominent support from the likes of Off-White™ head honcho Virgil Abloh and Pan-African clothing brand Daily Paper. It even has a name, Freedom Skate Park. Alibo believes it will redefine and expand how the world looks at African skate culture, and it comes at a crucial time. “Now that the Olympics include skateboarding, the attention will be on these new sports, especially for the youth who are watching on TV. So adding a skate park will definitely develop the sport in general, but also launch a conversation with institutions like the Ministry of Sport and even bring skating to a higher level in neighboring countries, too.”
Defiance has always been central to skate culture. And as the sport gains a foothold in the continent, it’s only natural that it tests the very notions of conventional skateboarding. “As a woman in Africa in the sport industry, it's really hard to be considered, to have support,” Alibo explains. “And then [in] skating, a male dominated sport, there is a lack of confidence [and] self-esteem for women who want to practice it.”
To combat this, Surf Ghana created the Skate Gal Club, connecting and nurturing women skaters and giving them a safe space to do what they love. The concept of women nurturing a subculture to empower themselves is also being woven into the planning for Freedom Skate Park. “We will dedicate an entire afternoon every week to women and girls only, where the staff will all be women as well. It's pretty important for me to do that; this is the next step for the Skate Gal Club.”
Even if you look beyond skating, Freedom Skate Park is a legacy project, imbued with a vision that affects far more than just sports. Meet Dominique Petit-Frère, whose architecture studio Limbo Accra is handling the park’s design. Limbo’s practice is all about exploring the intersection between art, architecture, and sustainability in West Africa’s rapidly developing cities. For Freedom Skate Park, Petit-Frère’s intention is twofold: “We want this park to be Surf Ghana's, but also to be a representation of how young creatives [and] young entrepreneurs in African cities can create their own space,” she tells me. “Skateboarding’s the genesis, that's the entry point, but it is a wider holistic ecosystem that's being built.”
“We want to create a creative space, more than just a skate park,” Alibo explains. “So it's a place where you can socialize, you can practice sports, you can work, you can buy sport equipment, but we also want to celebrate the creative scene of Ghana.” In addition to the ramps and skate shop, the park will also feature a café with wifi and a public green space for local creatives to work, connect, and just be for free. “In Ghana, people see these infrastructures — like sport, art, culture, and music — as separate. And I think it's the first time in Ghana that we are building a space to connect all these industries,” Petit-Frère adds.
For Petit-Frère, Freedom Skate Park is the prototype for a new approach to designing urban spaces in Africa. Sustainability informs not only the locally sourced and recycled materials it will be made with, but also the park’s lasting impact on society. “Sustainability can speak to the environment, it can speak to the materials you use to build the space, but I feel like sustainability in a way also has to do with the people that inhabit the space.” Limbo Accra’s very name is taken from West Africa’s sporadic city planning and discontinued government projects, which leave many sites in a state of limbo. Freedom Skate Park should be a beaming antithesis to this. “We want to make sure that this space will be part of the urban fabric for generations to come.”
A testament to the growing and invigorating influence of skateboarding, Freedom Skate Park is the place where a grassroots youth skater movement becomes part of a larger ongoing cultural change in Africa. Whether it’s breaking gender barriers within the sport or giving Ghana’s creative youth new ways to thrive, the impact will speak for itself.
If you’d like to contribute to the construction of Freedom Skate Park you can donate here.