Lagos, Nigeria is one of the most densely populated cities in the world. Despite being home to around 21 million people skateboarding piques little interest amongst the city's many denizens. However, that hasn't stopped the young, scrappy team behind WAFFLESNCREAM from joining forces to spread their unique take on skate culture through their home city. Established seven years ago, WAFFLESNCREAM is part-lifestyle brand, part-skate crew, that, while small in number, is big in heart and vision.
Opening a skate supply shop and building Lagos' first skate park within the next few years are only a few of the large-scale goals the team is currently working toward. They also recently released Nigeria's inaugural skate edit. "When we first started a lot of us had never even watched any skate videos because there was no access to them," explains one of the crew's founders, "this was like 2002, so the internet was still quite slow."
Since those early days, WAFFLESNCREAM has helped to create a platform to connect skaters across Nigeria and the continent as a whole. We caught up with them via Skype to learn a little more about the triumphs and challenges of growing Nigeria's burgeoning skate scene...
How did the idea of WAFFLESNCREAM first come about?
The brand is actually seven years old, we’ve been doing it for awhile but this is the first time we’ve done a skate edit. Skateboarding in Nigeria and Africa right now is the same way it was in the ‘70s in America when people didn’t really understand it. We launched the clothing first as a way to draw attention to the brand and bring some of the proceeds back to the skaters and the scene. Some of us didn’t grow up with much, so we also wanted to make a brand that could make other kids could feel good about wearing it.
Our reality is very, very different. Skateboarding is such a foreign, noisy thing. Usually the people who skate are people who don’t like traditional sports since skateboarding is more individual. It was kind of a lonely thing in the beginning but after spending time in Zambia we discovered a lot of people there who also liked skating. From there a few of us spent time in London and Leeds and formed a crew there. When the skateboarding scene in Zambia exploded, we wanted to create something in Nigeria too.
What were some of the early struggles of establishing the platform?
Communication was the biggest issue. Most of us didn't have cell phones when we first started out, and there was no WhatsApp at the time so we couldn’t group chat. We basically couldn’t organize shit. Right now we have a group on WhatsApp for our crew and skaters from Nigeria who are living in Nigeria and abroad, so we share videos and stuff. Equipment is still a big issue for us too; it’s a huge deal when a board snaps.
In the West, if someone’s board breaks they just go online or if they're in a city they go to their nearest skate shop and get it replaced. It takes over three months to get a deck here, it’s deep. The Supreme London team has been really supportive of us with that. They’ve been a big influence and help to us from the very beginning. Some of us go back and forth from London and they always bless us when we're around. So yeah, those are the people we appreciate on a deep level.
We also have police and security issues here so some of them are mashing up skaters and harassing them. Now it’s the younger kids skating and because of that, their parents don’t always know that they’re not doing anything wrong. They think they’re getting into trouble because there's still that expectation from a lot of older people that you need to be concentrating on being a doctor or an engineer or a lawyer or something.
What do you hope for Lagos' skate scene in the next few years?
We want the skate scene to explode. We want pro skaters coming out of Lagos. We want to see African skaters on a global stage skating for our own reasons. We want people’s jaws to drop when they see what we can do. Here it’s like life isn’t always constant, water isn’t always constant, light isn’t always constant, but skating is constant. We kind of have to work our way through everything. So we want to have pros coming out of here so we can self-sustain our scene. We want to show the world what our city is like on our own terms.
A lot of us have never been to Atlanta but we still feel like we know what it’s like. We feel like we know what the music sounds like, what the fashion is like, all of that. Same with a city like Los Angeles or New York -- they have a global vibe that’s made it all over the world. People might not have been to those places but they know hip-hop or they know what Southern trap music is. We want people to have that same feeling of Lagos. There’s no place like this place. It’s a constant clash of differences.
There are the people who have everything and the people who have nothing. There are the people who have traveled all over the world and the people who haven’t, and we’re all within blocks of each other. Poverty is at your doorstep, literally, because maybe a security guard or someone who is walking down the street is poor.
Despite that, we want people to see that we all coexist. Right now there's all this talk about Boko Haram but even in our crew we have people whose families are half-Muslim, half-Christian and they make it work. There’s so much here that hasn’t been explored and I think the skate scene could show that.
What are the biggest misconceptions about the skate scene in Lagos and on the African continent?
The big one is that we’re joking. Some of the reactions are like, “Oh look at all these African kids trying to skate.” It’s not taken completely seriously and some people treat it like a novelty. There’s still a lot of apprehension about the scene here. Hopefully the perception will change.
We’ve actually turned down a lot of foreign journalists for that reason. A lot of them hear skateboarding in Lagos and they’re like, “Oh my god, let’s go take pictures," but then it comes out looking like they’re at a zoo observing us. It doesn't look authentic and the undertone is like we're some sort of charity case. That’s why we wanted to make sure that people get the feel of our city the way we actually see it...When a foreign person holds the camera it’s just different sometimes.
How long did it take to make JIDE?
The video took about three days. Once we started producing a lot of Lagos-based content other skaters in the city started hitting us up on Instagram wanting to link up. At first not that many people were skating here [Lagos], so it was kind of odd because you get used to skating by yourself and then suddenly you'd find someone else who skates and it would be like lost children finding each other.
This 14-year-old kid who’d just moved back from Australia hit us up one day and said he wanted to skate. He also said he filmed which was cool because we’d always wanted to film but we didn’t have the equipment, plus everyone just wanted to skate. So he gets here and all he’s doing is filming. It was the first time in seven years we’d got that kind of content.
Luckily some of the guys from Zambia were here and some Nigerian-American guys were around, we all just hung out for three days straight making the video. We even built boxes out of wood and metal to use. All this time he was recording everything from us building to police stopping us, all kinds of stuff. After that it took like four days to edit and that was it.
What do you want people to learn from watching JIDE?
We want what we're doing to give African children ownership. We want them to have a new attitude and a new way of seeing things. We want them to feel like, this is really our shit. A lot of people don't know, but one of the guys in the video is one of the best skaters in Zambia. We pooled money together to fly him in so we could do the video. We didn’t want a Terry Kennedy or a Theotis Beasley or another African-American skater. There’s nothing wrong with them, but we wanted an African skater because there’s still this idea that we don’t skate.
We want kids to feel like, we don’t need your help but we do want your support. If people do want to support us then they can lend a hand with getting equipment. After that, let us do things our own way. What we don't want is people coming here to "support" and then trying to tell us how to skate or how to cultivate our scene.
Support is different than help; we don’t need aid, we need support. Right now the way Africa is treated it’s like people come in and they’re like, "Oh you guys don’t have bridge. We’ll build you one, cool?" That turns into, "Oh, we could build a mall here, too, then a housing development and then a supermarket." By the end it feels like nothing is ours.
What does the future hold for the WAFFLESNCREAM crew?
We want to open a shop next year. Skaters will be able to work at the store, edit their videos there and get supplies, too. We want it to be a whole industry with the shop as a hub to help sustain the scene. The same people who are producing content and clothes will be the same people benefitting from the work. It will give people an alternative way of living and working. Skateboarding is life for a lot of people and it’s possible to make a living off of it. You can be a skater, a videographer a shop owner, a brand owner. We want more people here to know they can have brands and creative jobs.
We’re also about to try and build our first skate park. We’re in the midst of getting a license that permits us to use the land. As soon as we get that sorted that will be a big step, after that we’ll start crowdfunding. It’s a little sensitive though because crowdfunding exists differently in the West. There people crowdfund for crowdfunding reasons: to support ideas. Here on the continent it’s like even if we’re about to build a rocket ship and blast off into space, it still feels like people still don't take it seriously. There’s this perception like, “Oh the Africans are asking for aid money again.”
So we want to bring everyone together to help design the park. The whole idea with the crowdfunding is that we want all the skaters and everyone involved in the funding from around the world to come and help us literally build it with our hands. We’ll buy all the stuff we need and have the plans drawn up, but we’ll need hands to actually build it. Having a park would change the city.
We did research and we're actually one of the only urban cities in the world without a skate park. Yet we’re one of the largest and fastest-growing economies in the world right now. Everybody is looking to us, we’re in the most exciting part of the world. In a lot of ways, Africa is the last frontier. That's part of the reason we wanted to create something for ourselves with people who understand our vision. This is like FUBU, it has to be for us and by us.
Visit WAFFLESNCREAM's website to learn more about the crew.