Support 'Pushing Myanmar' - Help Build A Skatepark in Myanmar / by Frederik van den Berg

Curious kids in a remote village in the mountains

Curious kids in a remote village in the mountains

This is the story of how I met the crew of Youth of Yangon and stumbled upon a little skateboarding community in one of the most unexpected places. They are currently appealing for support to build a skatepark in Yangon.

I visited Myanmar back in 2013. It was an inspiring place for countless reasons. It felt like the 1940’s- but with the occasional internet café or a man playing on his smartphone. The dust in the streets, the rickety old buildings, the piles of garbage- it would have been slightly eerie if it weren’t for the remarkable smiles and undeterred happiness the locals portrayed when I, a scruffy tall blonde, curiously snapped away with my camera.

The back-alley behind our hotel in Yangon

The back-alley behind our hotel in Yangon

Myanmar was where I met Dino (of Frank Powers) and his lovely sister Mona. It was where I first met Michelle and Alex, whom I would later meet again in a slumber of hangovers and food-poisoning while crossing the border from Thailand to Cambodia. It was also where I would eventually meet James Holman and Ali Drummond, after stumbling upon the most unexpected skateboarding community in the world.  

Flower sellers in the mountains

Flower sellers in the mountains

New and old in Yangon

New and old in Yangon

A man and his smartphone in the streets of Yangon

A man and his smartphone in the streets of Yangon

On my first or second night in Yangon a teenager came over to me and after a bit of chit-chat in broken English he showed me a picture of a skateboarder. I was puzzled.

“Do you know what that is?” I asked, pointing at the skateboard.

“Skateboard.”

“Do you know what it’s for?”

“Yes! I am skateboarder!”

“What!? You know what skateboarding is?”

My new friend went on to tell me that although you couldn't skate the streets in Yangon, there was a skate spot where all the locals met. I wanted to know more, but he said I’d have to buy him dinner first.

I did. I was fascinated.

When I told him I wanted to see this place to take photos of the skaters, he mentioned someone had been making a film about the local scene, and it was being premiered in two weeks. He wrote his name in my little red notebook, told me where I could find him and the other skateboarders, and went off into the city after we had a rather peculiar tasting fish soup together. I would never see him again. 

James Holman filming one of the local skaters in Yangon

James Holman filming one of the local skaters in Yangon

After two weeks of exploring the country, Dino, Mona, and I were back in Yangon. While strolling along the streets we eventually stumbled upon the back of a small mall, where you could hear the unmistakable sound of skateboards slapping away at the concrete.

The setup was rather basic with a box, a rail, a ramp here and a tire there. A lot of it looked self-built, and it was clearly not a permanent setup. 

One of the locals making use of the tire

One of the locals making use of the tire

We told them about my friendly informant and how we found the skate spot, and after a little skate session they invited us to the premiere of their film, Youth of Yangon

We showed up at the premiere later that night, where we were welcomed by a family of skaters who were just as curious about us as we were about them. Nobody recognized the name of the kid in my little red booklet, but all were happy to have met us. They gave us drinks and t-shirts, and pulled us into the group picture after the film was over.  We had dinner together and parted ways after exchanging contacts at the end of the night. We had only known each other for a few hours, but the memories have remained, and I’ve been following their updates on Facebook ever since.

Dino borrowed a board and stunned a fair amount of people.  

Dino borrowed a board and stunned a fair amount of people.  

The local skaters have been trying to get a dedicated skatepark for years, and now they are close to making it happen. The Pushing Myanmar crowdfunding campaign aims to create a free community-built skatepark in Yangon. By supporting this campaign you’ll be nurturing a flourishing community of ambitious local skaters. 

I am not officially affiliated with this project in any way. I merely met these guys at a brief moment in time, in a far away land. I may never see them again, but if I do, I hope it's at the skatepark. 

Check out the 'Pushing Myanmar' campaign and do what you can.

Watch Youth of Yangon for an insight into Myanmar's budding skateboard culture.

See more of this fascinating country in the Myanmar Gallery.

Thanks for stopping by,
-FVDB