Skateboarding has come a long way in India since Nick Smith built the country’s first skatepark in Goa (2003). We now have close to 15 skate parks all over the country including mall towns and hipster tourist spots, from Kovalam to Ranchi, all boasting their own bowls and ramps.
In fact, all of India’s metropolitan cities had their own version of a skate park except the biggest one of them all, Bombay - until now.
Riyaaz Amlani’s Social (and Anti-Social) has developed a reputation for disruption. Of food, co-working spaces, and concept restaurants to name a few but with its newest outlet opening in Khar (there are already 4 other Socials in the city) it seeks to become a harbinger of sub-cultures as well, and first up on that list was none other than skateboarding. Realising the glaring lack of space and facilities for young skate enthusiasts in the city, Impresario tied up with Red Bull and immediately brought Nick Smith, often hailed as skateboarding in India’s godfather, to build the city’s first skate part.
“In spite of the time pressure and a near disaster, when the last big splash of monsoon madness hit us, the whole process was pretty smooth,” Smith admitted while speaking to us, going on to add how much he loved the unique brief he received. “Think a skate feature by day, and a chill out area by night. I’m as hyped about sipping a tea and lounging on the low level cushions as I am about getting to skate on it,“ he laughed.
While building the space was Nick’s main focus however, we became interested in the unique interactive space the place might grow to be. It’s no secret that many of the kids most fuelled by skate culture, probably wouldn’t have the opportunity to hang out in a place like Social on a regular basis. This skate park, then, has a unique opportunity to start encouraging individuals with different socio-economic backgrounds into a common space, if only due to a shared passion for a still underground sport.
Nick believes the common ground is deeper than just the sport though. “A lot of the clientele that frequents Social will be the more creative & entrepreneurial variety, and when you break it down further, the characteristics that make these guys successful are the exact same characteristics that the skaters are tapping into to follow their dreams,” he commented.
Moreover, a lot of these kids are looked down upon from their family and friends for doing what they do. Akash Gandhi’s mother does not approve of his habit and passion. “It is dangerous and not worth the risk” he mimicked her in a way only children get so right. She is right in her own view to be protective of him though because skateboarding has never really had acceptance from society before this. Even while practicing at Citypark in Bandra East, they were often told to stop disturbing the other people around the area. Both of Nikhil Shelatkar’s parents too are pretty much against the though of him whiling away his time doing ollies and flips. He thinks of himself as a modern day rebel. It’s possible that all of these kids are in their own unique ways.
Most of them thank Sagar Waghele, now 21, for getting them into the sport at all. It is hard to miss the determination in his eyes and that glint of rebellion that keeps him going. When we caught up with him, his story is nothing but a testament to that spirit. Originally a BMX rider since 2008, he was diagnosed with kidney stones just two years later, he was forced to take a break and give up his dreams of buying a BMX bike. Instead, he settled for using the skateboard he borrowed from his friend, Azhar, and the two began skating together regularly at Citypark, BKC. Most of the kids from the area were quickly inspired by the duo’s antics and the rest, as they say, is history.
Suffice to say then that Social is an extremely alien skate spot for him, unlike anything they’ve ever been exposed to. The crowd he interacts with here on a daily basis is particularly different, he notes. “Often people are shocked at what they see here,” he sums up simply.
Shock might be too extreme a summation, but surprise would certainly do the trick. At the end of the day, it seems as though the very nature of this new skate park, and the multiple interest groups it’s come to excite, represents something of a social experiment (no pun intended) that most venues wouldn’t be risk-taking enough to even entertain, let alone execute as seamlessly as Social has.
There’s clearly a lot to be learned, and plenty more insights to be weaned over time, however, for now, we simply spent a few hours there, capturing the kids in action, while simultaneously catching up with Nick Smith to better the understand the growth and future of skateboarding in India.
Scroll on for excerpts from our conversation and a first look into Mumbai’s first skatepark:
Karan: So how much do you think has changed in the Indian skating scene since you first built S8Goa in 2003?
Nick: Well there is a skate scene now, it’s not changed as such, but it’s been born…
Karan: What impact do you think The Social Skate Park will have on the skateboarding scene in Mumbai?
Nick: It impacted from the moment the Bombay skaters realized that it was really happening. Bombay has felt neglected for years now; in fact the first skaters I met from Bombay even called their crew ‘Neglected’.
It’s my hope that the installation will not only give the Bombay skaters somewhere they can skate and progress together but will also drive others to get into it. This has already started to happen and will only increase as skateboarding becomes an everyday part of cafe life in Bandra.
Karan: Do you think Indian society is more accepting of the sport than they were 12 years ago?
Nick: I think that Indian society is pretty accepting of most things and with skateboarding, it just has to cross the threshold from something that happens elsewhere to becoming a part of the consciousness as something that is ours too.
Karan: Yesterday, I saw a 6-7 year old kid come to the park with his own board (Sadly, I do not have photograph). How does that make you feel?
Nick: It’s kids like this that will blow our minds soon, the crew in Bangalore who’ve been skating for around 5 years are getting insanely good.
However, they learnt this craft in their mid 20’s. They will never have the same fluidity as these next generation kids; who will literally grow up skateboarding. You shot the skaters and have captured the essence of what they’re about really well. They know they’re rising stars, they know they have a chance to do something with skateboarding and they’re really working hard to make it happen.
Some friends of mine who regularly see the boys at City Park and have long been impressed by their dedication to their craft.
Karan: We hear a lot about your new initiative at Advaita, could you elaborate more on that?
Nick: Gladly, it’s the next logical step in the evolution of what I feel will help and assist the further development of the skate scene and its potential for social empowerment. It’s also a way of setting things up in a way that may not happen as well if left to the brands and companies that will inevitably recognise skateboarding as a lucrative business opportunity.
With the creation of a series of community hubs comprising of a skating facility and a board press, it’s my vision to be able to create a sense of self-determination that I don’t see in other skate cultures. Brands do have a place and role. In my opinion they should assist and support the scene that they make their living from. Something I don’t really see happening too much. I’m not blaming the people that work at the brands, as I’m sure they didn’t learn much about this when they did their marketing degrees.
It’s just something that I see as an area that needs more balance and this initiative could definitely assist in this. I think the Third Eye Tour (Homegrown was a collaborator in making the first Third Eye Tour happen) was a good example of how brands can play a positive role in an event.
Both brands involved made their contributions and left us to handle the tour’s delivery. Of course, when a brand contributes or sponsors an event they should be represented well and get a good return on their investment.
Karan: What do you think can be done to encourage young girls to enter the sport like Skateistan has successfully done in Afghanistan?
Nick: By finding ways to give the girls ‘permission’. Also, by finding ways to reach the girls physically through skate facilities but also to reach out to them culturally. There are a few girls in the Bombay skate scene, and although traditionally skateboarding has been a very male-orientated activity; girls skateboarding is blowing up these days. I did an event on Brighton Beach primarily aimed at girl skaters this summer and lots of the girls who came are really amped about coming to India to get involved with the Advaita Project as it begins to roll out.
Karan: What plans for the next 1, 3 & 5 years for you and skateboarding in the country?
Nick: I wouldn’t want to limit what can happen by planning anything too much. It’s going to unfold in its own way, I see my role as being open to be guided by the growing needs that present themselves. Setting up community hubs & centres with facilities to make boards and be self sufficient in other ways like Power, even through food production and small vegetable. Aside from that, I’d love to work on the development of more parks and building the community.
I don’t subscribe to the popular consensus of trying to outsmart the next man or out compete them in business. It’s the win/win that appeals to me, this latest chapter in the unfolding history of Indian Skateboarding is a brilliant example of this.
The guys at Social have an amazing feature at their new outlet, we’ve partnered really well with Red Bull to deliver this and the skate community now has a space to make its own.
In conclusion, I suppose we can all agree that this is a big step forward for subculture development in India. For now, we hope that these kids have finally found a place to call their own, a place where they might go from ‘neglected’ to ‘accepted’ and a place where they are celebrated for who they are. Social will definitely introduce them to new avenues, giving them ways to create more of an income and learn how to feel a sense of ownership and belonging.