Tony Hawk cramped my style! My first visit to Tashkeel was cancelled because The Birdman unexpectedly passed through Dubai and wanted to skate the ramp. My interview with Brad Kirr, Tashkeel’s Program Manager was rescheduled for the following day. The space is set in Nad Al Sheba, a green oasis surrounded by desert dunes, an Emirati neighborhood fifteen minutes beyond the skyline of downtown Dubai. Brad, who is originally from the US, arrived in flip-flops and a sunshine yellow polo shirt and drank Arabic coffee (which is traditionally served in a small glass) from a giant-sized mug. I wondered how after consuming that much caffeine he would ever sleep again. We slumped on wicker couches on the back porch of Tashkeel, a creative hub for artists and designers founded and directed by Sheikha Lateefa bint Maktoum, herself an accomplished photographer. Inside, artists in aprons were busy working in shared studios, retro Maria Callas blasted from someone’s iPhone.
Outside was another story entirely. We sat overlooking the UAE’s first skate park, a monstrous orange ramp made up of Arabic letters spelling “Tashkeel” which can be translated to mean “to take artistic shape or form” in English. Brad told me, “The ramp was originally commissioned to provide a live skateboarding environment to an exhibition that was taking place in Tashkeel’s gallery space. We needed something that had an Arabic theme to it, was artistic, and useable. We were looking at our logo and realized that it had three jumps to it. The Arabic language has an inherent skateability to it—the structure of it has a lot of flowing curves and ramps.”
Beside the ramp was the Canopi Bowl a wooden structure nestled in native trees. Tashkeel’s resident graffiti artist Ruben Sanchez had added to the vibe with larger than life designs, one a mural collaboration with street art heavyweight David Choe, others the product of graffiti workshops held with local youth. Beyond was a mosque, and from time to time we could hear the Muslim call to prayer, soothing and certain in the early summer breeze. The combination of street culture and tradition was a statement of public art.
The concept of a public community space went viral immediately. When the ramp opened in January, more than 200 kids-both boys and girls- arrived to skate and about 1,500 people watched them from the garden. Tashkeel has continued to provide a social hub for skateboarding in the UAE, a place where kids can come after school to freely hang out, talk, and practice. They can also participate in a 12-week skateboarding program in which they construct and design their own boards from scratch and learn skating basics.
Tashkeel has partnered with Skateistan, an NGO in Afghanistan that teaches skating to street kids, and creates a supportive environment for young people from divergent tribes to learn and practice together. Skateistan recently sent two of their brightest coaches (young men who were originally selling chewing gum on the streets for 25 cents per day), to Tashkeel to skate with the UAE youth.
The life lessons to be learned from skateboarding are tremendous. Brad hopes that some of country’s future leaders are among the kids who participate in Tashkeel’s programs. He believes that “Skateboarding is the greatest activity in the world. You have to try something so many times in order to actually land a trick and the consequences for failure are often very harsh. You understand that and do it anyway. You have to overcome a great amount of fear and have true persistence to get to the place where skateboarding actually becomes an art. It demands full creativity.”
Tashkeel skate park is free and open six days a week. You can learn more about the creative hub here.
Read about Skateistan’s remarkable programs and learn how you can help here.