You’d be hard pressed to find an activity that represents American counter-culture more than skateboarding. In its early 1960s roots, the sport was seen as an outsider activity. This was long before going mainstream with the advent of the X-Games and popular video games like Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. Fast forward, and the concept of Muslim girls taking up the sport not only seems far-fetched, but downright dangerous in a culture where women don’t have the same rights as men.
Bucking the norms, these Afghan girls are shredding it up & showing love for a sport frowned upon by many for its association with Western ideals. But how did this start?
It’s likely that these girls would never have had the opportunity to set foot on a board if it were not for Australian skateboarder Oliver Percovich, who created Skateistan in 2007. “When I got there [Afghanistan] I didn’t see girls playing soccer or any other sports. There weren’t any activities that were appropriate for girls. Sports were definitely things that boys could do and girls couldn’t”, said Percovich.
The non-profit grassroots project aims to connect with youth in Afghanistan and educate them through skateboarding. Percovich noted that at first the girls just lingered in the background and watched, but after a couple of weeks one or two brave ones came forward and then more began picking up the sport. After learning 45% of the students were female, London based photographer Jessica Fulford-Dobson was inspired to first visit Kabul in 2012 and capture some photos of the girls learning to skate. It’s now the number one sport for women since bicycle riding is forbidden.
Her exhibition “Jessica Fulford-Dobson: Skate Girls of Kabul” opened at Saatchi Gallery in London on April 15, and landed her second prize in the 2014 Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize with Skate Girl, 2014 (one of the photographs taken while on location in Kabul).
Since launching, the program has gained support from professional skateboarders Tony Hawk, Holly Lyons and currently some 750 youth now skate with the program in Kabul – more than half being girls. “I think what Skateistan really stands for is that possibility for women to really blossom and be whoever it is they want to be,” Lyons said.