Let’s build a skatepark – in Iraq

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A FRANKTON filmmaker has returned from three weeks in Iraq building the country’s first skatepark.

Freelance cinematographer James Holman travelled to the northern city of Sulaymaniyah, in the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan, with non-profit organisation Make Life Skate Life.

To help develop the small skateboarding community already active in the city, Holman and more than 40 other volunteers from around the world built the park.

“Sport is generally really segregated there but with skateboarding it’s for everybody,” Holman says.

“It’s really good having those boundaries broken down so that girls and boys can mix.”

Breaking boundaries: James Holman with locals in Sulaymaniyah Picture:James Holman

With the support of two other organisations, Skateistan and The Skateroom, the project aims to bring the sport to everyone in the community, and actively encourages girls and refugees to take part.

“It has a really positive impact. It is rad seeing the group come to build and skate the park.

“You have these semi-gnarly dudes that are holding girls’ hands and stuff. I think this only happens in skateboarding.”

Crowdfunding made the project possible and enabled the team to fly out to the previously war-torn country to build the 750-square metre concrete park.

Free equipment is held in a storage unit on site, managed by a community leader, for people of all ages to use in the skatepark.

Holman says he hopes the local government will replicate the project in other areas of the country to promote the physical and social benefits of skating.

He adds it can be a route out of poverty in poorer areas.

“We have seen the benefits this can have. When we did this in Myanmar in 2015, there were like 10 skateboarders.

“Before the park was built it was a super-raw grassroots scene. Now there is a crew that gets to socialise and be part of a culture they weren’t before. I think that’s really special.”

Community spirit: Skateboarders and locals using the skatepark Picture: James Holman

Holman recalls watching a political rally while in Iraq where AK-47s were fired in the street.

He also met fighters from the region’s federal military forces, Peshmerga, who visited the skatepark.

Holman says the common perception of Iraq as dry desert land is not altogether accurate. Parts of the Kurdish region are lush and green, similar to Central Otago.

It is hoped the project can add to the cultural hub of Sulaymaniyah.

The city has a population of 1.6 million and saw considerable growth after the Iraq War as people fled more dangerous areas.

See more on this story from The South Today here.

joshua.walton@scene.co.nz