Welcome to Skateistan

In 2019, a documentary called Learning to Skate in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl) premiered for the first time worldwide. It stunned the world, telling the story of a nonprofit school in the impoverished and war-stricken neighborhoods of Kabul, Afghanistan. The film was such a big deal that it won that year’s Academy Award for Best Documentary Short Subject and a Bafta.

But the story of Skateistan (the school in the movie) starts way before 2019, and it’s a story that should inspire skaters and non-skaters alike, no matter your background. 

The History of Skateistan

In 2007, an Australian skateboarder named Oliver Percovich landed in Afghanistan. All he had with him was a set of three skateboards and a belief in the power of skateboarding to connect people.

What Oliver learned was that almost 70% of the people in Afghanistan were younger than 25 years old, but there were basically no programs dedicated to all of these youth trying to find their way in a country torn apart by war.

Oliver had an idea. He started bringing in sponsors to help him bring more skateboards to Kabul after lots of local kids started asking for them.

Skateistan was born. Oliver started running skate sessions around Kabul, including orphanages, abandoned fountains, and more. These sessions attracted dozens of kids from the area.

Most amazingly, the skateboard was seen more as a ‘toy’ than a sport by local people — which allowed Afghan girls to get around the ‘girls don’t play sports’ social rules and enjoy skating themselves.

By October of 2009, Skateistan opened its first skate park in Kabul. It wasn’t just a safe indoor skatepark and sports facility, but also included classrooms where children could learn to read, write, and more.

Skateistan Today

Skateistan has reached incredible milestones over the course of its history, and today it’s one of the most respected non-profit organizations in the world. There are Skateistan programs in Afghanistan, Cambodia, and South Africa, and Skateistan is proud that 50% of its skaters are girls.

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Skateistan Skate School in Johannesburg. Photo credit: Tim Moolman

Even Tony Hawk has made an appearance at a Skateistan event, helping open the Johannesburg location with help from his Birdhouse skate team. The event brought in more than 400 people, proving the demand for skating goes beyond borders, cultures, ethnicities, and backgrounds.

Skateistan by the Numbers

So just how important is Skateistan to the kids who attend it?

  • 94% of students report that they have positive self-esteem
  • 97% believe that the lessons they’ve learned at the school have been useful in their lives
  • 88% report that they’ve learned new skills beyond skating in just the past year

In just an average week, nearly 2,000 students participate in skate school programs.

Nowadays, the Skateistan mission goes way beyond just skating — with programs dedicated to outreach, getting kids back to school (kids in Skate School are able to cover three years of public education in just one year), helping build youth leadership, and teaching kids to create.

Skateboarding has the power to change lives for the better, as long as there are people like the leaders of Skateistan who believe in its power.