Ramping up the West Bank's skateboard scene

Children perform tricks on skateboards at the SkateQilya summer camp in the West Bank town of Qalqilya.

Story highlights

  • SkateQilya offers a skateboarding program in the West Bank
  • The non-profit provides free camp for kids each summer
  • The Palestinian skateboard scene is small but growing

(CNN)A small zoo in the Palestinian territories is an unlikely place to find a budding community of skateboarders.

But dozens of youngsters rolled up to a wooden ramp in Qalqilya Zoo last month -- not far from enclosures containing lions, peacocks and monkeys -- to learn the tricks of the skater trade.

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    The children were taking part in a free, three-week skating program run by SkateQilya, a non-profit that uses the sport to reach out to young people across the West Bank.
    "The kids learn very fast because they are in love with skateboarding," says 17-year-old Faiza Batta, who traveled to the summer camp from the nearby village of Hajjah in 2016 before returning this year to help out the organizers.
    The experience, she says, has inspired many attendees to dream of becoming a professional skater and showcasing their skills abroad.
    "Some of them say it is a way to fly .. (to) use the skateboard as a passport for traveling," Batta says.

    Getting kids on board

    SkateQilya, the non-profit organization, was co-founded by Palestinian activist Mohammed Othman, New York-based filmmaker Adam Abel and American former pro skateboarder Kenny Reed in 2016.
    Othman and Abel have been making a feature film about the nascent Palestinian skateboarding scene since 2011, which they hope to send to festivals next year.
    They met Reed when he came to Qalqilya to help build its skate ramp in 2013, after the local municipality donated land for the project.
    The trio decided to set up a summer camp, also called SkateQilya, last year.
    From left, SkateQilya founders Adam Abel, Mohammed Othman and Kenny Reed.
    As well as teaching skateboarding techniques, the camp aims to nurture community building, leadership and creative skills. Attendees have been taught, for example, how to use video cameras and take photos.
    "We envision expanding (the curriculum) to include more entrepreneurial skills, too," Abel says.
    "My ultimate goal would be to start getting coding programs in here. All these things are creative like skateboarding, but are also skills these kids can pursue in careers and potentially for income."

    Checkpoints and walls

    Located in the northwest region of the West Bank, Qalqilya is a town of more than 40,000 surrounded by Israel's imposing security wall.
    According to Othman, there are few things for kids in Qalqilya to do.
    Land is sparse and there are no municipal parks, one reason why the skatepark was built in the zoo.
    But even with access to this space, setting up the summer camp has been far from simple.
    Othman says the Israeli army can cause disruption by setting up checkpoints and making