Photos by Ayden Stoefen
Angola’s capital city, Luanda, is living proof that you don’t need a skatepark to skate.
Until recently, Luanda had exactly zero skateparks and virtually no access to proper skateboarding equipment. Law enforcement–who hated the local skaters with the fire of a thousand African suns–was another problem, and yet a 100-strong skateboarding community did its best to thrive in the city.
When non-profit organisation Concrete Jungle Foundation (CJF) found out about the skaters of Luanda, they were in the middle of their first international project: designing and constructing a skatepark in northern Peru. After chatting with Jesse Mendes from the Angola Skateboarding Union about the keen but severely under-resourced local scene, they decided that the west-African city had to be their next port of call.
After raising $28,000 for the cause, CJF headed to the bustling city in December last year to take on government red tape, broken concrete mixers, dodgy handshake deals, and the almost impossible task of constructing an entire skatepark in just 28 days. And they did it. We caught up with CFJ’s Clement Taquet to find out how they managed to pull the whole thing off.
Concrete Jungle Foundation’s first skatepark was built in Peru—what did you learn from this that you took to the Luanda project?
Persistence. Keeping the positivity high within the crew of builders–and us–to make things work, and building the skatepark within the time frame established. Just doing what has to be done.
What was one of the most important elements that you wanted to include in the construction of the skatepark?
Socially, we wanted to include the local skateboarding community in the construction process. It gave them a chance to learn how concrete reacts and what steps are needed to actually build a skatepark from scratch. It was also a really good cultural exchange, not only for them, but for all of us. We created links with them that are invaluable. Most importantly though, the sense of ownership that naturally comes amongst the skate community by building their own park. At the end of the construction, you could feel the community was proud to have built the very first skatepark of the country.
Design-wise, we wanted the mini ramp to be the central piece of the skatepark. This was because the skateboarding community of Luanda is street-based and hadn’t had many chances to skate transition in the past. With a mini ramp occupying the central part of the skatepark, it gives the skaters space to practice and learn the curves at whatever pace. The rest of the skatepark was designed to have the natural flow of a skate course, obstacles after obstacles; you can go back and forth around the ‘U’ shape of the park and learn some proper lines along the way.
What were the biggest challenges during the project?
Every day was a new challenge in Angola. During the early stage of the construction, the project got shut down by the local authorities due to some ‘incomplete papers’ (that were actually very much completed). Then our concrete mixer burned out on the third pour, which definitely put us behind schedule. Our operations director and co-founder, Harry, managed to do a DIY fix with zip ties and old plastic cables. Finding construction materials and having them delivered was also a real mission; This Is Africa (TIA) literally made sense during the entire project. Between having some handshake deals that never got delivered, fake-branded materials that were quickly destroyed, and over-priced items, we had to keep the positivity high.
But the lack of time was by far the biggest challenge we faced. The Angolan visa is only valid for 30 days, which meant we had to work around the clock to have it finished in the short time period. A typical day was waking up at 6:30 am, breakfast, heading to the construction site, working till 10-11pm, and having a late night crew that stayed up to 3 am on some days. That was every day.
What were the most rewarding things about this project for you?
The opening day was definitely the most rewarding thing for me. More specifically, when one of our volunteers handed out a complete to Chilly, a local kid who came almost every day on site to help us. The surprised smile on his face was worth all our efforts. He’s now shredding hard and showing the other kids on the programme how it’s done!
How was the opening day party?
Opening day was a blast! Two of our volunteers nailed the planning. They got an Angolan drink company to sponsor the event with cold beers, soda and water; a live hip-hop show and DJs; and a stack of giveaways. Our director of programmes, Tim, organised skateboarding classes for the neighbourhood kids, taught by the Edu-skater from the Angola Skateboarding Union. The kids were stoked.
During the month of construction, every week ended with a seminar on the skatepark’s potential for personal and community development, how to teach skateboarding and how to teach life-skills through skateboarding. Local skateboarders were trained to teach Edu-skate, our sports-based health intervention.
What’s next in store for CJF?
We’re committed to spreading the positive seeds of skateboarding where it’s needed the most. We’ve already set our eyes on our next two projects, which will take place in Panama and Jamaica during 2019/2020.