Yann Gross: Uganda’s Homegrown Skate Park

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Risman Siregar, left, comforts his wife Erlina Panjaitan, center — both are parents of Firman Chandra Siregar, a 24-year-old Indonesian passenger of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 — on March 9, 2014, in Medan, Indonesia
Risman Siregar, left, comforts his wife Erlina Panjaitan, center — both are parents of Firman Chandra Siregar, a 24-year-old Indonesian passenger of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 — on March 9, 2014, in Medan, IndonesiaAtar—AFP/Getty Images

During a vacation in Uganda in 2008, Swiss photographer Yann Gross heard rumors that a skateboarding half-pipe had been built in a suburb of Kampala. A passionate skateboarder, Gross grabbed his deck and the made the trip to Kitintale, where he met up with Jackson Mubiru, who built the skate park in a lot he inherited from his father. “Jackson led me through the slum, and at each cross street the roads got smaller. Suddenly we reached a wide open space where the park was located. It was like a fairy tale, paradise for a skateboarder. Kids, some barefoot, riding on their boards with huge smiles. At that time, there weren’t enough boards or protection guards for everybody, so they had to share everything,” recalls Gross in an interview with TIME.

What began as a several-day stopover quickly turned into several months as Gross stayed on to skate and get to know his new friends. “There was an impressive sense of belonging to the community—and not only at the skate park,” says Gross. He became so involved with the group that he has co-organized skating contests and is currently fund-raising to rebuild the ramp, which was severely damaged earlier this year because of flooding. “It’s the beginning of a skating culture in East Africa, and I’m really interested in following and supporting its evolution. I’d like to see how they grow up and what they’ll do. Things have already changed a lot these last three years. It’s only the beginning.”

To watch a video about the skate park and donate to the project, go to emphasis.com

For more details about Kitintale’s skate-park click here.

Yann Gross’s Horizonville project about a village in Switzerland obsessed with American biker culture. Is being exhibited till Sept 18th, at France’s photography festival Les Rencontres d’Arles.

Francis Mutibwa was hired by the UN to install internet networks in Sudan where he lived for several months. He saved as much money as possible to build a house for his parents in Kitintale. He's been involved in the skateboarding community since returning from Sudan and looks for funds and sponsors to expand the skate park by writing letters to embassies and companies.Yann Gross
Keneth Sserubiri started skating a few months ago. He’s also a singer who performs locally twice a month with his brother-in-law at the Obama Club, a bar next to the Kitintale bus station. Their band, Gulf Squad as a reference to the name of their neighborhood. Yann Gross
The village of Kitintale.Yann Gross
Gerard Nsubua, 16, at home getting ready to skate after school. "It’s nice if we can expand our skate park. I also wish we could bring some youngsters back to school. Some of them are 13 now and don’t know English."Yann Gross
The first and only skate park in Uganda is in the middle of a working-class suburb of Kitintale, near Kampala. The park is surrounded by simple brick homes, women washing clothes, men selling flatbread, children carrying cans of water or playing, and a number of goats, chicken and dogs. The youngsters of Kitintale built the skate park themselves.Yann Gross
Douglas Mwesigwa is arguably the best skateboarder in Uganda. He had to leave school at 13 because his father lost his job and could no longer pay tuition fees. Douglas thinks skateboarding can change his life and trains at least four hours a day to become a professional skateboarder. Yann Gross
Douglas tests a new skateboarding spot in the center of Kampala.Yann Gross
Dalton Amos is one of the policemen in charge of security at the Stanbic Bank tower. The skaters use the rare concrete sidewalk around the bank to practice tricks on weekends. Initially, the guards, worried the boards were potential weapons, told them to leave. But when Amos watched one of the kids, on the way out, flip his board, he immediately called them back. Having never seen a skateboarder, he was amazed by the kids' skills and wanted to know more. Now the guards and kids are on friendly terms. Yann Gross
Bashiri Ngobi,13 and his mother. Bashiri is one of the best skateboarders in Kampala. He used to tell his mother he was going to school but instead changed his clothes behind the house next door and went to the skate park. Now his mother allows him to skate on weekends only.Yann Gross
Gerard Nsubua,16, "I skate almost every day and live next to our skate park. I want to become a professional skateboarder and go to the X Games to challenge Tony Hawk and Danny Way. My father is a builder and works hard to keep me at school, but sometimes there isn’t enough money and I have to quit my studies for a while. At least I can skate. It keeps my mind busy."Yann Gross
Karterenga David, 20, is a very good skateboarder, but sometime after this picture was taken, he was kicked out of the Uganda Skateboard Union because he used to sell the skateboarding gear that was given to him wasn't respectful of the younger skaters. He has been banned for at least one year but will probably be allowed back in when his behavior improves.Yann Gross
Isa Kawooya, 18, sells chicken at night at the Kitintale bus station with his buddy Gilbert (another skateboarder). Yann Gross
Douglas, 20, sets a great example for all the skaters and wants to take the Ugandan skateboarding scene to a higher level. Though he spends most of his time on the board, he finds time to clean the park and teach the younger children. Yann Gross
The Mandela National Stadium parking lot is one of the only places where in-line skaters and skateboarders can meet. Located outside Kampala, the stadium is in an area with little traffic and good concrete. This is where Jackson Mubiru met Shael Swart and Brian Lye, who helped him get the skate park built. It's also where the Uganda Skateboard Union began.Yann Gross
Peter Kiyemba, 13, "I don’t fear injuries, since last year we have gotten a first aid kit. If I keep on training, I may win the next competition and be in the newspapers!"Yann Gross
Sabine Sawunda,18, "I skate to open my mind, and it would be great if more girls would come and join our union, because I feel a bit alone sometimes. Unfortunately I don’t have a lot of time to skate. I work at the YMCA to pay for university fees, because I want to become a lawyer. When I come back from work, it’s already dark. I like to skate on the streets, more than in the park, which is overcrowded now."Yann Gross
The workshop. In Uganda there isn't much knowledge about skateboarding outside Kitintale. Since there is no market for skating in East Africa, it’s almost impossible to get new boards, trucks or wheels. Moreover, the skaters of Kitintale cannot afford to buy any new skateboarding gear, so all broken pieces and spare parts are used as much as possible.Yann Gross
Moreen Angeyango,18, practices her balancing skills on a Sunday afternoon in the center of Kampala. "A few years ago, my father lost his job and took the rest of the family to the village, in the northern part of Uganda, and I’m now staying here with my brother Bosco. I didn’t know anything about skateboarding before seeing it in Kitintale, but I joined the skateboarders because I thought it could help to make me more busy. I want to motivate other girls to join the Uganda Skateboard Union. This game isn’t for boys only." Yann Gross
Daks Mwesigwa skates into the sunset. Yann Gross

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