In May 2016, a team of 8 diverse people representing Penny Skateboards, boarded a flight bound for Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The plan for this trip was to tell the story of Ethiopia Skate, document the finalization of the first public skate park in Ethiopia and to capture how skateboarding could enhance the lives of the local youth. With 20+ hours of flight time behind them, the team set off on their 8 day journey. They visited several communities, assisted in adding some final touches to the new skate park and delivered some much needed skateboards to kids in need. What they received in return was a once in a lifetime experience and a new found appreciation of the power of skateboarding as a catalyst to spread joy in the world.
The skate park they set out to visit in Addis Ababa was built utilizing a team of 60 volunteers from over 20 different countries, brought together by Make Life Skate Life and Ethiopia Skate. It was a difficult task, but one well worth the effort. How did it happen? A photographer from Cambria, California, Sean Stromsoe, visited the country in 2011 and saw the need for kids to have a safe place to skate. So, he made a commitment to return to “do more” and “make a difference”. And he did…
Michael Bialecki, a freelance photographer and member of the team, recalls some key moments of the trip as captured through his lens. (photos and captions: @michaelbialeckiphoto)
We took a van to a small city called Awassa that is located about 5 hours (285 KM) south of the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. We were all very excited to get out into the Ethiopian countryside and check out this flourishing skateboard community that we had heard about. There was a large crowd of skateboarders and curious bystanders waiting for us when we arrived. It was an explosion on our senses, so much action, friendly smiles and good vibes everywhere. After handing out some Penny Skateboards to the local skateboarders, it was pure insanity. There were kids cruising up and the down the street with so much energy and excitement, it was a truly awesome thing to have witnessed. Some of the less experienced kids wanted to try to ride the boards, and it was a remarkable and humbling experience to have witnessed the more experienced skateboarders helping out the inexperienced kids.
This particular kid stood out to me because of his style, his politeness and the way that he pushed. He had such a unique style that I couldn’t keep my eyes off of him while he was skating around the streets with such a cool vibe. I literally had to stop him for a second just so I could get this photo of him holding up one of the Penny For a Purpose boards that was specifically made for the skaters in Ethiopia. It was one of those moments that I actually felt “bad” to stop someone from skating so I could get a portrait of them, but I really wanted to get a skater skating with one these specifically made boards that are for them.
I was delighted to see that there were some female skateboarders in this small town that were skateboarding with really good style and were cruising around the streets with power and huge smiles on their faces. This particular girl stood out to me because she was cruising around the streets so fast and carving around all of the chaos that was happening on the streets without a care in the world. I finally managed to take a portrait of her while she was receiving her brand new Penny skateboard. It was such an awesome thing to have witnessed and I feel fortunate that I was able to get this photo of her, because 2 seconds after I took it, she was back on the streets again pushing even faster and skating even better than before.
This was absolutely a chaotic scene in the best sense possible. Handing out free Penny skateboards to a group of young, enthusiastic and polite Ethiopian skaters in the small town of Awassa was just an amazing experience. We basically gave them everything that we had in the van, and it still didn’t seem like it was enough. There were so many kids that were taking turns riding the boards around and having so much fun, that when it came time for us to leave, we had to decide who to give out the boards to. As much as we all wanted to give every single person there a board, we just didn’t have enough with us, so we asked the local skater in charge of the scene, Jimi Karlos, on who should get the product and we let him basically determine who got what. To our understanding, the boards will get shared amongst all of the locals and there should be enough product that everyone will have enough time to ride the boards.
The artist responsible for designing the graphics on the Penny For A Purpose/Ethiopia Skateboards, BB Bastidas, was given an opportunity to paint a mural at the first ever Skateboard Park in Ethiopia. It was quite a laborious effort to source the correct paints from the sporadic paint stores on the small streets of Addis Ababa. After visiting many different local shops, we were able to get the necessary materials and begin painting the mural. BB decided to let the local skaters help him out in the painting process, and this turned out to be an excellent idea. It was awesome to have seen the locals helping BB out by painting parts of the mural and you could clearly see the ‘ownership’ that was taking place as the local skaters took turns painting the mural. This was one of those projects that came down to the wire, it was literally our last day there, but it couldn’t have worked out any better because it took a lot of effort from everyone to drive around the city and source the materials, prep the wall for the mural, and with the help of the locals painting it, it was truly a group effort that worked out magically.
The Penny for a Purpose 22″ and 27″ Ethiopia Completes