Skateboard boom creates community, Lao style
VIENTIANE, June 18: A recent skateboarding boom in Vientiane provides creative and welcoming spaces while reflecting the resourceful spirit and collectivist values of Laos, writes Bridget Doley of Laotian time.
On Saturday (June 18) from 2:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., a skating competition will be held at the Walking Street Roller Skate Park near the banks of the Mekong River in Vientiane.
The competition will feature Thai skaters alongside locals and will be sponsored by Vientiane stores like Goofy and Thai board companies like Redel. The competition gives Lao skaters a chance to show off their skills and win prizes, while showing how much the Lao skate community has grown in recent years.
Tom Drury is a skateboarder and skate advocate who recently traveled 4,000 kilometers around Australia with his board to raise $40,000 to help the organization Make Life Skate Life facilitate the construction of a new skate park in Laos .
Tom, who poetically recounts his first-hand experience of skateboarding’s many mental and physical health benefits, has noticed a huge change in the skateboarding landscape since arriving in Vientiane just a few years ago.
“There were definitely skaters, but not a ton, and they were content with the environment they had. There were only a few people hanging around, skating on the steps near the night market. They were having fun, of course – the skaters are passionate and know how to skate anywhere – but it’s hard to really develop your skills without the right facilities.
Ever since Drury first arrived in Vientiane and noticed the dearth of skate parks, Lao skateboarding has had something of a boom in popularity. Several small parks have opened in the capital, including the Walking Street roller park and another in Namphou.
But while the ramps and rails of these small parks provide a huge improvement in places where skaters can try out new tricks, there is some infrastructure that current skate parks in Laos lack. This is where Drury and Make Life Skate Life come in. Lao skaters can expect to see new infrastructure, like “bowls” (hollow courses originally made from drained swimming pools) in the new park.
Although Covid has complicated the schedule for the project, it is now on track and construction will begin later this year near That Luang Lake. Rather than operating as a top-down charity, Make Life Skate Life is grassroots and encourages communities to take ownership of the parks it helps build.
The new park will serve as an open resource for anyone who wants to try skating. “The great thing about a skate park is that it doesn’t really need to be maintained. It’s not like a swimming pool or a football pitch that needs constant maintenance,” says Drury. The park’s low maintenance requirements mean that it will be free of charge, ensuring that athletes will not be sidelined for lack of funds.
The free park reflects the lack of access control in the skate community as a whole: if you arrive at the skate park alone with your board for the first time, says Tom, someone will probably help you learn to stand on it, and they won’t laugh at you when you inevitably fall. This characteristic friendly and collectivist attitude of skaters is a big part of why the skate community in Laos has grown so quickly.
“The cool thing about skateboarding is that no one will ever say ‘no, you can’t try that.’ Everyone is welcome,” says Drury. Skating’s age and gender parity is represented even at the highest levels of the sport: at the 2021 Olympic women’s competition in Tokyo, the first-ever female gold medalist in street skateboarding was 13-year-old Japanese skater Momiji Nishiya.
At that same Olympics, 46-year-old South African Dallas Oberholzer competed in the men’s park skating event, making him the second-oldest competitor in any sport.
The idea that skateboarding is for everyone was also reflected in Goofy’s skate jam in March. The event attracted Lao skaters of all ages and genders, as well as a diverse audience.
In the competition for the highest jump, a young skater proved that his skills defied his age: he qualified for the final rounds with skaters at least ten years his senior.
When he was finally unable to jump the higher and higher obstacles, the young skater became a supporter of the athletes who had just passed him. He focused on encouraging older athletes and even helping them build those ever-higher hurdles.
With a new park and new competitions in their future, creative Lao skaters like him are carving out their own chances of overcoming higher odds. One day, their disciplined, supportive, and good-natured community just might help them land on the world stage. – Lao time