Building Nepal's Skate Culture

If you've been to Kathmandu, you know it can be hard to find open space until you get into the foothills. The city is overcrowded and with only 6% of it dedicated to open space, there are hardly any free recreational areas. This is why we were so excited to hear about Make Life Skate Life's initiative to bring a skatepark to the Kathmandu Valley.

We caught up with Arne, the founder of this exciting new project, to learn more about the organization and check out Kathmandu's first skatepark. 

Photo by Pramin Manadhar for EST WST

Photo by Pramin Manadhar for EST WST

First of all, we can't express how much we love what you're doing with Make Life Skate Life and how excited we are to be part of your initiative in Nepal. Your community-led approach is admirable and we certainly recognize the void you're filling by building a skatepark in Kathmandu. 

When did you first come to Nepal?
We first came to Nepal in November when we started building the skatepark in Kathmandu. The main reason for our trip was to secure land for a build in early 2017. After the first day in Kathmandu, the opportunity opened up to add ramps to an existing lot used by the local skateboarders and we decided to go for it. 10 days later, we celebrated the opening of Kathmandu Skatepark.

Amazing how that worked out. Why did you select Nepal as the location for the most recent park?
We became aware of the growing demand for skateboarding and the lack of skateboarding infrastructure in Nepal when working on our first project in India in 2013. At that point, we decided to start the following project in a different part of the world, leaving the idea of doing something in Nepal aside. During our project in Ethiopia this year, many of the volunteers who participated in the build have spent time skating in Nepal and advocated the start of a project here. After a bit of research, we realized how big the scene in Nepal is.  

It's definitely a growing scene. Tell me about the inspiration behind Make Life Skate Life, how and when did the organization start?
Make Life Skate Life emerged as an organization in 2013 after our first skatepark project in India. The project came about after my friends and I met the Bangalore-based skateboarding collective Holystoked while traveling in India in 2012. They told us about their aspirations to build their own skatepark, for which they had already acquired land. My friends and I had experience building a community skatepark back in Germany so we naturally discussed the possibility of organizing a skatepark building workshop to teach the locals about concrete construction. A year later the Holystoked skatepark was built with the help of volunteers from all over the world. Since its completion, Holystoked has been spreading skateboarding through India by building skateparks all over the country. 

After the success of the project with Holystoked, it became clear there were opportunities to work together with other skateboarding communities around the world to realize similar projects so we created Make Life Skate Life. We have since completed skatepark projects in Bolivia, Jordan, Myanmar, Ethiopia and now Nepal. 

How long did it take to build the park in Kathmandu? Did you have many locals helping out?
The park was built in only one week. We came with 6 experienced builders, and around 20 local volunteers helped out every day. All our projects fully rely on the support of local communities. The skateparks we have built in the past wouldn’t have been completed in such a short time without the support of locals who believe in the project and put in their time and energy.

There's definitely a shortage of recreational spaces in Kathmandu; was the local community supportive of the project?
Definitely, the reaction of the local community was really positive. The park is located in a residential neighborhood and the neighbors were really helpful, providing electricity, preparing food, or fixing transportation. The people seemed to understand what was going on and saw the good in what we were doing. They seemed glad that something involving kids was happening in their neighborhood.

Do you plan to build any more parks in Nepal?
We plan to build the next skatepark in Pokhara, the second largest city in Nepal. We were provided land by the local government next to the Olympic stadium. The site is located in a very clean area surrounded by fields, with a view of the Annapurna mountain range and the World-Peace Pagoda, the main reason we decided to name the project The Annapurna Skatepark. *Note, we're supporting this build, check out the campaign here

How will the park be maintained moving forward?
The land of the skatepark in Kathmandu is leased by the owner of a local skateshop. He will be the one maintaining the park with the support of family and friends. Prior to us adding obstacles to the space, there was already a good infrastructure set up with a toilet, a storage room and a space for spectators. We made available a few loaner boards and suggested to set up fee-based skate classes led by the local skaters for tourists. In the long term, we would like to set up a youth and volunteer-led free-of-charge loaner program for local youth.

Has the experience in building in Nepal differed from that of other Make Life Skate Life projects?
The build in Kathmandu was really laid-back in comparison with other builds. The spot already had a good infrastructure prior to the build. We had the right amount of volunteers and good access to building materials. We actually had time to discover the city and the country after the build!   

That's great, hope you enjoyed what you saw of Nepal. Is the long-term vision to continue focusing on building parks or are there other initiatives that you plan to launch in association?
Aside from building skateparks and assisting with setting up good infrastructures, we want to extend our focus to establishing skate programs at our existing project locations. Our 7Hills Skatepark project in Jordan is a good example for that shift. At 7Hills Skatepark (built in 2014), we currently offer different weekly skate classes with Sudanese families, and Iraqi and Syrian urban refugees. In addition to our activities at 7Hills Skatepark, we organize regular outreach sessions at Zaatari, the largest Syrian refugee camp in Jordan, and the Palestinian Gaza camp in Jerash. Every week, our skate program reaches more than 130 youth with an approximate 70 percent of refugee and 40 percent female participation. 

In the future, we seek to establish similar skate programs at our different project sites with the help of volunteers.

Make Life Skate Life is currently raising funds for The Annapurna Skatepark in Pokhara. EST WST is donating 100% of funds to the project through our campaign prizes. Consider supporting the project here:

All photos taken by Pramin Manandhar for EST WST