Far too many times, the words were almost the same: “No play here!” They’ve gotten accustomed to hearing it, from shop owners across the street where they were playing to house owners who don’t own the nearby park and often, even park attendants and the ROP.
But it wasn’t their intention to disrupt the social order or to be an inconvenience. Beneath the surface of nonchalance, most of them were just kids after all trying to pursue a sport which is not that familiar in the country yet. Because of its unpopularity, it seemed like their world is but a very small one. They are thrown out of parks and barricaded from skateboarding in parking lots and without any safe place to practise what they are most passionate about, they were forced to take the streets.
Hytham Al Wahaibi was one of those kids who far too many times, other than hurting himself while he practised different skateboard tricks, get a good lambasting from different people just because he loves skateboarding so much.
“After playing multiple Tony Hawks games at the age of 7, I finally decided to buy a board from a random supermarket in Ruwi. It was a pretty bad board which cost me 8 OMR. I tried my best to skate on it but quickly gave up after being injured and because it was not what I expected it to be,” he shared.
“Finally, at the age of 12 and in 2010, I saw a professional skateboard at my cousin’s house and when I tried it I instantly fell in love and knew that that’s what I wanted to do the rest of my life. I went to Dubai and bought my first actual skateboard which was an element bam Margera board.”
He shared that being a kid who happened to fall in love with skateboarding, everything is a challenge. Not only was it hard to find decent skateboards in the country but it was impossible to find a place where people were allowed to skate.
“We constantly heard the word no. People always tried to call the authorities on us and even shooed us away from places where we weren’t disturbing pedestrians and shoppers. Eventually, we started going to the clock tower. It was the only place we never got kicked out, anywhere else on the streets you would get asked to leave, but clock tower was the only place,” Hytham narrated.
In 2014, The Red Bull Local Hero Tour happened in Oman. Local skaters got the opportunity to use professionally built ramps intended for skating for the first time.
Hytham, a familiar face in the skating arena at the time took this opportunity to not let these makeshift ramps go to waste.
He shared, “My friend helped them design the ramps and after the competition, they wanted to get rid of the ramps so we told them, ‘Don’t get rid of them, we’ll take them.’ We took the ramps to Qurum Park, we found an empty space and set them up. It was just two ramps and a rail and loads of skaters there. Slowly we started adding obstacles and eventually made our very own mini skate park.”
It is when Hytham begin to notice that he wasn’t alone in his passion for skateboarding. The mini skate park they have brought skaters from different places.
But it didn’t take long when a new challenge came. The park authorities eventually decided to clear out the area. In their own words, they said that the structures were ugly and distasteful. So the mini skate park was destroyed. The same thing was repeated the following year after the second Red Bull event, this time it was a different mini park but it ended with the same result.
In 2017, a late-night conversation between Hytham and a friend sparked an idea. In an effort to not only make their dreams come true but also help this growing community of skaters, they decided to take matters into their own hands. Using the money that was kept aside, initially to buy a car, Hytham decided it could be used for something he truly cared about, his very own skate park!
He shared, “My dad called me one day and gave me the green signal to go ahead with my plan. He found us a piece of land in Bowsher that we could rent. A skatepark would have been incomplete without a skate shop since there isn’t any in Oman so we designed a skatepark and a skate shop but alas! One day we received a call and they said it couldn’t be done, they didn’t want to spare land for a skate park. This was the fourth time this had happened and we didn’t let it dampen our hopes.”
Before they knew it, they finally found a place in Wadi Kabir willing to let them build. The place was covered in dirt, trees and rubbish and it was only after over a year’s worth of work that Muscat was presented with Oman Skate, the country’s first skate park and skate shop.
Hytham told us, “Every detail in every inch of the place took precision and proper execution to ensure that the place was of high standards and with good safety measures. We started to design our very own skate park and shop.”
He added, “One of our biggest hurdles was finding contractors and skilled people with knowledge about building skate parks. Although it might look simple to the common man, the precision needed for every curve, angle and step had to be accurately ensured to make the park safe, functional and of quality. Before class, I would come visit the site, tell them how exactly it needed to be done and then go to class. Right after class, I would head back to the site to check on what had been done and every time something wasn’t done right, it had to destroyed and then rebuilt from scratch.”
“Skating is picking up,” said Hytham. “A new concept to many, but skating isn’t new here. People have been skating for years but now, there’s a place to be able to do it without a problem. With a designated facility, not only is it safer for skaters but also gives people a chance to try something new out.”
Social media, known to bring people together made it possible to bring the skaters of Oman in touch. Oman Skate, a Facebook group for the local skaters was set up sometime between 2010 and 2011. With only four or five members, the group, month by month grew as a community.
“There were skaters in Oman but we didn’t know each other. Eventually, more and more people joined, liked the page and started sharing it and week by week, month by month the community grew bigger,” Hytham said.
From a video game to a Facebook group and now his very own skate park, Hytham’s journey to this point has been anything but easy.
“Right now, the park needs a lot of maintenance and we are looking for sponsors to help us with the month to month expenses. Other than a safe place to pursue their passion, the skate park also allows parents to safely leave their kids here knowing that we have all safety measure in place. We can train the kids while they do errands,” he said.
“We hope our sponsors to know that there is a community here that aims to provide a safe space for the youth of Oman. With their help, they can also help the community grow,” he said.
For people or businesses interested to become sponsors, Hytham and Omanskate can be contacted at their different social media accounts.
TITASH CHAKRABORTY & YERU EBUEN –