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Thursday, July 18, 2024

New Vientiane Skatepark to Offer Free, Public Space to Build Skills, Camaraderie

This Week

The Laotian Times interviews the organizers of Vientiane Skate Park, which will open to the public with a celebration on Sunday, February 5. 

On a small residential street just off Chou Anou Road in Vientiane’s Northwestern Nongtha Neua Village, nestled behind Hi5 Football Field, Laos’ first skatepark to meet international standards is taking shape. The scene – with smooth, poured concrete and stable, professional-grade ramps – is a far cry from the small, do-it-yourself skateparks that have cycled in and out of Laos’ capital city.

One such park near the night market, a popular meeting point for young skaters, consisted of moveable handmade rails and ramps made from discarded wood. Skaters were repeatedly told to dismantle the handmade parks because of safety concerns, but those skaters’ efforts made it clear that Laos wants – and can benefit from – a more permanent public skatepark. Thanks to international fundraising efforts and the expertise of the organization Make Life Skate Life, those Lao skaters are about to have their often dashed hopes for safe, permanent skate infrastructure met.

Tom Drury, who made a name for himself by skateboarding across Australia to raise funds for this new park in Laos, says that the new Vientiane skatepark will offer new challenges and opportunities for already street-smart Lao skaters. Drury’s 4,000 kilometer ride helped him to raise more than AUD 42,000 (LAK 502 million), all of which has gone toward the creation of the Vientiane Skate Park.

“Many Lao skaters are incredible street skaters. I’ve seen them landing some really impressive tricks. But these ramps and half pipes will offer them a whole new opportunity for learning. Dropping in. Transitions. These are all new skills for people who haven’t had access to this kind of skate infrastructure.”

Architectural plans for the new park, including a skater’s path (photo credit: Make Life Skate Life)

These skills also potentially open up the door for Lao skaters to compete on an international stage. Dropping in (the process of entering a half-pipe from the top edge) and transitions (areas of the park with angles between 0 and 90 degrees) are essential parts of both the men’s and women’s park competitions at the Summer Olympics, which began including skateboarding in 2020.

When 13-year-old Momiji Nishiya won gold at those Olympics for Japan, she ignited a new generation’s interest in skateboarding for both girls and boys alike – a popularity surge that was certainly felt in Laos, where youth can often be seen carrying around boards and landing impressive jumps.

While skating, like most sports, certainly promotes health and athleticism, Drury emphasis the unique support, egalitarianism, and kindness inherent in skate culture.

“Skaters really compete against themselves, not each other. Because of that, and because it encourages a kind of flow state, skating helps with all kinds of mental issues and neurodivergence. It even helps people with ADHD to concentrate in the rest of their lives. It’s a lot like meditation.” 

Skating has even been found to encourage youth resiliency and foster acceptance across racial and gender differences. The mental and social benefits of skating are perhaps most noteworthy because skating, unlike some other sports, doesn’t require a lot of expensive gear. Moreover, any gear that is necessary will be available at the new, volunteer-run park. The Vientiane Skatepark will be free to use and include free-to-rent safety gear, like helmets and knee pads. 

(Photo credit: Vilaxay Chandara)

The decision to build the park in a more residential area, rather than in the center of the city, makes it an asset for locals rather than just an attraction for tourists. Crucially, alcohol won’t be allowed on the premises, making the park an oasis for local youth who are increasingly likely to start drinking too soon. Underage drinking is a serious problem in Laos, and this decision to make the space booze-free makes it a welcome alternative for anyone looking to socialize while sober. The park will also be closed and locked at night to discourage safety issues like skaters going out alone.

The opening day celebration (2pm- 6pm, Sunday, February 5) will include live music, competitions, demonstrations, and skateboarding workshops led by professional skaters. Local artists are also strongly encouraged to come and paint areas of the park with murals in order to make it their own.

”This isn’t meant to be a foreigner-run space. Instead we hope that the community will take ownership of it – to make it a reflection of what they want the space to be. We’re not sure how Laos will make this park their own, but we’re excited to find out.”

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