The Trials and Tribulations of Building a Skatepark in India
Photos by Jonathan Mehring
At this stage in skating’s short but illustrious history, it’s easy to assume that kids in every corner of the globe have become as enamored with it as we have in the West. The skate scene in Bangalore, India, however, is decidedly less robust than in Orange County. The streets are often dilapidated and the cops don't hesitate to chase kids away from good spots, which is unusual and unfortunate for a country that’s new to skating.
Holy Stoked, a small collective based in Bangalore, is working to create a community of skaters in a country where many people have never even seen a skateboard. Parks are important to any young skate scene—especially in places without great street spots—so Holy Stoked cofounders Shake and Soms reached out to Levi’s about teaming up to build a park in Bangalore. Lo and behold the jeans giant agreed to help.
The goal was to build a concrete park in two weeks, a prospect not unlike God creating the world in seven days. So pros Omar Salazar, Stefan Janoski, Chet Childress, and Al Partanen decided to fly out and lend a hand. European skaters Lennie Burmeister, Jan Kliewer, and Rob Smith showed up as well, and along with the German construction crew 2er and a slew of builders, they managed to put down, according to the press release, “20 tons of sand, three tons of cement, 2,000 meters of steal, and one palm tree” over the course of 16 days. You can watch the first of a three-part video series about the project below.
Skateboarder magazine’s senior photographer Jonathan Mehring was there snapping photos during the first week of the undertaking and recently stopped by the VICE offices to tell us about it.
VICE: Can you give me a basic rundown of what you guys were doing in India?
Jonathan Mehring: Holy Stoked bought a lot of land in a decent neighborhood in Bangalore, and then Levi’s bought all of the materials, gear, and equipment needed to make a skate park. They built the whole thing in just over two weeks and then had a party, an opening ceremony kind of thing. It was actually kind of funny—a local politician came and posed, pretending he was riding a skateboard.
Like the photo of Kerry Getz frontside olleing over the Philadelphia mayor at Love Park.
Yeah. Some of the guys were actually pretty bummed on that.
Holy Stoke cofounders Shake and Soms.
What’s the story behind Shake and Soms, the cofounders of Holy Stoked?
I think they were a lawyer and a computer programmer, or something like that, who had grown up skateboarding and they just decided to start this Holy Stoked thing. They’re like 28 or 29 and they got into skating through another park in Bangalore that was built in 2009.
Is it any good?
It’s OK, but it’s kind of fallen into disrepair and is also in this extreme plaza, you know? You have to pay to get in, so that deters a lot of people. I guess they decided to build this new one because they wanted to have a free park that’s more up-to-date.
Al Partanen at Bangalore's old skate park.
How much does it cost?
It’s 200 rupees. [About $3.30]
Aside from the Holy Stoked guys, how many skaters would you say live in Bangalore?
I would guess that there were ten or 15 local skaters who were there before Holy Stoked came into being, and I’m pretty sure they’re all part of it now. There were definitely tons of kids hanging around during construction who were super into it, like super stoked. They weren’t skaters before, but they probably are now. That was kind of the goal, I guess.
I heard they founded a skate school down there, too. Is that right?
I’m not sure… I wouldn’t be surprised though. Either way I’m sure Shake and Soms are going to be teaching kids to skate.
Shake doing a "bastard plant" at the old park.
What is happening in this photo of Shake?
That is insane. I don’t think that trick has ever been done.
It looks sort of like a bizarro bean plant.
Yeah, well, we called it a bastard plant, because he threads the needle through his leg. Everyone called it something different, but the most common name for it was bastard plant.
This .gif is pretty bonkers as well. This is at the old park, right?
Yeah, that’s the old park and is insane too. He was going like mach ten and would just hit the deck and powerslide under that flat bar.
Jesus. Who was he?
Just one of the local skaters. I wanted to get photos of them as well as the pros. I saw him hauling ass across this kind of tennis court area in the old park and he just did it. I was like, What the fuck was that? So I made him do it like five more times.
What’s the street spot situation like over there?
Everything’s kind of a bust. Maybe it’s because the country was under English rule for so long, but they’re real sticklers for paperwork and permission and bureaucracy and stuff. Everyone’s like, “Do you have permission to be doing that?”
That’s strange. Usually in these places that don’t have a big population of skateboarders you can sort of skate whatever you want without too much hassle.
Exactly. I was really surprised. It was not easy to skate. I mean, some places were OK, but overall it was not accommodating.
What was the reaction from people who live near the park?
It’s in a real nice neighborhood, and the guy who lives like right next to it is a lawyer or something. At first he was real hostile, but then the producer at Levi’s talked to him and smoothed everything over. He even became kind of psyched on what it was all about, I think. Once he understood, he was a lot more willing to work with us.
Omar Salazar and Fabian "Baumi" Baumgarten.
What was the work schedule like? Seems like people would have to work about 20 hours a day to finish that thing in two weeks.
Well, at first they did, until that guy—the neighbor—got real pissed about people building at 11 PM, which I guess is understandable. So from then on it was basically just from the time the sun came up until it got dark; every hour of daylight.
I don’t see bulldozers or anything. Did you guys have big equipment to work with?
No. I mean, a truck came in and dumped the pile of gravel on the sand, but everything else was manual labor.
Yeah. It was like, “Well, we have to put the pyramid in, so let’s shovel this five-foot pile of sand over ten feet.” [laughs] There was a lot of time spent moving stuff around.
Well, from the photos it looks like the end result was worth it. Thanks for taking the time, Jonathan.
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