For those of a certain age, skateboarding likely conjures nostalgic images of Bart Simpson tearing up the streets of Springfield, games of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater on the PlayStation and ridiculous skating stunts on hit MTV show Jackass.
But like many things from the nineties, skateboarding is now firmly back en vogue. The sport made its debut at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021. Three of the four gold medallists were in their teens and the youngest, 13-year-old Japanese champion Momiji Nishiya, became an instant icon in her homeland.
Skateboarding has now captured the attention of a whole new audience. Aiming to capitalize on this new wave of interest is the Dubai Skateboard School in DAMAC Hills. Veteran head coach Mohammed Shatila welcomes kids and adults alike, Olympic aspirations not necessary.
“We want to teach people the basics in a fun, supportive environment and make it easy to understand,” Shatila tells Livehealthy. “Then our students can adapt more easily to the different kinds of terrain that they will encounter — we want them to be confident going out on the skateboard in their own time too.
“It is not an easy skill to master and even when you’ve learned how to successfully push yourself from one side of the park to the other, there’s an infinite amount of tricks and combinations to learn like ollies, kickflips and shuvits.
“Practice is key and we have many creative ways of improving our students’ technique and accelerating their progress in the sport.”
Shatila, a former professional skateboarder from Lebanon, feels the sport ticks many boxes for those looking to take up a new physical activity, as it helps younger participants improve their motor skills and older ones re-engage with theirs.
“There are so many health benefits,” he explains. “Skateboarding improves co-ordination, balance and flexibility, as well as cardiovascular fitness.
“Balancing on the board while you’re moving engages the leg, core and arm muscles; those skills needed to skate smoothly will benefit people in other sports like surfing, yoga or gymnastics too. It also gets people outdoors so they can have that much-needed dose of Vitamin D.
“Importantly, skateboarding equips kids with vital skills for life and reminds adults of ones they may have forgotten, like exploring nature, risk-taking and cutting down on screen time.”
Beyond the physical advantages, Shatila has found that most of his students have also experienced improved mental health after taking to the board.
“Skateboarding is a fantastic stress reliever. It’s escapism for many people and can be described as a kind of moving mindfulness. While meditation is typically associated with sitting still, challenging activities like skateboarding can help children and adults calm their mind into a hyper-focused state.
“The sport is particularly great for people who suffer with mental health issues like anxiety and depression, as we’ve found it can engage their mind away from any everyday worries. Working out in general is also great way to relieve stress, because physical activity releases endorphins in the brain.”
While skateboarding is by design an individual sport, anyone who has wandered past a skatepark will also recognize that it has certainly developed into a social pastime. And Shatila feels that camaraderie is one of Dubai Skateboard School’s principal assets.
“The skatepark is a very social environment and it’s a good opportunity for children to meet new friends outside of school, especially if they’re struggling with social confidence. For adults it’s a new environment too.
“Skating is a solo sport but kids gather together at the local park to practise, watch and give tips and advice, and many people make friends for life this way. They feel like they could be themselves at a skatepark, surrounded by others with a similar outlook.”
Mark is a Dubai-based writer who has couch-surfed through Ukraine, broken bread with football fans in Basra, and appeared on a boxing reality TV show in the UAE – all in pursuit of a good story. Or at least an average anecdote.