Afghanistan Girls Take to Skateboarding

Skateistan's indoor practice facility was inspired by the girls who flocked to public skate sessions. As they got older, they were no longer allowed to play outside, but the indoor facility and female-only sessions it offers solve that problem.Awista Ayub/espnW

It is December 2010, and Kabul has surrendered to winter as snow-capped mountains besiege this valley city. Most homes in Afghanistan are poorly heated by kerosene or wood heaters and the bone-chilling cold grips your soul and is slow to let go.

Movement, it seems, is the only economical relief from the bitterly cold, long winter months. For a group of young Afghan skateboarders, moving is all they seem to be doing these days at Afghanistan's first -- and only -- skate park through a program called Skateistan.

Inside, kids zoom by after rolling cautiously down the ramps that line the park. Girls in flowing long shirts and pants glide along the smooth indoor terrain, giggling as they try to keep their balance on their boards.

Skateistan is the brain-child of Oliver Percovich and Sharna Nolan, two Australian natives who moved to Kabul in 2007. Both are avid skateboarders who wanted to continue skating in their new home.

So Nolan and Percovich set out to discover Kabul on their skateboards. It was a peculiar sight, you can imagine, for Afghans. In the early days, and now still, many Afghans were unaccustomed to seeing skateboards. Out of confusion, locals started calling them "little cars with four wheels," said Max Hanniger, Skateistan's deputy director.

Skateboarding was rarely, if ever, done in Afghanistan, and it certainly was not an activity for girls. However, as the local youth watched the two Aussies in awe, they were not content to sit on the sidelines. Boys and girls demanded to learn how to skate, too.

With support from various local and international donors as well as the Afghanistan National Olympic Committee, Skateistan moved into its first indoor facility in October 2009.

The program started with informal skate lessons on the streets of Kabul. Fazila Shreendil is one of the park's most veteran and accomplished female skaters. Now 14, she joined the group in 2007, when she was only 11 and selling small goods on the streets to survive.

"When I was selling gum I saw them skating and I wanted to learn," Shreendil said. "I thought, 'This is great, I really like this,' so I decided that I wanted to skate, too."