Say what you will, skateboarding isn’t just a sport designed to prevent bored teenage boys from setting things alight (Tony Hawk would very likely attest as much). Some even call it art, as does Bradley Kirr, the man who has bravely agreed to be my instructor for the day as I set foot on a skateboard for the first time in 10 years. It’s fitting, then, that I’ve asked ‘Brad’ to take me to Skate Biladi, an art-meets-skate-ramp installation at the Tashkeel art centre in Nad Al Sheba, for my debut lesson.
Brad, a 35-year-old American, is the owner of Action Sports Arabia and self-titled skateboarding projects manager. He worked with artists to design and put together the ramp, which, when viewed face-on, spells ‘Tashkeel’ in Arabic calligraphy.
Setting one foot on the board, I quickly realise I’ve forgotten how wobbly a skateboard feels – not only as it shoots out sideways from under my feet, but there’s far more room for rocking back and forth than I remember. It’s like standing on the concave side of a giant spoon, while the giant spoon happens to be resting on some very, very well-oiled wheels. ‘Are you sure this board is alright?’ I enquire, dubiously. ‘Yes. It’s mine,’ he laughs. Clinging to his forearms, I manage to place both feet on the board, allowing Brad to gauge my natural stance – ‘goofy,’ he declares, meaning I skate with my right foot forward, but reassures me that his is similar – before instructing me to bend my knees forward slightly more, making sure my body weight is centred over the board.
Once I’ve got that down, he explains we’re going to try moving backwards and forwards. He demonstrates alone on foot first, crouching for momentum as he travels down each side of the ramp, rising up (‘You want to be as light as a feather!’) on the way up.
It looks like he’s dancing. ‘Exactly. It’s a dance. It’s art!’ he enthuses. Demo over, Brad leads me by the hands, slowly at first, across the flat surface between the two ramps, which rise slightly at each end. He starts speeding up when he realises I’m getting the hang of it quickly. ‘You’re doing great,’ he says. ‘You have very natural balance.’
When he suggests he lets go and allows me to do a few runs on my own, I feel like a five-year-old child on a swing, panicked at the idea of being pushed higher. ‘No! Okay. Actually not yet. Okay, but not too high, yes?’ He laughs, but agrees. Letting me go, I glide quickly towards the opposite side of the ramp, keeping as low as I can to maintain my balance, and lift up as I head up the side. I’m rolling back down as rapidly as I arrived, but soon find myself veering backwards. I panic, and fall off as ungracefully as I can possibly manage, landing hard on my (thankfully generous) behind. It doesn’t hurt as much as I thought it would, and Brad explains this is a key part of the psychology of success when it comes to skateboarding. ‘You’ve got to have no fear, and just get straight back up if you fall.’ As a novice adult skateboarder, this is one of the first things you’ll have to overcome. Most of us become accustomed to not falling over day to day, unlike kids, to whom three tumbles in a day is an impressively low score.
I try pushing off alone, which I’m hopeless at, but I’m assured I now have the basic skill set. Brad explains that if I put in the hours, practising five days a week for two weeks, I’d become a decent skateboarder. Fortunately, my lesson rounds off just as the kids start arriving. I’ve no plans to look ridiculous in front of a 15-year-old pro, not to mention one of the insanely impressive local kids, whom Brad says he has seen teach themselves on the ramp wearing just a khandura and bare feet. Now that’s an arty look. Skateboard lessons with Bradley Kirr are Dhs200 for a private session, or Dhs120 in a group. To book, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Skate Biladi is open daily 8am-10pm. Tashkeel, Nad Al Sheba, www.tashkeel.org.