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Uganda's skateboarders fly high

Kampala's skateboard park gives youths direction and discipline.

KAMPALA, Uganda — Kampala doesn’t lend itself to skateboarding. The roads are either potholed, traffic-clogged or dirt, the sidewalks are cracked and pitted with open manholes, the curbs broken.

But down a mud track that runs into the heart of Kitintale, a working class suburb of the Ugandan capital, is East Africa’s only skatepark.

The cement structure surrounded by chicken wire and banana trees is a labor of love for Jackson ‘Jack’ Mubiru, a 28-year-old known as the father of Ugandan skateboarding.

While watching an extreme sports show on ESPN one day, Mubiru caught his first glimpse of skateboarding. “I saw them flying and thought is this magic or what?” he said.

He too wanted to learn how to fly. Mubiru began skating on a borrowed board. He joined a handful of young Ugandans with old skateboards, rollerblades and rollerskates who meet at the car park next to the national stadium because it is one of the few areas in the city with an expanse of smooth(ish) tarmac and no traffic.

There he bumped into a couple of foreign skaters who taught him tricks as well as the basics of skatepark design. Mubiru worked hard and saved money then he and some friends got to work on the Kitintale skatepark.

Mubiru had a small plot of land that, following tradition, his father had given him: he was supposed to build a house for himself. Instead he built a community skatepark.

Now more than 50 youngsters use the park regularly, most are boys though there are currently five female skaters.

The best of the bunch is Douglas, a wiry shy 18-year-old whose face expresses determination and joy when in midair, a few feet above the lip of the half-pipe.

“I love the game, I love to fly,” he says, sweat on his face, breath panting with the exertion in the late afternoon sun.

Toddlers clinging to the chicken wire watch with rapt attention and some of the young skaters’ mothers squat on their nearby doorsteps washing dishes and wringing clothes. When asked what they think about all this skating, one replies, “It’s good, it gives them exercise, and something to do.”

Mubiru agreed that skateboarding gives the teenagers and 20s-somethings who congregate here something to do apart from loitering about the place or getting into trouble.