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Uganda's skateboarders fly high

Kampala's skateboard park gives youths direction and discipline.

Mubiru has a day job and most of the kids who come to the skatepark go to school. “If it is time for school, we go to school. If it is time to work a job, we work a job and if it is time to train we train,” he said referring to the evening skate sessions.

“Morning hours you can find no one at the park until five when others are back from school or work,” he said.

This spirit of self-improvement makes Mubiru a far cry from the counter-culture gang of stoned Dogtown dropouts who created modern skateboarding in 1970s California, but the love of skateboarding shows that kids from the mean streets of Kampala share a fundamental passion with America’s early skate pioneers.

Mubiru’s efforts have attracted some international attention and donations which are important given the almost complete inability to buy skateboarding gear anywhere in East Africa. The Tony Hawk Foundation, a charity established by the world-famous skateboarder, is one of the major donors.

“We got really excited that these people had put together something like this, it was just an amazing story of how this community came together,” said Miki Vuckovich, executive director of the foundation and a keen veteran skater.

“What we saw was several young Ugandans sharing boards and skating barefoot. They’d only just started skating but were mastering the basic techniques and were learning the instinct and the skill of skating. The story inspired us,” said Vuckovich.

The Hawk foundation has sent dozens of pairs of skating shoes to the Ugandan boarders.

“They’re learning the thrill of defying gravity that got us skating years ago. A suburban kid from California and one from this poor Ugandan town feel the same thing,” said Vuckovich.

To get the donated shoes, boards and other equipment through customs tax-free, Mubiru registered a non-governmental organization. The Uganda Skateboard Union was born with the aim to “combat idleness and boredom among the youth.”

Mubiru is now the union’s director complete with business cards and a website. What he doesn’t have is his own home: having built a skatepark on his plot of land he still lives with his parents.