No Borders Between Skateboarders
The Story of Taghazout Skate Park
We met Ali Tamara by pure coincidence, at breakfast with friends, overlooking the serene beach town of Taghazout. We were discussing wanting to check out this skate park we had heard so much about, hoping to get some shots for what would most likely become cool filler footage for our video on Morocco. Our friend Youness, a phenomenal skater, mentioned he and Ali would be up there later for a barbecue they were hosting for some Belgian skaters who were leaving the following day. When we said we’d be there and do some filming, he casually informed us that Ali was none other than the “president” of the skate park as well as being the owner and founder of the first skate shop in Morocco.
So many questions flooded our minds and like two star struck kids, we sheepishly asked if we could do an interview. “Sure thing,” he nonchalantly replied. “Just come up to the skate park later and we’ll talk.” We arrived in the early afternoon, gathered up some preliminary shots and a little before sunset, we begin our interview.
Taghazout is a small beach town about 20 minutes north of Agadir. It has renowned waves for surfing and often has great wind for kite-surfing. Essaouira, a larger, more well known city to the north, is internationally recognizable for having hosted the likes of Jimi Hendrix and other famous stars during the 70’s, which cemented it’s reputation as a popular destination on a hippie hajj. Taghazout, today, feels like what Essaouira must have been like in the 70’s. The beach is small and clean, hosting a row of beachfront businesses and surf schools, multi-colored buildings stacked on top of each other as they ascend up the hill that rests on the beach. There are small alleyways that wind around the shops, making the city feel larger than it is and giving it that quintessential Moroccan look.
The town has a laid back, artistic vibe; independent vendors are able to set up their stalls and leave them unattended outside of restaurants playing reggae covers of popular songs while patrons dine on patios overlooking the ocean. For the small size of the town, there is a large percentage of tourists and future expats, with beachfront restaurants charging exorbitant prices for traditional dishes; however, local eateries remain sequestered and market groceries are cheap.
Taghazout, like many places in Morocco, has a thriving tourism scene but the constant influx of tourists make it a more expensive place to live. It seems many people live in Agadir and travel to Taghazout for work. Tourism is a double-edged sword in Morocco, offering jobs in fields such as restaurants, hotels, tourist attractions, construction for new accommodations, and building and improving roads. At the same time, however, it can be an impediment to the affordability of life for locals by driving up property values and commodities, and often forces the relocation of people to make way for development. In addition to this, tourism doesn’t actually offer much social and economic mobility for people as the jobs are fairly one dimensional and limited in the amount of full time, long term people they employ.
Ali reminds us of another problem tourism can bring. “Where there are tourists, sometimes there are problems with drugs, addictions, family problems,” Ali tells us. These issues are exacerbated by the lack of job opportunities available to young Moroccans and Ali worries that without proper outlets, local kids are at a higher risk of getting involved in nefarious activities. Ali tells us the skate park was one way he knew he could create a safe space for young people. “I just want to make some change…I don’t want them to be addicted, I want them to be doing something with their life.”
The skate park sits at the top of a massive hill, which overlooks the town, and next to the major road that leads south to Agadir. Besides the skate park and a rudimentary football pitch, the lot is barren and looks as though a construction company broke ground on a project that quickly went under. We find a small but diverse group of guys and girls, Moroccans and tourists, all skating with varying levels of proficiency. A swath of kids, most of whom are barefoot, are learning the basics with a boldness reflecting their nascent experiences with pain and injury. The adults inside of us kick in and we are wincing watching these kids attempt tricks out of their comfort zone, their bare toes just asking to be run over by their board’s worn down wheels.
Apparently we are not the only ones who notice because soon a tourist skater goes to his car and return with a variety of shoes and give them to the barefoot kids. We didn’t get a chance to ask about the back story of why he had these shoes in the first place, but soon all of the kids are skating around with properly protected feet.
Morocco has a young population and Taghazout is no exception to this. According to World Population Review, Morocco’s median age is 29 and 45% of the population is under 25. Ali tells us it is really hard for young people to find jobs and support themselves here. He says of the job opportunities here, “I do many things, because if you are in Morocco, you have to do many things to make a living.” It is a fact we have noticed during our time in Morocco. Especially in cities, we have met many young men who either work multiple jobs for little money, are employed in the informal sector (such as independent artisans or street vendors), earn money by renting out space in their house on Airbnb, or are unemployed entirely and subsist from allowances from family (a particularly disenfranchising option in a culture that values supporting your parents as you age). Growing up in this environment carries a lot of pressure and Ali works hard to ensure the skate park can be a place where kids don’t have to think about financial pressures.
“[Kids get out of school] and they can come here and we have some boards for them, sometimes we give them lessons, and sometimes if we have some parts we can give them the parts and they don’t have to pay anything.” In return, he asks that they do their part to keep the park clean by picking up trash or bottles. He works on teaching the kids respect: for their environment, other people, and themselves. “I teach them that we will show people we are good people…I just want to give them some of my experience.”
When he was growing up, there were no skate shops in Morocco and getting boards shipped over from Europe was not feasible both financially nor logistically. He says they used to make surf and skateboards out of scrap wood and whatever they could piece together; however, he says of his products, “there was always something missing”. The kids today, he says, “are very lucky because we didn’t have this chance, no way.” Having to be so resourceful yet still ending up with largely inefficient products when he was growing up inspired him to open his skate shop, first just selling boards out of his room starting in 2007, and then finally, in 2014, opening the first official skate shop in Morocco: Tamara Skate Shop.
The skate park followed soon after. Taghazout is a very chill place but even so, Ali tells us that people still look at you weird so the skate park was a way to give people a place to go where “you don’t bother anyone, no one bothers you”. The park only took 17 days to build with the help of volunteers, Levi’s Skateboarding, and an organization called Make Life Skate Life.
Make Life Skate Life is a Belgian-based organization committed to building “safe, accessible, and free-of-charge skate parks.” According to their website, they have built skate parks in 9 countries around the world and once a skate park is up and running they stick around to “help with the implementation of skate programs that aim to include females, disadvantaged and refugee youth, and use skateboarding as a tool for teaching cross-cultural communication, creative self expression and resilience to underserved youth populations.” Last year they completed a skate park in Brazil and Ali is especially interested in this project.
In July 2020, Make Life Skate Life will host a “summer camp” at the Maré Favela skate park Rio de Janeiro, commemorating the one year anniversary of the park. The camp will be spread over two weeks with events and workshops and will include guests from all over the world. Ali is planning on being one of these guests and he hopes to be able to take a few Moroccan skaters with him, including our friend Youness.
Youness has the physique of a stereotypical skater. A large afro, bright and multicolored short-shorts revealing a litany of skateboarding related scars, and a tattoo on his leg of a cartoon character hugging a board with wrap around text that reads, “thank you, skateboarding”. He is an amazing skater, making even the most difficult moves look effortless (he holds the title for “biggest ollie in Morocco”), and you can tell he and Ali have a special relationship. Youness is at the skate park everyday. He is essentially the skate park’s manager, helping Ali repair boards, keeping the skate park clean, and teaching lessons to kids every Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday.
Ali first tells us about the event in Brazil over breakfast when we first met him. He mentions bringing over Moroccan skaters and tells Youness he will be going with him. Youness, sheepishly smiles and says he hopes so but Ali is insistent. “We will make it happen.”
Traveling for a Moroccan can be difficult and expensive. The people who have passports are proud and quick to tell us that they possess one. A passport is your ticket to anywhere in the world and for people living in Morocco, that is a big deal. Even if you have a passport, travel expenses can often be a insurmountable hurdle. Ali assures Youness they will overcome the obstacles and both be in Brazil for the following summer.
Ali is tireless in his work with the skate park and he says the help of volunteers has been crucial to the completion and ongoing success of the park. He has plans to expand it farther into the lot by building a bowl connecting to the current park and add a section for street skating with rails and stairs. “I think it will happen…I dream big,” he tells us with a smile.
Ali is always looking for ways to inspire the local kids. He tells us he has invited Sky Brown, the 11-year old skateboarding prodigy, to come to Taghazout for a visit. “When the kids see this girl skate, it’s going to be so good. They can be motivated to see someone like Sky Brown…she can meet the local kids and talk to them…it will change a lot, I think,” he says.
If you are interested in helping out Ali and the Taghazout Skate Park, click here.
Make Life Skate Life is currently raising money for their first annual Summer Camp. They are also in the process of building a new skate park in Iraq. To donate to either of these initiatives or just learn more about this non-profit, click here.