In the realm of sports bridging cultural divides, the collaboration between 3rd Rail and SkatePal emerges as a noteworthy example. Founded in 2013, SkatePal has been harnessing the essence of skateboarding to promote understanding, education, and community building in Palestine. By offering skateboarding lessons and workshops, they emphasize the sport’s personal and cultural benefits. Beyond the board, their efforts focus on creating safe environments for youth, fostering cultural understanding, and empowering the next generation.
In this exclusive interview, we delve deeper into the organisation’s journey, collaborations, and the passionate people behind this inspiring mission.
3rd Rail: The origins of the skatepark fascinate me. I’ve seen some information on your website, but could you dive into the initial reasons for starting this initiative?
Charlie: Certainly. After school, I travelled to Palestine to volunteer, teaching English in a town called Jenin. There was a connection because my mum worked with a church in Edinburgh that was supporting a centre there. Naturally, I brought my skateboard and skated around the streets in my free time. The local kids, who had never seen a skateboard before, were fascinated. Recognizing their enthusiasm, I started thinking about the potential for skateboarding in Palestine. After completing a degree in Arabic, I felt equipped to start a project. I was inspired by the skate NGO Skateistan and their project in Afghanistan, which prompted me to kickstart a similar project in Palestine.
3rd Rail: How experienced were you in skating at this point?
Charlie: I wasn’t a competitive skater, just someone who loved skating for fun with friends and my brother. Skating has been a significant part of my life, both as a hobby and professionally.
3rd Rail: You mentioned the resilience of the Palestinian kids. Was their enthusiasm for skateboarding the only driving factor?
Charlie: Their enthusiasm was certainly unique. In Europe, skateboarding is commonplace, but in Palestine, it was a novelty. The challenging conditions in Palestine seem to have nurtured a fearless attitude in the kids, which aligns perfectly with the spirit of skateboarding. Their eagerness was definitely more pronounced than what I’d observed elsewhere.
3rd Rail: Starting a project like this must have presented numerous challenges. Could you shed some light on that?
Charlie: The primary challenge remains sourcing equipment. Navigating Israeli customs is unpredictable. Additionally, there’s no skateshop in Palestine. Understanding and manoeuvring through local politics was also initially tricky. However, with more local individuals onboard, trust and collaboration have improved. Fundraising was another challenge. Thankfully, our branding, which includes merchandise sales, has provided a significant revenue stream to support our NGO.
3rd Rail: So, the brand plays a crucial role in sustaining the initiative?
Charlie: Absolutely. Our future aim is to strengthen our brand, collaborate with local artists, and reinvest the profits back into the skate scene. We want to transition from a charity model to a more business-centric model, prioritising local involvement and growth.
3rd Rail: Speaking of local involvement, do Palestinians play a role in your design process?
Charlie: Yes. We often collaborate with artists from the Middle East, especially from Palestine. We recently released a football top inspired by Palestinian heritage. The team, including members in Palestine, provides feedback on designs. Going forward, we hope to encourage local brands to emerge and flourish, fostering a more vibrant skate scene.
3rd Rail: Any designs or projects that particularly stand out?
Charlie: One of my favourites is the work by Nora Zeid. She created cityscapes of Asira ash-Shamaliyah, Ramallah, and Bethlehem, incorporating playful skate imagery. These designs resonate well with our audience.
3rd Rail: I’m not familiar with Nora. Could you tell me more about her?
Charlie: Certainly. Nora Zaid is an artist based in Dubai, originally from Cairo, Egypt. She specialises in intricate cityscapes. We collaborated on a series of products, including long-sleeve shirts, t-shirts, and hoodies. It’s a partnership we’re very proud of.
3rd Rail: Do the collaborators come from Palestine? How do you typically establish these artist collaborations?
Charlie: Typically, artists and illustrators would approach us with collaboration proposals. We would then sift through these offers, aligning them with our brand ethos. After shortlisting, the entire team would weigh in on the potential collaborations.
3rd Rail: So, you need someone who truly understands the brand essence to filter through these collaborations. Do you have any upcoming projects that particularly excite you?
Charlie: Our next significant project is an Arabic phrasebook, highlighting 20 idiomatic expressions from Palestinians in the homeland and diaspora. The book will contain short interviews discussing these phrases and their significance. We aim to introduce readers to the Arabic language, Palestinian history, and culture. Samar Maakaroun, a London-based Arabic typography artist, is producing the book’s graphic design. We aim to launch it by Christmas this year.
3rd Rail: Will any of the book’s designs feature on merchandise, like t-shirts?
Charlie: Yes, we plan to incorporate some designs from the book into our merchandise. While specifics are still under discussion, we’re considering prints, t-shirts, hats, and hoodies. I’m truly excited about the potential of these designs on our clothing line.
3rd Rail: You mentioned studying Arabic. Was your decision to study it influenced by your time in Palestine?
Charlie: Absolutely. My general interest in languages and my experiences in Palestine influenced my decision. Studying in Scotland was an added bonus since university education is free there. However, Arabic is intricate. Every region, from Syria to Tunisia to Palestine, has its unique dialect. It’s challenging but incredibly rewarding.
3rd Rail: Have you been to these countries solely for teaching, or were some visits for skatepark projects?
Charlie: My teaching stint was in Tunisia, while Syria was part of my university’s abroad program. Most of my visits to Palestine were for skatepark projects, and I used to go annually. However, due to recent lockdowns, it’s been four years since my last visit. I’m planning a trip back in October. Life in Palestine is undeniably tough, making it challenging for residents to travel abroad, especially with visa restrictions.
3rd Rail: Regarding collaborations, can you recall any successful or memorable ones? I remember seeing a design with an orange smiley face and sun rays.
Charlie: Yes, that was designed by Myles Lucas from London. He rebranded SkatePal, providing us with a distinct brand image. The sun logo has played a crucial role in establishing us as a brand.
3rd Rail: How did the collaboration with 3rd Rail commence?
Charlie: When our previous partner went out of business, we took the initiative to find a new collaborator and chose 3rd Rail. The samples looked great, and the collaboration has been smooth since. Our experience regarding print quality and service has been excellent.
3rd Rail: Given SkatePal’s non-profit nature, what advice would you give to other non-profits or initiatives aiming to make a positive impact?
Charlie: Set high goals but maintain modest expectations. Building projects often take longer than anticipated. It’s crucial to foster relationships within the community and ensure they see the value in the initiative. Taking a gradual approach, involving local communities, and proving commitment to the cause can yield success. Additionally, having a strong brand image can open doors to larger partnerships and opportunities.
Charlie: We always have grand ideas about what we can achieve. In reality, it’s tough. For example, we’ve been trying for four years to build a skatepark in Ramallah. Getting the land and the necessary approvals has been a challenge. But, looking on the bright side, we’ve managed to build smaller projects and continue our classes. We’ve been at this for ten years, and people are beginning to recognize us more. That recognition is crucial. People now see our work as legitimate because of our local partnerships and the genuine relationships we’ve built in the community. My advice for others would be to be patient and take things one step at a time.
Charlie: And speaking of growth, focusing on branding is vital. Five years ago, we had a single design that barely sold. Now, our merchandise is flying off the shelves, and we’ve even partnered with big industry names. Understanding the local context and building something sustainable is essential. It’s all about playing the long game rather than seeking instant success.
3rd Rail: Any other future projects?
Charlie: We’ve got the cookbook coming, and we’re exploring the possibility of using illustrations from it for future designs. We’ve recently launched a football top with FC Palestina based in Leeds. It’s heartening to see the progress we’re making and the impact we’re having.
3rd Rail: Thanks, Charlie. Your commitment and dedication to the cause are commendable. Looking forward to our continued collaboration!
If you’re inspired by this story and envision a collaboration with 3rd Rail, we invite you to reach out. Together, we can craft narratives that resonate and make a difference.”