Skatekonnect, creating an urban subculture in Sikkim

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Skatekonnect, Sikkim’s first-ever skateboarding organization presented a fundraiser to send six young skateboarders – M. D. Tarik, Thupden Sherpa, Tenzing Khampa, Phurba Sherpa, Tenzing Tsundue Bhutia and Joseph Subba to Bangalore for Jugaad – India’s first skateboarding competition. The event, called ‘Let’s Jugaad for Jugaad’ was conducted at MG Marg on the 29th of November, with a brilliant curation of artists, rappers, beatboxers, dancers and parkour enthusiasts who showcased their skills.

Photo Courtesy: Pranay Pradhan

The Vice-President of Skatekonnect, Joseph Subba, a 28-year-old drummer and the first disabled fitness icon from Sikkim, who regularly gives motivational speeches at various places says that the objective of setting up the organization was not only to make people aware of the skateboarding subculture but to make sure that the young people of Sikkim divert themselves from substance abuse and the drug culture plaguing the state. 

He believes that the youth of Sikkim, especially the ones who are taking up skateboarding seriously have tremendous potential to go far in life. “They have zeal and enthusiasm; they never give up! I’m very proud of how hard working they are.”

The youngest skateboarder in the community is a 6-year-old, and the oldest is the President, Tenzing Tsundue himself, who is 27 years old. 

“One of the main problems that we face is the lack of infrastructure and funds for the community of skateboarders. But we have approached the government for setting up a skatepark for the members to practice at and the Sports Department is interested in our efforts” says Subba. “We want to change the mindset of our people and bring this subculture to the surface.” For now, a skateboard company based in Bangalore has donated skateboards to the organization. 

In Sikkim, street culture has seen a rise in the last few years but the orthodox ideology that it is essentially a “bad” or as Nepalis would say, “bhattu” culture has kept it from thriving solidly. The elite idea of associating hip hop or street culture with drugs and violence is not only detrimental to the communities or individuals who are passionate about it but also keep them from growing economically. 

Skatekonnect has amongst its members, a recovered substance abuser who cites skateboarding as the reason he has come out of this danger. Another skater, Jarina Lepcha, a 21-year-old engineer, says that she was suffering from anxiety and depression but skating has helped her greatly. “I was afraid I was an insomniac because I just couldn’t sleep, but once I took up skateboarding, I used to be so tired from practice that I would fall asleep instantly. As a child, I was fascinated with movies and songs that depicted the street culture and it later influenced me to take it up seriously. Now I want to learn more and also promote the positives of street culture.” 

The young people at the event, who showcased an array of skills – from rapping to singing to dancing are also extremely enthusiastic about finding more members and mentoring them. “The Skatekonnect community is very supportive and helpful, plus being around children and people who do not discriminate or judge you helps a lot. I believe that anyone can skate!”, says Jarina. “I can’t wait to be done with work so that I can go to Lal Bazaar, practice, joke and hang out with other skaters”. 

In the middle of it all, featuring her sketches of the skateboarders which was up for sale and whose proceeds would go to the organization, was Yangdol Namgyal, a 26-year-old painter and tattoo artist from Sikkim whose distinctive Tibeto-Sikkimese Oriental art has been featured in an exhibition at New York, titled ‘The New Wave – Tibet Contemporary Art’ at HERE AND NOW SPACE organized by the Yakpo Collective. “I like to keep my tattoo artistry underground because I like making an authentic piece for my clients. Even if they come to me with a common design, I like putting my own twist on it’ a commercial studio would mean I would be too busy so for now, I focus on making one tattoo per day”. 

Photo Courtesy: Pranay Pradhan

She has also been commissioned to make artwork for Tashi Delek, a popular hotel in Gangtok and owns Beyul Ink, the first woman-run and owned tattoo studio in the capital. Her work has also been featured on the Instagram account The Snowlion Club, a Tibetan brand which sells contemporary art and designs and is based in Toronto, Canada.

Another interesting activity at the event was a workshop by artist Kely, from Assam, who describes himself more as an art lover than an artist and is currently working at Echostream at Gangtok, was also part of the event where he sketched portraits for the audience free of cost for donating to the organization. 

The inclusivity of the community and their efforts to showcase the plethora of talents of its members, brought about necessary visibility that is imperative for a subculture like this to thrive in the coming years. Wrong ideas of the youth who are passionate about street culture are being broken one event at a time. The effort of both organizers and enthusiasts in making it a norm is commendable because the battle with their own set of insecurities, problems and setbacks has not stopped them from doing what they love. 

23-year-old Anu Yonzon, a law graduate from Kalimpong was introduced to skateboarding by her friends. Now it has been almost six months that she has been skating and plans to continue it further. “The Ollie is quite a hard skill to master but I’ve been trying to do kickflips. I believe that the more people see our work, the more they will learn about this culture and be interested in joining us.”

M.D. Tarik, one of the six who aspires to compete at Jugaad narrates how he fell in love with skateboarding. “Once I started balancing myself on the board, I could not stop. I forced my elder brother to buy me a skateboard, which he did after a lot of convincing since he was scared that I would get injured”

“Then I was introduced to the terrace at Lal Bazaar and Tenzing Tsundue, which inspired me more. Sometimes I wish I could bunk classes to practice – but I don’t!”

Tarik studies in Class XI Humanities at Modern Senior Secondary School and wants to become a professional skateboarder, with dreams of participating in the Olympic Games. “People here have the wrong mindset about skating; our relatives think we go to the terrace to do something dangerous or illegal but we’re just practising. We even have girls who skate, which is great – I think we all just want to prove ourselves”. He adds, “Even participating in Jugaad means a lot more than winning. I want to make this my career.”

His friend, Thupden Sherpa a Science student from Bojoghari Senior Secondary School and another Jugaad aspirant tells a similar story. “My mom is supportive of my passion, but some family members don’t even try to understand. I stay at Lal Bazaar until it gets dark because I lose track of time while perfecting new moves and skills”. He adds that although he is interested in the subject he has chosen in high school, he does not want to pursue a medical career over skateboarding. 

If anything at all, the kids here are more aware of the ill effects of drugs than they’re given credit for. They speak about mental health and drug abuse more than many older people do.

Sonam Tharchen Bhutia, 26, executive member of Skatekonnect asserts that skateboarding is a new sport for Sikkim and the organization helps the members be independent and away from the stress of private jobs. But the fact that they have only one area to practice at since law and order authorities nab the skateboards if they’re found to be used in public spaces like MG Marg, should highlight the need for a skatepark in Sikkim for the interested to practice at.

President of Skatekonnect, Tenzing Tsundue Bhutia, 27 calls the starting of this venture a community approach. “I started skateboarding around the age of 12-13 but not on a regular basis. In 2014, I moved to Bangalore and saw Holystoked – I liked the community approach and the way people from different backgrounds came together to learn from each other. They were extremely welcoming to me”. 

“Once I came back to Gangtok, I didn’t start skating immediately. One day, I was walking down MG Marg and saw a guy who was carrying a skateboard. I stopped him, inquired about it and asked if I could tag along with him when he said that he was going to Whitehall to practice.” He laughs as he remembers how they owned only one skateboard, so everyone had to wait for turns. “The younger ones wouldn’t get a chance. Sometimes, even we wouldn’t!”  

This is Skatekonnect’s third event since its inception. Brands like Redbull, Kokivo, Accelerator Magazine, All Apparel, Superbeak – they have contributed to the organization and its members. Tsundue wants to create an urban subculture community in Sikkim, but the dreams don’t end there. “India does not have a Skating Federation but in the next 5-10 years, it would be great to have an official skateboarding association in Sikkim, which can help young skaters go further. Sikkim has great potential for it.”

If anyone still wishes to donate to Skatekonnect, the account details are mentioned below: 

Name: Tenzing Tsundue Bhutia

Bank: State Bank of India

Account no.: 32437596338

Branch: Gangtok

Branch Code: 232

IFSC: SBIN0000232

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