The winner of our Graduate Print Awards in 2014, Gaurab Thakali is one of most interesting people in British skateboarding right now. Born in Nepal, the London-based skater, artist and illustrator has been using his considerable talents to change the world.
After seeing that skateboarding was starting to thrive in his native land, Gaurab teamed up with fellow skater Daryl Dominguez to found Skate Nepal; a non-profit dedicated to making skateboarding more accessible in this small, poverty-stricken country.
In 2017, their organisation was the driving force behind the construction of Nepal’s first purpose-built concrete skate park. Conceived, designed and erected by a team of 50 skateboarders from around the world, the park has already had a huge effect on the local community. A focal point for local kids of all abilities, the mix of beginner’s obstacles and advanced quarter pipes and handrails is introducing skateboarding to a whole new generation of Nepalese kids.
Gaurab recently returned his home country to see how the park was incubating the local scene.
My name is Gaurab Thakali and I’m a London-based artist and illustrator.
I grew up in Nepal where I took up skateboarding, because at the time, nothing else could provide me with same level of satisfaction. In 2006 at the age of 15, I moved to London. At the time, I’d been skating for about a year and the first thing on my mind when I moved over to London was to buy a skateboard setup, so I could pick it up again. It was exciting to see so many spots and skate parks in London.
Growing up in the capital city Kathmandu, it was hard to find anywhere to skate or get hold of right equipment like boards, trucks and wheels. The only place to buy a skateboard was at sports shops, where the quality was poor and the boards would fall apart in a matter of weeks. The terrain was pretty rough. Except for the main roads it was pretty much all gravel, with every open space either a park or football field. Although Kathmandu has a reputation for its historical temples and stupas, the unique architecture didn’t quite extend to creating anything to skate. So, skateboarding over there was non-existent at the time.
After few years of moving to the UK, I started noticing clips on social media of young people skating in Nepal. This was very intriguing. At the time I was at Camberwell College of Arts, pursuing a degree in Illustration. I’d planned a trip to visit my family in Nepal in the summer and decided to take my skateboard with me too. While I was there I ended up meeting a handful of skateboarders at a spot in Kathmandu.
It was good to meet the local skateboarders and understand their perspective on skating in Nepal. It was very clear that they still didn’t have any adequate spaces to skate or any way get hold of decent equipment. The state of their skateboards was evidence enough. With Nepal being a relatively poor country, it seemed like an impossible task to persuade the government to invest in any suitable facilities.
Fast forward a couple more years and I was back in Nepal with the aid of the Converse-funded Young and Laced with the intention of documenting my journey. I spent a considerable amount of time in Pokhara; situated in the mid-west, it is the second largest city in Nepal. The area is highly popular with both local and foreign tourists, especially those into trekking and mountain climbing. It’s used as a base for visitors attempting to climb one of the >8000 metre peaks in the Himalayan range. These peaks provide a beautiful backdrop to Pokhara, and can be seen from almost anywhere in the city.
It was in Pokhara that I came across the first ever skate park to be built in Nepal. Local skater, Ram, who‘d spent some time abroad, came up with the design and built it with help from his Australian friends on a rented piece of land. Ram had also managed to accumulate adequate boards for the locals to use at the park. We decided to document the park and the people who used it. We could tell the scene was beginning to thrive there already, but we felt like they still needed more help to improve the current situation as there was threat of the skatepark getting demolished by the owner of the land to build houses.
Upon our return to the UK, we realized that Daryl Dominguez, (a local London skater well known in Europe for his powerful style) had spent some time at the same skate park. We decided to get in touch with him as we heard he’d expressed similar ideas of helping the skate scene over there. That’s how the charitable, non-profit organisation ‘Skate Nepal’ was founded. Since then we’ve hosted events, raised money selling donated products, printed t-shirts, screened films and more, all aimed towards improving the skateboarding scene in Nepal.
In early 2017, we were finally able to take a big step towards building the first suitably sized concrete skatepark in Nepal. We teamed up with various organisations like Make Life Skate Life, The Community Collective, Alis and Ottalectuals, who helped raise the funds needed to start construction. The build started in April 2017 and with the help of 50 to 60 skateboarders and builders, from all over the globe, it was finished in about 3 weeks.
I’ve just got back from a 1-month trip where I visited my family and documented the current situation regarding skatepark and the local skaters. Since my last visit 2 years ago, the scene has grown rapidly. The number of skateboarders had tripled and even the older generation seemed to be taking an interest, astounded by the tricks they were witnessing. The skatepark has a lot to offer from smaller obstacles for beginners to big quarter pipes and handrails that’ll continue to challenge the locals as they progress. Many of the kids seemed happy just to be pumping around the park.
Skateboarding and travelling go hand in hand. As skateboarders, we’re always seeking new places we’ve never skated. In this case we didn’t discover incredible new spots, but we came across a premature skateboarding scene that lacked the basic infrastructure it needed to move forward. I’m glad that I could be part of the community that helped to push the scene towards a positive future and to provide opportunities for both young beginners and original members of the Nepal skate scene.
Read more about Gaurab’s journey here.