'Ollies', ‘kickflips’ and ‘slides’ might be alien terms to most Cambodians, but for a gathering of dozens of young street skaters at Phnom Penh’s Diamond Island, it’s those words that dominate conversation.
The group, from a range of different backgrounds, comes to the open space near the riverside every day, except for when it rains. There they try out different tricks: from sliding sideways on their boards to leaping into the air and flipping them 360 degrees.
Now, after years of waiting, skate enthusiasts finally have an official store where they can buy skating equipment and accessories. Phnom Penh’s first dedicated skate shop, simply titled the Skate Shop, opened last week on Street 7.
For professional photographer and former competitive skateboarder, Sam Jam, who owns the store with his partner, Sally, the place is more than a straightforward business.
“Our concept is to encourage local talent that has a desire or flair for creative things such as art, design, photography and fashion,” he wrote in an email.
In addition to selling all the necessary apparatus for skating, such as skateboard decks, wheels and footwear, the space also sells locally sourced hand-made clothing and offers young Cambodians a platform to display their creative endeavours like painting or illustration.
An exhibition showcasing Cambodian skate related photos, which was shot over several years by local skaters, opened at the store last Sunday.
One of their most enthusiastic customers is Peterson Khim, regarded by many as ‘Cambodia’s first skater’. Peterson is partly responsible for spawning the increasing local interest in the international sport.
Rolling a board with a harmonica tucked in his mouth, the 21-year-old Cambodian American recalled the moment that he fell in love with skating.
Around five years ago he bought his first board from Sorya Mall for approximately $50, and learned tricks from YouTube videos.
“I was so bored, and didn’t know what to do, so I picked up a skateboard and learned to roll alone,” he said.
Shortly afterwards, he met Raymond Sous, a fellow Cambodian American, who taught him new and more advanced tricks.
The pair set up a Facebook group, ‘Cambodia Skater’, which, at the time of writing, had 82 members. Although there are several foreign members, many are local skate enthusiasts.
Peterson and Sous wanted to spread the word about the sport they love, but they also recognised that the pastime could be well-suited to bored teenagers who might otherwise turn to drug use or crime.
The group started to grow, and before long around 20 regular skaters started to gather at Diamond Island to skate.
“In our team, we don’t have a leader. We call each other ‘skate buddy’ because we all teach each other,” said Peterson.
On a recent afternoon, Sopheakdalin Kong, a Cambodian skater, turned up to the shop with a broken skateboard. He keeps a pile of them under his bed, he said.
“I cannot spend a day without skating. It’s so addictive. Although we spend a lot of money on materials, we still want to do it,” said Sopheakdalin.
Before the skate shop opened, it was hard for Sopheakdalin to replace the poor quality boards without having to pay exorbitant fees to have materials shipped from the US.
Peterson faced the same problem.
“When I broke my deck, I had to wait for almost a month because I ordered from the States, unlike now when we have our own skate shop,” said Peterson.
“Now we wait just 15 minutes and then get back to skating,” he added.
For the skaters, there are still obstacles, not all of which are traversable.
There is no public skate park in Phnom Penh, but Jam is working towards the development of one, in collaboration with international NGO Skateistan, who use the sport as a tool for youth empowerment.
At present Skateistan own a small park that they let locals use on Saturdays.
“The challenges skaters face here are trying to find a good place to skate: the skate park is only open on the weekend, [the fact that] Cambodia has so much security everywhere and also the heat,” said Joe Del Crognale, a teenager originally from California.
But for Jam, the benefits of having the shop are already obvious.
As the first day of the shop’s opening came to an end, a group of kids sat inside, glued to images of skaters flickering across the TV screen.
“That’s the reason, right there,” said Jam. “This is for them.”
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