Down a dusty, bumpy road just off National Road 6 in Siem Reap town, a fledgling community is forming. That’s where Serey Siv, a photographer, opened skateboarding shop and café Mirage Skate last September, which he hopes will become a hub for the skating scene in Siem Reap.
Believing the sport could give young people direction and bring people of all ages and walks of life together, he’s started with a a simple set-up. The shop is little more than a black-painted shipping container with boards mounted to the walls, a coffee machine, chairs and a yard for skating.
The slightly out-of-town location offers more space than a spot nearer the tourist hub of Pub Street would provide, and Mirage’s surroundings are verdant and peaceful — despite the mammoth new Marriott hotel hotel being constructed just down the road.
The noise is a worthwhile tradeoff, however, for the increase in foot traffic that the hotel’s opening should bring to this area. Though quiet now, Siv believes this part of the city will grow in popularity over the years.
He also takes pride in the fact that Mirage is settling in for the long term, and does not want it to be a flash-in-the-pan concept café that closes in a few years. According to Siv, the concept of a skate café is rare worldwide, let alone in Cambodia. At the moment, he estimates that there are 30 to 40 local skaters in Siem Reap.
Kong Chhamnab, 20, who has been skating for a year, says a chance encounter with Siv by the river broadened his opportunities. “I always used to skate in a parking lot – now I have somewhere new. Siv has been teaching me tricks, and he has sponsored me, giving me a board,” Kong says. “When I’m skating I feel happy.”
Though Siv spent six months training in a Montreal café to learn the art of making a good coffee – which he serves for between $1.50 and $2 – Mirage is more about ollies than espressos.
“I see it more as a social enterprise than a business,” the 31-year-old Cambodian-Canadian says. “We’re here to support the local skate community in Siem Reap.”
“Cambodia is currently behind in terms of skills compared to neighbouring countries like Thailand and Vietnam, where skateboarding is more mainstream,” he explains, though he adds that this has some advantages, such as being more inclusive. In his native Canada, some young people feel like they can’t even practise at a skate park until they reach a certain skill level.
Even within that context, Phnom Penh is “years ahead of Siem Reap”, he says, with the capital hosting venues such as Skateistan, an NGO that promotes skateboarding as a healthy activity for young people in developing countries. On any given evening at Wat Botum Park, young skateboarders practise tricks, a few of whom are even starting to compete internationally.
In Siem Reap, opportunities to meet up with expats or professional skaters are scarce, however, and smooth surfaces are harder to come by – let alone good places for skaters to congregate and practise tricks, with the one skate park currently dominated by inline skaters.
This is the void Siv hopes to fill with Mirage. His plan is to crowdfund enough money to start setting up the concrete floors, ramps and other modules needed for a proper skate park.
“I want Mirage to be a place where skaters gather, whether they’re local or international. We want to have people coming into Siem Reap with their skateboards,” he says. “Age, sex, race — they don’t matter in skateboarding.”
Mirage Skate is located off National Road 6, east of Siem Reap town. 086 367 730. Open daily from 1pm-6pm during the rainy season, with hours extending around October.