RIYADH: Saudi skateboarding group Desert Eagles are on the rise in the Kingdom — and their success is linked to a strong sense of community and dedication to bridging the gender gap.
Saudi American skateboarder Abisha Safia began her journey in the sport when she lived in Los Angeles where the scene originated. During her time in Riyadh, she would create her own makeshift ramp and skateboarding course using the stair railing at home.
Safia was skateboarding on her own back then, and she told Arab News: “It felt kind of tough because you want to keep that dream alive, but that’s hard to do when you’re isolated and you don’t know about other skaters in the community.”
Reflecting on the developments in the Saudi skateboarding scene since then, she added: “But now, to see the growth of it, it’s amazing — especially what Desert Eagles are doing, taking kids from the community that are serious about pursuing skateboarding and just pushing it (for both) females and males. It’s a beautiful thing to see.”
Desert Eagles are a team, brand, and a camp for extreme sports athletes who strive to improve and showcase their talents with consistency and push themselves to their full potential. Their goal is to challenge skaters to become better athletes in both their respective sports performance and social media activities.
The team currently consist of 10 members who are hand-picked based on their level of experience, commitment, and potential for growth. The team are still actively recruiting and looking for people of either Saudi or Arab descent.
Shareef Masarani, the founder and head of Desert Eagles, told Arab News that he wants Arab talent to “put us on the map.”
The team feature athletes with different interests under the extreme sports umbrella, most prominently skateboarding or rollerblading.
In order to refine their talent, members are required to contribute a consistent number of social media posts. While this helps cultivate an online presence, not just for the group but for each individual member, it also creates a habit of putting in the time to train.
Masarani said: “That means they’re going out and skating, so that’s even more time you spend on your craft, and you’re going to get better at it in general.”
Three members are being sent by the Saudi Arabian Extreme Sports Federation to compete in international competitions this month.
Perseverance is the key. The skateboarding market alone is predicted to be valued at $2.4 billion worldwide by 2025, according to Statista. To really make the ranks in the sport, “you have to be above average to stand out,” Masarani said.
It can feel kind of awkward being one of the few girls, but I think that will just inspire the younger generation and all of us to come together and push at our craft and what we love to do.
Abisha Safia, Skateboarder
At the core of Desert Eagles, however, is the urge to build communities.
Safia said: “Every day when I wake up and see my teammates writing ‘Oh, I did this trick and this trick,’ it really puts a fire inside of me.
“I feel motivated to go out and skate, to get clips, even to build up my knee strength … everything that we’re all doing together, it just feels passionate, super motivating, and I know we’re on the right track.”
The group have garnered recognition from various companies and quickly gained a social media following.
In the spirit of community-building, they also encourage aspiring adventure sport athletes to send over their own clips, which are shared on the team’s Instagram.
But apart from connecting like-minded individuals, there’s a gender gap that needs to be bridged.
The majority of skaters at any skatepark are likely to be male, with only a few women. While the statistics around the subject are lacking globally, an article published by SkateboardersHQ said that 77 percent of skateboarders are male.
The founder of Desert Eagles said that one of their main objectives was to create an inclusive space for women in the sport across the Arab region and break the taboo around the industry.
Safia, who is one of two girls on the team alongside 15-year-old Reef, said: “It can feel kind of awkward being one of the few girls, but I think that will just inspire the younger generation and all of us to come together and push at our craft and what we love to do.”
The team are one of the few skating collectives that are pushing to create quality talent in the region.
Ahmad Haji, a Bahraini skateboarder and a manager and member of the team, said: “I see high potential in (Desert Eagles) and I believe Saudi Arabia will be the one leading the way for the rest of the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council). They are going to lead by example.”
In Bahrain, people would skateboard in private spaces of housing areas in the past, but slowly “there’s more interest now than before,” he added.
When Haji’s job relocated to Riyadh in early 2022 he mingled with the scene to connect with other skaters.
Haji, one of the few Bahraini skaters on the team, had 20 years of experience as a skateboarder within the GCC, and won first place in the 2022 Saudi Games’ Skateboarding Championship.
He said of his recent experiences: “I never would have thought that I’d be doing this — and of all places in Riyadh, in Saudi Arabia.
“I’m just so proud and happy that the GCC, especially Saudi Arabia, is taking the initiative to push the sport, taking it seriously, and putting it on the map.”
However, both Haji and Safia believe that finding proper and serviced skate spaces is one of the region’s shortcomings.
Haji said: “Our region is usually very hot, or when it’s rainy it’s very wet. We never have the perfect type of weather. We need the proper facility to practice.”
Skateboarding was globally recognized as an Olympic sport in 2021, and is widely supported in Saudi by the federation. It was officially part of the 2022 Saudi Games and will be again in 2023.
Safia said: “Now that skateboarding is in the Olympics, that’s definitely a possibility for people to see and have a goal in mind and a dream that one day they could skate so well that they would end up in the Olympics representing their country.”
The federation told Arab News that there are plans to establish five new skateparks across the Kingdom, including in Madinah and Riyadh, and it hopes to broaden its collaborations with various entities to push forward the agenda.
Abdulmajed Al-Mutairi, CEO of the federation, told Arab News: “Extreme sports are rising globally and sports officials have regulated what we deem as dangerous, and we have started seeing them in national and international competitions.
“One of the main targets of Saudi Vision 2030 is to make Saudi Arabia a hub for sports, and developing the extreme sports industry is a great opportunity for us.
“We can’t start without establishing spaces where people can practice the sport. Skydiving, one of the main sports of the federation, and skateboarding, both need facilities.”