September 27, 2012
Sport can be the ultimate equalizer. Michael Brooke used his passion for longboarding to create a harmonious and fun event for children in the Middle East.
Michael Brooke, publisher of longboard skateboard magazine Concrete Wave, thought longboarding presented an opportunity for building peace in the Middle East. Longboards, longer versions of standard skateboards, are usually over 40 inches long and offer a ride that feels more like a surfboard but without the need for water.
“I haven’t been to Israel since 1989,” Michael recalled. “I knew that I wanted to come to Israel and be more than just a tourist. I knew that longboards could be a vehicle for fun, but I also had a gut feeling they could be tools of peace. I just didn’t realize how deeply emotional this whole experience would be.”
Through some networking, Michael contacted Arthur Rashkovan, Israel’s premier surfer and organizer of Surfing for Peace, and Arthur recognized a good opportunity.
“We have made great gains in building ties between surfers across political and cultural borders in the past few years,” he said. “Expanding our programming to include longboarding was a natural progression. We can include more people, and longboard when there are no waves.”
What ensued was a logistical nightmare of coordinating the shipment of the boards and helmets and the demonstration teams from various cities while working with organizations in different time zones. But a dozen skateboard companies graciously provided product, and all thirty longboards and helmets will be left with the Peres Center for Peace for future events.
“It was extraordinary to see the children interact with their Tel Aviv neighbours,” Michael said of the first demonstration, in Jaffa. “Normally, these kids would not run into each other, and yet here they were having a great time rolling around joyfully on longboards.”
The next demonstration was in Sderot, which had been bombed the previous week.
“Sderot is the kind of place that you only hear about in the news, but rarely visit,” Michael said.
The tour brought some much-needed smiles to over forty children and their parents.
“Sderot was an absolutely incredible experience and truly emotional for everyone,” said Tami Hay-Sagiv, director of sports at the Peres Center for Peace.
The team approached their demonstration in Arab East Jerusalem with trepidation, but their fears were quickly put to rest.
“Changing perceptions can only come when people are given opportunities to experience something different,” Michael said. “I am quite sure these women never expected to be riding skateboards that morning. But I also think they probably were not expecting to meet up with Israelis and hold their hands for balance.”
The next stop on the tour was in Jericho, which was recently ceded by Israel to Palestinian control. Twenty-five kids participated, and over the course of the hour a bond developed between all present. Even a local reporter tried longboarding.
The tour made everyone feel included — boys and girls, old and young, speakers of both Hebrew and Arabic.
“We got people to think differently about themselves and the world around them,” Michael said.
That, he believes, is an important first step toward opening minds and creating a climate for change and, eventually, peace.
- To help further this initiative got to http://www.indiegogo.com/longboardingforpeace.
- Start your own initiative to spread the joy of longboarding.
- Learn longboarding to understand and feel the joy.