Adventures in the Jungle Bowl
By Hannah Bailey
Skateboarding has taken me to all sorts of places, but I never expected to end up here with my board under arm and luscious leaves under my feet. In a world in which skaters eye marble ledges and smooth concrete surfaces, I was somehow standing in the least skateable terrain on earth the Cambodian jungle.
I came to this country to meet local skaters and document the scene, and like skate cultures the world over, I was invited in with open arms. Landing in dusty Phnom Penh, Cambodia, with rickshaws and motorbikes zooming by, I wondered how skating fit in amongst the madness. But trips to the local skate shops (there are two) and the skateboarding charity Skateistan cleared it all up. The nonprofit organization uses skateboarding as a tool for empowerment. For the past three years, they’ve invited vulnerable local children to their skatepark, a place where the kids can leave their problems behind and push forward on a board. I had connected my friends at Building Trust International (a design charity) with Skateistan, and together they built a mobile tuk tuk skate ramp to take skateboarding to the city’s pagodas and some of the poorest children in Phnom Penh. I was here to see the tuk tuk and find out more about what skating was doing for the locals.
Not planned in advance, my visit to Cambodia happened to coincide with an annual bowl jam in the small fishing village of Kep. I’d hardly been there a day and Skateistan instructor Pheakna offered me a lift to the event in their minibus that was leaving early the next day. Turns out, this was the final fling for the bowl jam. The land had been sold and the bowl had a new flatland destiny. Stories of fraudulence and corruption abounded, with rumors that the builder of the skate bowl was forced off his land and out of the country due to a money dispute. Sadly, this meant the end of the one and only skate bowl in Cambodia. But with the bowl still standing, there was a chance to give it one last roll.
So to the jungle I went. A bumpy 6-hour drive from Phnom Penh, Kep is far away from the dusty big cities. Set back from the water and up a hill covered in verdant greenery, it’s only 10 minutes by foot to reach the bowl’s drop-in. A hand-built 6-foot coping free bowl, with a carve-prohibiting bank cut right down the middle, this spot was built for the adventurous, much like the journey to find it. Standing on the side of the bowl, looking down the transition and eyeing the cracks with the sun glaring down, it’s a long way from where I call home in the UK. It’s amazing how far skateboarding can take you. This moment may have been the last for the Kep jungle bowl, but thanks to the skaters, the skate shops, Skateistan, and everyone who was there that day, it’s only just the beginning for skateboarding in Cambodia.