Meet Sandy Alibo’s Surf Ghana — A Mainstay of Pop Culture and Escape
The non-profit organization was founded in 2016 by Sandy Alibo, who was inspired by her passion for skating and her experience supporting extreme sports management in Europe.
●31st December 2022
In 2021, Harmonie Bataka left her job in the banking industry to follow her love of skateboarding. Before the decision, she had an active interest in the field but was not practicing full time due to the demands that came with work, and other responsibilities. Years later, she is now a skateboarder, teaching other women and girls as a skateboarding tutor with the Skate Gal Club, amongst other endeavours including modelling.
Bataka’s journey is one of several young people in the growing surfing and skateboarding space in Ghana due to the efforts of the Surf Ghana collective, which, per its website, “uses the practice of extreme sports as a driver for diversity in education, social inclusion, and empowerment of the youth while curating events and sporting experiences provided by specialized instructors.”
The non-profit organization was founded in 2016 by Sandy Alibo, who was inspired by her passion for skating and her experience supporting extreme sports management in Europe. As a “collaborative project,” as she insists, it is an integral part of bringing surfing and skating to the forefront of Ghanaian mainstream and pop culture. It is a community of people brought together by their passions, love for the sport, and looking out for one another. For some of these individuals, it is an escape from the formality of what life is supposed to be, and the freedom to go after what they want.
“I was good at school but it’s not something that I really wanted; you know. I wanted something other than that. I wanted something more that wasn’t the norm,” stated Bataka in an interview with Bside.
“[SurfGhana] has actually given me the best people I have ever met aside [from] my family.”
She likened being a member of the Surf Ghana collective to having the opportunity to choose a family for oneself, praising the unwavering support they have for each other regardless of how different they are.
“And that’s something that is very, very important I think in life because if you don’t have the support, you would just be lost in the world,” added Bataka.
In May this year, she was one of four members of the collective who showed off their skills in France at 2022 FISE, one of the world’s most epic sporting events that brings together professionals and amateurs around the world to compete in skateboarding, rollerblading and other games.
As part of activities marking the event, Alibo spoke about skateboarding in West Africa, and also announced a collaboration with the World Skate Skateboarding, the international federation responsible for the global development of skateboarding. The collective’s main goal per itswebsite is to create a sports ecosystem that would benefit sports athletes and Ghana as a tourist destination.
When Kendrick Lamar visited Ghana for the first time this year, coinciding with the release of his album ‘Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers,’ one of the places he was spotted at was Freedom Skatepark, the sport and art hub. It is also Ghana’s [and West Africa’s] first fully operational skatepark.
The Lamar visit was a constellation of all the goodwill the park has garnered over time. It has always sparked interest; visits like the American rapper only go to validate the umbrella under which it has managed to build a global affinity for something that keeps giving. The park is a story of many parts, founded on empowering and enabling creativity, freedom, and the will to dare. In the streets of Accra, daring is a necessary dawn-to-dusk badge proudly worn by its go-getters.
The park was opened to the public in December 2021 as a space for young people to honestly and freely express themselves. Among other things, users are provided with skating gear by Surf Ghana, skate lessons, and women-only skate training.
An initiative of The Surf Ghana Collective, it was built through crowdfunding, partnerships, and backing from the late Virgil Abloh, Vans, Tony’s Chocoloney, SAF Ghana (STL-Amandi Foundation), Wonders Around The World, Space Accra, Ghanaian spatial design studio, Limbo Accra, Daily Paper, the Streetwear brand, AFD (French Development Agency), and the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
It is said to be housed in a 500-meter square space. The design of the Freedom Skatepark includes the Ghanaian Adinkra symbol ‘Fawohodie,’ representing independence, freedom, and emancipation. It also pays homage to Abloh, who supported and was involved in the development of the skatepark.
Users can access coaching programs, art workshops, a Wi-Fi café, and the country’s first skate shop.
Located in Shiashie, East Legon in Ghana’s capital, it has also become a celebrity magnet attracting the likes of Lamar, Vic Mensa, and Chance The Rapper.
“I think it definitely brings awareness to the project. Besides that, it also helps us to get sponsors. It is easier for us now to submit [proposals],” said Alibo of the phenomenon.
She also disclosed that celebrity focus has turned around the past situation of receiving only about ten responses to some 200 proposals.
The change, she disclosed to Bside, has provided the opportunity to reach out and connect with international brands compared to working with local brands who are not necessarily interested in investing in the park and the project. The percentage of local brands/companies investing in the Skatepark is very low, she added.
“So that means all of our sponsors are international brands. That is something sad. I think it is just to say that these artistes actually help us to bring awareness from international brands, international support [for us] to keep going.”
The main goal of the collective at the moment, Alibo shared, is to get local sponsors, and eventually to be “fully independent.”
One of the companies actively supporting the Surf Ghana collective is Vans, one of the world’s largest apparel, footwear and accessories companies. In December 2021, the company announced a long-term partnership with the not-for-profit organization.
Per a post online, it is part of the brand’s plans to “improve skateboarding and surfing accessibility for the local community as well as provide job opportunities in various sectors such as sports and tourism in West Africa.”
There is no denying the impact of SurfGhana – not only in sports but also in mainstream culture through collaborations with creatives like Worlasi, La Meme Gang, Nana Danso, Ahmed Partey, David Alabo, Awo Tsegah, $pacely, and Superjazzclub.
In late 2022, the collective partnered with BOILER ROOM on an event, showing how they’ve evolved over the years to include a content and production agency arm.
The thread from this interview, which included Julian Carl Mihindou, the coordinator, points to a collective not resting on its laurels despite its many achievements over the past six years.
Its list of must-achieve goals includes getting official recognition by government institutions, the needed support, and the understanding that it is an avenue to create job opportunities for young people.That, in turn, would have a big effect on convincing parents that surfing and skateboarding are viable career or life options.
“For me, the main thing is excellence in arts, sports, and culture,” said Alibo. “It’s bigger than us. It’s not just us now. It’s a movement.”
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