Video games are usually blamed for keeping youngsters inside the house. But a bunch of youngsters in Mumbai have taken a fancy to skateboarding, after playing the Pro Skater Tony Hawk video game. Undeterred by the fact that there's no place in the city to learn the sport, they look up videos online and meet up often to teach each other new moves and stunts.
Jimmy Hilloo, 16, is one member of this group. The HR College student got his first taste of skateboarding in Indonesia when he was nine, and was hooked. But in Mumbai he found that there were few places where he could practise the sport, without risking the ire of pedestrians and motorists alike.
Even so, he stuck on. "The sport wasn't easy to begin with as I had to get my balance and posture right, which is when most people give up. But I persevered and got my act together in twoodd years," Hilloo says.
Today, if you head out to Napean Sea Road in the evenings, you may just spot Hilloo jumping over potholes as he heads back home from college. The enthusiasm come from achieving a new high speed or discovering a new lane he'd never have found by cab.
Speed & stunts
Jehan Dhalla, 17, began skate boarding with Hilloo two years ago. The Cathedral School student now skateboards from his home on Napean Sea Road to Colaba for tuition classes.
Besides just whizzing around, exploring bylanes and discovering new ones, Dhalla likes to use his skateboard to try stunts. He's been a gymnast for 11 years, and describes the stunts he does as the BMX version of the sport. "I find these small spots in the city or on roads and do the body varial, big flip, casper, etc. Abandoned buildings are a great place to practise these," he says.
Doesn't it get risky? Hilloo says they don't mind getting injured while trying out a new stunt. "It's much like parkour on a skateboard. You're balancing on fire hydrants, jumping from ledges and swerving around lampposts.
Sometimes, on impulse, you take a turn and end up on a new road with better challenges," Hilloo says. Other times, the experiments lead to injuries, but that only means that they look for new moves or modifying existing ones to find something that works.
The skateboarding spirit
What they don't like are the accidents that happen because of bad roads and traffic, and impatient motorists. Dhalla is especially miffed with the condition of the city's roads after a particularly bad incident, when he bumped over a pothole and lost balance.
"I gashed an elbow, pulled a thigh muscle and had multiple bruises. But I walked straight up to the board and got back on immediately. It's what the unyielding spirit of the skateboarder stands for," he declares.
You can avoid such accidents with a little bit of care and some safety equipment, but minor falls are frequent and are even recommended. "You have to learn to fall mended. "You have to learn to fall right too, in a way that you don't hurt yourself," Hilloo says.
Meherzad Contractor, 16, is another youngster who fell in love with skateboarding after playing Pro Skater. He's currently working on perfecting stunts like the 180-degree revert, in which the skateboarder pauses abruptly, uses his feet to turn the board in the opposite direction and shoots off again. "Skateboarding gives you immense confidence. And to ride together is a great way to hang out with friends," he says.
Looking for alternatives city
Roads aren't the only places where you can skateboard. Adnan, 17, prefers a deserted railway station near his house to practise stunts. A resident of Mallepalli, Hyderabad, Adnan took two years to master the ollie, anti-casper, frontside pop shuvit and fakie using videos from YouTube. "There's no skateboarding park, so I go to the deserted lakdi ka pul railway station when I want to practise stunts. Else, I skate on roads late at night," he says.
Adnan believes he's become fearless and more agile since he took up the sport. His first experience on a skating ramp was in Qatar, when he took about two hours and three falls to get the posture and balance just right. "You can land stunts only with immense determination and fortitude. But once you've nailed it, the feeling of achievement is inexplicable," he adds.
These teens rue the fact that the sport isn't very popular. They're also disheartened by the lack of skate parks, and the reactions they get from pedestrians and motorists. "Everyone thinks we're encroaching on their space. But we routinely perform stunts in public places so that people get to know about the sport," says Roshni Sukhlecha, 14, a student of JB Petit High School.
None of this has, however, reduced their enthusiasm for the sport and they believe that with the right mix of con fidence, courage and focus, the sport becomes as easy as walking. "You feel the wind in your face and it's like you're speed floating on the road. It's the per fect stress buster, and a great activi ty to focus your energy on," Hilloo says.