Ghana: The woman behind Ghana’s first skatepark
When Sandy Alibo visited in 2015, she connected with Accra’s small but vibrant surf and skate community. All he had to do was move there and help develop the sport in the country.
When Sandy Alibo arrived in Ghana, she was only there on vacation. But the lively and dynamic surf and skate scene she discovered made her stay. And since the uprooting of her life in France, she has endeavored to cultivate board sports in the region.
Alibo’s use of social media connected the dispersed skating scene and encouraged a massive increase in new participants, especially young girls. The increased interest in the sport has made it more relevant to have a safe space to accommodate amateur and experienced skaters. The request would set Alibo on his biggest career ambition yet: to build Ghana’s first skatepark.
Thanks to a strong online crowdfunding project and the backing of renowned fashion designer Virgil Abloh, Ghana has seen the Freedom Skatepark in the capital Accra completed by the end of 2021. The 500m² facility opened the door to more Ghanaian skaters not only to find the sport but also to thrive in it.
Neither surfing nor skating was organized in Ghana and the country’s small but growing board community went largely unnoticed as board sports are considered to be predominantly white.
Alibo, an avid skater and surfer, first visited in November 2015. She had heard that Accra was a good place to surf in Africa and quickly found and connected with the vibrant surf scene and skating.
“I was really impressed and surprised. I was really happy because when you are in France, people brainwash you about what Africa looks like and what Ghana looks like. When I arrived , i totally realized the place is amazing and i felt it was one of the best experiences of my life.As a black man, as a caribbean and as a person who loves sports, I was excited to discover Ghana and see another [skating] community that was doing a lot of things, but invisible,” she says.
A slow life
The experience changed the trajectory of Alibo’s life. She left a comfortable job and a comfortable life in France and moved to Ghana in early 2016, a decision she made without hesitation.
“When I left I realized I had to go back. I met some amazing people here. Ghana is joy and it’s so peaceful. It’s a slow life that everyone deserves,” says Alibo. “When I was in France I worked more from a business perspective and here I work from a social impact perspective – I work on giving back to society rather than return on investment. I learned so many things about myself and what I like, and that’s priceless. I think Ghana has shown me another way to live and another way to rediscover myself. That’s why I decided to come back.
Once settled, one of the first things she did was set up the Surf Ghana Instagram account. It would become an aggregator of the skate and surf community, the connective tissue between skaters and surfers in Accra and across the country. The account has garnered a lot of attention and currently has over 23,000 followers. Because of this, more and more Ghanaians who had never been exposed to board sports wanted to join, but could not afford it.
Alibo will go back and forth between France and Ghana to collect equipment for the children and, very quickly, Surf Ghana is no more than an Instagram account, it becomes a non-governmental organization and the first skate club in the country. . Building on her professional experience as a sports brand manager, Alibo started organizing events, festivals, skateboard demos and surf/skate lessons. She also organized skating trips and invited skaters from different parts of the country. All of these efforts were in the name of bringing to light people who have been overlooked in terms of representation and financial support in sport.
“I just noticed the lack of representation and how you could be in Ghana and not see a lot of Ghanaians surfing. I wanted to change that. We had to change the mentality of people and change the perception to create a culture of surfing and skateboarding .for Ghanaians.”
As a woman, it was important for Alibo to focus and provide extra support for girls to give them an easy entry point into the sport. She created the Skate Gal Club in 2019 to address and correct the gender gap that exists locally and globally. When she started the club, there were about 60 girls. That number has grown to around 200. On Thursdays, the Freedom Skatepark is closed for women-only skate sessions, where the girls have time to practice without the intimidating presence of the guys.
“Again, there was a lack of representation. If you don’t see black women skating, then naturally a lot of them feel like it’s something they shouldn’t be doing. Which I’ve noticed is that when you create a safe space where they see how it works, it’s going to encourage them. In six years with this project, a lot of boys have come because it’s a male-dominated sport, so the girls were shy.
“But the day I did a ladies-only session, all the girls came. I understand and recognize that you need the ladies-only sessions to give them the confidence that they can do it and to fight their fears. The beautiful thing is that most of them can skate and compete with men, so now when they skate, they don’t skate alone, and they skate with a group.”
Skating was experiencing a massive increase in participation, but as it is a niche sport, there were no dedicated facilities for children. Many skaters trained in dirty and dangerous places. They were considered a nuisance and in places where they were allowed to skate, “they were just tolerated”, as Alibo puts it. This made getting started particularly difficult for the children and it became increasingly clear that there was a need for a skatepark.
“We started talking about it when we saw the need to have safe spaces. It was getting frustrating to hold events in places that we don’t own. It took perspective and vision, but we knew that we could do it.”
Involve the community
Alibo started writing proposals to sponsors in 2017. She found land and the following year started launching the project. It funded online and received support from Abloh and locally present brands such as Space Accra, Tony’s Chocolonely, Wonders Around the World, Vans, French Development Agency and others. Surf Ghana also did fashion collaborations with Abloh’s Off-White label and Daily Paper, which helped raise funds to build the premises and pay for supplies.
It took 24 days to build Freedom Park at a cost of around R930,000. The park was designed in partnership with Accra-based architecture and design studio Limbo, who also provided Alibo and his team with a blueprint for future skateparks. And Wonders Around the World brought in volunteers from around the world to help build the skatepark and run a month-long workshop.
“We did exactly what we planned and developed other spaces like the community garden, the Wi-Fi Café and the skate shop. We wanted to build a skate park and then work with the community on other projects around that. space. We didn’t want to build everything and have people use the space, we wanted to involve the community in the process of creating and developing the space. We want to create a virtuous ecosystem where there is no is not just about developing sports or athletes but also creating job opportunities in Accra – in coaching, journalism, photography and film making through sport Having this skatepark and the people involved will create naturally jobs and will benefit young people.
Since its completion, the skatepark has become a popular tourist spot. It has received a lot of media attention and attracts visitors from all over the world, including internationally renowned musicians. Kendrick Lamar and Chance the rapper. Lamar, the Grammy Award-winning rapper and winner of the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Music, shot part of his Spotify documentary in the skatepark during his visit to Ghana in May.
The skatepark with its Wi-Fi cafe and skate shop has not only given young Ghanaians in the area an outlet through skating, it has also provided job opportunities. With this momentum, Alibo hopes Ghana will produce world-class skaters who will compete on the world stage.
“The skatepark opened more dialogue between the institutions and we were able to create a federative structure. In the future, the federation will help us to participate in competitions abroad, whether in Africa, Europe or the States We can develop to international athletes who can compete in the [Olympic] Games to show what Ghanaians can do. Even though it’s a new sport, the children are really good and they learn very quickly. As soon as you have sports infrastructure, people will train and get better and that will put Ghana on the map.”