My name is Sirus Gahan and I’m a skateboarder, filmmaker and cinematographer. For one of my birthdays I was gifted with a small MiniDV video camera, a perfectly sized handy cam that I kept in my bag. As most of my summer days were spent skateboarding, this became my main focus, with many sessions being captured on tape. Behind the camera quickly became where I felt most comfortable, and through my passion for filming skateboarding I became interested in other areas of filmmaking.
I arrived in Tel Aviv as the summer war of 2014 was coming to an end. Newly formed charity SkatePAL were looking for skate volunteers to fly to Palestine to help with the project they had set up there. SkatePAL had established a youth project in the West Bank to help teach kids to skateboard and they needed volunteers to run sessions with the kids, assist in the building of skateparks and to bring in skateboarding equipment for the use of the children. There are no skate shops in the country and unfortunately, few citizens have the privilege of being able to cross the border to Israel. I saw the early potential SkatePAL had and realised that there was the chance to tell an incredible story, from a lesser-seen region of the world. I immediately booked my ticket.
Before crossing the checkpoints into Ramallah, the explosions from not-so-distant missiles could be heard and a siren warning us of such dangers emanated abruptly through the warm air. Having travelled pretty extensively, I thought I was ready for anything. However, this introduction was a shock to the system, and my first taste of what everyday life was like here.
My mornings in Palestine were spent exploring the streets and markets, absorbing the smells of fresh falafel and sage tea that seemed to trail through the air, enticing me around every corner. When the afternoon came around and the kids finished school, the other volunteers and I would run skate sessions at the local youth club. Here we had built a wooden mini-ramp and a multitude of other obstacles for the participants to use as they learned. Teaching skateboarding in late summer in the Middle East was something my body was not ready for. In addition to the climate, trying to teach children who only spoke Arabic (of which I know about 3 words) meant a lot of instructions were misunderstood. Thankfully, skateboarding is a language in itself, and being able to physically demonstrate how to do something is often the easiest way to teach techniques that are so reliant on body and movement, particularly when your students are so intrigued and energetic. Skateboarding was entirely new to Palestine and the excitement it created among the kids we encountered was almost palpable. A task that should have been simple, like fetching the pads from the lock-up at the youth centre, was a marathon effort, as 30 grasping hands would fly up into the air around you, trying desperately to snatch at the limited equipment, and thus securing their turn on one of the boards we had brought into the country.
In the evenings, after our sessions teaching the children had ended, the other volunteers and I would wander into the centre of whichever town we were situated in and find ourselves a shawarma to re-energise. From here, we’d scour the dusty streets, hunting for smooth surfaces and skateable, marble obstacles. The heat of the day was debilitating and although we’d try to skate, we would end up dehydrated and sunburnt which in turn would leave us too fried to complete the rest of the days’ tasks. As a result, we generally stuck to skating in the evenings.
Skateboarding was so new to the country, that going out to film tricks in the streets was often a surreal experience. In the West, skateboarding is often shunned and seen as a nuisance, but in the West Bank we would often draw crowds of 30 to 40 wide-eyed civilians, cheering and showing their support. Locals were happy to perform for the camera and would often show me a magic trick or a dance move, all of which feature in the films made during my travels.
Of all the places I’ve been lucky enough to visit, Palestine is certainly the most memorable. During my time there, the nation was politically volatile, the atmosphere on the streets was tense. Yet, the experience I had was nothing but open arms and pure good will. Seeing these kids experience the thrill of rolling just a few feet allowed me to relive the same excitement of first discovering skateboarding. What I witnessed gave me a great sense of hope for the future of the Palestinian youth.
Skateboarding is so significant to me. It has taken me to destinations all over the globe and provided me with a physical, mental and creative outlet. Being part of something that’s allowed me to work all over the world is very special. Traveling is something that I’d always longed to do, I felt like it was an inherent part of me. Skateboarding is my vessel to new worlds where I’m able to experience different places, people and cultures. I believe that it’s vital to have a wide and varied experience of the world. Collect stories and learn about global differences. Develop your understanding of the world you live in, and those that inhabit it. I believe that doing these things today are more important than ever before.