Friday evening at Hledan overpass is skate night. Amid the whirr of traffic, skateboarders clatter down makeshift ramps, competing for space with rollerbladers.
This crowded corner of Yangon has been the de facto home of skateboarding since the city’s last skate parks – dilapidated, hastily built structures – fell victim to development.
But now, after years of making do with little more than pavements, Yangon skaters are set to have a new home: their first skate park built to international standards.
Global skating organization Make Life Skate Life has secured permission to build a 300-square meter park at Mya Lay Yone Kyaung Road Sports Field in Kamaryut Township.
Construction is scheduled to get underway in November.
For the dozens of skaters in Yangon, it can’t come quickly enough.
“They’re very excited,” said Ali Drummond, a British skater who helped secure permission for the build from the Yangon City Development Committee.
He’s been working with Myanmar’s burgeoning skating community since he first visited the country in 2009.
Back then, it was a tiny group of young people learning what they could from sluggish internet connections. “It was a very isolated community,” said Drummond.
Having never heard the official names for tricks, they invented their own. An “ollie”, one of the most common maneuvers in which the skateboarder pops off the board momentarily, became a “dolphin”.
“Because of how a dolphin jumps out of the water,” Drummond said.
Since then, the community has grown and evolved amid growing exposure to the outside world – and an influx of expat skaters.
There are small pockets of skaters in cities like Mandalay and Pyin Oo Lwin but the biggest group, around 100, is based in Yangon.
Most congregate under the Hledan overpass. Others meet at the lower end of Sule Pagoda Road, where the newly paved tarmac makes for a decent surface.
“The main challenge of skateboarding in Yangon is the lack of facilities and rough pavement,” said Jon Chaconas, Director of Operations at Make Life Skate Life.
The new concrete park will be built by professionals from Europe and the US in collaboration with local skaters, Chaconas said in an email.
Make Life Skate Life is hoping to raise more than $19,000 to fund the entire construction through crowd-funding website Indiegogo.com. The group is confident that it will hit the funding goal.
If it sounds like the project was easy, it wasn’t. The location – a small, triangular plot at the sports field – wasn’t their first choice.
“We proposed lots of different locations but they were all denied [by YCDC],” Drummond said. The authorities deemed one area unsafe, he said, and public parks (as opposed to sports fields) were out of the question because of a large-scale relandscaping project.
But Drummond will work with what was given.
“We can make good use of the space,” he added. “It’s not ideal but we can turn it into something great.”