Sarawak Skateboarding Association upping their game for Olympics

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Handout photo from SKA shows Firdaus during training at Mont Kiara Skatepark I in Kuala Lumpur.

CHATTING with hardcore skateboard enthusiast Azizan Alli reminded me of my lower secondary school days in the 1990s.

Talking about skateboarding, I used to associate it with two of the most popular lifestyle T-shirt brands at the time: Maui & Sons and Ocean Pacific (OP).

Back then, skateboarding had already made its presence in Kuching. I remember the small brick-inlaid square between the two council libraries behind Wisma Hopoh (where Majma Mall stands now) where a few teenage boys, clad in their OP and Maui & Sons’ tees and baggy jeans, would perform their flips, slides, grinds and the other usual stunts.

“Those were the days. We felt so cool in our OPs and Maui & Sons – those who had more money would sport their Airwalks,” said Azizan, the technical coordinator for Sarawak Skateboarding Association (SKA) when met by thesundaypost recently.

The 44-year-old was one of those ‘teenage skaters’ in the 1990s, and is still active today.

Moreover, all his four sons are also involved in the sport: Muhammad Rifqi, 20; Muhammad Rafi’uddin, 19; Muhammad Ruzain, 16; and Muhammad Raqeeb, 13.

However, Azizan actually went out to meet me to gush about an exciting news about the latest development of Sarawak skateboarding: the selection of two Sarawakians for the Paris Olympics 2024 qualifier in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

“I get our chairman to talk to you,” he said.

Zainul (left) and Firdaus make the cut for the Paris Olympics 2024 qualifier in Dubai.

Eyeing Paris 2024

In his remarks, SKA co-founder and chairman Mohammad Farouk Mohamad Tufail said it was encouraging to see Bintulu brothers, Zainul Mutaqien Marzuki and Mohd Nur Firdaus Marzuki, make the cut for the Dubai outing.

“They represent SKA-SSC (Sarawak Sports Corporation) mission of identifying the level of skills of Sarawak skateboarding athletes for international competitions.

“I know that this (Dubai outing) is not the first world-level event for the brothers. They have been sent by the SKA to several tournaments before.”

Zainul, 32, and Firdaus, 28, had represented SKA in many major annual competitions in the Czech Republic and China, and also qualified for both the Asian Games in 2018 and the SEA Games in 2019.

Now, the brothers are set to go all out in the World Skateboarding Tour Dubai Park and Street 2024, currently running until this March 10. The duo and another skateboarder from Kuala Lumpur, Ahmad Adlan Anaqi Farazi, are accompanied by Coach Mohd Idzham Abdul Rahman from Nusa Skateboarding Club.

Deputy Minister I for Youth, Sports and Entrepreneur Development Sarawak Dato Gerald Rentap Jabu (second right) accepting a memento from Mohammad Farouk during a recent courtesy call, with Clifton (right) and Azizan and looking on.

The pro-tour UAE event represents the last qualification event in the Phase 1 for both ‘Park’ and ‘Street’ skateboarding categories, ahead of the 33rd Summer Olympic Games to be taking place in Paris, this July 26 to Aug 11.

Mohammad Farouk pointed out: “We, at SKA, have never stopped doing our best in developing our homegrown talents since 2016, even with Sarawak not having the world-standard facilities.

“We have been going to and from Peninsular Malaysia many times to familiarise our skateboarders with the skatepark that is used in international tournaments.

“We believe that Zainul and Firdaus will perform their best.”

Coach Mohd Idzham is accompanying the Malaysian team for the Dubai outing.

Humble beginning

Skateboarding is among a few sports prioritising freestyle creativity, which can be a challenge, albeit a fun and interesting one.

The Jakarta edition in 2018 marked the debut of skateboarding in the Asian Games, but the interest heightened after it was staged as a competitive sport for the first time in the Olympics in Tokyo in 2021.

Year 2018 also marked the establishment of the SKA as the first skateboarding association registered with the Youth and Sports Ministry (KBS), representing Sarawak.

However, the journey had started earlier.

It began in 2016 as Civic Centre Skateboarding Club (Ciska), a small Kuching-based club comprising a few pioneers from the early days of the skateboarding scene in Sarawak.

“Both SKA and Ciska are actually affiliated with each other, with Ciska now being chaired by the successors, and its predecessors taking on their new roles in the SKA,” said SKA vice-chairman Clifton Dile.

SKA is also a state associated member of the Malaysia Skate Federation (MYSkate), in parallel with the national sports body as well as the international parent body, World Skate – the governing body for skateboarding and roller sports, officially recognised by the International Olympic Committee.

Having said this, Clifton also stressed about teamwork being SKA’s core practice.

“Skateboarding and its community come first.”

‘Never forgetting their roots’

Azizan chimed in, stressing that he and every SKA member never forgot their roots.

“Remember I told you about our days of skateboarding at the council libraries?

“We started very small, but as the years went by, we had gathered more followers and begun holding competitions, which would either take place at the Kuching Waterfront or Kuching Civic Centre.”

Azizan said back then, the support was very limited.

“There was no individual set-up because the high prices of gears. It was all about team set-up back then to offset cost. For a team, it was about RM500 or less; for a pro set-up, it was at least RM600,” he recalled.

“Now with many good suppliers with good competitive offerings, RM350 can decently give you a complete set: the deck (board), the wheels, the trucks and the bearings, and also the grip tape.”

Support and endorsements had been coming in for Sarawak skateboarding, but many a time the association had to make do without any substantial backing.

Team SKA with skaters from all over Sarawak in a group photo, taken during a competition in Kuching.

“Still, we moved ahead,” said Azizan.

He also singled out a name that had been instrumental in the development of Sarawak skateboarding – ‘Rupert Rage’.

“Many kids of the 1990s would remember the popularity of Rupert Rage, which was operating at Kuching Plaza (now-defunct mall located next to Merdeka Palace Hotel and Suites, at McDougall Road). It was where we could get our hands on the latest OPs and Maui & Sons.

“It was also the place to go to buy skateboarding stuff.”

Rupert Rage still sells the gears these days, but now, it is operating at Wisma Satok in Kuching.

“All my sons, and many other young skateboarders, have been sponsored by Rupert Rage,” Azizan added.

Flagship state-level league

A highlight of SKA’s fiscal year is the Sarawak Skateboarding League (SSL), of which the first competition was set up in 2017 during the Ciska days.

Initially held as a biennial event held in Kuching, the objective was to provide exposure to the local skateboarders so as to have their skills polished.

Eventually, the localised league later became a selection programme to select Sarawak skateboarders meant for major tournaments.

“We were active throughout the years, but unfortunately, Covid-19 struck.

“There were no events being held at all over the past several years.

“In 2022, there were no competitions, but we did do our ‘Go Skateboarding Day’ and a few ‘Skate Fun Games’,” said Azizan.

In 2023, the SKA revived the SSL, starting with the first selection in Kuching in August.

“It was the comeback of SSL post-Covid-19,” he added.

“The first leg was in Kuching, in mid-August 2023. It kicked off the league at major division level, registering a total of 16 participants.

“My son, Rafi’uddin, was the Kuching selection winner, while my youngest Raqeeb placed fourth,” said Azizan.

The next outing was in Sibu, held in October, where SKA collaborated with the SSA and Sibu Active Youth Space.

The hosting team’s skateboarder Luqman Hakim Ishak won this round, beating the other 11 contestants.

It was in this leg when the SSC announced the inclusion of skateboarding under Sarawak sports development programme, in cooperation with SKA.

Five-year-old Grayson Chung being trained by Mohamad Hamzah Mohd Margrebbi from the Black Brigade Skateboard Academy, who is also the SSC coach for the state skateboarding development programme.

“This collaboration is meant to support the organisation of the league on an annual basis.

“The primary objective is to standardise the marking system and format for any competition, in line with those used in international events,” said Azizan.

The third stage of the league was staged in Miri last November.

Run in collaboration with the SSC and Miri Skateboarding, this leg had Cyril Clyde Frias Dan named as the winner.

Yesterday, the league tour conducted its last stop at the Taman Millennium Skatepark in Bintulu, where the winner was Carlson Lim.

The SSL grand championship would be staged in Kuching, after the 21st Malaysia Games (Sukma) in Sarawak, scheduled this August.

“The Top 3 contestants of each division stage will exhibit their best in the grand finals, which we plan to hold at Sarawak Indoor Stadium.

“In line with our aim of making this sport inclusive, there will also be the SSC Cup Open Championship, where the Top 6 of the SSL grand championship will slug it out with contestants from outside Sarawak,” said Azizan.

Planning

When asked about involvement in Sukma, Azizan said the SKA had always regarded it as a plan in view of many of its skateboarders being in the junior age, namely under 21.

“Sukma is still our ambition, despite our skateboarders having competed in national and international competitions. Getting Sukma participation is in line with our grassroots development.”

However, this would have to wait for the availability of a full-specification obstacle ground in Sarawak, said Azizan.

“This facility would have the basic specifications to make it of Asian championship level, with mobile equipment and fixtures being able to be assembled, disassembled and reassembled for every event.

“For now, there is no facility in Sarawak that has that specific capacity. The few ones that we do have combine the usage for skateboarding, rollerblading and BMX (freestyle bicycle motocross).

“The initial plan was to have it ready this year, but then the state stadium had been allocated to accommodate Sukma.

“Plus, we would need additional funding,” said Azizan, adding that once ready, the skatepark would be SKA’s permanent site for athletes’ training.

According to Azizan, the SKA is currently working with the SSC in drafting the layout of the facility that would have the specifications and the exact measurements for skateboarding.

“We do not have the set timeline yet, but we are working on it.

“We are optimistic; after all, our efforts all these years have culminated into transforming skateboarding in Sarawak from an outlier into a sport that has gained recognition.

“It has not been an easy journey, but the experience and accomplishments make it all worthwhile,” he said.

Adding on to Azizan’s remarks, Mohammad Farouk expressed hope for the Sarawak government to take note of the association’s aspirations and consider its plea for the development of a world-class skatepark.

“It is quite disheartening to know that almost RM2.5 million had been spent on building sub-standard skateparks in Sibu and Kuching, as they were built by those not familiar with the real and proper setting-up for this type of facility.

“I mean, the same amount of money could instead have been spent on a world-championship-standard skatepark built by certified professionals.

“Investing in a state-of-the-art skatepark would not only benefit the athletes but also contribute to the overall development of our youths.

“Today’s skateboarding culture has changed compared to its street culture origins – it is now more towards promoting an active lifestyle, instilling discipline in the young participants, and fostering a deeper sense of community,” said the 48-year-old, who has been an active skateboarder since his teenage days.

Moreover, Mohammad Farouk also stressed that having a world-class skatepark would not only serve as a testament to Sarawak’s commitment to the growth of this sport, but also provide the homegrown talents with the necessary resources for them to reach the highest level of their potential.

“It is imperative that our future potential athletes have access to top-notch training facilities that adhere to international standards. With access to such exceptional facilities, our skateboarders would be adequately prepared to compete in any international competition.”

The SKA chairman also regarded the provision of these facilities as ‘investment for their future, further empowering them to become ambassadors of Sarawak on the international stage’.

“At the same time, a world-standard skatepark could become a sports tourism attraction, and thus, Sarawak could host international events such as the Asian qualifiers for the Olympics, Street League Skateboarding, and Vans Park Series – just to name a few.

“For this reason, on behalf of the skateboarding community, we urge the Sarawak government to seriously consider our plea and recognise the immense potential that lies within our skateboarding community.

“Together, let us create an environment that nurtures and supports our young athletes, propelling them towards greatness,” he added.