All hands on deck: Beirut’s first public skatepark breathes life into ravaged city

Local organizations will help maintain and sustain the park. (Supplied)
1 / 2
In this picture, taken on Thursday Jul.29, local skater Mike Richard is pictured holding his skateboard alongside Lebanese kids during a skateboarding lesson. (Supplied/Samantha Robison)
All hands on deck: Beirut’s first public skatepark breathes life into ravaged city
2 / 2
This image shows a volunteer working on the construction site in the lead up to its completion. (Supplied/Samantha Robison)
Short Url
Updated 03 August 2021

All hands on deck: Beirut’s first public skatepark breathes life into ravaged city

Local organizations will help maintain and sustain the park. (Supplied)
  • Twelve months ago, an explosion in Beirut’s port rocked the capital. Over 200 people were killed after a warehouse inadequately housing highly flammable chemicals caught fire

DUBAI: Dany Sultan and Mike Richard have spent most of their adult life on skateboards.
While both young men embraced skating from a relatively young age, Lebanon has not always accepted them back. Up until now, the small Mediterranean country lacked a place to kickflip and grind; a place of inclusivity where people from different backgrounds could come together and work on their craft.
Instead, Sultan, 25 and Richard, 19, started most of their morning sessions scouting urban landscapes and public spaces in and around Beirut.
“We’d street skate anyplace that had a ledge, stairs or handrails,” Richard told Arab News.
For him and street skaters alike, run-ins with residents and security guards were common. Given the lack of a safe haven to skate, their discipline was viewed as a public nuisance.
“We’ve had a couple of issues with security guards and police,” Richard said, adding that he, along with some friends, were briefly detained late last year.
But being hard-wired with a high tolerance for fear and a sense of adventure helped them look past the altercations.
“For years we have reached out to municipalities to try and convince them to support (us) but we were always met with indifference and even resistance,” Sultan said.
Little did any of them know that a group of volunteers and donors would soon pave the way for the country’s first community skatepark in the heart of Beirut: Snoubar (Pine) Skatepark.




Local and foreign skaters, builders and volunteers worked on the construction site that typically included 20-25 people every day. (Supplied/Samantha Robison)


Twelve months ago, an explosion in Beirut’s port rocked the capital. Over 200 people were killed after a warehouse inadequately housing highly flammable chemicals caught fire.
As the tragedy made rounds across the globe, it caught the attention of INGO Make Life Skate Life (MLSL).
“My friend Arne Hillerns, who runs MLSL, reached out after seeing the blast on the news back in Brussels,” Esther Chang, a yoga instructor currently based in Beirut, told Arab News.

She, along with Arne and a local skater named Aida Mukharesh, put together a relief fund to support the local skaters with anything from hospital bills to rebuilding doors and windows, to even supporting a local skater’s tuition for a few semesters at university.
After also giving away over 80 skateboards with the support of skaters around the world, only one thing was left to do: Build an actual skatepark.
“There was still this dream of building a skatepark that the locals have had for decades,” Chang said.
Horsh Beirut, the Lebanese capital’s largest park and pine forest, would serve as the optimal location.




"Skateboarding is a sport that creates a strong communal sense," Sultan told Arab News. (Supplied/Samantha Robison)


“We pitched the idea to Beirut’s municipality —  a free-of-charge and public skatepark in Beirut for youth — asked for some land, and to our surprise, they offered it to us,” Chang said.

To turn the dream into reality, a massive crowdfunding campaign was launched alongside donations from corporate and individual sponsors.

Axel A., a visual artist based in Dubai, auctioned off a customized skateboard. Decathlon, the French sports retailer, committed thousands of dollars.

“There was funding from a variety of sources including individuals as well as corporate sponsors such as the Decathlon Foundation, Air France and CHPO,” Samantha Robison, MLSL’s creative director, told Arab News.

The nonprofit has previously completed sustainable skateparks in India, Bolivia, Jordan, Myanmar, Ethiopia, Nepal, Morocco and Iraq with free on-site skateboarding, safety equipment loan systems and lessons with partner organizations.

“Local NGO arcenciel will help maintain and sustain the park while another NGO, Just Childhood, will create a program for free skateboarding lessons for the local youth in the neighboring Shatila Palestinian refugee camp,” Chang added.




Since 2013, MLSL has constructed 10 skateparks that have positively impacted the lives of thousands. (Supplied/Samantha Robison)

“When Arne from MLSL contacted us to help build the first public, free skatepark in Beirut we were so excited to be part of it,” Jean-Philippe Rode, a skateboarder and product manager for Decathlon Skateboarding in France, told Arab News.

After gaining the financial support of the Decathlon Foundation, which forked out €50,000 ($59,352) in June, volunteers from across the world traveled to Beirut to take part in the project, coming from as far as Colombia, the US and Costa Rica.

The park was designed and constructed through the help of over 50 volunteers and local skaters alongside professional skatepark builders, who did “extremely taxing physical labor in the blazing hot sun, through stomach illnesses, dehydration and fatigue,” Robison and Chang noted.

“They have such an admirable dedication to spreading the love of skateboarding and helping build the skate community here in Lebanon,” Robison added.

One such volunteer was Dave Eassa, a lifelong skateboarder, visual artist and cultural worker from Baltimore in the US.

While serving as an artist in residence at Al-Raseef 153, a new arts space that is a part of the 7Hills skatepark and organization in Amman, Jordan, Eassa caught wind of the project during a conversation with 7Hills’ director.

“After speaking with Mohammed Zakaria (director of 7Hills) and German skater Matze, I bought a plane ticket at the last minute and headed to Beirut for 8 days to help with whatever I could,” Eassa said. 

Matze, the skaters said, was the driving force behind the project. "The local skaters with the help of the fabulous Matze, who managed the project, brought us all to Lebanon," Robison said. 

Skateboarding, Chang explained, has many intrinsic qualities beyond the sport itself. It has come a long way, breaking out of the fringes where it was regarded as counter-cultural, and propelling itself into the limelight by making its debut at the Tokyo Olympic Games this summer.

The skatepark, she said, will give youths a space to “gather, share ideas, and support each other in something they all have in common, skateboarding. No matter their age, gender, religion, they come together as skaters.”

Officially completed on Thursday, the park will give skaters like Sultan and Richard a place to safely spin down ramps and loop around a quarter pipe, away from any harassment.

The sense of community fostered during the build has been unmatched, the skaters said.

“It is truly a beautiful thing to see so many people coming together to volunteer their expertise, time and energy toward spreading the love of skateboarding,” Eassa said. 

“Skateboarding has saved so many of us, giving us purpose in our lives, and created lifelong bonds and friendships across the globe so naturally it makes sense that so many of us wanted to give back to the existing and future generations of Lebanese skateboarders,” he added.

For the past year, Lebanon has faced a bevy of social, political and economic problems. Skyrocketing unemployment, inflation and rising food insecurity are only the tip of the crisis.

“For many, skateboarding represents a positive outlet of energy and emotions, which proves to be priceless in such a troubled and distressed country. In truly trying times, it is such an important outlet, a place to leave all the issues of the world behind even just for a little.” Eassa said.

“In the midst of so much chaos, people came together to create something beautiful and for one another,” Chang, who has been living in Beirut for over two years, said.

Yet Rode, like Eassa and the rest of the crew, will be back.

“There is no way you work on a skatepark and don’t skate it, so we’ll have to come back soon,” the 45-year-old skating aficionado said.


Russian crew return to Earth after filming first movie in space

Russian crew return to Earth after filming first movie in space
Updated 55 min 45 sec ago

Russian crew return to Earth after filming first movie in space

Russian crew return to Earth after filming first movie in space
  • The filmmakers blasted off from the Russia-leased Baikonur Cosmodrome in ex-Soviet Kazakhstan earlier this month

MOSCOW: A Russian actress and a film director returned to Earth Sunday after spending 12 days on the International Space Station (ISS) shooting scenes for the first movie in orbit.
Yulia Peresild and Klim Shipenko landed as scheduled on Kazakhstan’s steppe at 0436 GMT, according to footage broadcast live by the Russian space agency.
They were ferried back to terra firma by cosmonaut Oleg Novitsky, who had been on the space station for the past six months.
“The descent vehicle of the crewed spacecraft Soyuz MS-18 is standing upright and is secure. The crew are feeling good!” Russian space agency Roscosmos tweeted.
The filmmakers had blasted off from the Russia-leased Baikonur Cosmodrome in ex-Soviet Kazakhstan earlier this month, traveling to the ISS with veteran cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov to film scenes for “The Challenge.”
If the project stays on track, the Russian crew will beat a Hollywood project announced last year by “Mission Impossible” star Tom Cruise together with NASA and Elon Musk’s SpaceX.
The movie’s plot, which has been mostly kept under wraps along with its budget, centers around a surgeon who is dispatched to the ISS to save a cosmonaut.
Shkaplerov, 49, along with the two Russian cosmonauts who were already aboard the ISS are said to have cameo roles in the film.
The mission was not without small hitches.
As the film crew docked at the ISS earlier this month, Shkaplerov had to switch to manual control.
And when Russian flight controllers on Friday conducted a test on the Soyuz MS-18 spacecraft the ship’s thruster fired unexpectedly and destabilized the ISS for 30 minutes, a NASA spokesman told the Russian news agency TASS.
But the spokesman confirmed their departure would go ahead as scheduled.
Their landing, which was documented by a film crew, will also feature in the movie, Konstantin Ernst, the head of the Kremlin-friendly Channel One TV network and a co-producer of “The Challenge,” said.
The mission will add to a long list of firsts for Russia’s space industry.
The Soviets launched the first satellite Sputnik, and sent into orbit the first animal, a dog named Laika, the first man, Yuri Gagarin and the first woman, Valentina Tereshkova.
But compared with the Soviet era, modern Russia has struggled to innovate and its space industry is fighting to secure state funding with the Kremlin prioritising military spending.
Its space agency is still reliant on Soviet-designed technology and has faced a number of setbacks, including corruption scandals and botched launches.
Russia is also falling behind in the global space race, facing tough competition from the United States and China, with Beijing showing growing ambitions in the industry.
Russia’s Roscosmos was also dealt a blow after SpaceX last year successfully delivered astronauts to the ISS, ending Moscow’s monopoly for journeys to the orbital station.
In a bid to spruce up its image and diversify its revenue, Russia’s space program revealed this year that it will be reviving its tourism plan to ferry fee-paying adventurers to the ISS.
After a decade-long pause, Russia will send two Japanese tourists — including billionaire Yusaku Maezawa — to the ISS in December, capping a year that has been a milestone for amateur space travel.


German couple take refuge on boat as volcano threatens their Spanish home

German couple take refuge on boat as volcano threatens their Spanish home
Updated 15 October 2021

German couple take refuge on boat as volcano threatens their Spanish home

German couple take refuge on boat as volcano threatens their Spanish home
  • Doelz, 66, and Rehm, 49, who are from Germany, had been trying to sell the boat to save money
  • "Luckily we still had the boat. ... And since then we have been living on this boat," said Doelz

LA PALMA: Juergen Doelz and his girlfriend Jacqueline Rehm were in the process of selling their small sailboat on the Spanish island of La Palma when the Cumbre Vieja volcano erupted, forcing them to flee their dream home and move to the boat.
Doelz, 66, and Rehm, 49, who are from Germany, had been trying to sell the boat to save money after she lost her job at a car rental company due to the coronavirus pandemic.
On Sept. 19, when the volcano starting spewing red-hot lava just 4 km (2-1/2 miles) from their home in Todoque, the couple had just returned from a trip with a potential buyer. But the sale fell through as the yacht was “not sporty enough,” Doelz told Reuters on the boat, moored in Tazacorte port.
A few hours later, they were ordered to evacuate their rented house with its vineyard and terrace with a sea view and had to leave behind most of their belongings.
“Luckily we still had the boat. ... And since then we have been living on this boat. It’s small, but it’s OK,” said Doelz, who is retired.
A new vent spewed gas at the southeastern side of the main vent on Friday, said the Canary Islands Volcanology Institute.
“What the volcano is leaving behind is a desolate scene for many families, for the island in general because it has a very direct impact on the island’s economy. If strong action is not taken people will have a bad time,” Civil Guard officer Raul Campillo told Reuters.
Streams of lava have laid waste to more than 600 hectares (1,480 acres) of land and destroyed about 1,600 buildings on La Palma. About 6,000 people have been evacuated from their homes on the island, which has about 83,000 inhabitants.
“We moved here (La Palma) two and a half years ago and after half a year we found our dream house. ... To lose that after two years, it’s hard,” Doelz said.
Although the lava has not yet engulfed their home they believe it’s just a matter of time after the flow destroyed their Swiss neighbors’ place and as the eruption is showing no signs of abating.
“We’ll stay on the boat as long as we don’t know what to do next. Shall we stay here or shall we maybe go to another island, like Tenerife? No idea, I don’t know. It’s written in the stars,” Rehm explained.


Iranian man sentenced to be blinded after fight costs neighbor an eye

The use of blinding in the Iranian justice system has a relatively short history. It was first employed in 2008 when a defendant was handed the punishment for committing an acid attack. (Reuters/File Photo)
The use of blinding in the Iranian justice system has a relatively short history. It was first employed in 2008 when a defendant was handed the punishment for committing an acid attack. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 14 October 2021

Iranian man sentenced to be blinded after fight costs neighbor an eye

The use of blinding in the Iranian justice system has a relatively short history. It was first employed in 2008 when a defendant was handed the punishment for committing an acid attack. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • It is unclear whether the 45-year-old man will lose both eyes or just one
  • Blinding is a relatively rare form of punishment in Iran, but it has been carried out intermittently since 2008

LONDON: An Iranian court sentenced a man to be blinded as punishment for leaving his neighbor without the use of one eye following a fight. 

The 45-year-old man, whose name has not been reported, was sentenced on the basis of a legal principle based on retributive justice.

The 2018 brawl took place in Fashan, an area outside of Tehran province, between the guilty party and his 40-year-old neighbor. The victim complained to a Tehran court after he lost vision in one eye. 

Reports by IranWire did not specify whether the man would lose both eyes or just one as punishment.

The use of blinding in the Iranian justice system has a relatively short history. It was first employed in 2008 when a defendant was handed the punishment for committing an acid attack. The victim in that case pardoned the attacker at the last minute. 

But an acid attacker in 2015 had his eye gouged out by Iranian doctors. A year later, another man was given the same penalty because he threw corrosive substances in his 4-year-old niece’s eye, blinding her. 

Post-revolutionary Iran has long been accused by rights groups, along with regional and international governments, of employing cruel punishments to maintain public order.  

Last year, there was an uproar when news emerged that Tehran was planning to remove four fingers from the right hand of four men accused and convicted of robbery following flawed trials.

Rights group Amnesty International said at the time: “Carrying out such unspeakably inhumane punishments is not justice and underlines the cruelty of Iran’s criminal justice system.”


Greenpeace sounds alarm over animal farming in Spain

Greenpeace sounds alarm over animal farming in Spain
Updated 14 October 2021

Greenpeace sounds alarm over animal farming in Spain

Greenpeace sounds alarm over animal farming in Spain
  • The number of farm animals raised in Spain has jumped by more than a third since 2015 to around 560 million in 2020
  • Three-quarters of Spain's water tables have seen pollution from nitrates increase between 2016 and 2019

MADRID: The “uncontrolled” growth of industrial farming of livestock and poultry in Spain is causing water pollution from nitrates to soar, Greenpeace warned in a new report on Thursday.
The number of farm animals raised in Spain has jumped by more than a third since 2015 to around 560 million in 2020, it said in the report entitled “Mega-farms, poison for rural Spain.”
This “excessive and uncontrolled expansion of industrial animal farming” has had a “serious impact on water pollution from nitrates,” it said.
Three-quarters of Spain’s water tables have seen pollution from nitrates increase between 2016 and 2019, the report said citing Spanish government figures.
Nearly 29 percent of the country’s water tables had more than the amount of nitrate considered safe for drinking, according to a survey carried out by Greenpeace across Spain between April and September.
The environmental group said the government was not doing enough.
It pointed out that the amount of land deemed an “area vulnerable to nitrates” has risen to 12 million hectares in 2021, or 24 percent of Spain’s land mass, from around eight million hectares a decade ago, yet industrial farming has continued to grow.
“It is paradoxical to declare more and more areas vulnerable to nitrates,” but at the same time allow a “disproportionate rise” in the number of livestock on farms, Greenpeace said.
Pollution from hundreds of intensive pig farms played a major role in the collapse of one of Europe’s largest saltwater lagoons, the Mar Menor in Spain’s southeast, according to a media investigation published earlier this week.
Scientists blamed decades of nitrate-laden runoffs for triggering vast blooms of algae that had depleted the water of the lagoon of oxygen, leaving fish suffocating underwater.
Two environmental groups submitted a formal complaint in early October to the European Union over Spain’s failure to protect the lagoon.


Prince William: Before traveling to space, save the planet

Prince William: Before traveling to space, save the planet
Updated 14 October 2021

Prince William: Before traveling to space, save the planet

Prince William: Before traveling to space, save the planet
  • “We need some of the world’s greatest brains and minds fixed on trying to repair this planet, not trying to find the next place to go and live," said Prince William
  • William was speaking about climate change ahead of his inaugural Earthshot environmental prize awards ceremony on Sunday

LONDON: Britain’s Prince William has criticized some of the world’s richest men for using their wealth to fund a new space race and space tourism rather than trying to fix the problems on Planet Earth instead.
In comments to the BBC aired Thursday, William voiced his disapproval, a day after the former Star Trek actor William Shatner became the oldest man to fly to space in a rocket built by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.
“We need some of the world’s greatest brains and minds fixed on trying to repair this planet, not trying to find the next place to go and live,” said William, who is second-in-line to the British throne.
On Wednesday, the 90-year-old Shatner, who is best known for his role as Captain James T. Kirk in the 1960s television series Star Trek, briefly flew into space with Bezos’ space travel company, Blue Origin. Billionaires Elon Musk and Richard Branson are also pumping resources into their own space ambitions.
William, who is formally known as the Duke of Cambridge, was speaking about climate change ahead of his inaugural Earthshot environmental prize awards ceremony on Sunday and in the run-up to the start of the UN climate summit in the Scottish city of Glasgow later this month.
During the star-studded ceremony at Alexandra Palace in London, which will see five sustainability projects win 1 million pounds ($1.35 million) each, William will be joined by his wife Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge. The awards take their inspiration from the Moonshot challenge that President John F. Kennedy set for the US in 1961 to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade — a challenge that was met eight years later.
The winners will be chosen by a committee including veteran broadcaster David Attenborough, actor Cate Blanchett and World Trade Organization director Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.
William, who has been immersed in environmental issues all his life through the strong interest in them of his father, Prince Charles, and his late grandfather, Prince Philip, voiced his worries about the world his own children will inherit.
He said it would be an “absolute disaster” if his oldest son, George, who he said is “acutely aware” of how resources impact the planet, was having to raise the same issues in 30 years’ time.
“Young people now are growing up where their futures are basically threatened the whole time,” William said. “It’s very unnerving and it’s very you know, anxiety-making.”
Echoing comments from his father, William urged world leaders to put words into action at the UN climate summit in Glasgow, known as COP26.
“I think for COP to communicate very clearly and very honestly what the problems are and what the solutions are going to be, is critical,” William said.
The summit is scheduled to take place Oct. 31-Nov. 12. It is being billed by many environmentalists as the world’s last chance to turn the tide in the battle against climate change.