KAMPALA, UGANDA -
Only a few years ago, there were no inline skaters in Uganda. Paved roads and skating equipment are rare in this equatorial country. Skating began as a novelty in the streets, but over time some enterprising young Ugandans fell in love with the sport. Now, this agile group practices the art of inline skating together with enthusiasm in one of the few places they can really open up.
Every weekend — and when time permits, during the week — they gather in the vast parking lot of Mandela National Stadium in the capital city of Kampala. Here they practice their passion: inline skating on the best piece of asphalt in miles. The biggest hurdles they face are equipment and time: there aren’t enough professional skates to go around and parts they do have wear out. Further, there are no institutions or corporate sponsors to support skaters in Uganda. Most need to work long hours to sustain themselves and their families outside of these precious few hours of athletics.
Life in Kampala
Joseph Kisitu has been inline skating for three years and has competed in several regional competitions in Uganda and Kenya. He’s married and the father of a five-year old son. In order to make a living he walks six days a week from morning to evening around different neighborhoods of Kampala, selling women’s clothes to passers-by and to women working in small shops.
Ugandan inline speed skater Geoffrey Serugo, or Kitintale, as he is also known, repairs generators in the compound of Silk Events, an events company. Kitintale has been skating for three years and has competed in several international competitions in Uganda and Kenya. He is strongest in distance races. Sometimes his work takes him on the road around Uganda; he wishes he had more time for practice.
Inline skater passes behind a group of people playing volleyball at Mandela National Stadium parking lot in Kampala. When there is no event at the stadium, the parking lot is open to the public and skaters find themselves weaving around pedestrians.
Before The Race
Skaters warm up at Mandela National Stadium parking lot in Kampala. Every weekend a group of ten to twenty children and youth gather at the stadium to practice inline skating.
Inline speed skater Patricia Namuwaya at the Mandela National Stadium parking lot in Kampala. Patricia has been called the female skater in Uganda and has participated in several competitions in Uganda, Kenya and South Korea.
Skaters line up before a trial race at the Mandela National Stadium parking lot in Kampala. Before international competitions, the group organizes trial races to determine which skaters will participate.
The Starting Gun Snaps
Skaters from as far as Kenya and Rwanda came to participate in the first East African international inline skating competition.
Victory and Defeat
Joseph Kisitu rests at the finish line.
Standard safety equipment such as wrist-guards and gloves are sometimes rare sights.
In Uganda, sports taken for granted in other countries come with a unique set of hurdles. Despite these challenges, the skaters have continued to organize several regional competitions. Joseph has competed in Uganda and Kenya, and others have traveled as far as South Korea. The popularity of inline skating continues to grow in Kampala, and a new generation is strapping on skates.
video direction by Ethan Goldwater, video editing and post-production by Johnny Bassett, coordination and editing by Angelica Maldonado, design by Evander Batson. 2014, all rights reserved.
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Angelica: What is the goal for inline skating? What is the outcome of doing well on a race?
Ethan: There are a variety of goals when it comes to getting involved with skating, I believe. Perhaps one of the most influential ones is just overall passion for the sport.
Tadej: A lot of them started skating for fun and to cut costs on transportation by holding onto commuter minivans while wearing skates. When some of them learned about speed skating as a sport, they started to practice seriously. They have two self-taught coaches that are also supporting them from their own pockets (mainly by providing money for transport). Their goals are a mix of passion for sport, as Ethan mentioned, and they also hope that it could be a source of income. The best ones would like to be professional skaters, but that is unfortunately unlikely as for now since they lack equipment for proper training. Some of the guys make money by coaching kids in other locations in town. There are no money prizes since there are no sponsors — just medals the coaches buy, and knowing they did well.
Angelica: I don’t know anything about the sport itself — so the competition just involves racing correct?
Ethan: Inline skating involves a variety of races — similar to how track is set up in America. It could range from relays, short distance, long distance, etc.
Tadej: There are a variety of races from short track, relay, to marathon. Like ice speed skating but on asphalt or indoors.
Angelica: Could I have a little bit of background on the sport itself? Is it a widespread organized sport or has it just organically evolved into what it is today in Uganda only?
Tadej: Speed skating as a sport in not widespread in Uganda. Only this group at the stadium practices it. More guys do ‘regular’ roller skating on streets, but for speed skating you need special skates which are much lighter and cost much more. I think they only have six pairs of pro skates in Uganda which were a donation from India. Their challenge now is that as the skates wear out, there are less skates available for practice so they even have to share them.
This small group evolved organically — some were friends of the coaches or first skaters and some saw them practicing and then joined the group. That is the usual way in Uganda when it comes to less popular sports since they are rarely mentioned in media; there’s no clubs and so on.
Angelica: How does skating reflect the current politics/social scene in Uganda, if at all?
Ethan: Inline skating has been an avenue for kids who grew up street skating to get into a more regimented sport. Similar to any other serious sport, such as cycling or running, athletes get involved with intense competition. Skating is immensely popular in Italy and Germany. As far as Uganda, and the rest of Africa, it’s pretty sub-cultural but it appears to be gaining momentum.
Tadej: Like Ethan said — it’s a sport, not well-known in Uganda, but slowly picking up. Most people don’t know that speed skating as a sport exists and think it’s just skating for fun or to save money.