The Ghanaian musician wanted to share his love of skateboarding with budding young enthusiasts living just outside of Accra, so he created a skate crew.
With the recent opening of the country's first fully functional skate park, times have gotten more promising in Ghana for the skateboarding sport and culture. Within this phenomenon is another very noteworthy development: Kirani Ayat, one of the nation's most well-known alternative music names, has founded a skate crew in an enclave of Accra – specifically for underprivileged preteens.
Ayat's own involvement with the sport began in 2017. He had immigrated to America, and was living and working in Santa Monica, California. For commuting to work, he bought and used a penny board. "That was the first time I started skateboarding. Since then, I've been into it, but not really as an avid skateboarder trying to do stunts and stuff like that. I just used it to transport myself from one place to the other, more like an eco-friendly way of commuting," he tells OkayAfrica.
Some four years later, back in Ghana, in July 2021, this interest would grow beyond himself into an impassioned interest in a whole community -- Kokrobite, a seaside town close to twenty miles from the capital, Accra. Ayat and his then-girlfriend used to visit the beaches of Kokrobite often over the weekends, and sometimes during the week. On one of these visits, they witnessed "a bunch of kids doing stunts on bikes, doing acrobatics, drumming, swimming. Kids who were extremely active. Daredevils, who had no fear in their eyes. One could see they were always eager to learn, eager to try new stuff."
Within all of this activity, they spotted, and watched, a little kid, who they'd soon come to know as Nana, skating barefoot on a makeshift board which was closer to ramshackle than otherwise. "He said his brother made it for him. And we told him we were going to get him a proper skateboard. The next time we went back there, we took the skateboard for him, and he was really excited," says Ayat.
Nana was that little kid with the dilapidated skateboard. He'd started at 6 years old, only a year prior to being spotted by Ayat and his ex-girlfriend. He's 8 now. Skating brings him joy. He aims not only to become a professional skater in future, but to build a skate park - like the Freedom Skate Park - in Kokrobite, and to train generations of kids that will come after him.
Ayat met the little kid's older brother and his friends, and all of them could skate, too. "We asked them where they learnt it from, and they said they weren't really taught. They just picked it up," he says. "They were all skating barefooted. It was really dope what they were doing. It wasn't really crazy tricks, because to do that you need to, for one, wear sneakers. But they were very decent with what they were doing; their balancing was good, their movements were good. And so I was like, ‘Hey, I can get you skateboards and sneakers so we can start a skate crew, but you guys are going to have to be serious.’ "
The kids pledged their dedication to taking it seriously. And the Kokrobite Skate Crew was born.
Johnson is the older brother who made the makeshift skateboard for Nana. He is 12, and started skating in 2019. His schoolmates admire his skating skills, which he tries to teach them sometimes. He loves to play football, too.
Kokrobite is a tourist seaside community, and like every other one of such communities out here, it is an existing paradox: plenty of tourists - and their money - come in and leave the town with nothing to show for in terms of youth and economic development. As a result, there isn't very much to do beyond fishing. Unemployment and a dearth of responsible social engagement begets graver consequences: from teenage pregnancies through to substance abuse.
This social factor also influenced Ayat’s decision to start the crew. "A lot of the kids over there indulge in stuff and activities that are not really positive,” he says. “So when we saw that these kids had started this really cool thing that could potentially be an opportunity for them to see the world, we were interested in helping them. They were these kids that we saw doing something positive and we thought, why not assist and push them with what we can, so that at least they can be an example for the other kids in the area [who are] following in the footsteps of the young men doing all these stuff that's not good for them and their well being. The hope is that when their peers are progressing and doing well, that would also encourage them to pick up good habits."
Hafiz, 13, started skating in 2017. He loves the sport's ability to take all of his "stress" away whenever he's "feeling emotional." He loves to play basketball, too. He believes, as do the rest of his teammates, that his skills have improved since the formation of the Kokrobite crew.
Picking up better, healthier habits ties into a larger goal of eventually seeing the Kokrobite Skate Crew grow further beyond the kids, into supporting the larger community.
"This is just the start, bringing opportunities to these kids here. I envision it to be something much bigger. Like, have a skate and surf festival and all of that,” says Ayat. “So that people could come and see them, just to open up more opportunities to the community at large. Also, surfing is growing in the community and that's why I also say it's a surf and skate crew because the kids do both. The goal is to shine a spotlight on that area for the development of these sports and wider social development in Kokrobite."
Are there any timelines to these visions Ayat has? "Honestly, no. I'm just steadily pushing, you know. Because I'm doing everything myself. I'm just going to try my best and keep pushing."
Like Hafiz, Mustapha is 13 and started skating in 2017. He loves the sport for the happiness it brings him now, and the opportunities it promises in the future. Like Nana, he started with a broken skateboard. And like the rest of his colleagues, he loves the Freedom Skate Park and wishes they could go there often. He, too, wishes to skate till he becomes a professional skateboarder for Ghana.
Twice a month, every other Sunday, Ayat journeys to Kokrobite to visit the crew; to monitor and guide their sessions. He's provided them with a smartphone, through which they keep in touch, and through which he sends them videos and other learning material related to the sport. A logo, website and other relevant paperwork are currently being worked on.
It's quite the commitment, for a young independent artist in these parts, but he doesn't consider this preoccupation taking a toll on his music work at all. "Because I've also built friendships with people in the Kokrobite area, and even shot a music video there, all just by going there and hanging with the kids. So, if anything, it's helping my career in the ways that I'm getting the opportunity to work with the community," he says.
Ayat talks about his fondness for the "great bond" that the boys share. It is a bond that this writer witnessed not only amongst the crew, but between them and Ayat himself: During a Sunday session, Ayat practiced a new hand greeting with each of them, before going on to supervise a new routine the boys were challenging themselves to learn -- a trick they'd seen some bikers do, which they'd been trying to replicate with their boards. He called one of them aside and they spoke heart to heart about some challenges the youngster had been going through. They laughed a lot, and Ayat gently reproached - and corrected - two of the crew who made an out of line remark. The camaraderie was palpable. On this same Sunday, the crew welcomed its fifth member and first girl - Mildred, 12, who recently relocated to Kokrobite to live with her young mother. It was not long after she expressed interest to learn that Ayat held her hand to take her through beginner steps on a board.
Ayat takes 12-year-old Mildred through a few basic skateboarding techniques.
Ayat's interactions with the Kokrobite Skate Crew pass for a microcosm of the larger portrait of skate sport and culture in Ghana. It's something he believes is only going to grow. The musician sees surfing and skating as here to stay, and that, he says, "is going to be good for the country."