This is how Myanmar rolls

Last November, I travelled with six Singaporean friends for 11 days in Myanmar with the intention of skateboarding. We flew to the former capital city of Yangon, and went farther north to explore the skateparks in Mandalay and in the highlands of Pyin Oo Lwin.

I made my first trip in 2011 after completing national service and decided to go to Yangon out of curiosity after watching a short documentary produced in 2009. Entitled Altered Focus: Burma, it showcased several Western skateboarders exploring the skateboarding scene around the then quite reclusive country. I was surprised to find that Myanmar had a skate scene and was excited to find out more for myself. I ended up meeting the local skateboarders, some of whom have become my good friends.

The first skatepark in Myanmar was built in Yangon and situated next to Thuwunna Stadium, which is the national sports complex. It is rumoured to have been built by either Japanese or English residents decades ago, and was the place where skaters would meet up till it was demolished recently.

A few years ago, the management at a small downtown mall built a makeshift park next to the mall, which was also in the vicinity of the famous Bogyoke Aung San Market. Movable ramps, grind boxes and a mini quarter-pipe were enough to keep skaters happy, but when we visited last year, the obstacles were rusty, mostly broken and near unskateable, due to weather conditions and long-term wear and tear.

Despite facing difficulties in terms of venues and equipment, the skateboarders of Yangon have taken the initiative to find alternative solutions: When night falls, skaters flock to a road adjacent to Sule Pagoda, a central landmark in downtown Yangon, where the tarmac is smooth and traffic is light.

They also explore the city constantly in search of other spots, such as skating under bridges, and even frequent a public park connected to the Shwedagon Pagoda, an iconic 99m-high gilded temple. Some have also resorted to building their own obstacles and have transformed abandoned areas into do-it-yourself skate spots.

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