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Brotherly: A Cross-Country Skate Story

Meet Brotherly Skateboards, a Nigerian skateboarding community making an ambitious 36-state journey across the country on their boards.

Whether or not you are a believer in faith, it is hard to argue about the existence of providence. This invisible force serves as a connector between people from multiple places. The bonds people share are often fostered on the foundation of shared interests. If your first love was going 20km/hr on a wooden board with four wheels, then you can probably relate to how six people from Northern Nigeria are revolutionizing the sport.

Skateboarding in Nigeria is a very niche sport, almost as niche as, say, figure skating. The roads are not paved, the traffic is erratic and undereducated, and there are no skate parks or public recreation spaces with the range to accommodate such activity. It stands to reason that to skate effectively in Nigeria; one would need the perfect blend of elements — the right environment and the right people. Although skateboarding as a sport in Nigeria is still in its infancy, the budding subculture has seen significant growth and accrued international attention in the last three years. Such progress in the scene can be primarily credited to Motherlan and WAFFLESNCREAM: two brands that have become household names for all things skate culture and have amassed influence through their distinctive skatewear line, community events, and particularly enlightening short films. And undoubtedly, their pioneering efforts have indeed paved the way for other skate crews and communities in the country.

Enter the Brotherly Skateboards team.

Six individuals make up Brotherly Skateboards – an ad-hoc skate team of 30+ skaters, and merchandisers of skate gear – but it’s really just Mahmud and Muhammad at its core. They are responsible for the coordination and logistics of the brand. They also provide the designs and handle the production of the gear. They operate an ad-hoc system, connecting with skaters in every city they visit and gaining additions to the Brotherly family. The extended family (so far) consists of skaters like Emdy (Muhammad Kabir), Shaun, Triple M (Mahmud Muhammad), Lukman, Ailrang, Godwin, Giles, Mujeeb, Umar, Moe (Moe Muhammad), and Isaac. With an extremely DIY approach and the clear influences of their Western predecessors, the self-taught skate team has a distinct aura that carries through their work. Skating in Nigeria is a pretty tricky sport to manoeuvre, but the team perseveres nevertheless. It’s this same level of resilience that’s led them to their latest onerous project – a cross-country skate journey.

In their SK8s and One Stars, Emdy and Mahmud left home. The goal was to make a documentary, record their skate sessions on iPhones and edit their footage in-house – an ambitious enough project, even without the constraints that became second nature during the last year. The discomfort involved in going cross-country by road is one most Nigerians are familiar with; doing so in a pandemic, however, takes a different sort of courage. The pair have been to four states in the last 12 months. While most people were stuck indoors, isolating or socially distancing and reducing their activity, Emdy and Mahmud travelled from Kaduna to Ogun State and then to Lagos – just to skate.

I was blessed enough to run into the illustrious pair on their last day in the city (Lagos). They were trying to get some footage outside the legendary Freedom Park. For reference purposes, this was a couple of months outside of the lockdown. The streets were barely back to full capacity, and they stood out against the drab backdrop of the city.

With a whimsical, almost juvenile approach to their craft, their youthful exuberance is continuously on display. Their infectious energy also shines through, whether you meet them in person or on the internet.

One look at their YouTube clips, and you can tell safety is certainly not one of their finer points – no helmets, knee pads, or elbow-pads in sight. If you understand the landscape of most places in Nigeria, you’d know that the risks they take daily become more than most people would deem necessary. With this in mind, they maintain the unwavering stance that skateboarding is as dangerous as any other sport. The absence of facilities that can cater to a niche sport in this hemisphere is undeniable – the Lagos State-backed skatepark promised in 2017 remains a promise. The lack is glaring; hence they are limited to practising wherever they can.

Take our protagonists, for example; their skate origin story is one heavily defined by providence. Mahmud got his start skating in China while finishing his first degree, and by the time he was a post-grad student, he was at least semi-pro. The first time Emdy ever saw someone skate was in Kaduna. He walked up to the person on the board and asked if he could take it for a spin. On two different continents, a post-graduate and a second-year student from Kaduna began the same journey with no idea what their perception would be because of where they were from or what they represented. Providence.

“I skate because it speaks to me in ways only those who skate can understand, and all I can say is I hope to skate for as long as I'm alive. There is no sporting community more inclusive and welcoming than skateboarding. We are all brothers.”

Despite the absence of professional skateboarding in Nigeria, a few brands have begun to set their roots down in the country in a bid to encourage the development of the sport and its accompanying scene. Emdy underlined the importance of this to me: “I honestly thank God for us. In certain parts of the country, it is nearly impossible to find any good gear. Brotherly Skateboards are changing that. Now you can get skateboards easily from us, no matter where you live.”

The harmonization of their interests is also an outlet for other creatives. For the artistically inclined, visual arts and performance arts are perfectly married with the skate scene. Skateboarding brings all those art forms together through videography, photography, music, fashion, and street art such as graffiti to create an undeniably valuable product.

Despite building a decent following, the Brotherly team understands the importance of their mission and position. This has helped them hone in on what they consider the pressing issues, which they hope to solve someday. They are as focused on the business aspect of running a fledgeling brand as much as they are on just skating for the thrill.

The rudiments of mounting a skateboard are more critical than most people would imagine. The team tries to explain the different stances and what tricks each stance allows you to execute. Skaters are a discerning group of people; it takes an above-average level of focus to balance and move at alternating speeds through traffic, and for this reason, there are meaningful metaphors throughout their stories. Mahmud perfectly phrased one of such metaphors: “My favourite trick is the ‘pop shove-it’. The reason why I love this trick is the same reason why I skate. You need just the right amount of pressure to pull it off, with almost no support from your other foot. Just like life, you push through and achieve your goal with or without anyone's help.”

The sport itself is very significant to the team for many reasons. While the struggle of learning new tricks in skateboarding could frustrate many into quitting, others understand the importance of never giving up on their goals because they know it is possible to land every trick. Every trick learnt at some point seemed insurmountable — until it wasn’t. Skateboarding is making the impossible possible.

For some others, it is not quite as intense. Muhammad Alfazazi from Kano, another ad-hoc member of the team, says: “Skateboarding to me is the perfect combination of exercise, relaxation, and therapy. Whenever I feel down and out, it is my go-to. Whenever I am happy, it is my go-to and everything else in between. Skateboarding can be companionship when you are alone, and it can be the best bond to share with friends.”

Most pro skaters become embedded in the sport from childhood. This creates a strong sense of connection to the sport as they have known very little else. Moe tries to encapsulate the value of this to skaters everywhere. “I skate because it speaks to me in ways only those who skate can understand, and all I can say is I hope to skate for as long as I'm alive. There is no sporting community more inclusive and welcoming than skateboarding. We are all brothers.”

The goal remains to skate across all 36 states one day, and whether you consider this ambitious or pointless, one thing is true: very few people are single-minded enough to pursue one thing. The Brotherly team shows that sometimes, that is all you can be. This is the skateboarder’s approach while he rides the board, and they apply that to life every day.

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