Nigeria's foremost skating company is 10.
Nigeria is a country plagued by a plethora of incredibly frustrating issues: political instability, environmental degradation, insecurity, bush-league healthcare and educational system, unemployment and a bunch of other problems that could easily fill up all the pages of a freshly purchased foolscap book. It’s deeply saddening and unsettling and this is partially why many Nigerians, rather than constantly worry, and in a bid to get away from all the noise and problems, even momentarily, have firmly embraced escapism. We invest ourselves in activities that bring relief, regardless of how short-lived they might be. We build small circles, worlds devoid of the very things we seek to escape. Sports, onscreen ‘reality’ or fantasy shows, drugs, we find just about anything or in other cases, like-minded people to surround ourselves with. And for some, they invest themselves so much in these activities or spend so much time around similar people that it becomes more than just escapism, it becomes a culture, a community, a norm, a way of life. This is what skating is to WAFFLESNCREAM, Nigeria’s foremost skating company.
“[Skating] is a way of life for me now. This is all I know.” Mosako “Lowsso” Chalashika, a Batswana skater and filmmaker closely affiliated with WAFFLESNCREAM, tells me one warm afternoon in their boutique headquarters located in Lagos. For a lot of the skaters around here ー those closely connected with WAFFLESNCREAM and otherwise ー skating has transcended a mere pastime. It’s no ordinary activity, it’s something that visibly gives them life ー almost like a religion. You only needed to be at WAFFLESNCREAM’s 2021 Go Skate Day Lagos event. The hundreds of skaters who turned up ー all from different parts of the continent ー looked like they were there for serious business ー their boards, their bibles, the dusty warehouse-turned-make-shift park, their place of worship and the day were almost synonymous with Christmas.
What has, however, grown to be the leading skate crew in Nigeria and one of the most notable in West Africa was not birthed around these parts but rather in Leeds, England. Jomi Marcus-Bello, the brains behind waf., as it's commonly known, first conceived the idea of a tightly-knit skating community when he discovered skating back in 2008, in a neighborhood local park. The ramps, the boards, the rush and adrenaline, he quickly fell in love with it all, spending countless hours at the park. For him, it was a breath of fresh air, a new way of life, even though it came at a cost ー he was flunking in school.
Back here in Nigeria, skating was largely uncommon. Finding a skater was almost as rare as finding a unicorn. It was and still is, understandable why. The roads, infrastructures and the generally conservative nature of the entire nation deterred, and still deters, many skaters and skating in general. But then as the years went by, unicorns began to sprout all across the country, fearlessly doing that which they loved and disregarding all the many dangers that came with it.
In a bid to remedy his school problems and almost redirect his focus, Jomi was shipped off to Lusaka, Zambia by his folks. “I was scared. I was like, where the fuck is Zambia?” he revealed in an interview with Hypebeast a couple of years ago. Unknown to his parents, his love and passion for skating remained firmly intact and alongside his essentials, he neatly tucked them in his suitcase, carrying them along to Lusaka where he found another community of skaters in no time and this is where the idea of waf. started to really come to life. Soaking in Lusaka’s active skating culture and seeing their start-of-the-art skate parks, he hoped to replicate that vibrancy and build such infrastructures back in Lagos. After years of shuttling between Lusaka and Leeds, juggling school and skating, he finally returned to Lagos, ready to start that which he had always wanted to. The problem: he didn’t know how to go about it. He had nothing but his undying love for skating.
Resolute in his mission, he started off building a community by hosting cool, sporadic parties that mostly attracted outliers: teenagers and young adults who probably went crazy over a solid ollie, were patiently waiting for the next Bape or Supreme drop or were deeply engrossed with obscure European music. Next was getting a physical location, a safe haven where anyone remotely interested in skating or any of its offshoots could come hang out. There were no decks, no grip tapes, no risers, just a spot that was pretty much empty but felt like home to a few.
As time went on, one, two boards got hung and then several. The parties and events became more frequent and better organized. The brand was finally starting to expand and take shape, and so was the community. waf. quickly became the beating heart of the nascent skating scene, providing many young skaters with boards and creatives generally, a safe space.
Almost a decade on and waf. has improbably transformed itself from a small skating outfit into an avatar of Lagos’ vibrant and diverse creative scene. They’ve transcended budding status to a fully functional skating company and a creative hub that houses some of the city’s finest talents. While they might have branched out to a number of other things ー production of urban clothing, filmmaking, and putting together wellness programs among other things ー community and skating remains at the core of everything they do. “First, everything about waf. is a community. A community that represents Africa and then Nigeria which we project to the whole world at large… [Everything we do] is to serve the skating community first before every other person.” Addy, the brand’s senior creative designer tells me.
The community that waf. has managed to build has been on a steady rise since its inception. Now they boast members and affiliates from all over the country and even outside of it, attracting admirers and co-collaborators from different parts of the continent. They’ve become a major driving force of the skating subculture in Africa, mentoring other skating crews like Motherlan, another notable streetwear brand with roots in skating and Dencity, Nigeria’s first skate crew exclusively for women and other marginalized genders. “Everyone sees waf. from the outside and it looks all fresh, fly and clean but there’s a whole lot going on behind the scenes. There have been numerous sleepless nights, blood, sweat, and tears. People have worked tirelessly. It’s been crazy. If this was something that had been done before, it would have been much easier to draw inspiration or learn from others but this is unprecedented, at least here in Nigeria. It’s just been us failing our way forward.”