A small piece of wood, about a metre long, with four wheels attached is Novin Acharja’s skateboard. Having seen others skateboarding at the Bebena Skate Park, the 15-year-old decided to practice.
Until recently, the Class IX student knew nothing about skateboarding. Seeing some foreigners skate at the park, he got interested. Today, he is a fan and idolises Jonny Giger, a Swiss skateboarder who coaches skateboarding on YouTube.
Skateboarding, though a new sport, is picking up in Bhutan. It is evident at the busy Bebena Park as youth try to show off or hone their skills. During weekends, about 40 to 50 young people throng to the park.
An American family built the first and only skatepark in the country in memory of their late son Johnny Strange, who first came to Bhutan in 2011 and brought a skateboard with him.
While in Bhutan, Johnny Strange taught young kids to skate. The Strange family spent Nu 6.5 million to construct the 8,000-sq ft skatepark in 2018. The Bhutan Olympic Committee (BOC) is currently taking care of the park and allowing the Thimphu Skate Club to operate it for free.
Sonam Deki, 19, practices at the park every day after school. Every Sunday, she visits the park to attend the regular skate session offered for free by the Thimphu Skate Club.
Thimphu Skate Club organiser, Pema Jenjuk, said the club was formed in 2018 to make a full-fledged club under the BOC. It has 15 permanent members, and provides basic skate training every Sunday to beginners. Today, the capital has about 60 skate enthusiasts.
Pema Jenjuk said he wants to see the club turn into a federation if the new sport reaches other places such as Paro and Phuentsholing. To qualify as a federation, the sport must be popular in at least three dzongkhags.
Pema Jenjuk said there are many interested youth with the potential to become professionals. Today, his team is focusing on making it popular, and he says they need the support of the community to meet that goal.
An official with the BOC, Kinley Tshering, said the committee encourages the Thimphu Skate Club to become a full-fledged club. “As of right now, there is no plan to build skate infrastructure in other dzongkhags as it is not even popular in the capital.”