Peter Khim has YouTube to thank for showing him how to pull an ollie. Two years ago, he read about skateboarding online and when a friend visited the US, Mr Khim asked him to bring back a skateboard.
He quietly cut his teeth on Phnom Penh’s sometimes unforgiving streets and on Koh Pich island – a lone figure honing his skills in a sport that had yet to gain a big following here. But that looks set to change.
In a country where two-wheeled transport seems at times ubiquitous, a four-wheeled revolution has been brewing in Phnom Penh and now Mr Khim, 18, has a dedicated and likeminded crew.
Benjamin Pecqueur, project manager with NGO Pour un Sourire d’Enfant, has been a driving force behind the construction of the first skate park in Cambodia, which was Cambodian-built and opened in late March in the PSE school in Stung Meanchey.
“I’ve been skateboarding for 10 years and really wanted to bring it to Cambodia, particularly so that poor children could learn a new hobby – something they can practice anywhere,” he said.
Two months ago, he wrote a proposal that fell into the hands of Skateistan, an Afghanistan-based NGO that promotes skateboarding. Skateistan was interested in seeing the sport flourish in Cambodia, and provided startup funds that enabled Mr Pecqueur to get the project going. The skateboard company 360 donated 30 boards, 10 of which are fully set up; the trucks and wheels are transferable in case any boards get damaged.
With everything in place, the next step was to show the students at PSE just how versatile a skating space can be, whether you want to use ramps and rails or not. Skateboarders, roller-bladers and a flatland BMX rider gave demos to a wide-eyed crowd of several hundred children and teenagers. And it would seem many of them are hooked on the idea.
“We had so much interest from the kids – both boy and girls – and we’re now conducting a one-month initiation period, during which we’ll be teaching small groups of kids the basics,” says Mr Pecqueur.
“We want to make the school experience fun so that the kids will want to come every day. Skateboarding is a great sport for teaching kids about competition and health, but most importantly, it is accessible and something you can really practice anywhere.”
Nineteen-year-old skateboarder Luc Bugmann, who is half Cambodian and who will be working with the kids in the skating classes, agrees.
“These lessons are about having fun, hanging out and breaking the conformity of sports,” he says.
Mr Khim also recognizes the importance of having Cambodian faces present at the classes.
“I understand in this position that I can be seen as a role model, and I know that’s important,” he says.
And while he’s excited to see the potential for growth within PSE, himself, Mr Pequeur and Mr Bugmann are looking at expansion on a municipal level too.
“This is about being community-based,” says Mr Bugmann. “We all have a vision for a public skatepark in the city one day, where everyone can come and hang out, socialize and practice skateboarding.”