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COLORS x EDITORIAL | NIGERIA

“Putting our foot down”: Inside the Lagos skate scene with WAFFLESNCREAM, Motherlan, and Dencity

Writer Wale Oloworekende speaks to a range of Lagosian skaters about the importance of community, the social and structural challenges they face, and their dreams of Lagos’ first dedicated skate park which is slated to open later this year.

It’s a hot April Saturday afternoon in Surulere, Lagos. A collection of BMX riders, rollerbladers, and dancers are earnestly practicing on the uneven concrete surface of a foyer at the National Stadium. Rookie bikers collide into rollerbladers and vice versa as they navigate make-shift obstacles that have been erected to spice up their routines. To the left of this cramped space, a small group of skateboarders try out kickflips and ollies. 21-year-old Boluwatife Omotoso sits on the periphery of the frenzy, observing the action after spending the last 20 minutes working through a series of tricks on his skateboard.

Affectionately known as Bvrna to his friends, Boluwatife has been skating at the National Stadium since 2021 after a fallout with his pro football team left him disillusioned with team sports. “It’s my own thing,” he says on his decision to get into skating. “When you are skating, it’s just you and your board. You don’t have to answer to anybody, you don’t have to follow anyone else’s schedule. You can skate anytime you want to. You can have fun and do whatever you want.”

“When you are skating, it’s just you and your board. You don’t have to answer to anybody.”

Jomi Marcus-Bello is a co-founder of Nigeria's first skateboarding company WAFFLESNCREAM

The DIY attitude that Boluwatife describes has been critical to the transformation of Lagos’ skating scene from an underground community to a burgeoning subculture over the last ten years. So has the pioneering work of WAFFLESNCREAM. Co-founded in 2012 by Jomi Marcus-Bello and some friends, WAFFLESNCREAM is Nigeria’s first skateboarding company, selling products and creating an important hub for skate culture in Lagos. Conceived during Jomi’s time studying in Leeds in the U.K., WAFFLESNCREAM has grown exponentially since its foundation: the organization has developed an informal skating structure centered around educational events and skating outreaches that has been critical for young Lagosians looking to get on the scene. The company has also set up a flagship store, cementing its presence in Africa’s most populous city.

“I started WAFFLESNCREAM because I feel like we were not being represented properly. I wanted to tell a story of Lagos through skateboarding,” says Jomi over Zoom. “Through skateboarding, you can feel the environment of the country. You also get to meet the most amazing people. I think that’s what WAFFLESNCREAM is. We just want to communicate our fabric, our design, social life, and politics through skateboarding.”

The crew’s growing popularity and success has helped to encourage more people to explore their interest in skating. “There was a BBC documentary about WAFFLESNCREAM in 2016. It was really intriguing to me that this was happening in Nigeria,” says Nasir Ahmed Achile, a writer and skater based in Lagos. “It felt like a community I would like to be a part of.” 20-year-old London-based designer and artist, Olu Slawn, who went on to co-found skateboarding inspired streetwear brand Motherlan, also got his start working with WAFFLESNCREAM. He remembers the experience fondly. “When I met Jomi, he helped me integrate into a community of skaters in Lagos,” Slawn explains. “There weren’t so many of us at first. Later, we grew to a group of 10 or 15 people. To us that, that was a lot.”

While that number has skyrocketed in recent years, there are still many social and structural challenges to skateboarding in Lagos. One of the biggest difficulties skaters face is the lack of appropriate surfaces to train on, as well the city’s poor road conditions. “We will constantly be a work in progress until we get more dedicated skating surfaces. That’s the only way to really mature as a community,” says Nasir. “We can only get to a certain level practicing on flat surfaces.” Boluwatife adds that the authorities at the National Stadium in Surulere have been hostile towards skaters in the past due to the long-held perception of skateboarders as miscreants and rascals. “We’ve been sent away from here a lot of times. They told us that we shouldn’t come here to skate. We used to have proper training obstacles but we were asked to take everything away. I think some things were even confiscated.”

Nasir Ahmed Achile is a writer and skater based in Lagos

“We will constantly be a work in progress until we get more dedicated skating surfaces. That’s the only way to really mature as a community.”

Blessing Ewona is the founder of Dencity, Lagos' first skating collective for women and other marginalized identities

For all the subversive and progressive leanings of skating in Lagos, it still remains a male-centric activity. This said, a concerted effort is being made to encourage female participation in the sport. Blessing Ewona, a 25-year-old model and skater, is leading the drive after experiencing discrimination while skating herself. “When I started skating, even some of my friends said: ‘what are you doing? Don’t do this thing, you are a girl. It’s for men,’”she recalls. “Sometimes when I’m skating along the road, women stop me to tell me that I should not be a skater. It’s just because I’m one of only a few women doing it. If they saw five or six girls skating, I don’t think they’d tell them to stop it.”

In April last year, Blessing started an Instagram account to connect with other female skaters and share videos of her training progress. Encouraged by the positive response to her page, she set up Dencity, a skateboarding crew for women and other marginalized identities in Lagos. “I didn’t realize that there were a lot of girls in different states, not just in Lagos!” Blessing exclaims. “There were other girls in Port Harcourt and Abuja.” There is now a Dencity WhatsApp group to support skateboarders and foster a sense of community. “We all skate together, create stuff together, do whatever and just have fun,” says Blessing. “I have this friend who’s a great artist. Whenever we skate together, she does some paintings of us after. Sometimes we just go out and have drinks. That’s really what I want. A community that feels like a family.”

“That’s really what I want. A community that feels like a family.”

When asked about the future of the Lagos skate scene, everyone I encounter brings up the topic of a skate park. After 10 years of helping establish skating culture in Lagos, that’s the next step for Jomi and WAFFLESNCREAM. “We are putting our foot down,” he says about plans for Lagos’ first skate park expected later this year. “We’ve got really far in terms of planning and design. We are just looking to raise more money. We’ve started already, we are close.” For Nasir, a skate park is a potential game changer. “It will get more people involved, and encourage people to ask more questions about what we’re doing. That’s the only way to become mainstream in Nigeria.”

Although he’s now based in London and no longer on-the-ground, Slawn believes that the Lagos skating scene is on the right trajectory. “I’m excited to see what happens. I’m not as involved as I used to be, but I do have more resources now and I’ll do what I can to help. The scene is already doing what it’s meant to do. There are going to be struggles in everything you do, little potholes here and there. But Jomi is holding it down, and Blessing is holding it down. From here, there’s just going to be a multitude of great things happening.”

This article was written as part of COLORS’ editorial coverage in line with a recent production period in Lagos, Nigeria in Spring 2022. Head over to our YouTube channel to watch the shows we produced with Nigerian artists, or to our editorial platform to read more articles such as this interview with fashion designer and IAMSIGO founder Bubu Ogisi.

Text: Wale Oloworekende
Photography: Daniel Chado

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