Moctar and his group of riders, known as Dice-Skate, put on their skates and observe their surroundings. Today they’re going for steps and ramps.
In the Senegalese capital, riders glide across the urban space. Everything becomes a prop: stairs, planters, railings, wall edges, sidewalks, benches, steps, guardrails, parapets, safety fences and walls.
You jump. Air trick. You fall. One by one, they launch like acrobatic figures.
‘If people had given us the green light, it would be less exciting.’
The Dice-Skate riders do ‘aggressive skating’. It’s an extreme urban freestyle skating, which was created in United States and introduced to Dakar by Moctar Ba ten years ago.
‘It’s an aggressive discipline, even the rollers are, the skates get punch, it’s huge.’
The aim is to flip the urbanscape and give it another use. In Dakar, you look for isolated places, unoccupied buildings, which you can use in your own way.
‘It’s complicated. In the centre of Dakar, police, security guards hassle you. The architects put up anti-skate and metal spikes so that we can’t roll. Municipalities have herded us into skate parks. Then we move.’
They move on to stadiums, construction sites and abandoned buildings. And there you pile up springboards, you tinker rails, mini-ramps. Pipes, boards, overturned cabinets, rims, beams, boxes, bricks, pallets. You assemble improvised modules, you stack them in order to jump over.
‘If people had given us the green light, this sport would be less exciting. But we are not vandals or thugs. Now I know how to do with the police, I have developed a way to talk to them. I show them my pictures, my videos and they think it’s so cool.’
‘Fear is part of the thing’
Moctar has suffered fractures several times. ‘Fear, it’s part of the thing. When I fall, I laugh at myself. The aim is to get a trick, if I hurt myself I go back again and again, I don’t care about the rest.’
The pain arrives after the shower, but it means that the session has been good. If you feel nothing, you haven’t done anything.
‘Fear motivates me all the time. You’re scared and you do it anyway, that’s what makes you happy. But nobody forces you. You stop or you do it. It is not anyone’s fault. This discipline taught me something about life. This is making right or wrong decisions.’
‘When you do jumps from springboards you get bored’
Moctar began rollerblading at the age of seven. He later discovered online what was being done in other countries. ‘It inspired me. Now we post too; it makes us travel everywhere.’ He starts with a jump – with no run-up nor supports. He jumps garbages, small sidewalks. Then he launches into the freestyle jump with Accro Roller, the first Senegalese skating association. ‘There was the infrastructure to do slaloms, very high jumps, up to two and a half metres.’
At the age of 14, 15, he tried the aggressive skating.
‘When you do jumps from springboards you get bored. It’s square, concreted. After an hour you have done all the figures. I wanted big thrills, to go higher, do things differently than other people.’
‘Aggressive skating is not just a sport, it is a culture with its codes, its lifestyle.’
He discovered the rollerblading of Mike ‘Murda’ Johnson, a Facebook friend and professional skater. One day, a friend brought him second-hand rollers signed Mika Murda. ‘For me, it was gold. I became mad, I was training every day. Mike Murda sent me a message on Facebook: “Ah, I’m really pleased with you.” He was following me, it made me even more motivated.’
‘I was showing that even in Senegal people without many resources could practice this sport with dignity.’
At the beginning, Moctar was alone. Others found the sport too dangerous. Youngsters started following him so he lent them his old skates, formed a team. ‘Today they are super good. They make their own t-shirts, their own stuff, their business. Everyone wants to make videos with them.’
‘Many young people follow us, want to dress up like us. We manage our image to make it a business. We want to inspire other riders, even how they dress. Aggressive skating is not just a sport, it is a culture with its codes, its lifestyle. We make a skating session, we party, we’re cool, we dress well, we are proud of ourselves.’
‘If you’re not an artist you cannot do aggressive skating’
‘You do aggressive roller skating as you feel it, you do not have a coach. When you perform a trick, you give it a name. Alley-oop, Porn star, Fish Brain, all slides on rails.’
‘It’s like playing dice. You have to do a complicated figure, you throw yourself, you’re never sure to succeed the first time.’
‘I love setting tricks which are aesthetic. It interests us. If you’re not an artist you cannot do aggressive skating, because you have to create, invent, link up tricks all the time. If not, it’s anything.’
Moctar knows it: the future of all skate sports is Africa. ‘These sports will be a smash hit here. We have a lots of talented kids, spaces to build. We have everything to do, without making mistakes like the others did, skate parks built in the French or English way. They are not cool. Everything is measured. It’s not the riders who made them. Accidents have brought protocols everywhere for safety.’
Check out more of Moctar’s videos here