“What is that?” “In Thailand, right?” “I haven’t been to Spain in forever.” These are some of the common responses I received when telling people of my travel plans to Bhutan. It is, in fact, a country and not a city or a province within another nation. Bhutan is governed as a kingdom, with a relatively small population, nestled in the Himalayas between China and India, sharing a border with Nepal. Home to a culture rich with tradition and a society that measures its success in Gross National Happiness (GNH) and not Gross National Product (GNP), Bhutan is quite a unique place in the world.
Their national borders were completely closed to foreigners until 1974, so they have been uninfluenced by outside cultures until just about 50 years ago. Because they value their unique way of life so much, it is made difficult for foreigners to travel to their nation still. A $200/day tourism fee is required before accounting for costs of travel, lodging, food… anything else at all. So it is a pricy visit, even for those of means. But because of skateboarding, we were able to visit the magical kingdom of Bhutan this autumn.
Working with a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization called Salad Days of Skateboarding, I was able to not only visit Bhutan with my friends but also bring 30 complete skateboards to the country and host two weeks of skate camp with the youth there. Because the country is relatively isolated, the only access to quality skateboards is through the generosity of tourists. There are no skateshops. There is no distribution or business helping skateboards to enter the nation. With the help of the Johnny Strange Foundation and Johnny’s family, I was able to visit with Nestor Judkins, Kenny Reed, Zack McKenzie, and James Noppakorn for two weeks.
Landing at the airport in Paro, we were immediately greeted by our friend Pema with ceremonial scarves and good energy to begin the trip. Over the course of two weeks, we hosted ten days of skate camp with those interested in learning. Some of the skateboarders already had boards, which we had sent in the mail. Some had been borrowing others’ boards for years. And some were stepping on a skateboard for the first time. The positivity and motivation that these kids had were unreal – the best attitudes and the rapid progression to match! If I had been told how much the kids had improved by the end of camp, I would not have believed it. It required seeing to believe.
Thanks to the help of our kind product sponsors, we were able to provide these brand new complete skateboards for the Bhutanese skaters. These sponsors included Skateboards.com, Real Skateboards, Supreme and Less Than Local, to name a few. The local skaters were learning skills on flatground, the miniramp, and some even on rails and manual pads! At the end of our time there, we were able to observe who had improved the most and who showed the most dedication to skateboarding, and gifted 20 of the 30 boards for certain skaters to take home and use whenever they choose. And as the rainy season was ending, it was sure to be a fun winter season of skateboarding for all!
We couldn’t be happier with how our visit went, not to even mention the local music, food, and non-skateboarding friends we met along the way. We absolutely could NOT have done it without the legends on the ground in Thimpu, Pema and Mipham. Thanks to everyone who lent a helping hand, offered advice, and assisted in our journey.
Can’t wait for our return in 2023!