Originally, we were going to make this interview part of our Egyptian Entrepreneur series. But to say Skateimpact is a business or just an online skateboard shop is like saying an iPhone is just a calculator. Two brothers from Alexandria, Omar and Cherif Herrawi, Chairman and CEO respectively, founded the Skateimpact
movement cult in 2005. They live, breath and eat skateboarding. An intrinsically anarchist culture that was non-existent in Egypt ten years ago, they turned a hobby into a viable business and an alternative distraction for hundreds, if not thousands, of kids throughout the country. Their crew have been featured in countless documentaries and films showcasing Egypt's subculture. Both analytical, organised, hard-working and accommodating, the brothers Herrawi are proof that this country still has hope in producing original, innovative thinkers who will not settle for the status quo. They came down from Alexandria for a special interview, along with three of the crew's sponsored skaters: Ziad Ashraf, 19, the Kobain-esque, chiller-than-chill Skateimpact Art Director who was so laid back, it looked like he was going to sink through the sofa into another dimension full of his surreal art; Omar Adel, a cheeky 15 year old under the tutelage of the Skateimpact crew who, at an early age, already seems to know where his place in the world is, and it's on top of 4 wheels, and the soft-spoken Amin Rida, 18, who seemed like he didn't really give a fuck about the interview or anything else for that matter because he was probably practicing tricks in his head. Read on as we chat with them about the skater scene in Egypt, Tramadol and, of course, Avril Lavigne...
Okay firstly, just to make sure you guys are real skateboarders: Finish this sentence... "He was a sk8er boi..."
All: We hate Avril Lavigne.
Come on, you know the words...
A few years ago, we asked our driver to take us to the best place to skateboard in Cairo. He took us to Snow City and we saw a 5-year-old girl break her nose on an ice slide. We haven't skated much since. Where's the best place to skate now?
Omar Herrawi: The best spots are in Alexandria but in Cairo, there’s always the airport or the mall. But you usually have to jump the fence and bribe someone. We recommend that everybody who wants to skate comes to Alexandria though - we have a lot of smooth marble grounds and secluded spots. Plus people there are laid back.
So what inspired each of you to pick up a board in the first place?
Omar Herrawi: I started skating in the early 90's. I was watching MTV for the first time and saw someone doing a trick in a music video. I was 9-years-old and was hooked immediately. I searched for a board and couldn't find one so I bought a fake one made out of plastic that was useless!
Ziad: I was watching TV, like Omar, and saw skateboarding for the first time and I liked what they were doing so I started looking for a board and found a toy one. I started skating with it but I didn't even know there were tricks. I thought it was just about cruising around. Then I started hanging out with other skaters and saw someone do a kick flip. It was magic.
Amin: I used to watch videos. When Skateimpact started I bought my first board and learned tricks, and got better and better. Then I got sponsored.
Omar Adel: I saw my friend Khaled skating and I asked him about it. He introduced me to Skateimpact and we got along great.
Cherif: Omar, my brother, was my inspiration. I saw him doing it and I wanted to do it too. Though I'm mostly behind-the-scenes now, while they do their thing.
What was your highest score on Tony Hawks' Pro Skater on the PlayStation; the level in the warehouse?
Cherif: Hahaha! I don’t remember because the last time I played it, it was on PlayStation One.
So when did you start SkateImpact.com?
Omar Herrawi: In 2005 when I graduated from university.
How did it come about?
Omar Herrawi: Before that, in 2002, me and Cherif were searching for other skateboarders in Egypt. We started a forum together and got in touch with some Malaysians at Al Azhar. We began meeting up and communicating regularly with about 20 or 30 other skaters, bouncing between Cairo and Alexandria a lot. Remember that there was no Facebook yet to connect people and no good tutorial videos online. We only had text and most people were still on dial-up internet. From an online community, the forum soon developed and began selling skate gear too.
How did your online retail side of the business take off?
Omar Herrawi: When we started, we were contacting loads of sponsors and they all ignored us except for Globe, who are located in Australia. Our level of sales has always gone up and down since the start, mainly because skating is a trend with big surges and dips in popularity. But the sales are not as important as getting the skateboard culture out there. Interestingly enough, we were the first ever online store in Egypt. We went to Aramex and told them we want to do cash on delivery. At first they said no and that it wouldn't work but now they have a whole industry based on it. Once we made a name for Skateimpact, we also had a collaboration with Cliche skateboards and Andrew Brophy to release a special, limited edition dedicated to the Egyptian revolution. The deck was sold in selected shops all over the world.
Have any Skateimpact skaters received international recognition yet?
Omar Herrawi: Not yet, but we have ones that are sponsored internationally through brands that we work with. They have to be sponsored first and then they can compete in international competitions.
How has the revolution impacted the skating community?
Cherif: Skateboarding is underground and skateboarders are by nature anti-establishment. So we went on the streets and asked for our freedom like so many Egyptians. People are beginning to see the connection now and are more comfortable with the typical skater lifestyle.
You say that, but aren't professional skateboarders sponsored by corporations?
Cherif: Yes, but when you talk to these skating corporations, you find they’re just like us. They're skaters first, through and through.
So what trouble have you had with the police?
Omar Herrawi: We get kicked out of spots all the time, unless the spot is really good then we'll try to stay. Ziad got arrested once. It was nothing to do with skating - he just got detained whilst protesting because they thought he was a foreign spy.
Ziad: It was probably my hair.
What are the best tricks you can do?
Omar Herrawi: Complies
Amin: Trick flips
Omar Adel: Hardflips on ramps
I (Timmy) was skating on the roof and I got caught by the bawab. I spent ten minutes trying to explain to the bawab what a skateboard is...
Omar Herrawi: You can use khashab be arba3 3agal, keyboard, skiboard, Gameboy...we've heard all sorts of names for skateboards here!
Ever had any bad injuries from skating?
Omar Herrawi: Firstly, don’t skate on the roof! We had a friend who did that and he fell off. It was only from the 4th floor and a tree softened his landing, so he survived but he broke both legs and had spinal surgery. He’s OK now. Ziad was hit by a car on a slope once as well!
Cherif: I developed a rare disease from falling so much. I had two surgeries because I don’t have enough blood going to a certain bone.
If you could skate with anyone in the world who would it be?
All: Rodney Mullen
What do your parents think about you skating?
Ziad: My mum sees me getting hurt whenever I go skate and she keeps telling me to wear a helmet... that's not going to happen!
Now that you've made it into a viable business, how do they feel?
Omar Herrawi: Well, our dad works in frozen foods but I never wanted to only work with him. I wanted to work in something I really loved and was passionate about, so by day we sell artichokes, by night skateboards!
There was a comment on one of your Facebook page posts that asked "Entu group metnak or group skateboard?" So we have to ask: "Entu group metnak or group skateboard?"
Omar Herrawi: Hahaha a bit of both! Cherif is a bit conservative though!
Does skateboarding get bitches?
Cherif: Well, some girls start skating so they can hang out with the guys.
No, no, we didn't say ‘girls,’ we said ‘bitches’. Which leads us to another question: What's your favourite Avril Lavigne song?
Omar Adel: No. If you want really good skateboarding songs...
No. So you all want to make a living from skateboarding. What's your ambition for Skateimpact as a company?
Omar Herrawi: If you ask a footballer what he wants to do in his life, he’ll tell you to he wants to play football. He has to because it is his life. We are the second company in the Middle East for skateboarding. The first was in Dubai, but they are businessmen. We are skaters who understand business. Egypt has a very difficult culture. We have been working on this for 7 years, but it’s tough. Our main target is to propagate the sport in Egypt, give the kids something I didn't have when I was their age...I didn't have a community of skaters to fit in to, so we had to build one from scratch. The next thing we want to do is create a hardcore punk scene. The Black Lips contacted us and we hosted their show in Alexandria to celebrate our 7th Anniversary and then we came to Cairo and did some graffiti with them. In Alexandria the scene is a bit different, there are a lot of artists and people doing things that are counter-culture.
It's true. Here in Cairo people are too distracted by society and self-image to do anything worthwhile for the most part...
Omar Herrawi: I always say that the sea breeze helps art. And when you go back to the history of Alexandria, it was mainly inhabited by foreigners and that has affected the culture. Right now the underground music, graffiti, skateboarding and art scene know each other well.
We understand you've been featured in a couple of big films. Tell us about that experience...
Omar Herrawi: There was Microphone directed by Ahmed Abdallah (Best Arabic-language film Award from Cairo International Film Festival, Best Editing Award from Dubai International Film Festival, Tanit d'Or from Journées cinématographiques de Carthage) and starring some big actors. The whole team skated in the movie and I myself had two scenes in which I acted. I didn't want to be in the movie but the director convinced me at the end to be in it for few seconds. The experience was more than amazing, I had fun working with a great director and with and the amazing cast (Yosra Lozy, Menna Shalaby, Mahmoud Lozy, Khaled Aboul Naga et al.) Our skater Yassin Koptan acted as a featured character in the movie from start to finish and after that, he decided to start a career in the movie industry. He's now studying at New York Film Academy. We were also part of a documentary called Slipping, directed by Brett Saunders, about the Egyptian skate scene and it's development.
Do you host your own events?
Cherif: We've had events with Nokia, SODIC and Redbull. We have another one in February in Smart Village for The Fitness Festival. There’s also an international Go Skateboarding day on the 21st of June which we host in Alexandria every year. We've also held many music events too, hosting the French Hardcore-Screamo band Fishing With Guns, as well as concerts with local bands such as Braincandy and Your Prince Harming.
How many skaters would you say are in Egypt now?
Omar Herrawi: 7000
Have any international skaters ever come to Egypt?
Omar Herrawi: Yeah they sometimes come to skate and they always get in touch with us because Skateimpact is skating in Egypt.
Will you be skating for freedom next Jan 25th?
Cherif: Yeah, well if you have your board, at least you can defend yourself.
Is skating haram to Ikhwan?
Omar Herrawi: Haha, probably yeah.
What advice would you give to kids who want to skate?
Cherif: To get a board. That would help. And you don’t need a trainer, you just go in the street and join a crew. Never quit skating for a girl. A lot of kids stop skating around 15 to hang out with girls instead.
How many girls skate with you?
Omar Herrawi: We have 15 girls. Hannah Asmy is great, she's a flow-rider (the step before getting a sponsor).
How do you promote skating to all walks of life in a third world country?
Omar Herrawi: We are a third world country, but the sheer number of people who can skate here is much larger than in Dubai, for example. There is now a plan to make the Suez Canal a free zone which will kill Dubai's economy. Egypt will change and we, as skaters, will be part of this change!
Inspiring. What about drugs? Bet-smoke?
Omar Herrawi: Haha, I don’t and my brother doesn't. But as for these kids...I'm not saying anything!
Alright, what's the best drugs to take before skating? Bit of Tramadol?
Ziad: Haha no drugs, maybe just some alcohol.
What’s the biggest set of stairs you've managed to jump?
Ziad: I did an 11-set once.
Do you think you could do 26 flights of stairs down the building?
We can get you some Tramadol you wont feel a thing... So Omar Adel, you're 15 now. How old were you when you started?
Omar Adel: 11
Wow, Keep it up. Don’t follow the bitches, and stay off the Tramadol.
Omar Herrawi: Skating is about fun, even if after some time you’re off your board, you’ll still have it in your blood. Skatebaording has cycles. Ups and downs, worldwide. In the 80's there was nothing, in the 90's it was huge. It’s a trend, but true skaters will always skate. They say ‘haters will hate and skaters will skate.’
And potatoes will potate. Do you guys have any other hobbies?
So working as brothers, do you ever fight?
Cherif and Omar Herrawi: All the time.
About what? Bitches and Tramadol?
Omar Herrawi: Haha in the office, my brother and I always fight over stupid things. I have never been serious, and I'm always joking around and doing silly things... Cherif is serious and a lot of people think that I am the younger brother, while he's actually 3 years younger than me.
Have you seen The Most Vertical Primate?
It's a film about a monkey who can skateboard. It's amazing. Have you ever tried putting an animal on a skateboard?
Ziad: Hahaha, maybe we'll try street cats.
What’s the best trick you think a cat can do on a skateboard?
Ziad: Staying on. And pissing. At the same time.
*We then took the guys down for a impromptu skate session in the car park of the building before being kicked out by the doormen, but not before managing to catch a couple of tricks. We apologised. They seemed used to it.*
And for all your Skateboarding needs in Egypt check out their online store www.SkateImpact.com