To premiere Dazed’s new skate doc 7Hills, we’ve compiled seven must-see movies that explore skate culture
Filmmaking has always been a natural extension of skating. The first wave of skater kids shared VHS compilations with their mates. Now, those DIY directors collab with brands to create raw, vivid documentaries that capture the highs and lows of the skating scene around the world. It’s a cult niche that began with the 1965 Oscar-nominated short Skaterdater, leading up to recent feature films Skate Kitchen and Mid90s, proving that the kids roaming the streets on wheels have always been a source of coming-of-age intrigue. From the newly built skate parks of Jordan and Havana, to the streets of New York and Belfast, here are seven short skate films you need to see.
7Hills, premiering here, tells the story of the skater-driven non profit in Amman, Jordan that built the city’s first skate park to unite locals and refugee youth through skating. Directed by Stanley Brock and featuring music from local rapper and skater Basher ‘Shbash’ Saleh, 7Hills intersperses raw skate footage with interviews from the volunteers and kids using the park.
According to co-founder Mohammed Zakaria, the goal is to “establish a safe space where kids can come and play for free. It doesn’t matter where you come from”. Welcoming over 150 young people to try out new tricks each week, the 7Hills team offer free skate classes to refugees from Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Iraq, Palestine and Yemen. Jordan has a refugee population of over 40 per cent, and the skate park has become a melting pot of people from all walks of life.
7Hills trains local volunteers to teach classes, with the goal of making Amman’s skate scene self-sustainable. As Shbash says, “to have a skate park was a dream in Jordan. Most people think this life isn’t for us. But we do it because we believe in it.”
LOOK AT ME
Before skater-filmmaker Bing Liu created the Oscar-nominated documentary Minding the Gap, he crafted this evocative exploration of why we film skateboarding. This beautiful compilation of hand-held skate footage examines the culture of documenting the skate scene in Chicago. Liu depicts this unique art form as a socially dependent process that allows skaters to record and share memories of a transient, often nomadic lifestyle.
While Look At Me documents the skaters who want their tricks and triumphs to be seen, it also delves into the motives of young skate photographers and filmmakers, to examine why they position themselves just out of focus, observing the way skaters shape their own space as they discover new ways to navigate the city.
13 WOMEN IN SKATEBOARDING
In just four and a half minutes, this quick-cut YouTube edit splices together some of the best footage showcasing the skill and tenacity of skating's female pros. Compiled as part of the Memory Screen retrospective by Dutch editor Jan Maarten Sneep, the reel begins with Elissa Steamer, the first woman to attain pro status in skating history, showcasing her parts from the Welcome To Hell and Jump Off A Building edits created by deck sponsor Toy Machine. Also included are Nora Vasconcellos, the first female pro to skate for adidas, and Lizzie Armanto, the first woman to successfully skate The Loop, a 360-degree ramp.
You may not have heard of Jaime Reyes, but one of Honolulu’s greatest skaters is among only three women with a Thrasher magazine cover, and the first pictured skating street. Her parts in Real’s Non-Fiction, Zoo York’s Heads and Vicious Cycle are iconic, and her pro model board has been featured in the sports collection at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.
EPICLY PALESTINE’D: THE BIRTH OF SKATEBOARDING IN THE WEST BANK
Aram and Adham live in the city of Ramallah, Palestine’s de facto capital. The two young men are the first skaters in a country where it’s impossible to buy a skateboard. Co-directed by SkatePal's Theo Krish and Philip Joa, this gritty doc tells their story, of the kids who use skating as a form of escapism in Palestine’s military occupation. There are no stylish skate shops or ready-made skateparks here, but the team of volunteers who form SkatePal are supplying the materials needed to build decks and ramps.
Founder Charlie Davis sees SkatePal’s work as a way to share the culture. “I’m really excited to see kids skating anywhere, especially in a place where it hasn’t existed before,” he says. “Because of that, you know there’s a future in this sport. That’s what makes it worthwhile.”
This first wave of skaters in cities like Ramallah and Qalqilya are teaching each other to learn tricks. Skating isn’t always met with approval in Palestine’s traditional society, but the vivid, hand-held footage in this doc depicts the freedom it gives young people here. As 15-year-old skater Eihab Taha describes it: “I use skateboarding to do something strange and beautiful”.
Most skate clips capture the chill, palm-tree lined streets of Cali, and feature daredevil stunts that showcase the best moments in skating. Saint Denis goes against the grain, as documentarian Phil Evans partners with apparel brand Carhartt WIP to record the crazy highs and aching lows of Belfast-born Denis Lynn’s struggle to stay sober while pursuing his career as a pro skater.
The grey urban backdrop bears the wounds of Ireland’s divide, and the protagonist isn’t always shown at his best. But as Evans describes Lynn’s journey: “For sure he is self-destructive, but a lot of good skaters have this tendency.” This film stands as evidence not only of Lynn’s talent and drive, but as proof that skating can become a means to transcend the most challenging situations. It’s a daring look beyond the compilation edits that explores how a skater’s identity is shaped within and beyond the culture itself.
DEATHBOWL TO DOWNTOWN ‘SOUL ARTISTS’
New York in the 70s was crime-ridden chaos. But Marc 'Ali' Edmonds saw the city as a canvas. Co-directed by Coan Buddy Nichols and Rick Charnoski of Six Stair Studio, this short film tells the story of NYC’s original Zoo York skate crew. Ali’s collective united graffiti artists, skaters and bboys to stir up a new scene on the city streets, and together they transformed New York into their playground.
The legendary 'deathbowl’ was an abandoned pool in the Bronx, but the Zoo York skate crew made it theirs, building ramps to further test their skills. They staked their claim to now iconic spots like Astor, Washington Square, and the Brooklyn Banks, becoming the first skaters to traverse the streets of NYC.
Featuring interviews with founding members, Deathbowl to Downtown is the history of their origins, revealing how New York’s original skate crew went on to transform their art into a business and create the Zoo York streetwear brand.
TESTIMONIALS ON CUBA SKATE
This short film paints the colour and culture of Havana in a bold palette, presenting the city as seen through the eyes of a skater exploring its streets. But the kids here ride cracked boards, often foregoing flimsy footwear for better grip. With minimal funds and no access to construction materials, combined with trade embargoes that limit the import of new decks into the country, Cuba’s skaters have the odds stacked against them.
Led by founder Miles Jackson, non-profit Cuba Skate is pushing back at these restrictions, teaching local skaters to create DIY skateparks and build their own boards. Splicing together interviews from the Cuba Skate team with footage of Havana’s skaters in action, filmmaker Zack Mack demonstrates the positive impact of these projects, proving that the skate community can sustain itself anywhere as a form of freedom and self-expression.