Ever skated a skatepark made entirely out of salt?
© Gaston Francisco
Join Jaakko Ojanen and friends as they skate the White Desert project in Bolivia.
I first travelled to the Salar de Uyuni salt flats in Bolivia about 20 years ago, as a tourist. We slept in a salt hotel, travelled around the salt flats and met the salt workers who had their own quarry and produced salt bricks. A truly unforgettable experience that I recommend to everyone.
Years later I started to think about skateboarding projects that would be different or out of the norm. Perhaps not surprisingly, one of the first things that came to mind was the Uyuni salt flats and skating on them; but I wasn't sure if this could be done. I did a little research and found out through videos and friends that the salt flats might be skateable.
That was pretty much all I needed; I remembered about the salt workers and thought that if I talked to them, I could have them help me build this dream in salt.
Not being the best obstacle designer myself, I reached out to my long-time friend, all-round skater and skatepark builder Tino Arena.
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I met up with Tino, told him about my idea and asked if he’d be down to come with me to Bolivia to try and make this happen. I knew it was going to be a difficult offer to refuse and that he'd come along!
So it came to be that myself and Tino jumped on a 42-hour ordeal with four different layovers until we reached Uyuni. We were only carrying our skateboards, my camera gear, Tino’s work tools and some Euros in cash.
The unknown was coming our way – and we were excited about it!
As soon as we landed, we went to our salt hotel and instantly started bombarding the concierge with questions about the construction of the hotel. He guided us to the salt quarry to talk to the builders. We did so.
At first it was difficult to explain to them what we wanted to do but eventually they understood it. It took a long time for them to trust us, but we ended up being good friends.
Building the skatepark was a mission on its own. I wanted the ground to be white, but the densest ground is dark, so we only carved a few centimetres down in order to be able to skate, but to also keep the white ground. This made skating harder, but visually nicer.
Obstacles kept getting harder to build and we had to deal with situations no one had ever dealt with before during the construction of a skatepark at 3,500m above sea level – with freezing temperatures at night and high winds during daylight.
The elements were one factor working against us, but so was time.
This was indeed a feat never achieved before, and I’m happy and proud of having been a part of making it happen.
Hopefully these clips and this article will inspire other people to go out of their comfort zones and tackle situations that they've never dealt with before.
I was never sure that this was a thing that was possible to do, but I had trust in myself and my team, and that is usually just what you need: commitment, work, creativity and resilience!
Watch and enjoy the fruits of our heavy labours!