Fijian skateboarders follow pipe dreams all the way to Olympics

In Olympic Games

The two men who will carry Fijian skateboarding into the Brisbane Olympics have dropped into a skate bowl for the first time.

William Fe’ofa’aki Sanday and Maikeli Baleigau Uluilakeba landed in Australia on Friday to attend the Rumble on the Reef skateboarding championships in Mackay. 

The pair was initially scouted by Donny Fraser, who stumbled across their Facebook page ‘Fijian Skateboarders’ earlier this year. 

Sanday was first introduced to skateboarding during his high school years in Vanuatu, where he and a French colleague drew inspiration from other internationals on boards. 

Fijian man stands with skateboard smiling.
William Fe’ofa’aki Sanday wants to inspire the next generation of Fijian skateboarders.(ABC Tropical North: Lillian Watkins)

“We started from zero basically and he improved, and I improved … we just kept pushing each other’s limits,” Sanday said.

When he returned to Fiji, his friend Uluilakeba quickly joined him in falling in love with the sport. 

Breaking barriers

The pair said while there was the occasional foreigner spotted on a board, skateboarding was not the done thing on the island.

“It started just the two of us, because the thing is, in the Fijian culture, new things are seen as kind of odd and [Fijians] don’t gravitate to it,” Uluilakeba said.

“So, seeing this new thing, people don’t really try and associate themselves with it.

Young fijian  man stands smiling with skateboard.
Maikeli only started skateboarding a couple of years ago.(ABC Tropical North: Lillian Watkins)

“For quite a while, I think for a whole year, it was just the two of us skating around.”

The duo slowly managed to shift the perception, holding skate sessions at the Fijian Parliament House every weekend.

“In Fiji, we don’t have any publicly available skating facilities,” Sanday said. 

“At the moment, all we do is just we ride around wherever there’s smooth pavement. 

“In Suva, [Parliament House] is the place with the most paved and smooth cement.”

A group of skateboarders stand together in front of the Fijian Parliament House smiling at the camera.
Skateboarders in Fiji meet outside Parliament House in Suva every weekend to skate on the smooth pavement.(Supplied: Fiji Skateboarding)

The pair saw their first skate park in person during a regional pathway camp visit to Toowoomba five years ago, but they never expected they would one day be dropping into a bowl themselves. 

“We never pictured ourselves trying, it was a foreign thing for us even to imagine,” Uluilakeba said.

They said they simply sat in the bowl admiring the skaters passing by in a flurry of tricks.

But since landing in Australia for the competition, the duo has skated and dropped into their first bowl.

Their jam-packed itinerary has also included showing the boys how to host, judge and coach young skaters.

Two Fijian boys stand at the top of a skate bowl holding their country flag.
Maikeli Baleigau Uluilakeba and William Fe’ofa’aki Sanday are proud to be representing Fiji.(ABC Tropical North: Lillian Watkins)

Fiji at 2032 Olympics

Mr Fraser wants to see Australia’s neighbours build up their skateboarding culture to create a strong Oceanic competition ahead of the Brisbane Olympics.

Donny Fraser standing in front of the Sugar Bowl skate park in Mackay.
Donny Fraser has been running Rumble on the Reef for five years.(ABC Tropical North: Lillian Watkins)

All three men believe Fiji is the perfect place to start.

“I strongly believe that the potential in Fiji is absolutely great,” Sanday said.

“You see [Fijian] rugby players everywhere [in] Europe, even here in Australia, and I think that we can also tap into skateboarding.”

In skateboarding, the top 20 best men and women skaters will compete at the Olympics with a maximum allocation of two per country — but there is also one guaranteed spot for each region such as Oceania.

7 year old girl stands with skateboard smiling.
Mia Kretzer, 7, has flown from Perth to compete in Rumble on the Reef.(ABC Tropical North: Hannah Walsh)

“Australia is really dominant, it almost impedes us in a sense from potentially winning a gold medal,” Mr Fraser said.

“What I would like to see is competition for us across the Pacific.

“I want to see all those countries really putting the pressure on us … it’s going to improve us here; it’s going to improve them there.”

Mr Fraser is working with Sanday, Uluilakeba and the Pacific Olympics Committee to find land and fund infrastructure to support the Fijian skateboarding dream.

People skating along a street lined with palm trees.
The duo says street skating is the only real option in Fiji as the island has no publicly accessible skate parks.(Supplied: Fiji Skateboarding)

Mr Fraser said the real issue was obtaining land, given the limited availability on the island. 

Sanday and Uluilakeba admit they are unlikely to get themselves to the Olympics, but the possibility of laying the foundations for the next generation of Fijian skaters empowers them.

Kids skating on a footpath at the Mackay Sugar Bowl.
Kids skating on a footpath at the Mackay Sugar Bowl.(ABC Tropical North: Hannah Walsh)

“To open a gateway for the rest of our brothers and sisters that would love to participate [is our goal],” Uluilakeba said.

“We’re so happy to get back to the younger generation back home and prepare them for an event like this — especially for Brisbane Olympics.

“It would be something so special for us to see.”

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