The sport that usually comes to mind when you think of Nepal, the Himalayan Kingdom that covers eight of the world’s 14 summits of over 8000 meters, is mountaineering. Some might think big mountains would be great for snowboarding, but they aren’t. The only people riding down Nepal’s great peaks are the odd adventure junkies who are usually chasing a record of some sort.
“I have heard tales of Kathmandu Valley’s Nepali masters producing wooden treasures for Tibetan kings.”
Nepal is no longer a kingdom. After a decade of civil war, the left-wing Maoist movement took over and removed the royal family from power, and now this beautiful country is lead by a socialist government known mostly for its corruption. My own love story with Nepal began fifteen years ago, almost two decades after I got my first skateboard. In order to understand how I ended up having a deck with a hand-carved picture of Tenzing Norgay, the first person to reach the summit of Mount Everest, we need to find the man who made it.
The bustling streets of Kathmandu are filled with the competing sounds of cover bands. Tourists, backpackers, hippies, wanna-be adventurers and occasional mountaineers fill the numerous bars of Thamel, the traveller’s ghetto of this culturally diverse capital city. Kathmandu has seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites, all of them active places of worship for Hindus and Buddhists. Temples cover the monumental central squares of the valley’s three kingdoms once ruled by three brothers from The Malla dynasty. These royals led the movement of master craftsmanship in the area, a legacy that can still be witnessed today in ancient buildings and monuments alike.
During my travels around the Himalayas, I have heard tales of Kathmandu Valley’s Nepali masters producing wooden treasures for Tibetan kings, shaping the details of their magnificent monasteries and temples. And I have read legends that the ancient world considered the beautiful multilevel, pagoda architecture of Hindu temples to be the main export of this little-known kingdom.
When I spotted a handcrafted wooden skateboard through a window in Thamel, with a stencilled portrait of possibly the world’s most famous mountaineer on it, it was like finding the missing link in evolution. I had just returned from an expedition summiting Island Peak, a small mountain in local standards, reaching just 6189 metres. This peak was popular among people wanting to have a taste of Himalayan mountaineering. It would not normally have been a significant climb in any way, but this also happened to be the peak where Tenzing and his more famous New Zealander partner, Edmund Hillary practiced before their first ascent of the highest summit on earth, Mount Everest.So what was this board, where did it come from, and who had made the unlikely connection between skateboarding and this mountaineering legend? The answer is found talking to a Swiss carpenter and listening to his story of Nepal’s first and only skate shop and board manufacturer, Arniko.Marius Arniko Arter, 31, is the CEO of Arniko Skateboards. He was born in Nepal and after moving back to Switzerland as a child, returned in 2004 to start the company that highlights the craftsmanship of Kathmandu Valley in the form of beautiful, artistic skateboards. Trained as a carpenter himself, Marius is once more based in Zurich, although still spends a few months a year travelling and working abroad. However, his handprint is still seen in the shapes of the beautiful boards produced with the support of his Nepali craftsmen.
EVERYTHING STARTS WITH A KID AND HIS BOARD
As understandable as it is, after visiting Nepal numerous times myself over the last decade, to stay connected to skateboarding you need to find ways other than the actual riding. The streets are rough and the skate spots are as non-existent as the scene itself. Is this about to change? Hear it from the man himself.”I got my first deck when I was about 8 or 9. I have skated more or less ever since. As a youngster, I used to go mainly to the parks. At the age of 21, I moved to a skiing area in the Swiss Alps and focused more on snowboarding. After moving to Nepal for good, I kind of stopped skating on a regular basis”, Marius explains.”It is great to see how the (skateboarding) scene has grown rapidly in the last 3 to 4 years! There are now some skate crews in Nepal. Some of them are super ambitious and motivated to bring the scene forward, by organizing events or building obstacles. In the early days, there were mainly foreigners skating in Nepal and some Nepalis who lived abroad. I am very happy to see so many young skaters nowadays, boys and girls. The greatest thing is that they are all super talented. I am sure this is just the beginning. There is already a park in Pokhara, and some of the skaters from Kathmandu are planning on building one. The place where we are opening the new store is big enough for a small skate park as well, so we are definitely planning on building something as well”. Artistic expression is a big part of skateboarding, not just board graphics but also riding style is and always should be a big part. By the time he reached his late teens, Marius was already building boards for his friends along with learning new tricks on them.”At the age of 15, I started my apprenticeship as a carpenter, about one year later I built my first deck. Then I started making boards for my friends as well. Back then it was great since I had all the machines needed to build good decks.