From Refugee to Skate Champ

Meet the Syrian refugee skaters trying to beat the Lebanese at their own game.

Posted by AJ+ on Thursday, December 10, 2015

Bahaa Shybani: Rollerblading Refugee

On December 10, 2015 a very unusual inline skating video made its way onto Facebook. It quickly amassed over 7,000 Likes and more than 3,000 Shares. No, this wasn’t the latest offering from Haffey or Farmer or Abrate… this was a video produced for AJ+ (Al Jazeera’s social media facing offshoot) about a skater that had fled his home in Syria due to the rising conflict there and then spent some time in Lebanon as a refugee before making his way to Germany. That blader’s name is Bahaa Shybani, and his story was so inspiring that we wanted to know more. Now, thanks in no small part to Hady Basha, we’ve been able to do just that. So please take the time to read about a blade brother from another corner of the world — and let his story reinforce the humanity that ties us all together. These are our lives. This is our BLADE WORLD. Make it one we can be proud of.

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Bahaa, thanks for speaking with us — we saw your video on AJ+ and were moved to reach out and find out more about your story. So where are you now?
Thank you so much for contacting me. I follow ONE Blade Magazine news, and I feel so honored that you want to interview me. I am now in Germany, in Blaum city, near the Czech republic border.

Where did your adventure begin? What factors led to your decision to flee Syria?
When the war began in March 2011 we tried so hard to stay and live through it, but as the war got worse we decided to leave in early 2012.

How does one decide to leave their home? Did you prepare or was it very sudden?
When the war started, it was in small isolated regions, and we thought “It won’t last long.” But with time it got worse and on a larger scale. The decision to leave was sudden — the first time we woke up in the middle of the night from the sound of bombs exploding in our area. That night we realized all hope for a peaceful life was gone so we packed up and left right then.

Did you travel alone or with family and friends?
Some of my family fled to Damascus where it was safer. We got separated from them during the bombing and I ended up in a car with a bunch of people I didn’t know… we ended up in Lebanon.

What hardships did you encounter while making your journey?
It was really hard, the hardest experience of my life. Separated from my family, alone, with no money — all I owned were the clothes on my back. It it wasn’t for total strangers that picked me up, I would probably be dead. Even the journey to Lebanon was scary. There was lots of army and militia posts on the road. We didn’t know if we were going to make it alive or not to Beirut, Lebanon.

And did you always plan to go to Lebanon and then Germany? What was the original plan?
There were no plans to leave Syria at all, it all happened suddenly. And since Lebanon is close to the border of Syria, and safer, when the people who picked me up where going there, I just went with them.

Before fleeing, how often did you inline skate?
I bladed very much in Syria, about four or five days a week.

How and where did you find skate gear?
We had a sports shop but they were very expensive and only carried two brands of blades, with no parts.

Were there a lot of skaters in Syria?
There were not a lot of bladers — maybe around 20 aggressive inliners.

When you left, were you able to take skates with you? Or did you leave them behind and find new skates in Lebanon?
I left without anything! I worked a lot and saved money in Lebanon to buy my first pair after leaving Syria. In fact it took nine months to find a job and save up to buy a pair of USD Team VII skates.

When I started skating in Lebanon I met a crew called “Shred Or Die Lebanon.” They are a big crew of about twenty bladers that are real good, and once they heard my story they all helped me out. One guy in particular, my mentor and the person who taught me a lot about blading, is Hady Basha. He gave me my first Razor Cult street blades which made me fall in love with Razors, and then gave me a pair Aragon 5’s, which made me LOVE INLINE SKATING.

How did you find the skatepark and get involved with the competition that was featured in the AJ+ video?
After I met the Shred Or Die crew I became one of them — we became a family. They started taking me with them anywhere they went to skate, including the 360 Skatepark where the competitions took place. The owner of the skate park, Alfred Attieh, saw how well some of us used the facility and gave me and a couple of others full sponsorship in the park! That’s where I excelled and met the AJ+ crew and did the interview.

The video says you skate professionally — what does that mean to you?
I am humbled really, but deep down inside I won’t feel I am professional until I compete against legendary pros.

How did you start skating?
As soon as I laid eyes on a pair of blades, I wanted to try it — that’s all I can remember.

Who are you favorite bladers? Do you have any influences? Anyone you look up to?
I have many: Brian Aragon, Alex Broskow, Montre Livingston, Roman Abrate, but for sure I love Aragon’s style and the way he blades.

So now you are in Germany, right? How is that going?
It’s great here. I mean, I miss my friends and family in Syria and Lebanon, but Germany is safe, the people are nice, and they treat us humanely.

Do you ever regret your decision to leave Syria and your home?
We were forced to leave Syria because of war, and no one will ever feel that they belong or be truly happy and comfortable unless it’s at “Home Sweet Home.”

Are you aware of the reaction and debate some countries are having in regards to accepting refugees from Syria and other places in that region? What would you say to people that share those opinions?
I understand how some feel about us — they don’t want us in their country. I would tell them to remember that we were forced out of our country because of a merciless war, and that all we want is to live, to live safe, and when the war is over we will go back to Syria. So just bare with us a little.

Now that you’ve settled in a new place, how is the blading? Have you found a crew to skate with?
It’s a remote place where I am staying now, a small town with no bladers. I do have some street sessions pretty often, and I am hoping once my residency card is issued I that I’ll be able to move to Berlin or another big city for blading.

What else about Germany has surprised you? Had you ever been there before relocating?
I had never been to Germany before. I didn’t expect to be so warmly welcomed. The country is really beautiful, and there is electrical power 24/7.

Can you compare what it’s like to skate in Germany compared with Lebanon and Syria?
In Lebanon and Syria there is no pro contact, no skate shops, no vert, and one skate park. In Germany there are a lot more skaters, lots of skate shops with parts, equipment is more affordable, plus there’s lots of skate parks and pros and competitions.

What’s next for you? Are you in school or working? Will you attend any blade events like Winterclash?
I already registered for Winterclash 2016! And I’m super excited for it — it’s a dream come true for me. I am also studying German language, and when I get my residency I will try to get a diploma as a pastry chef and start working.

Has your blading progressed since getting to Germany? Have you learned any new tricks?
I haven’t bladed often since at this stage of my residency I am limited to where I can go. So no new tricks, just brushing the dust of old tricks.

What’s your setup — what’re you blading on?
My set up Razors Aragon 6 as it comes  it’s perfect as it is.

Anything you want to add before you wrap this up, or anyone you want to thank?
I would like to thank first and foremost, my best friend and mentor, Hady Basha, who taught me all I know about blading. He helped me through my stay in Beirut, whether financially or through supporting me with blading supplies. I would like to thank Alfred Attieh, and his wife Paula, for the generous support at his skate park. I would like to thank Travis Beard from AJ+ for this expose that let everyone know about my story. Thank you to all my Shred Or Die crew family in Beirut for being the best brothers a man can ask for, and to everyone that saw my AJ+ video and supported me and sent their feelings. And last but not least, a special thank you to ONEblademag for taking the time to have this talk with me.

Well thanks for taking the time to speak with us — we hope everything goes well for you! Best of luck with your blading.

Questions by JE
Interview translated to and conducted in Arabic by Hady Basha

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