The two men who will wear Fijian skateboarding at the Brisbane Olympics have fallen into a skateboarding 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 were first spotted by Donny Fraser, who came across their ‘Fijian Skateboarders’ Facebook page earlier this year.
Sanday was introduced to skateboarding during his high school days in Vanuatu, where he and a French colleague were inspired by other internationals on the boards.
“We started from scratch and he got better, and I got better…we just kept pushing each other’s boundaries,” Sanday said.
When he returned to Fiji, his friend Uluilakeba soon joined him to fall in love with the sport.
Break down the barriers
The pair said while there was the occasional stranger spotted on a board, skateboarding was not the thing to do on the island.
“It started just the two of us, because in Fijian culture, new things are seen as a bit strange and [Fijians] don’t dwell on it,” Uluilakeba said.
“So seeing this novelty, people don’t really try to associate with it.
“For quite a while, I think for a whole year, there were only two of us skating.”
The duo have slowly managed to change the perception, hosting skate sessions at the Fijian Parliament every weekend.
“In Fiji, we don’t have publicly accessible skating facilities,” Sanday said.
“At the moment all we do is ride wherever there is smooth pavement.
“In Suva, [Parliament House] is the place with the most paved and smoothest cement.”
The duo saw their first in-person skate park during a visit to Toowoomba Regional Camp five years ago, but they never expected to ever fall into a bowl themselves.
“We never imagined ourselves trying, it was a foreign thing for us even to imagine,” Uluilakeba said.
They said they were just sitting in the bowl watching the skaters go by in a flurry of tricks.
But since landing in Australia for the competition, the pair have been skating and falling in their first bowl.
Their busy itinerary also included showing the boys how to welcome, judge and coach young skaters.
Fiji at the 2032 Olympics
Mr Fraser wants to see Australia’s neighbors develop their skateboarding culture to create strong Pacific competition ahead of the Brisbane Olympics.
The three men think Fiji is the perfect place to start.
“I strongly believe that Fiji’s potential is absolutely tremendous,” Sanday said.
“You see [Fijian] rugby players everywhere [in] Europe, even here in Australia, and I think we can tap into skateboarding as well.”
In skateboarding, the top 20 male and female skaters will compete at the Olympics with a maximum allocation of two per country – but there is also a guaranteed spot for each region such as Oceania.
“Australia is really dominant, it almost in a sense prevents us from potentially winning a gold medal,” Fraser said.
“What I would like to see is competition for us across the Pacific.
“I want to see all these countries really put 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 Olympic Committee to find land and fund infrastructure to support the Fijian dream of skateboarding.
Mr Fraser said the real problem was securing land, given the limited availability on the island.
Sanday and Uluilakeba admit they are unlikely to make it to the Olympics, but the chance to lay the foundations for the next generation of Fijian skaters makes them stronger.
“To open a gateway for the rest of our brothers and sisters who would like to participate [is our goal]“, said Uluilakeba.
“We are so happy to have the younger generation back home and prepare them for an event like this, especially for the Brisbane Olympics.
“It would be something so special for us to see.”