Namibia has the most accidents per capita in the world; I was therefore hesitant to bring my longboard here when we had weight restrictions imposed by the Peace Corps and airlines. Skating has brought me many places over the past few years. As many of you know, I got into the scene in New York City, avidly competing in push races through the city. As the sport grew, so did my love for skating long distances. It has served as a mode of training, transportation, and camaraderie as skaters are some of the friendliest people you’ll ever meet. It was therefore something that I just couldn’t give up for my 2+ years of service in Namibia.
Driving in Namibia
In most developed areas of America, I could readily rely on roads being present in order to drive, bike, or skate from Point A to Point B, however, in Namibia, this is not the case. The majority of roads here are dirt, sand, or gravel. Paved or “tarred” roads are often limited to highways connecting major cities and some of the larger towns. Namibia has a rating and naming system for roads, going from B to D. B roads are well paved and connect the most traveled routes, C roads are paved but less maintained, and D roads are dirt roads serving smaller communities and farms. Additionally there are earthen roads which have been made by clearing the vegetation and are maintained simply by traffic.
Due to the costs of owning a car and difficult process of getting one’s driver’s license, a small percentage of Namibians own cars. Despite this, there are an overwhelming number of accidents in the country. One of the main culprits is cell phone usage. Cell phone popularity has exploded in Namibia, but there has not yet been enough time to educate drivers about proper cell phone usage in cars and make enforceable laws around them. Most drivers use a phone to talk and many text and drive. Additionally, many drivers try to overtake in unsafe locations such as corners and blind hill crests, and many try to pass multiple cars. These cause numerous head on accidents which are often fatal. Speed also kills. Namibia is too vast of a country to effectively patrol and therefore people take advantage of that. Then, there is alcohol. A plague to so many Namibians in general, it is also commonplace to find drunk drivers especially on weekends and holidays. And lastly is the night. Many Namibians avoid night driving because large animals (lions, oryx, kudus, etc.) like to lay on the tarred roads for warmth once the sun goes down, this poses a serious threat for any little car, and the Peace Corps actually forbids us from using nighttime transportation.
Skating in Namibia
While in Namibia, I’ve been lucky enough to be in places with skate-able roads. Sometimes a road will change to coarse chip-seal or just switch to sand, but it hasn’t hindered my skates too much. The roads (where there are roads) are usually in good condition because Namibia enjoys a desert climate. There is not much extreme weather and I don’t have to worry about pot holes or anyone salting the road in wintertime. There is, however, sand and dust. I have yet to try bike grease in my bearings but have plenty of time to find out what works for keeping sand and dust at bay. Within town, I can skate at about the same speed as most other cars and bikes, giving me a little control over my safety since we are all obeying the same traffic laws. In order to get some good distance on my long skates, I have to head out of town where the speed limits are higher. Despite their reputation, the drivers have been fairly aware and respectful. What I have observed is that often there is no shoulder, drivers are close when they pass, and people go fast! While these are things that are out of my control, I do try to skate when there are less people on the road and wear high visibility clothes. So far, I’ve skated in Windhoek (the capital), Okahandja, Tsumeb, and Karibib with no incidents.
The board that I brought to Namibia is the Pantheon Trip. It is a great board for long distance, short commutes, and everything in between. While in Tsumeb, many would shout, “Jesus!” as I skated by, and I became known as the Flying Jesus. Others would just stare, bewildered by the whole scene. There are few skateboards in this country, fewer longboards, and only one Pantheon. Its owner also happens to have a distinguishable beard.
If you live in or are traveling through Namibia and you skate, let me know at email@example.com! I would love to go for a group ride and continue to share longboarding with the beautiful country of Namibia.