In many of the developing world’s fast-growing cities, public transportation is more burdensome than convenient. Service is unreliable, roads are lousy, and traffic is heavy, even dangerous.

That’s why product design student Daniel Scheidler came up with a solution: skateboards. Specifically, skateboards made entirely from locally available materials.

Scheidler, who attends Weimar, Germany’s Bauhaus–Universität Weimar and was in Ethiopia for six months between 2012 and 2013 for an internship, aims to make the half-pipe-shredding, handrail-grinding icon of American youth culture into a legitimate means of transportation for residents of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital.

“It’s the perfect city for skating,” says Scheidler, an avid skater himself. “It’s in the highlands, so it’s fun to go downhill. Uphill, there are lots of slow-moving trucks and cars where you can hang on the back. And the people on the street aren’t used to skateboarders, so they cheer as you ride past. It’s a great atmosphere.”

Getting around by more conventional means is a challenge, he says. Many people endure long waits for minibuses. Bicycles aren’t practical for a hilly city like Addis. Cars are expensive and won’t help you cut through rush hour.

So for his graduation project, dubbed SK8OPIA, Scheidler designed a board made for transportation, not sport, and one that can be made and used in the context of Ethiopia.

The skateboard is constructed entirely of cheap, locally obtainable materials usually used for construction. The deck is plywood and local steel, and the wheels are made from old tires, fiberglass, and foam. The idea is eventually to have the boards made in small workshops.

Scheidler also tweaked the design of the trucks—the axles that connect the wheels to the deck of a skateboard. Scheidler’s trucks are thinner and have a twisty shape, which allows for greater agility and better accommodates the larger-than-average wheels. The wheels are big to provide better balance and faster speed. The chief benefit, though: being able to ride on unpaved roads.

“People know skateboarding from the Internet and media,” Scheidler says. “But it’s still difficult for them to get one.”

Scheidler hopes to introduce the concept to other developing countries. But for now, the focus is on Addis Ababa, where grassroots movements such as Ethiopia Skate are nurturing a fledgling skateboard culture.

“The design is especially for Addis,” he says. “The skate scene in Addis is special, and it’s quickly growing.”

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