Jonah Helfman: Skateboarding on three continents


Jonah skateboardInward heelflips, 360 flips and tailsides are skateboarding terms that 19-year-old Jonah Helfman has grown up with. Since getting his first skateboard in third grade, Helfman has taken skateboarding on as a passion. The Arnold, Md., teenager recently came back from Israel as part of the first group of BBYO’s “Beyond,” a nine-month, gap-year program. For a side trip the group made to Ethiopia, Helfman brought along a few of his boards to ride and to donate. He had heard that there were 25 kids sharing just 7 boards in Addis Ababa, the capital. Alexa Laz spoke with him.

How did you bring all those skateboards on the trip with you?
I brought 11 decks, the wooden part. I put six in one suitcase and five in another. Both of my bags were way over. I split them up in case one got lost, so I didn’t lose all my boards.

So why did you need to bring all those boards?
They wear out. I skate a lot, and I want them to be kept in good shape. They can break or get soggy in the rain. It’s a piece of wood.

Tell me about skating in Ethiopia.
I knew I would bring a boards to Ethiopia. I usually bring boards with me wherever I go, and I wasn’t sure if I was going to use them at all. So on our first day in Ethiopia, the sun was starting to go down and we were walking, going down a mountain. The tour guy said, “Go ride down the hill.” So I did and the concrete was so smooth.

How did the locals react?
Truck drivers on the opposite side of the road had their head out the windows and were giving me thumbs up. They were cheering. They were so confused but hyped.

Did you skateboard a lot during your trip in Israel? How was it?
I met so many skateboarders in Tel Aviv. I established home here.

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