Abisha Safia on IWD: The Saudi skater talks about shifting stereotypes across the Middle East

From nurturing Olympic talent to dressing like a boy to skate in Saudi Arabia.

Abisha Safia has been breaking barriers in the world of skating. She was born in California, United States. Her mum is from America and her dad is from Saudi Arabia. She is 29 years old, and lives between Los Angeles and Riyadh. She explains: “Ever since I was young, I was always moving around and travelling”. 

As a child, Abisha fell in love with skating in America, but couldn’t pursue the sport in Saudi Arabia. She would make ramps on the stairs, and dress up as a boy to skate outside. Now, the Kingdom is supporting her ambitions: she has founded the skating platform, Desert Eagles, and is getting local talent onto the world’s biggest sporting stage, the Olympic Games. 

What was it like growing up in Saudi Arabia? 

Honestly, it was tough growing up in Saudi Arabia. I was in love with skating and there wasn’t a skating scene or skate park. The culture was strict, especially from my family. I was told I had to wear an abaya. So, I would try to dress like a little boy when I was a teenager, as I loved to skate. My dad told me to be careful. I’m super stoked that things have changed. Women can participate in sports, and skateboarding is part of the Olympic Games. If someone has that dream, they can now be in the Olympics. 

What is the biggest misconception about women in Saudi Arabia? 

People want to protect them, especially in sport. My dad was worried about me getting hurt. It’s understandable. Now we are moving forward with Saudi Vision 2030, it’s a beautiful thing to see women branch out and do whatever they want. 

Abisha Safia

What’s the best thing about being a woman in the Middle East

If you see TikTok, it shows how if you leave your phone in America, it will be gone in two seconds. If you leave your phone in Saudi Arabia or the UAE, it will still be there. I love Riyadh and where it is heading. I love that they are opening up the country. I always tell my friends it’s so safe and welcoming. Plus, we have the bombest food. 

How did you get into skating? 

When I saw a kid skateboarding in San Francisco, I thought that was the coolest thing I had ever seen. I asked my parents for a board and the first day I stepped on it, oh my. The feeling of freedom you get from that – I lit up, smiled, and was hooked ever since. I have always been into sports. I love basketball and soccer. For some reason, I have always been attracted to extreme sports. I love motorcycles and going fast and feeling the adrenaline. 

Abisha Safia

In skating, did you intentionally start breaking barriers?

It didn’t cross my mind at all. I just saw that I loved it so much and was progressing so fast. When people started coming up to me, I was shocked. I was getting approached by brands like Nike. When you are passionate about something, people will find you. 

What are the stereotypes about women in skating? 

Nowadays, people are more open. Even five years ago, if you showed up to a skate park, people were like, “she probably can’t even do a kick flip”. Then I’d do it and they’d be shocked. It’s just something they haven’t seen. When you see it more with girls going to the Olympics, it’s more familiar for people to see. 

Abisha Safia

Share a sexist moment you faced in skating. 

I was skateboarding in Venice Beach, Los Angeles. I was shooting a commercial and going to hit a rail. There were guys saying, “this is impossible”. I had my make-up done and wore a girly outfit. I slid on the biggest slide that they had at the skate park – and I did it. Afterwards, they were shocked and supportive. It’s a good feeling to show that girls can do things. Just because they haven’t seen it, doesn’t mean they can’t do it. Don’t be so shocked when something like that happens. Be ready. 

Tell us about Desert Eagles. 

Desert Eagles was such a cool concept. A couple of my guy friends in Riyadh wanted a club where other skaters could come and join. I didn’t even know there were other skaters in Riyadh. When you have a community with a name with it, you have girls and guys who want to join. It then grows and it’s a beautiful thing. 

Tell us about women you admire. 

I am into the arts. I love acting. I love seeing powerful female actors and directors. I look up to anyone following their dreams and breaking barriers. 

What advice do you have for women?

Women are strong and powerful. The way that I think about it is that we literally have one life. If you see something that you want to try, don’t be intimidated. You don’t know what tomorrow brings. Go for it. Whatever you are passionate about, don’t think too much about what other people say. At the end of the day, you have one chance. 

GO: Follow @abishasafia on Instagram for more information. 

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Kohinoor Sahota - Deputy Editor
A sucker for a good story, if you invite Kohinoor to a gallery, comedy night, new restaurant, hiking trip, cycle ride, pool day or just about any activity, she’ll probably say yes – that is if she isn’t busy planning her next adventure.

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