The Traveler’s Eye: Presidential Kick-flips in Desolate Kazakhstan
The Traveler’s Eye is a series about the stories behind some of my favorite travel photography I’ve taken over the years. Last week I told the story behind a photo I took when I trekked past farmers in the mountains of Laos. This week I’ll tell you the story about some skateboarders I encountered ripping it up in front of the Presidential palace in Astana, Kazakhstan.
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to walk through a ghost city, a place almost entirely uninhabited, but everything looks brand new? That is what walking through Astana, Kazakhstan is like in the middle of the day. At some point in the last 20 years they discovered oil in Kazakhstan and the president decided he wanted to build a mega-city. The only problem was he already had a capital Almaty where most city dwelling Kazaks already lived. Being the boss man though he didn’t really care.
He went with the whole “Field of Dreams” ideology of “if you build it they will come”. So he built an unbelievable city of super structures and skyscrapers that would impress anyone from any country. He did have a bit of a hang up though with the “they will come” part. It seems despite officially moving the capital from Alamaty to Astana and offering all sorts of incentives a lot of Kazaks haven’t really come around yet to Astana. It seems to be a gradual process, but until an actual populous migrates what you are left with is a futuristic city of concrete geometric forms, empty towers of glass, and a deafening silent wind cutting through all of it.
However, with so much concrete and so few people there is a minority that is winning out big, a handful of skateboarders. As my buddies Johnny and Ian and myself strolled through the Rapture-esque setting we stood in front of the Presidential Palace. Actually, there was about 500 meters of barren perfectly paved concrete between the palace and us. In the middle of all that nothing was a teenage Kazak skateboarder tearing it up and practicing kick-flips in what was most certainly a skateboarders wet dream. Concrete as far as the eye can see, no people, no police to stop you, and epic views in every direction.
Just imagine going to an empty Washington D.C. and watching a skateboarder bust tricks in front of the White House; surreal to say the least.
So that is what we did, embraced the surrealism of the moment and sat there in that empty mega city with no noise except for the wind and the occasional grinding and crashing of a skateboard. I thought this is what Valhalla must look like in the imagination of street skaters.