Unlike his Ethiopian counterparts, Stromsoe, being a native Californian, was always surrounded by skate and surf culture, growing up in the state that helped create and revolutionize the sport.
“I grew up in a beach town and skateboarding has always been a part of my [life]. Most of my friends are skaters or surfers and I spent a lot of time making little skate videos when I was a kid.”
Stromsoe didn’t know how far that influence reached at first. After traveling to Ethiopia for the first time in 2011 to shoot video for the Tropical Health Alliance Foundation, he came across a random group of skaters that piqued his interest.
“I only had three days notice before the trip and didn’t know anything about Ethiopia. It was eye opening being in the countryside that first trip and the next three return trips, but I [still] wanted to get a better sense of city life.
In June 2013, I met the kids skating in Sar Bet [a district of Addis Ababa], and we started hanging out every day. Abenezer, Addisu, and other friends really showed me local life in [the city] — now I feel like they’re my family and Addis Ababa is my second home.”
Ethiopia is made up of rocky terrain along the countryside that can be challenging for novices to skate on; and the capital is a growing metropolitan city with honking cars that whiz past while you play real-life Frogger trying to cross one of many busy intersections. With new development projects being built in the capital, there are more and more paved streets making for ideal, but not always welcoming, skate spots.
The accessibility of skateboarding is also huge for those in the third world; decks are easy to ship and travel with, and are a cheaper mode of transport than bicycles — a big factor when you weigh-in how important bicycles have become in Africa for those who do not have access to motorized transportation.
“The sport has the potential to mean a lot in Ethiopia,” Stromsoe says, “especially in big cities — more and more pavement and places to skate. Looking around you don’t see many football fields or basketball courts, but everything is skateable.”