While Egypt continues to see new sports and fitness programmes come to life and thrive in our desert land, inline skating is yet to trend in the same way. Farah Hosny meets Tereza Costa; the woman singlehandedly championing the sport here...
It is late afternoon at the historic Mena House Hotel when Tereza Costa, the German born founder of Skating on Sand, Egypt’s first inline skating organisation, starts tying her skates, threading and pulling at the laces with quick-fire precision. As soon as she hits the cement, it’s as if she’s floating. She weaves and winds her way across the hotel’s courtyard, swirling around plants and lights, rolling alongside shallow pools, arms gracefully propelling her. With the sun spilling across the hotel, it throws her shadow behind her; linked at the wheels of her skates, it glides along with her, mirroring her movements, doubling the visual impact of her dance. And paired with the Mena House’s trademark backdrop – the majestic Pyramids – all in all, it is a breath-taking visual.
“With skating, what people see on the surface is this image of the pretty ballerina dancing and floating around but there’s so much more to it than that; it’s athletic training encompassing strength and flexibility, balance, core fitness, mental strength and so much more,” Costa tells us later as we sip on lemonades. The professional skater, who has toured the world on blades or wheels, moved to Egypt two years ago, settling on Gouna’s shores determined to work towards getting her sport of choice to gain a foothold in the country. She first visited in 2009, on tour with a Russian ice skating company and “fell in love with the place and the spirit of the people and I said to myself ‘One day I'm going to skate here and one day we’re going to have an established real skating thing here,’” Costa says, running a hand through her hair. “And the sport was not developed but there was, and is, so much potential, so developing it became one of my goals.”
The classically trained ice skater tells us that skating on and off and the ice (the latter is known as inline artistic skating) go hand-in-hand; “when I trained in Europe, in the summer we’d switch to artistic roller skating to continue our training and not lose what we’d learnt, so for me the two have always kind of been in parallel.” Eventually, she decided to relocate to the seaside resort and set out founding Skating on Sand, hoping to build a budding community for skaters in Egypt, both in Cairo and Gouna, now dividing her time between the two cities. “I slowly started to develop it – it started with dance and ballet classes and eventually I started to teach skating. I found a surface in Gouna which was pretty appropriate to skate on – it's not a skating rink at all; it’s basically like a parking lot but the surface is perfect.”
Since then, she has taken it upon herself to singlehandedly propel the sport of skating. Her goal is now twofold; to formulate a base so that those interested can engage in the sport, through both teaching skating to students and coaching other coaches so that they can have the necessary tools at their disposal, and attract investors in order to develop Egypt as a potential hub for international skating teams. She hopes that in the process of working on the former, it will help also bring the latter to fruition. “A lot of national teams in Europe will go to places like Italy or Spain, spending several months in camps during the winter to train and prepare for the season, so why not do the same thing in Egypt?”
Her experience so far has been, she says, equal parts motivating and challenging. “The interest is present, among both children and adults - the more they see you skating, the more demand comes and that's exactly what we need,” she explains. She has found that there is a skating community in Cairo – albeit a fragile one – but she maintains that a spark is all that’s needed for a kick-off. “The potential is here, the skaters are already here, and the passion for the sport is here. The coaches are not trained but they are willing to learn. So essentially we have everything together we just have to build now from ground up; establish a whole new community as we have it Germany or any other European country where everything is professionally setup and organised.”
Though the initial passion may be present, there are also ever present obstacles, primarily in the form of the cultural mind-set concerning skating. “In Gouna it's not as obvious because it's very multicultural and liberal with an open-minded community. But when I came to Cairo and started coaching in the clubs here I realised that the sport doesn't get the respect that it actually deserves,” Costa shares. “For sure it has to do with the costumes and the whole image of being the pretty ballerina with the short dresses and all these things, but this is exactly what my goal and my vision is; to change this image.” This perception of the sport has surely played a role in its lack of development in Egypt with no real base or established community and sometimes no actual physical space in which to practice. Her goal is to elevate its image to the sport it actually is and beyond the ingrained mentality of girls flouncing around in short skirts. “I want to enhance the whole strength and beauty of the sport and show that it is not just a frivolous thing for pretty girls - there is so much more behind it, and I want people to see and understand the athleticism to it.”
She’s found that the various challenges have done little to deter people interested in the sport or herself; on the contrary, they have spurred her on, and she herself has been amazed at the perseverance of skaters in Egypt. “The conditions are obviously not perfect but it’s the best we can get here and it's been challenging me a lot as well - it made me realise that we've been so spoiled back in Europe with the conditions that we have there and it motivated me even more.”
Despite the hurdles present, a fledging skating community exists on the scene in Cairo and Costa has tapped into it, hoping to help drive it forward. “I was actually surprised when I saw the amount of skaters in the city – in Maadi Club there are around 60 maybe. And the thing is, what I appreciated a lot and this is why I keep coming back here; it's amazing to see how enthusiastic they are here; they're like a sponge, they soak every single word that you tell them and they keep on working while other skaters would have given up a long time ago.”
It seems that between the determination of avid young skaters in Egypt, and Costa’s one-woman effort to drive and foster interest for the sport, with the current aim of constructing a rink in Gouna as soon as she can, inline skating may yet have a shot at succeeding in Egypt.
You can follow them on Instagram @skatingonsand.
Photography by Emil Diephuis. Shot on Location at The Mena House Hotel.