“I had zero expectation, so for me, it’s like a dream.”
This is what Gautham Nalasingu says about his journey in the rising skateboarding culture in India.
Although Gautham is an artist, photographer and a skateboarder, Google prefers to highlight only his photography skills. He is the only professional skateboard photographer in India and his photographs are used by skateboarding communities and magazines all over the world. He is one of the founding members of ‘HolyStoked Collective’, India’s first official platform for skateboarding. So we caught up with the man who has played a key role in developing and documenting the skateboarding culture in India.
Gautham got introduced to skating because of his friends and he fondly recalled the first time he ever tried skating. “The first time I saw a collaboration of skaters was on 21st June 2012 in Bangalore. Many skaters from across the country had come down. We went around the city in a mini bus and skated on the streets. I was taking photographs and by the evening, I was skating myself.”
If we consider that the skateboarding scene in India is still primitive today, back in 2012 every step taken by Gautham and his friends was a struggle – they struggled to build the ramps, they struggled to get the boards and they struggled to get knowledge about the sport themselves. However, their interest caught the attention of skateboarding folks from Europe, and that’s when the team realised how established this sport is in world.
“Suddenly, we had people from Australia, Europe and the States coming here, and there was a Levi’s event for which a skate park was being built. And that is when I realised how big the skating community is and that you’re accepted worldwide if you’re a skater.”
Although there are a few random skaters across the country, appreciation of the sport and the art associated with it has still a long way to go in our country. The team of HolyStoked Collective were the first to realise this and were the primary players in building the strong community that exists today.
“We (the team of HolyStoked Collective) also realised that the culture of skateboarding doesn’t exist in India. So we started off with ordering boards online and decided to order extra stock in case others want to skate as well. And this is how HolyStoked Collective was originally formed. After getting the boards, we started to look for parks. It soon became a personal mission for us to have more spots where everyone could skate. The whole idea is to have 100 skate parks in India and it is well on the way now. The importance of a community was felt because of Nick Smith and the knowledge and experience he has in skateboarding. Bangalore has Play Arena which has given us all a proper place to skate and that’s because of him.”
When asked about his reaction to being ‘India’s only skateboard photographer’, he replied very humbly, “It’s all like a dream to me. It wasn’t something that I expected. I would take photographs of what I found interesting and would take the photographs with the intention of documenting the efforts of the skate park being built. When people saw my work, I received a lot of appreciation and I was not expecting that. Soon, people from the Swedish skateboarding magazine, Giftorm asked me for a few of my photographs for an article. So it went from random photographs that we click for ourselves to giving photographs to magazines. I literally have no count of where my photographs are going!”
He is known for his photography skills, but his basic background is in the fine arts and every artist has a ‘cocaine rush’ when creating art and Gautham is no less. “The rush for me in skateboard photography is to freeze something that no one ever gets to see because it happens so fast! To freeze that single shot is such struggle, not only on my part but even the skater who has to keep going at it. It’s not about just landing a trick; it’s about landing it stylishly and capturing that style and the energy.”
Gautham has more interest in realistic art and when asked if he would like to get a realistic tattoo, he replied earnestly “I really do want a tattoo but the only thing that has held me back is that I don’t know what exactly to get done! Although I have never photographed tattoos, I have photographed skaters with tattoos and I do ask them about the stories behind their tattoos.”
Street art is also growing with the emerging skating community, and both the communities are becoming stronger. Today, we have around 40 skaters and around 10 skate parks in country. The number of people indulging in the sport has also increased, so much so that there are specific rounds for children in skating competitions and this only goes to say that the awareness is slowly increasing in the country. Gautham himself was quite positive about the growing enthusiasm and mentioned that the skate park coming up in Mumbai is being funded by the government. Many international brands use skateboarding for advertising and the trend is catching up even in India with brands such as Mountain Dew which always advertise with extreme sports.
Gautham left us with a positive energy about the counter culture that is slowly emerging in the country. We asked him how his friends who are ‘non-skaters’ react to his enthusiasm and love for skating, “They are intrigued and intimidated. It’s something that they don’t understand. They aren’t used to it and when they try it, it’s scary. But now parents are also trying to skate with their kids. So yes, things are changing.”
He also went on to tell us about the positivity that skating inculcated has within him, “More than what skate photography did, it’s what skating did for me. It increases your confidence level. Every time you’re skating, you’re trying something new and there is a lot of fear you conquer. When you walk away after many falls, things in life don’t seem that scary. And this confidence contributes to my painting, my photography and my skating. The most important box that is ticked because of skating is the chance of making new friends. Most of the times after college we have only colleagues. But here, you’re making friends so fast that it’s hard for you to even keep up with the names! This is what you get in counter culture! To make big things happen you need like-minded people and that’s where the counter culture scene is so amazing. The counter culture scene is already big. The people on the mainstream are missing out on it.”