By Kristene de Leon
How far can a skateboard take you? Skateboarder Erdenedalai “Eddie” Purev’s entire career has revolved around this question, taking him on countless adventures from traveling around Mongolia and living in the United States.
Erdenedalai Purev, known as “Eddie,” is a skateboarder and the co-founder of the Uukhai Skateboarding Association. At 13 years old, Eddie moved to the United States to live with his mother and would travel between Ulaanbaatar and New York City throughout his young adult years. When he started skateboarding in New York, he would bring his skills to Ulaanbaatar without giving much thought and would just skate for fun.
“Back then, I never really paid attention to the development [of skating in Ulaanbaatar]. Me and my three friends — Seke, Odko, and Kusha — were the only ones skating full time. We thought we were the only cool kids in town for sure,” says Eddie, who started skateboarding in Mongolia during his visit back in 2008. It was back then in 2008 when he also met Seke, Odko, and Kusha.
At the end of 2012, Eddie returned to Mongolia for six months to work as the executive chef at the Ivy Restaurant. During this time, Eddie started the Uukhai Skateboarding Association, one of Mongolia’s first skateboarding associations, with his three friends. “Uukhai” refers to the war cry of Mongol warriors as they charged into battle, defying odds – and rival kingdoms – eight centuries ago. The incantation powered them to carve out the largest land empire in human history – spanning from the sea of Japan to Eastern Europe.
“I had a lot of free time skating [while I was working as a chef]. A lot of kids would ask me about how I skated, whether I had magnets on my feet,” says Eddie, looking back to his inspiration for starting the Uukhai Crew. “I had this image where pro-skaters in America really make it, where they can make a living. So I thought: What if I build a marketplace in Mongolia where people could start skating?”
Eddie became known as the crew’s fearless leader — in a nation that has become distrusting of its leadership. From his American base in New York, he works with NGOs and the skateboarding company, Carhartt Works in Progress, to help raise awareness and funds for the skaters back home in Mongolia, sending them donated boards and working to build a proper skate park in Ulaanbaatar.
In August 2014, the first extreme sports competition, X Games Mongolia, took place at Ulaanbaatar’s National Amusement Park, featuring skateboarders, BMX bikers, and rollerbladers, from Mongolia, France, Germany, the UK, and Japan. According to Eddie, the event was made possible with the support of the Minister of Agriculture, which gave funds to host X Games. With funding in place for the event, and additional help and sponsorship through Carhartt Works in Progress, the National Amusement Park invited the Uukhai Crew to build the skate park.
By bringing in extreme sports to Mongolia, Eddie believes that the X Games was important to promote confidence and break down cultural barriers. As a skateboarder and the current skate director of Uukhai, Eddie said that the aim of the Uukhai Skateboarding Association is to both foster a community and teach kids about leadership, art, and skateboarding.
“Uukhai is meant to bring the youth of Ulaanbaatar together to meet in a positive, energetic, and safe environment because skateboarding is about building human connections,” Eddie says, pointing out that Uukhai skateboarders welcome anyone during their practices, which are typically held at The Beatles Monument or at the Zaisan Monument.
For Eddie, skateboarding is one of the most innovative cultures or subculture there is and has had an over-proportional impact on the other extreme sports. As a skater, Eddie said that he was constantly thinking of new ways to skate the world around him. And it’s not just the stairs, hand rails, and curbs that present such opportunities, but just about anything and everything he sees. In his effort to explain this phenomenon, Eddie asserted that skaters just view the world around them through a different lens than most others, constantly using their own creativity and self-expression to move through their world.
“Skateboarding requires creativity, community engagement, and out-of-the box thinking. Our camp will be harnessing these skill sets.” Following this train of thinking, Eddie believed that Mongolia not only needed areas to skate but also spaces where cultural barriers could be broken down, especially among the community of young adults who constitute the majority of Mongolia.
As the skating director for Uukhai Crew, he has watched his students continue creative efforts as adults. Among the creative professions, Eddie mentions that his students are now chefs, multimedia artists, musicians, and fashion designers.
Only a few countries in the world have a population in which seven in every 10 people are under 35 years of age. Given that the youth account for 34.9 percent of Mongolia’s population, there is a need and a necessity to empower youth, invest in youth, increase the participation of youth at all levels of society, engage youth organizations in national initiatives, and improve the quality of the livelihoods and living standards of youth.
The skateboarding movement among Mongolia’s youth serves as an example of how highly creative and innovative people seem to share a common characteristic of being able to engage their world — not for what it is, but for what it has the potential to be.