(July 29, 2023) On March 11, 2021, an Instagram page named @skatekochi uploaded a video of a six-year-old Indian skateboarder, Janaki Anand, during a practice session at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi. The video instantly went viral, not just because of Janaki’s exceptional talent on the skateboard, but also for her grit and courage. In the video, the young Indian skateboarder stumbles a couple of times but refuses to give up, persevering until she manages to get the trick right. In the end, she is surrounded by the Fly Squad, one of Kochi’s first skateboarding communities. Born in Dubai, where she first discovered skateboarding, the Global Indian moved back to Kerala with her family, who hope to draw attention and resources to what is now an Olympic sport and empower other young girls to follow their dreams.
India’s young skateboarding star
Around the same time, Janaki’s mother, Jincy, opened an Instagram page in her daughter’s name – she garnered thousands of followers quickly and is India’s youngest skateboarder. Although the skateboarding scene in India is quite nascent, Janaki is mentioned alongside well-known names like Mohammed Khadir and Atita Verghese of the Bengaluru-based HolyStoked Collective, and Harshad Kamble of the Beastmode Crew, Mumbai.
The Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi, where Janaki was practicing when she first entered the limelight, is among the top training centres for skateboarders in the country. With skateboarding being named an Olympic sport in 2020, more resources are coming into developing facilities for young, rising stars like Janaki. Her family eventually moved back home to Kerala, to give Janaki access to better resources and to empower other kids who want to be skateboarders too. With her growing Instagram presence and collaborations with the Indian skateboarder community, Janaki is already making an impact.
Her first love
Janaki first got on a skateboard when she was two years old, in Dubai, where her family was based at the time. Her father, Anand Thampi, was the first in the family to fall in love with the sport. Her older brother Rehan followed and would become Janaki’s role model. She would watch him intently, trying to copy what he did. “I learned like that and practiced,” Janaki said, in an interview. By the age of 3, the young Indian skateboarder was able to get around on a skateboard, and her family, who saw her talent, encouraged it.
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As toddlers her age were still learning to walk and run, Janaki would attempt to balance on a skateboard inside her house, holding onto the edge of whatever furniture was nearby, or the wall. When she was four years old, her family took her to a skate park. “We used to get a lot of negative comments about what she was doing,” admits Janaki’s mother, Jincy. “She was skateboarding on the road in Dubai, or in parks nearby and people would criticise us.” Although people assumed Janaki was being pushed into a professional career at a very young age, that was not the case. Janaki learns on her own, without a professional coach.
“Skateboarding is not like other sports,” says Jincy. “We don’t have many professional Indian skateboarders, there are no facilities really for professional coaching or training. But we don’t think she needs anyone either. She can figure it out on her own. There is no limit to what one can do on a skateboard, she can do anything she wants if she sets her mind to it.”
Staying true to her mother’s words, Janaki is constantly pushing herself. Her brother was her first role model but she moved quickly on to YouTube, where she would professionals and advanced skateboarders. Her father guides her after that, helping her with the nuances of mastering the tricks.
Passion and dedication
Janaki’s day begins at 8.30 am, and she practices all morning, takes a break for lunch and then returns to her stakeboard. Her parents even made the difficult decision to take her out of regular school and switch to online learning instead, to give their daughter room to grow and develop her passion. “That was a tough choice because even though online classes became more common during the pandemic, children are expected to physically attend school,” says Jincy. Her parents stand by her firmly, defending her against criticism – “We look at her struggles as she tries to learn and her courage. That gives us strength too,” says Janaki’s mother. Moreover, the many scars and scratches she gathered on her limbs didn’t go down well in a traditional Indian society, where little girls are not expected to do such ‘boyish’ things.
Janaki learned how to skateboard just as babies learn how to walk. By falling all the time, getting hurt, picking herself up, and carrying on anyway. That was another trial by fire for the family, who couldn’t bear to see their daughter cry. “It’s the same as watching kids learn to walk – they fall, cry and do it again. We don’t stop them from doing that. If she dares to take it forward, then we will accept what goes with that,” says Jincy.
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Exploring the Indian skateboarding scene
When she was four years old, just before the pandemic in 2020, Janaki’s family took her to a skate park in Dubai. That was also the day her mother created an Instagram account @skate_janzz, for the young Indian skateboarder. When the lockdown was put into place, Janaki didn’t let it stop her. She continued to practice indoors, learning to master different tricks.
They returned to India soon after and Janaki went on a South India tour in 2021, covering all five states in 20 days, to bring attention to the sport. She met with skating communities like the Kovalam Skate Club and Cosmic Skaters. Fly Squad members Sreekumar Santosh, Efraim Anthony, and Arun Kumar also took the little girl under their wing, teaching her more advanced techniques.
Her parents have shown just as much courage in their way. “My husband and I were keen to introduce this sport, especially to little girls, as a way of empowering them,” Jincy told the Indian Express. “Simultaneously, we wanted to ensure the right resources for the sport by bringing it to the notice of the authorities. It would also ensure a wider platform for Janaki in her own country.”
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