On a cool, cloudy Sunday morning, Airah, Rafeea, and Navab made their daily pilgrimage to Loop Skatepark in Ravipuram, Kochi.
Stopped by a traffic policeman on the side of the road who noticed her pink-framed sunglasses and exchanged them with his own Aviators, Airah immediately protested his pranks. “Mine!” the skater playfully demanded while maintaining an undertone of assertiveness.
The five-year-old daughter of Navab and Rafeea carried her confidence on her shoulder both on and off her skateboard.
On World Daughter’s Day, her story, complete with bruised knees and a brave heart, shines a light on the family that supported her passion with love, encouragement, and mutual respect.
Also Read: Riding new waves: How the pandemic helped create India’s first skimboarding community in Kochi
From kiddie boards to kickflips
Airah was born in 2018 to Navab Shareef Khan and Rafeea Mohammed.
Hailing from Lakshadweep, the family of three currently lives in Kochi, Kerala, carefully selecting a residence close to Loop Skatepark.
Although unparalleled in its beauty, Lakshadweep’s limitations brought the young parents and their daughter to mainland India.
“We came from Lakshadweep to the mainland because the islands have limited infrastructure and opportunities,” Navab told South First.
Having to leave their hometown also brought challenges in raising young Airah.
“Usually, parents would have additional help in raising their child since grandparents or other relatives are nearby. We didn’t have that because we were living far away from home. So, from day one, it’s just been us with her,” Navab and Rafeea shared.
Navab’s love for surfing followed him from Lakshadweep and found its way to Airah’s heart. As a beginner surfer herself, Airah would watch surfing videos with her father on YouTube.
On one particular day during the pandemic, their algorithm brought forth a skateboarding clip, opening an entire world to Airah.
Buzzing with curiosity, she asked her parents for a skateboard and was given a toy board in 2021 to see if her passion would take root.
It’s been two years since, and Airah is now one of the youngest skateboarders in India to land a kickflip — one of the most coveted tricks in skateboarding.
Also Read: Rajasekar Pachai says mental fitness is more important than physical fitness to scale the Everest
Tricks landed & lessons learned
In a world of child harnesses and soft play, Navab and Rafeea encouraged Airah’s interest in an extreme sport like skateboarding because of the immense value its culture and community hold.
“The children of her age are mostly told to focus on starting school,” Navab shares as he begins to narrate the benefits of skateboarding culture.
“To land a trick in skateboarding, we have to practice it at least 100 to 200 times. This develops a ‘never give up’ attitude in a child. They need a high level of concentration to land a trick; their mind and body need to be focused. This is inevitably going to translate to other areas in her life, like academics.”
“Skateboarding also teaches children a lot of patience,” adds Rafeea.
View this post on Instagram
“One can only land a trick if everything is in the right place. It’s not something that can be done in three to four days.
Navab and Rafeea picked up skateboarding to encourage Airah’s interest.
“When we learn something, we’re able to teach it better,” the parents share as they look back on the lessons they’ve learned together.
“We’ve all been skateboarding for almost two years now, and we realise how much the sport encourages discipline. Because it’s only with consistent practice and dedication that one can get the hang of it,” Navab reveals.
By prioritising Airah’s interest in the sport, the family has found a balance in imbibing its values while maintaining its fun element.
“Since we’re not pressuring her, her commitment to the sport comes from a place of genuine interest and fun. We’ve never forced her into this. If Airah’s interested in something, she’s determined to try it out,” Navab shares.
“You know how kids say, ‘Hey, let’s go play football’ every day around 4 pm? Airah does the same thing, only she’d say, ‘Can we go skateboarding?’,” Rafeea adds with a laugh.
Airah’s interest in a conventionally masculine sport was born purely out of her childlike passion — free from the knowledge of gender norms or active defiance against them.
“Fear is a common thing, whether you’re a boy or a girl. We just wanted to break that fear factor at an early stage,” explains Navab.
“When Airah was riding off the eight-foot drop at Loop for the first time, she expressed a lot of fear,” Navab shares. “We first told her to trust us because we’re always here to hold her.”
View this post on Instagram
“At the same time, we made sure that she trusts herself so that she believes that she can do it,” adds Rafeea.
“I did the eight feet two times!” Airah proudly mentions, owing to the success of her parent’s advice.
“While skateboarding is commonly a male-dominated sport, the culture is now in a space where it shows that anybody can become a skateboarder,” Navab shares.
The skatepark recently organised a Skate Workshop for Kids, attracting a new generation to the sport.
“Right now, there’s a 50-50 split between boys and girls who take up skateboarding,” Rafeea reveals.
“We don’t allow gender differences to be felt here. We’re looking forward to how we can improve the skateboarding culture and how it can include people of all genders and backgrounds,” Navab adds, emphasising the community’s love for the sport.
As young parents, Rafeea and Navab reveal that parenting is a never-ending learning process. But, their biggest teacher is Airah herself.
“Every day, we learn from her and we learn more about her. What I understood from my experience is that she teaches me how I can help her grow,” Navab shares.
Rafeea and Navab feel that transparency and open communication are essential for a parent-child relationship to flourish.
“I think that’s what all parents would like from their children. That should be their intention for parenting, to have a child who isn’t afraid to be open with them. Only then can you find solutions to problems they may be facing,” Rafeea shares.
“If we are open to learning from our children, we can solve almost every problem,” the parents reveal.
Also Read: This Kochi-based women’s travel group is embracing sisterhood and friendship, one trip at a time
Airah’s uninhibited personality has also been nourished by her exposure to the world of skateboarding.
“I’ve been told that she’s very mature for her age, which I think largely comes from the positivity of this community and culture,” Navab admits.
“Sometimes she falls off the board and injures herself, but after a few minutes, she’d want to try again. I’ve observed that skateboarding has given her a strong sense of perseverance, which greatly touches me,” Rafeea shares.
View this post on Instagram
Although her skateboarding brethren are double or triple her age, their bond and mutual admiration for each other are cemented in the community’s love for the sport. “They help me also!” Airah says, expressing her love for her squad.
Since Airah’s skateboarding video went viral, Navab and Rafeea have been approached by many people who have been inspired to take up the sport.
The skateboard scene in Kerala is growing exponentially, and Kochi’s skateboarders are excited at the prospect of sharing the spirit of the sport with as many people as they can.
“It’s a beautiful industry. Witnessing its growth here is awesome,” Navab reveals.
With a secret tagline to motivate herself, Airah’s love for skateboarding continues to grow as she does, inspiring other children her age to chase their curiosity while reminding their parents to ride alongside them.