When you think of a young skateboarder, what pops into your head?

Probably a boy, growing up in a North American city.

But a highly-praised photography collection from British photographer Jessica Fulford-Dobson shows a different type of skateboarder: feisty, athletic Afghan girls.

In the 'Skate Girls of Kabul' installation — now on display at the Aga Khan Museum in North York — photographs show triumphant young girls gliding down ramps together and standing proudly with their skateboards in hand at a skate park in Kabul, Afghanistan.

In 2013 and 2014, Fulford-Dobson travelled to Kabul to document young girls participating in an innovative program called Skateistan, an international NGO founded in 2009 with the goal of providing girls with a place to skate safely and a route into education.

Speaking to CBC Radio's Metro Morning, the award-winning photographer said she first heard about the program in a short newspaper story.

"As a little girl, I was a tomboy but I didn't skateboard because I felt and was told that's what boys did," she said. "And I thought here's a great story, here's a positive story, in a part of the world we only hear doom and gloom from."

After researching the program, Fulford-Dobson headed to Kabul, and met young women like Shabana Saidali, a former student and education officer at Skateistan who now lives in Toronto.

Saidali started skateboarding in grade 11 and stayed with the program, despite concerns from her parents that she'd get hurt.

"I'd never done any sport before," she recalled. "It was my first — and single — thing I liked to do."

'You always have to learn to bounce back up'

Fulford-Dobson said the images she captured of the girls showed the "power of sport," as the young women gained confidence and a new skill. "They were all so remarkable and charming in their own way," she added.

"The students who participate in the skate program are really brave, really bright, and they're working really hard to reach what they want," echoed Saidali.

"While they're skateboarding, it's changing what people [think] and believe about women and girls."


The photographs capture girls at a skate park operated by Skateistan, an international NGO founded in Kabul in 2009. (Jessica Fulford-Dobson)

The outdoor installation at the Aga Khan Museum is open until Oct. 8, and includes a pop-up skate park event on Saturday, Sept. 16 from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. where people of all ages can borrow helmets and skateboards and take free skateboarding lessons.

There's something special about skateboarding that everyone connects with, according to Fulford-Dobson.

"You're falling off all the time, so you always have to learn to bounce back up," she said. "We all understand and relate to that."

With files from Metro Morning