WNC is a skate company and clothing brand, cut from a similar cloth as Supreme or Palace but run through with a Nigerian ethos and POV.
Kofo, the shop manager of the WAFFLESNCREAM skate store in Lagos, Nigeria, is running late. They’d told me to meet them at the shop at four o'clock, but one of the boys, Gray, has left something at home and gone back to get it. Coco, the photographer with whom I work in Lagos, and I are already on our way and we arrive a little before four. The delay gives Coco the chance to have a nose around the shop; she’s already done plenty of clothes shopping but senses she might find something special here. WNC is a skate company and clothing brand, cut from a similar cloth as Supreme or Palace but run through with a Nigerian ethos and POV.
EA greets us at the shop. He’s a pop-up tattoo artist who travels around Lagos and holds studio sessions at WNC. Jesse, one of the skaters, is stretched out on the tattoo chair when we arrive. He has a sketch of a cross on his upper back. "It’s my first tattoo," he says calmly. EA finishes his joint and gets to work. The shop crew amble over every so often to see how it’s going. Coco and I take pictures for Jessy to commemorate the occasion. While this is going on, Fahd, another skater, is prepping a board for a recent convert to skating. He shows him how to apply the grip and attach the wheels.
At six it’s time to head out. Gray has also arrived by this point. We’re in two kekes and heading for 1004 in Victoria Island, where they skate. It's perilous to skate on the streets in Lagos; too many bumps and holes, too little space, and too many cars whose drivers have too many other things on their minds to worry about non-motorized traffic. Sidewalks don’t really exist here so you skate (or walk) between the moving cars, bikes and buses.
1004 is a high-rise block of flats on Victoria Island, a gated community with everything fenced off and security guards at every entrance. They don’t stop us when we walk past, but those who arrive by car must wait for one of the guards to raise the barrier. The vibe beyond the perimeter gate is decidedly relaxed, which is unusual for Lagos. There are few cars here, and there are people walking and kids playing on the streets. We walk past two blocks of flats to a basketball court, which is behind a high chain-link fence.
Some kids are playing on one part of the court while their mothers sit, watch and chat among themselves. Their fathers play football. Fahd, Jessy and Gray dump their bags on the courtside bench, pull out their skateboards, covered in stickers from Supreme and Palace, and start to roll. They've clearly been looking forward to this moment. Fahd and Gray start practicing tricks together, while Jessy skates in the round. He’s skating shirtless so his new tattoo can dry. The new boy pushes off gingerly and tries to stand. Fahd and Gray are soon dripping with sweat and promptly strip to the waist. "I've got on the wrong pants," grumbles Fahd in frustration. He’s wearing red jogging pants, far too heavy for this climate. Jessy is in light brown linen trousers and Converse trainers; Gray, light, breathable trousers from WNC, and Converse trainers. Fahd sports Nike white Air Force 1s.
Night falls fast in Lagos, and it’s been dark for over an hour, but they carry on skating, dodging between playing children, who occasionally stop what they’re doing to watch them pull tricks. The kids’ fathers offer vocal encouragement each time one of them manages to land one. Eventually, Fahd comes to join us on the sidelines, hot and tired. “We wouldn’t ordinarily have come skating on a Friday, but I'm glad we did.”
“They’re usually here on Thursdays. Friday evenings are normally for drinking,” says Kofo, who'd also wandered over laughing.
“They usually laugh at us and call us names when we’re out skating”, says Jessy, but it clearly doesn’t dissuade them. “We can’t help it,” he continues. "It's a way of life,” adds Fahd. The three met through WNC. Gray had read something about the shop online and went to check them out; and Fahd and Jessy learned about the place through friends. "Skating is difficult in Lagos because there’s hardly anywhere to do it,” says Jessy. So they’re happy they found WNC, which they consider a community. "It's like a family; you meet like-minded people there, people with the same lifestyle,” continues Jessy. “It’s more than a clothing brand," adds Fahd. “It’s where skaters can meet others like themselves, and feel free to be themselves.” “But yes,” says Gray, “they do also make the coolest skate clothing, like these pants.” The local WAFFLESNCREAM skate community is modest in size -- only about fifteen people -- but the guys tell me the international community is 150 members strong.
WNC was founded by Jomi, a proud Lagosian who discovered skating when he lived in Leeds, England. His mum bought him his first skateboard, and he’s been a skater ever since. “I used to skate to school as a teenager, and when I moved back to Lagos I brought my skateboard with me and carried on skating. But it was immediately apparent that hardly anyone else was skating.” So he and a friend got together to create WNC. "I wanted to build a community for people like me," he continues. And he is succeeding: WNC has been picked up by international media and the brand is working on some interesting collaborations, in Lagos and shortly in the UK and Amsterdam as well. "What we need is a proper skatepark," says Jomi. “A cool brand like Supreme, Palace or Nike would be the perfect sponsor for something like that!"
The boys are still topless, and pose for Coco, who’s still taking pictures. The new boy wants in. “I can’t skate yet,” he says, “but could you take my picture too?"