Jakarta. There was something different at the weekly flag ceremony taking place at SMPN 20 in Kramat Jati, East Jakarta, on Monday (03/09). Among the row of teachers in uniform stood a female student clad in a hijab and a red and white sports jersey with "Indonesia" written across the chest. A bronze Asian Games 2018 medal hung from her neck. Behind the girl was a large banner saying congratulations to her, Nyimas Bunga Cinta, Indonesia's favorite skater girl.
The 12-year-old Nyimas, who had just started her first year of junior high school this year, was the youngest Indonesian medalist in the recently concluded Asian Games. Nyimas won a bronze medal for skateboarding in the women’s street event.
Once the ceremony ended, the teachers and her schoolmates rushed to get their pictures taken with Nyimas. Still exhausted after arriving home late from the Games' closing ceremony on Sunday night, Nyimas gamely agreed to their request to perform some of her skating tricks on the school yard to rapturous applause.
SMPN 20 headmaster Hardiwan told the Jakarta Globe the school is very proud to have her.
"We are grateful to have an outstanding student who can be an inspiration to her 1,000 schoolmates. Nyimas was accepted here through the jalur prestasi [scholarship for students who have won national and international competitions] and she's had to miss a lot of classes because she had to train for the Games. Her schoolmates made copies of their notes for her. Her friends and teachers knew she was representing the country, so they were only too happy to give her their support," Hardiwan said.
The school isn’t new to big names. Currently it has four student athletes, and another one moving in next semester. One of their famous alumni is Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono, the son of former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
Since Nyimas had the day off, we were invited to visit her house, located within walking distance from the school. On the way, friends, neighbors, street hawkers and even some staff of Jakarta’s clean-up crew known as the Orange Squad said hello and congratulated her, and occasionally asked to get their photos taken with her.
Nyimas, despite her quiet nature, always returned each friendly greeting with a "hello" or a "thank you," and sometimes made small talks with people she already knew.
Nyimas' father Didiet Priyo said his daughter has had some practice dealing with her sudden rise to fame after winning a couple of prestigious skateboarding competitions. Asian Games wasn’t the first international competition she won in, though it definitely attracted the most attention from Indonesians.
Nyimas first tasted international success when she won the Under-15 Girls category at the Indonesia International Urban Sport Festival at Kota Kasablanka, South Jakarta, back in 2016.
She also took part in the 3rd Annual Venice Ladies Jam in Venice Beach, California, in May and came in fourth place.
She then trained in the United States for a month with other members of the Indonesian national skateboarding team, which meant she had to take her Ujian Nasional (National Exam) in-between practicing her moves.
Last month, she won third place in the women’s event of the Vans Park Series: Asia Continental Championship in Singapore.
"I always remind her not to get big-headed," Didiet told the Jakarta Globe.
Love at First Sight
Didiet, who works as a skate shop attendant at Taman Mini Indonesia Indah (TMII), three kilometers from their house, showed her daughter skateboarding videos on YouTube four years ago.
Nyimas loved them, even moments when the skaters fell and injured themselves. Instead of thinking the sport was dangerous, Nyimas told her dad she wanted to give it a go.
"Before her eighth birthday, she asked me not to give her a cake, but to pay for a skateboarding lesson for her," Didiet said.
Didiet signed Nyimas up to the Green Skate Lesson at TMII's Green Skate Park, run by Indonesia’s famous skater Tony Sruntul.
After the first lesson, Tony told Didiet his daughter had a good posture for a skater, and that she had the potentials to become a pro. From then on, Nyimas continued training with Tony.
"I used to want to be a doctor. Now that I’m skateboarding, I want to keep doing it," said Nyimas, who also likes drawing and coloring in her spare time.
Her favorite trick is the kickflip, kicking the board to make it flip in the air. Nyimas also wants to master the heelflip – similar to kickflip but using the heel instead of the toes to spin the board – and varial, a combo of a kickflip and a heelflip with a pop shove-it, where the skateboarder pops the board’s tail and spins the board 180 degrees.
But there is one unexpected thing that Nyimas really loves about skateboarding:
"The fact that it tests my patience," she said.
Nyimas also wears the hijab, which doesn't make it easier for her to skate in the tropical heat, especially in humid Palembang, South Sumatra, where the Asian Games competition took place.
As she has previously told reporters at the Games, Nyimas wears the hijab simply because she is a Muslim. She told the Jakarta Globe the decision to wear the headscarf was entirely hers.
Didiet added that the hijab can be a spiritual reminder to her.
"It reminds her who protects her when she’s on the board. There’s no handle, no brakes. All she can do is let God take the lead," Didiet said.
Friends Before Rivals
Who is Nyimas’ favorite skateboarder?
"Margielyn [Didal], from the Philippines. She’s fun to be with. We met [at the Asian Games] and started chatting," Nyimas said.
Didal wasn't only Nyimas' competitor during the Games, she actually beat her to win the gold medal. However, Nyimas said she was friends with everybody, including Isa Kaya from Japan, who was a silver medalist in both the women’s street and park events, and Sakura Yosozumi, the gold medalist in the women’s park event.
Nyimas – following the lead of skateboarding legend Tony Hawk – also showed her support on social media for 16-year-old Fatin Syahirah Roszizi, the Malaysian skateboarder who became a target of online bullying after she had a particularly bad day on the skatepark at the Games.
Didiet said what’s unique about skateboarding is the ability of the players to maintain friendship even during competitive games.
"Skateboarding competitions aren’t for kicking each other's bottom, but opportunities to meet up with your friends. We're all 'saudara sepapan' ("board brothers") here," Didiet said.
The only thing to beat, Didiet said, is your own fears.
"Yes, defeating my own nerves," Nyimas said.
Nyimas, born and raised in Jakarta and the eldest of three daughters, dedicates her wins to her family. She already gave her Asian Games medal to her mother, Ika Damayanti, on her birthday. Ika works nine-to-five as an administrator in an engineering company.
She also wants to save up the prize money from her victories to buy a house for the family. Nyimas and her family have been living in a small, rented flat in a one-story tenement house (rumah petakan) since Nyimas was three years old. The flat is located near a "parking spot" for garbage carts.
Didiet said Nyimas' school had planned a crowdfunding to renovate their house, but Didiet did not allow them as his family doesn't own the flat.
"We have visited her house. The government definitely needs to offer the family financial aid. We've also signed her up for the Kartu Jakarta Pintar [Jakarta Smart Card]," headmaster Hardiwan said.
The government has also promised to give each Asian Games medalist a house. So far the promised Rp 250,000,000 ($16,739) prize money has already been transferred to the athletes, but the houses are yet to be handed over.
Now that her dream of a new house is about to come true, what’s next for Nyimas?
"I want to be able to pay for my parents’ umroh [pilgrimage outside the hajj season for Muslims]," Nyimas said.