SECOND- HAND SKATEBOARDS, DODGY FACILITIES AND LIMITED FUNDS.
Words by Pieter Retief
Over the years skateboarding has shifted from a recreational activity for weirdos and outcasts to a globally-recognised sport that not only shapes fashion trends but allows anyone to access a niche market.
Social media has enabled people to absorb content at any given time, allowing anyone to be instantly connected to any scene around the world. You know what is happening with skateboarding all over the world, and the influence you take away from that scene can be realised in your own city.
However, this has proven difficult in countries such as South Africa. The majority of the population does not have the disposable income necessary to buy skateboards. The facilities you see abroad cannot be built due to a lack of funds. Governmental structures do not run the same way as abroad, nor do sponsors invest as much. The skateboarding world you see online is not a reality back home.
Sechaba ‘TheBakersman’, founder of Soweto Skate Society and a father figure to the skate community in Soweto, knows first-hand what it takes to keep hustling and to stay afloat. In the 90s and early 2000s he hung around downtown Johannesburg, skating with the older guys and trying to hustle any skate gear he could.
The more privileged white kids from the suburbs would give him second-hand boards, which he would then distribute to other kids from his area. Even during the apartheid years, when access to skateboarding was almost impossible for the average black kid, the skate community was such a tight-knit group of individuals that skaters would look out for each other and try to make the best of what they had.
Adrian Day, co-owner of Baseline Skate Shop, remembers his early years of skateboarding as an economic struggle. Importing skate goods cost money, and it was tough to find products at affordable prices, which limited participation in the sport. Today it’s still the biggest threat to skateboarding in the country, even if more kids are exposed to it. Inflation and import duties are so high that people cannot afford to buy skate goods. Therefore there is a huge culture of second-hand goods amongst the kids of Johannesburg. Products will have two or three lifespans, and goods will be handed down from skater to skater until they’re unusable.
Although skaters have the same interests and goals, each city faces different challenges, with a lack of facilities being the most common. There are facilities in South Africa, but the standards are not on par with what you see elsewhere. Unfortunately, skate parks are not being built by skilled professionals that have experience of building such parks. As a result, both the finish and the maintenance are problematic, with these facilities not being managed to ensure the safety of skaters.
Luke Jackson, editor of Session magazine, describes the 15 years of the magazine’s existence as crucial to the scene. To have a platform to showcase skateboarding is key, not only for individuals, but for advertisers to push content beyond placed ads. Since going digital in 2017 the motivation for brands to keep generating content for the magazine has increased, and the majority of that content has been generated by footwear brands. These brands have skate teams and programmes in place, allowing them to allocate budgets towards skate trips and events.
Some brands have changed their strategies and moved away form standalone content pieces like team trips. However, with Session focusing more on video production there is still a voice for skaters in South Africa. With the production hub stationed in Cape Town, the rest of the country is lurking in the backgrounds. Therefore it is important to keep pushing your own agenda, to generate your own content, and to use whatever platforms you have to ensure your voice is heard. You cannot sit back and moan about the lack of media outlets and the lack of facilities when you are not doing everything in your own power to keep the skateboarding scene alive.
My journey in the skateboarding industry has changed several times. I started skateboarding at the age of 12 and by the time I was 19 I was receiving product from adidas as part of its seeders programme. That relationship evolved into a permanent position with the brand in 2011, when we officially launched adidas skateboarding in South Africa. We built a strong skate team and kept it going for eight years.
In 2017 I started my own company, Where To From Here, with the goal of producing interesting content, either on my own or with the support of brands. I’ve always had an interest in travelling and obscure destinations. With my company I urge skaters to explore new and unknown destinations and to deliver skateboarding content that’s relevant to any adventure seeker or person interested in skateboarding.
My inspiration comes from skating and will remain the crux of the content, but to me it’s about more than that. New experiences in life are so crucial, and sharing those with friends is the ultimate dream.
In November 2017 I took the adidas skateboarding team to Bangkok on a two-week skate trip. We launched our video ‘Missing’ on freeskatemag.com and a local lifestyle magazine, The Lake, ran the full story. Later this year I will launch another project based around exploration on bikes and boards – all documented in South Africa. My goal is to keep pushing skateboarding in South Africa and to portray positive messages about the scene, the country and the future of skating.
Featured in Sole Magazine Event Edition 2018. Available in select retailers in the region including Amongst Few, FRAME and participating brands including adidas, Reebok and PUMA.
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