"SKATEBOARDING MEANS FREEDOM."
Charl Jensel, Co-Founder of Indigo Youth Movement and Skate Team Manager of Leaf Apparel
After meeting the Leaf Apparel skate team and exploring the scene in South Africa, we caught up with Charl Jensel, one of the skaters, on our return to see what it means to skateboard, the growth of skating as a sport in Cape Town and how the Indigo Youth Movement is helping move the culture forward.
How has the skating culture in South Africa evolved since you began skating?
Historically, both in South Africa and abroad, skateboarding was seen as a predominantly white, male sport but now people from different races genders, and socioeconomic backgrounds are brought together through the unifying power of skateboarding. This shift has really helped shape my mind-set towards it. I used to feel that skateboarding was only accessible for a specific group of people but now I see it as tool that can break many barriers.
What is the typical day of a South African skater?
A typical day for a South African skater would be waking up with skateboarding on your mind. Your day will continue like normal for those who have a 9 to 5 and those still in school. But for the lucky professionals, you get to have skateboarding on your agenda from am to pm. For the normal skateboarder your skate will start at the end of your work day. ‘Cats’ will either meet up at mill street skate park or like for us, the usual meet up grounds would be Baseline Skate Shop. We would then skate to our first warm up spot the Fountain for a flat ground session and then take it from there to civic or around Thaibualt which is also in the Cape Town CBD. After our skate we would make plans to either eat at the Food in, Eastern Food Bazar or New York Pizza for the one and only pepperoni slice. Indian food is always the first option as they super feasible and their food is just hands down delicious. Sometimes if we lucky and the crew is not that big we get invited by Salik Harris, founder of Leaf Apparel, for dinner which he self-cooks at his place.
Can you tell us any specific South African skater slag? (and its meaning)
A very common one would be UNCLE meaning older men or your parents brother. But we see each other as big brothers and family and that’s why we call each other that. A new one would be chom - Originally started from Rynardt in Polokwane, he calls everyone chom. Now all the skaters call each other chom. A skater who I always hear using that slag would by Rhyder but nowadays even I call everyone chom.
What is your opinion on skate culture today and what it’s become?
The South African skate culture is something I see as a new born baby. The fact that we’re still at such a grass root level really makes me feel privilege to be part of this revolutionary time and age. I feel that if more skaters can see it in that perspective we could accomplish so much at a pace that would actually boost us to equal economical standards as the rest of the world. Yes we still face challenges of segregation within our scene as we are all expose to limited resources. If we could unite around our common struggles and work together towards building a legacy which can be inherited by the future generations and if we see it as theirs and not ours, we can achieve a magical evolution that will provide for everyone in the culture. But a big shift has come to the sores of the South African skate scene. The Government is partnering up with skateboarding for development initiatives by providing them with a platform to run skateboarding instruction programs within school court yards. My organization, Indigo Youth Movement is one of the NGO’s that now got to work in two schools in the Atlantis area which is situated on the West Coast of the Western Cape. This gives us direct access to influence and equip the youth with the skills to persevere and make a success out of their school careers live. It also gives us the opportunity not to just grow the South African skate scene on a high scale, but provide a platform for both male and females to practice skateboarding on common grounds. ie. people who don't skate wearing stussy etc.
Besides the shift in culture, from where skateboarding use to be very underground punk rock or hip-hop, to where It is now one of the most influential fashion trend leaders in the industry today. I love the fact that skateboarding has become such a trend setter. This make the activity much cooler and it will provide a buy in from society that will allow skateboarding to sustainably grow bigger. Yes our culture is very underground and in control of skate owned brands, but that mentality died out once skateboarding became more commercial with the by in from commercial brands. On one hand the skate industry is small, so it needs people outside of skating to buy skate brands, to help support the industry. But at the same time, when skate brands stray away from skating then they become watered down and lose their feel or cultural relevance in skating. So what we need is brands doing credible things within skating, but also attracting people from outside, to spend money and support the scene. It's a fine balance; we need both sides to be sustainable in the long term.
What does skating mean to you personally?
For me, skateboarding means Freedom. It’s a great hobby and at the same times a very easy way of transportation. Besides the above mentioned skateboarding is the best leisure activity which does not only contributes to mental and physical wellbeing but it’s also a way to forget about everything and relax. Skateboarding teaches you the importance of effort and self-improvement, and the door to a community full of great people who act like a big family. Personally skateboarding plays a vital role in my life as I come from a disfranchised community where I was exposed to alot of bad stuff that kept me rather occupied in my days prior to skateboarding. When I picked it up it was like a new drug that kept me hooked up until this day. It exposed me to positive peers who help me change my life for the better. Skateboarding is my savior and resurrection and I will skate till I die. I was one of the lucky ones who could practice skateboarding as a career but more in the skateboarding for youth development aspect. Knowing what skateboarding has done for me, it’s my mandate to use it to uplift broken people and communities. As a youth I never thought skateboarding could play such a big role in helping fix a broken world. I saw Malcolm X and Nelson Mandela do it, Music artists trying to do it through their music but I also never imagined that skateboarding would help promote social integration and unite people from diverse and cultural backgrounds. Hail skateboarding.
How do you hope that the skating culture in South Africa will evolve?
Well firstly I want to see South Africa / Africa owning its own governing body who can represent us in terms of applying for access to more opportunities, resources and also the development of more places to skate, not only closed off skate parks but also public spaces being opened up to welcome skateboarders.
Another thing would be integrating skateboarders in urban civil development. If we look at how other countries have catered for skateboarding in their landscaping, it shows us that we South Africans have got so much to learn. There’s really a big void between the involvement of skateboarders and the design of urban spaces and skate facilities. If only city council could engage skaters at every level of skate park design and building process would ensure that the city's limited resources won't go to waste due to poor construction and cost-cutting practices that prioritize pocketing money over building quality spaces that will last. Lastly – I would love to see the whole of South Africa skate.
What are the biggest challenges of being a skater in South Africa?
As a skateboarder from South Africa the biggest challenge would be around the limited resources such as lack of infrastructure and financial support. The fact that our scene is developing at such a slow pace really keeps us behind in terms of being aligned with the rest of the world. Our biggest challenge would be, not having a federation / governing body for skateboarding in South Africa and the wider Africa. This thus leaves us far behind when it comes to financial backing and resources to develop the sport and its athletes in order to compete internationally. One of our biggest concerns is the upcoming Olympics. We are afraid that if we do not have a federation representing us by 2019 that we won’t make the cut into the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
Do you think that skateboarding being included in the 2020 Olympics is going to have an effect of the perception of skateboarding?
Personally I believe that skateboarding going to the Olympics is going to open so many doors and opportunities for skateboarding. It’s definitely going to raise the demand of needed infrastructure to practice skateboarding and then with skateboarding being recognized as an Olympic sport, we are really going to get the world class facilities and investments we deserve. It is going to change the perception many have on skateboarding as some countries are going to brew professional skateboarders in advance incubators, only focusing on the competitive side of the sport. For me, it will stay the humble lifestyle and activity which I recreationally can enjoy with my friends. I doubt it will change the way it’s perceived to those who keep it real.
INDIGO YOUTH MOVEMENT is a NGO that provides life guidance to youth through the activity of skateboarding, by developing youth leaders and skateboard facilities in South Africa.