Coast2Coast: Three months in South Africa

Even though my original Watson itinerary would’ve taken me around the world – across the Atlantic to Europe, Africa, Asia, and eventually back to the States across the Pacific – a dwindling budget and shifts in my project’s goals made me reevaluate whether going to my Japan was really the right decision for me.

Believe me, I did everything I could to make Japan happen – I reached out to folks, did loads of research on skateboarding culture there, started brushing up on the Japanese I’d learned during my first semester of university, and even bought a one-way ticket to Tokyo. Yet for some reason, nothing was falling into place; housing was extremely expensive, I was constantly being left on read by potential contacts, and going there no longer aligned with my project vision and goals. I’d dreamt of going to Japan my whole life and started beating myself up: why aren’t you fighting harder for this? Isn’t this what you wanted?

Back in January, during the build in Mahabalipuram with Girl Skate India, I checked in with Dallas Oberholzer of Indigo Youth Movement. He proposed I come to Cape Town and contribute to Indigo Youth Movement’s work by dedicating myself to designing programming specifically for their female youth. I agreed not only because I wanted to be part of building up support for women skateboarders in South Africa, but also because my spirit felt this inexplicable pull to South Africa that was so intentional and cosmic that I had to heed the call.

Return to South Africa

I arrived in Johannesburg on 13 March 2018, this time with sights set on South Africa’s “Mother City” of Cape Town. I hope to expand on each of these points later, but because so much happened in my three months in Cape Town, here are some highlights:

  • Experienced reverse culture shock in South Africa after realizing how much I’d changed in just ten weeks in India
  • Spent the bulk of my time in Joburg with Alicia van Zeyl, 31, founder of girl skate crew No Comply Coven. During these two weeks in Joburg, we managed to procure support from The Skate Emporium skate shop to use their parking lot to host weekly girls-only sessions! 🙂
  • Had many conversations with Alicia about grassroots organizing the girls skateboarding community in Joburg/Pretoria as an artist (she’s a freelance graphic designer), growing up during apartheid and balancing her socialization as a white person in South Africa with her positionality as someone who experiences marginalization within South African society (queer, skater, outspoken woman, artist, working class, etc.). So much respect for this rad human!!!
  • Came to terms with the fact that because someone is a skater doesn’t necessarily mean they are invested in building community, using skateboarding as a tool for positive social change, etc. Often times, skaters (re)produce toxic behaviours such as homophobia, sexism, and hypermasculinity (to the detriment of women, queer folks, and anyone who doesn’t buy into this trope-filled performance of manhood). Even though skateboarding communities are distinctive communities within larger cultural, social, and political contexts, who we are outside of skateboarding often follows us into the skate park. This is why it’s important to engage sexism, homophobia, classism, and any other forms of oppression when they show up in our skate spaces… even better, we as skaters should challenge the “cool rich white wannabe-rebels boys club” image that has historically characterized skateboarding and strive to make it as inclusive as possible! /rant
  • Spent two days surfing and skating in Durban between leaving Johannesburg and bussing to Cape Town. Durban always fills me up with so much positive energy! Being in the ocean and skating the beautiful beachfront park at North Beach and being approached by girls, some familiar and some new, made me feel so alive and reignited my sense of purpose in South Africa ❤
  • Explored street spots around Durban with Wandile Msomi
  • At my hostel in Durban, I met a 30-year-old skater named Larissa from Brazil who connected me with a bunch of her friends, including one girl who owns a bar and built a freakin’ bowl in the back?? So cool. This is one of those magic moments where my Portuguese language ability has made me friends in the skate world (the other primary examples being Mozambique, Spain, and India).
  • Took a Baz Bus for one week along the South African coast – the scenic route from Durban to Cape Town, a way that enabled me to enjoy the journey while not getting (too) lost along the way 🙂
  • I met up with Kevin, a soul-friend who I met at a hostel in Joburg and his new friend Ian. We spent Easter together on a scenic 7-hour hike along the Wild Coast from Lubanzi to Bulungula. Some highlights from that hike include running around with wild horses, swimming in deserted beaches (save for the beach cows), and epic views! We had to cross a river during sunset in order to reach our hostel – hectic and exhilarating and fun!
  • Did a “Women’s Tour” in the small Xhosa village of Bulungula – my first earnest attempt at sustainable tourism – with a woman named Jabu. We spent the day together grounding maize, learning about plants and their medicinal properties, fetching wood and water, and learning how to make a local dish with pumpkin. I then spent the afternoon in the local shebeen (pub) with Kevin and Ian. None of us had any idea what was being said but beer and laughter and dancing are pretty universal languages 🙂
  • Arrived in Cape Town alone and stayed for 2 months to volunteer at Indigo Youth Movement. During this internship, I developed a Girl Skate Manual that integrated skateboarding instruction with a life skills component. I also conducted site visits at IYM’s four project sites (Vallahalla, Kleinvlei, Scottsdene, and Atlantis), spending the bulk of my time at IYM’s girls skateboarding program’s Saturday sessions in Kleinvlei.
  • Lost my newly bought skateboard because I was in a bad mental state (I’d gotten caught up in one of those battles about sexism and racism that end up going nowhere except buried deep within myself… ) where I absorbed lots of negativity and made people’s shit my shit… a milestone for every skater but I was annoyed because my story’s the opposite of epic… Still, this experience of losing my most prized possession (besides my passport) was a much-needed wake-up call.
  • Spent a week at Afrika Burn, a Burning-Man regional event – the second biggest in the world, with 13,000 in attendance! – and learned how to survive for a week in the desert with a bunch of strangers. Learned so, so much about survival, alternative energy, community, food, music, and art.
  • Balanced skateboarding with life/passions such as hiking, making art, attending live music events, etc.
  • Had so many epic skate sessions at Promenade Mondays, Mill Street Skatepark, Kleinvlei, Vallahalla, Ladies Night at the Shred Indoor Skatepark, and of course street sessions all over town
  • Did some drone photography at Adderley Street Fountain in Cape Town CBD with Sole DXB, a Dubai-based footwear, fashion, and lifestyle collective, for my friend Salik’s Cape Town-based streetwear brand Leaf Apparel
  • Lived in many different neighborhoods of Cape Town such as CBD, Century City, Bo Kaap, Kleinvlei, and Gardens
  • Stood up against injustice and corruption by personally confronting a leader in the Cape Town skateboarding community for his problematic treatment of employees, lack of transparency, and tendency to deflect rather than receive and act on valid critiques
  • Learned just how challenging it can be to fix systems that were built broken
  • Garnered the courage to confront my own problematic behaviors, power through adversity with grace, and walk away from a toxic situation with dignity and purpose

Reflections

My time in South Africa was full of lessons. After spending almost four out of my fourteen months abroad in this complex nation, I still struggle to find the words to accurately describe the depth to which these rolling hills and rainbow faces have changed me.

I returned to South Africa in hopes that I could play a role in promoting more women to skateboard in the country. Whether through distributing Xem Skaters zine at skate parks like the Shred and skate shops like Boardhub, sparking conversations about women in skateboarding with the Vodacom representative at the Rosewood Mall branch in Joburg, or practicing my backside 180s while waiting for my Baz Bus in Mthaha, I dedicated myself to leading by example.

I ran into my fair share of doubt and criticism – “that’s for white people” “but you’re foreign… this is not possible for us South Africans” “you don’t know what you’re talking about” “skateboarding is for people with privilege and medical insurance”… but for every blaring horn or unforgiving glare hurled in my direction, I’ve received support from people for whom, by skating, I represented an alternative. We – women, people of color, queer folks, differently able individuals, and anyone else who experiences marginalization – embody the possibility of a future in which people of all backgrounds, but especially women, people of color, and working class folks can choose their destiny and embody freedom through movement.

Next steps

I will be leaving South Africa two weeks earlier than my anticipated mid-June departure. After learning about the upcoming inaugural Pushing Boarders conference – the first conference dedicated to discussing skateboarding’s social impact around the world – I decided I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. I was ready to move on from South Africa, but more significantly I am prepared for and welcome with open arms the next step of my journey skateboarding into the sun:

London.

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