Skating on thin air

2013-10-08 14:00

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It’s all about being ‘gnarly’ and ‘sick’, then ‘shredding’ the ramp at the Kimberley Diamond Cup. Lloyd Gedye was there.

‘Manny!” came a shrill voice from over my shoulder.

Then another: “Manny!”

I was surrounded by a swarm of prepubescent teens screaming for American skateboarder Manny Santiago (28).

Skateboards poked me from every angle as the young boys clambered against the railing, a security guard trying to hold them back.

My crime? Trying to get Australian skateboarder Tommy Fynn’s attention. Now I was stuck in a heaving mass of idol worship.

This may have been how The Beatles felt when they were playing live, thanks to their hysterical fans.

Santiago is like The Beatles to these kids. He’s a bona fide rock star “Manny! Manny! Manny!” came the screams.

Santiago threw T-shirts, caps and shoes from his bag into the crowd. At one point, he stood there in nothing but black jeans, holding an empty bag, the kids still screaming his name.

“What? You want my pants?” he yelled, laughing. “I need them!” The final event at the Kimberley Diamond Cup (KDC) had just ended.

Unsurprisingly, the world’s best street skater, Nyjah Huston (18), won the Street World Championships. He has won almost everything for a while.

The KDC was held for the first time this year. It’s the country’s premier skateboarding event, hosting skaters from all over the globe.

The tournament began life as the Maloof Money Cup in 2011 before it was rebranded. And its reach is growing.

The KDC was broadcast to 120 countries this year, compared with 60 in 2011, placing the global skateboarding community’s eyes firmly on Kimberley.

It consists of five competitions: the Street Skateboarding World Championship, the South African KDC Am, the Vert World Championship, the Girls Street and the All Cities Jam.

With a prize purse of R5?million for the championship, the skaters were focused and the crowds were in for a treat.

Back at the skateboarding marquee, I run into professional Canadian skater Ryan Decenzo (28), who has participated in all three events in Kimberley, coming eighth in the Street World Championship this year.

“It reminds me of when I was growing up and they had the Slam City Jam in Vancouver, and I went as a kid and watched all the pros. It really helped me get attached to skating and love it,” he says of the tournament’s impact.

“I think it really is doing a lot for the skateboarding community here in South Africa, bringing all the kids together.”

Decenzo is talking about kids like Gerhard Bezuidenhout (15) from Klerksdorp and his friend Enwin Geland (15) from Cape Town, who I met earlier at the street course built for skaters to practise on while the championships take place in the skate park.

Why are they here? “To watch Nyjah Huston and Ryan Decenzo.”

Decenzo continues: “I think its great that this tournament is here. This park is amazing. If kids in Kimberley are motivated enough, they could practise their skating here and then travel the world.

“That’s a world-class skate park and if the kids can learn from the best of the best, when they get overseas it’s going to make it that much easier for them.”

I caught up with Johann van Schalkwyk from the Northern Cape department of economic development and tourism at the KDC’s Durban Grand Slam a few weeks before the main event.

“For us to be successful in growing South African skateboarding, we need to grow future champions who can compete not just in South Africa, but abroad,” he said.

“We realised that we had to do a lot more to popularise the sport and make it competitive.”

The grand slams are held in Durban, Johannesburg and Cape Town in the build-up to the event, allowing local skaters the chance to qualify for the main competition through wild card entries.

In Durban, local skater Khule Ngubane (20) took the main event, netting R10?000 and a further R2?500 for the best trick – a “nollie bigspin heel backside lipside down the A-frame rail”.

I can’t get my head around skateboarding trick names either.

It’s like a secret code with adjectives like “sick” (fantastic) and “gnarly” (outrageous), and verbs like “shredded” (to put in an amazing performance).

“So in essence what you see out there,” said Van Schalkwyk, gesturing at the skaters shredding in the hot Durban sun, “is us taking competitive skateboarding to a new level.”

But why Kimberley?

“The Northern Cape has three deserts, two of South Africa’s largest rivers and its second-largest dam?...?The Kalahari and Karoo are extreme places to go to, and we were looking for an innovative way to position our tourism both locally and internationally,” he said.

“So we came up with the idea to target extreme sports and extreme adventures.”

But they’ve also sparked a countrywide skateboarding revolution.

Many of South Africa’s top skateboarders agree – their sport is on the up. They rave about the young kids turning up at skate parks and how 16-year-old kids are shredding. Capetonian skater Moses Adams (23) is among the few who have skated abroad and one of three South Africans to skate in the Street World Championship.

“Sixteen-year-old kids are coming up and ripping it. That wasn’t happening a few years back,” he says.

Back at the skateboarders’ marquee, I run into Jean-Marc Johannes, who came in sixth in the South African KDC Am.

“Internationally, competitions like this happen all the time and in South Africa we don’t have that. So when it does happen, it grows the South African skateboarding scene because skaters see the pros and go: Okay, I need to up my game.

“When you see these guys, you go: Wow, this is competitive skateboarding.”

Braxton Haine, who won the South African KDC Am, agrees.

“In the next couple of years you are going to see more little Nyjah Hustons coming out of Kimberley. Now that kids know they can have a proper career in skateboarding, they are focusing,” he says.

Van Schalkwyk says that in the past year the KDC has run coaching clinics countrywide, dished out 4?000 skateboards, and employed a full-time skateboarding coach at the Kimberley skate park.

At the park, there are 20 to 30 skaters on school days, 120 to 150 on weekends and about 100 during school holidays.

“I have lived in Kimberley since 1999,” says Van Schalkwyk. “You never saw skateboarders. Today, you can drive around Kimberley and you will see kids with skateboards on their way to the park.”

Later, on Sunday afternoon, I catch Warrick Delport (23) there.

Delport is a Kimberley skater who qualified to skate in the South African KDC Am. He has his own entourage of young skaters following him around. He’s a local Manny Santiago.

Delport had shredded in the competition and came fourth, to the delight of the crowd.

Northern Cape Finance MEC John Block gave Delport a shout-out during his public address.

“Skateboarding is here to stay. Skateboarding is going to grow and skateboarding is part of Kimberley’s future,” said Block.

“We want to grow future champions. In 10 years, we want to see the prize money staying here in Kimberley.”

Delport agrees.

“When I started, it was just a handful of us skaters in Kimberley, skating the streets, hustling for boards wherever we could. We did it for the love, and that love is what got me here,” he says. “I am climbing the ladder slowly but surely, so hopefully next year or the year after I will skate pro and then internationally.”

What does he think of a tournament like this being held in his back yard?

“Skating has just boomed in South Africa because of this. I am so stoked, and so happy and grateful,” he says.

“We are just going to keep producing soldiers of skateboarding in Kimberley. There is so much raw talent just waiting to be discovered.”

Hopefully, among those kids skating last weekend in Kimberley are a few future world champions. Now wouldn’t that be something.

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