Skating towards youth development

2018-11-16 18:22
Jean-Marc Johannes at the FISE World Series. Photo: Anggi Leopold

Jean-Marc Johannes at the FISE World Series. Photo: Anggi Leopold

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Under a street light near his Penlyn Estate home, a young Jean-Marc Johannes practised nollie heel flips on his skateboard for hours and hours.

More than a decade later, he holds two world records for that very same skateboarding trick – and that’s just the beginning of his accolades.

Johannes is the only South African skateboarder to hold a world record, as well as gold, bronze and silver medals won at international competitions.

His love affair with skateboarding started at the age of nine when he saw other learners at his school, John Graham Primary in Plumstead, on their skateboards.

“I was not a sportsman at all. I never made the cut to anything. Although I tried, I really tried. When I saw skateboarding, I was at a young age and at a time when I just wanted to be a part of something and fit in.

“I got attached to it. I just watched the kids and every now and again I would ask [if I could try]. Eventually I thought, I’m going to really stick to this, this is something that I like.”

He asked his parents for a skateboard for his birthday, and they instead produced an old one, which had been stored in the garage, for him to use.

“A skateboard was a skateboard to me, I didn’t really know the difference. I just wanted to be a part of everyone,” he says.

Johannes would spend hours after school practising in the street in front of his home, “until the street lights came on” on that skateboard – until he learnt his first trick, an ollie, and broke the board in half.

When he got a “real skateboard”, he started spending weekends at an indoor skate park in Claremont.

At around 11, “when [he] was really getting into” the sport, there was a contest at the skate park, which he attended, to see “the people [he] looked up to” compete. His friends, as a joke, entered him into the competition.

He insists he can’t remember a single trick he performed that day, but it was enough for him to win the competition and a new board as a prize.

He enjoyed competing and continued to enter competitions. At 15, he was ranked in the top 10 in South Africa.

“To be honest, I didn’t really care about rankings and stuff like that. It was just fun for me to compete. I really enjoyed the atmosphere of everyone pushing each other. It was something that I felt like I was good at doing.”

At 18, he received an invitation to an international contest.

“I was very scared. I went out there and I ended up in sixth place among 300 skateboarders and returned to several opportunities for sponsorship.” These opportunities allowed him to pay for his studies.

This was when he cemented his next goal: To be the first South African to win a gold medal at an international contest.

But after several competitions in which he did not achieve his goal, he began to lose confidence in his abilities.

“[I had this mindset that] I couldn’t do it because I was from Athlone, from South Africa. I couldn’t compete with guys from Europe and the USA. I kept not getting to my goal and it seemed more and more impossible.

“There was one point when my mindset changed. I got invited to the last stop of a world series contest in China in 2016. I was very fearful of failing, of travelling halfway across the world and not achieving my goal. When I got to the contest I just let go of all of that. I just believed I was at the level with everyone else. It was the day I achieved South Africa’s first gold internationally. It was such a turning point for me career-wise because I finally overcame something that I always believed I couldn’t do.”

Johannes has since brought home a silver and bronze medal from international competitions. He also holds the world records for the most nollie heel flips in the shortest time, after breaking his own record. He also recently received recognition at the Cape Town Sports Council Awards.

Johannes now has his sights firmly set on representing South Africa at the 2020 Olympic Games.

But his other dream is to create “Athlone’s first skate park”.

For most of his youth, Johannes was the “only skateboarder in Athlone [he knew of]”. This feeling has only changed slightly, with Johannes often the only South African skater at most of the international competitions he participates in.

“In my vision I’d like it to incorporate every aspect that I’ve competed in, of a world series skatepark, just to give skateboarders from the [Cape Flats] a place to prepare themselves for anything in the future.”

This is why youth development in the sport remains close to his heart. He is an ambassador for Eduskeight, an organisation that promotes life skills through skateboarding, and has his own initiative – Fill the Gap – which collects secondhand skating gear to be donated to non-profit organisations working with youth in the sport.

“Growing up in our communities there’s been a disadvantage [for skateboarders] coming from the Cape Flats. There hasn’t been a lot of mentorship. [We] step in to be the first to mentor, to give kids guidance. I’ve seen a lot of people start skateboarding and something great comes from it, something creative, something positive. That’s why I’m a part of it. I’ve seen the positive impact skateboarding has had on my life and it can do the same for anyone.”

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