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Skateboarding champs go wild in Kimberley

Lloyd Gedye

The Northern Cape town got a taste of 'radical' as the international skateboarding community invaded it for the world championships.

The bullet hole through the springbok’s head on the road sign 20 minutes outside Kimberley seemed an ominous sign. I mean, this is a frontier town, but it wasn’t the diamond rush.

On the road into town we passed cars and minibuses crammed full of young kids and their skateboards.

The Maloof Money Cup, otherwise known as the world championships of skateboarding, had arrived in South Africa; the first time it has been hosted outside the United States since it was inaugurated in 2008.

And South Africa’s skateboarding community was there to revel in the madness, with skaters from as far afield as Durban, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, Johannesburg and Pretoria making the trek to the Northern Cape to watch their favourite international pro skaters compete for the $500 000 prize money.

Mail & Guardian chief photographer Paul Botes and I, two long-lost members of the skateboarding community, were there to see it all go down. But besides a loose interest in skateboarding in junior school, I was hardly an expert. To put it bluntly: I didn’t know my caballerial from my backside air, my McTwist from my hardflip.

By the end of the weekend I was smitten all over again, raving like the rest about that front side cab that Brazilian skateboarder Bob Burnquist landed in the mini-mega competition on Saturday afternoon or the tail grab 900 that 23-year-old American Elliot Sloan landed in the best trick competition, making him the sixth skateboarder ever to land a 900 in competition.

If this lingo is a bit too much for you, understand this: until a skateboarder is launched above your head completely detached from his skateboard, spinning 900 degrees upside down before landing back on his board and riding back down a vertical ramp, it’s difficult to appreciate the sheer athleticism of skateboarding and the fanaticism it inspires.

But why Kimberley?
But, really, the big question on everyone’s lips was: Why the hell had they chosen Kimberley?

The closest we got to an answer this weekend was that the Northern Cape government had agreed to invest serious cash in bringing the Maloof Money Cup here for the next three years, with some speculating the province was forking out up to R90-million.

There were also rumours spinning around the community that the Maloof family, the founders of the event, who own the Sacramento Kings, an NBA basketball team, and numerous hotels and casinos across the US, are seeking to invest in South Africa on a much larger scale and this was the entry point.

But all I could firm up after wading through all the speculation was that the world-class skateboarding park that has been built a hop, skip and a jump away from the Big Hole by the American company, California Skateparks, is certain to have a massive impact on skateboarding in the burgeoning and enthusiastic community in South Africa. The other thing that is certain is that the skaters will give Kimberley’s economy a massive boost.

Last weekend the city was 100% booked out for hotel, guesthouse and B&B accommodation, with some punters trekking in from Bloemfontein—the closest they could get—just to get a piece of the action.

The Sol Plaatje municipality pitched in too. It changed the liquor-licence laws to 24 hours for the duration of the tournament, which meant local pubs like The Halfway House, Kimberley’s oldest pub, which was founded in 1872, was still rocking at 6am, with young skaters heading straight from the bar to the ramp.

To say it was a debauched weekend is an understatement. My bet is Kimberley is still reeling after inviting the world’s best skateboarders to let it all hang out in its backyard.
The tournament’s beer tent was heaving for most of the three days and by Sunday it had run out of draft beer. The city was overrun with skaters, and the campsite - where most of the South Africans were holed up for the weekend—was chaotic, while, according to sources in the skateboarding community, the pro skaters also got up to a fair amount of mischief at their hotel, fuelled by alcohol and joints and who knows what else.

But a veteran member of the skate community told me that the pro skaters all hung out with the South African skating community at the campsite because that’s where, “the blunts were being smoked”.

“It was crazy there,” said my source. “Broken doors, smashed windows, graffiti everywhere. There were guys in the toilet, they turned it into a nightclub. It was getting messy. That place was clean when we all got here and now it looks like a crack den.”

Perhaps the mayhem was best embodied in commentator Brian Schaffer’s off-the-cuff call: “Do you like breaking the law, South Africa?” The crowd went wild in the affirmative as the DJ dropped the Judas Priest song, Breaking the Law.

The rebel skate spirit
Skateboarding was born and lives on the streets, with skaters constantly harassed by police and security guards. The rebel spirit goes hand in hand with the sport, so it has a natural affinity with punk music.

As Botes said to me: “That’s the thing about skating, it comes with good music.”

Banging hip-hop, aggressive punk, garage rock and even a little dub-step was the order of the day and it was blasted over the well-endowed speakers at high volume.

But the punk ethos was best embodied in Kimberley by 26-year-old Salt Lake City, Utah-born skater Lizard King.

With a muscular build and a mop of sun-bleached blond hair, the Lizard King was covered in tattoos, but three really got your attention. Across his back, just below his shoulders, is inked “I am the devil”; his right calf reads “Kill Me” and along the left side of his body is one that reads “Deathwish”. And the Lizard King was everywhere.

If he wasn’t dropping in on the vertical ramp with no helmet while smoking a cigarette he was at the side of the ramp, chiding his mates, pushing them to give just that bit more.

When 35-year-old skater Burnquist landed a magnificent front side cab, a move in which the skater rides backwards and then launches into the air while turning 180 degrees, on the mini-mega ramp on Saturday afternoon, the Lizard King charged back up the ramp to congratulate Burnquist as the crowd brought the house down.

“You have just witnessed the biggest front side cab that has ever been done in the history of skateboarding,” said hysterical commentator Paul Zitzer, a former professional skater.

Burnquist is a member of the elite club of skateboarders who have landed a 900-degree trick in which skateboarders turn two-and-a-half revolutions—one of only six who have done it.

The others are retired American skateboarding legend Tony Hawk (43), Italian Giorgio Zattoni (35), Brazilian Sandro Diaz (36), American Alex Perelson (20) and Sloan.

Hawk was the first to land a 900-degree trick in the 1999 X-Games in San Fancisco and, until Sloan’s landing of a tailgrab 900 at the weekend, the last time a 900 trick was landed was by Burnquist a year ago.

Sloan had been after the move the whole weekend and on the last day, with mere seconds to go in the mini-mega best trick competition, he nailed it to rapturous applause.

“Tail 9 in the house!” tweeted Burnquist, adding, “Radicalness at its finest. Congrats, Elliot!”

It was an unbelievable feeling to be watching skateboarding history being made.

It was the first tailgrab 900 ever landed on a mini-mega ramp, never mind the first 900 on African soil.

Burnquist has won almost every competition there is to win and landed just about every trick there is to land and he’s still out there pushing himself.

The awe I saw on the professional skaters’ faces as they watched him perform this weekend was truly something. But the best part about it is Burnquist is all about mentoring younger skaters and encouraging them go out and “shred”.

“To see Maloof go out to these far-out places makes total sense, that is really building skateboarding,” he told me, sitting in the artists’ village after returning from practice on the mini-mega ramp.

“I think it’s such a different place and we’re such a different crowd, but everywhere we go, people are talking about the Maloof Money Cup and they’re excited about it.”

Burnquist went on to take second place in the vertical skating competition, just one of five competitions including pro vert, pro street, SA amateur street, pro mini-mega and best trick on the mini-mega.

Highflying Brazilian, 16-year-old Pedro Barros, took third in the vert skating competition. I caught up with him afterwards.

“I am stoked to be here in Africa and to be able to get up there, it’s sick,” Barros told me.

“It’s crazy and that’s what’s so good about it, it’s a totally different place and the crowd is having so much fun and I’m stoked for them that this park will be here for them to skate when we have left.”

Barros is talking about skaters like Capetonians Wesley David (17) and Leon Africa (21), who I ran into hanging by the mini half pipe installed for the kids to skate on.

“We got here Friday morning,” said David. “Wow man, it’s so cool to see all the pros.”

Their enthusiasm was infectious. Africa mentioned Alex Perelson’s attempt at a tailgrab 900, which he had failed to land in the vert competition on Friday.

“On Facebook, everyone is talking about it,” said Africa. “All over the world they are talking about it.”

There is no doubt the eyes of the global skateboarding world were on Kimberley last weekend, with footage from the competition being aired in 60 countries and in 14 different languages.

But those 14 languages don’t include skate lingo. And that’s the one thing you have to get down with when speaking to skaters: everything is “sick”, “gnarly”, “radical” or “insane”.

I caught up with Kimberley skaters Dillon Hartzenberg (16), Walter Mhurukhane (17) and William Jenkins (13), who had been skating around the park all morning, eagerly waiting for it to open to the public.

“We are very excited!” Hartzenberg told me. “This is in our back yard and I’ve never been so amped in my entire life.”

The fuel for their fire was the performance of their South African heroes. “I saw Moses Adams do a switch hard flip,” said Hartzenberg. “That was insane! That was the best trick that went down yesterday.”

“Yeah he was on it, man, he was representing South Africa big time,” said Mhurukhane.

“Tommy Fynn was born in Durban, that guy is good,” said Jenkins.

For these young skaters, seeing the best South Africa has to offer in guys like 23-year-old Moses Adams and 19-year-old Dlamini Dlamini skating in a competition with the best in the world is like lighting a firecracker under their arses. Some seriously gnarly shit.

Even amateur skater Tommy Fynn, the 22-year-old Australian national who was born and lived in Durban until he was 10, was embraced by the South African skate crowd as a hometown favourite and his run to second place in the street skate finals on the closing day was greeted with fervent joy and elation.

I chatted to Fynn after he came second in the pro street skating competition on Sunday, winning himself $40 000, in his first pro skateboarding competition.

“I am going to be back here more often, that’s for sure, man,” he said, after tearing himself away from the dozens of photographers and adoring fans wanting an autograph.

“When I arrived no one knew that I was born in Durban and now word is starting to spread and the crowd really got behind me and that’s awesome, that’s what I want because this is where I’m from.

“It’s so great that skateboarding is going to blow up in South Africa after this event.”

I asked him about his brilliant run to the final, where American amateur skater Ishad Wair defeated him to take first in the competition, winning $100 000.

“At the end of the day, this big competition and all the prize money is not important because we are one big skating family.

“I can go anywhere in the world now and have friends who will let me sleep on the couch and take me around. Skateboarding has changed my life, man.”

The Maloof Money Cup has certainly changed South African skating, said Chris Mostert, the 30-year-old president of the National Skateboarding Association.

“I was surprised, to be honest,” he told me.

“Kimberley is in the middle of nowhere, but I’m really happy because this is going to be good for skating in South Africa.

“Previously people saw skateboarding as just something that kids mess around with, but now people in South Africa can see that it’s a professional sport that you can have a career in,” Mostert said.

“From where we have come with skateboarding in the country to now is crazy. I have been skating for 16 years and when I started we didn’t have skate parks, you couldn’t even buy decent skateboards here. Now to have South Africans competing against pros in South Africa in a world-class skate park is just mind blowing.”

As we headed out of Kimberley on Monday morning there was no doubt in my mind that local skating has been changed forever. But I can’t help wondering about the trail of destruction that was left behind.

Next year the Maloof Money Cup will be back again for more. Will Kimberley be ready for the mayhem?

Highlights


Photos: Paul Botes


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