Hellish ride to shades of success

Dave de Witt's recycled skateboard sunglasses. (Supplied)

Dave de Witt's recycled skateboard sunglasses. (Supplied)

A new skateboard jumps the Monkey at Durban’s Beach Skate Park, another bombs down Dlamini’s Backyard Pool, a kid slams into an autumn pavement.

“A new skateboard may last an hour, a month or a year, depending on how you roll,” laughs designer and skateboarder Dave de Witt. “Either way it goes on one hell of a ride, through gutters and drainage ditches, malls and skate parks, backyard ramps and empty pools. It has days where it is praised and days where it is blamed for not making your trick!

“Once the glory days are over, it is either handed down to a young gun in need, thrown away or stashed under some dude’s bed waiting for the day when his mom tells him to get rid of all the junk.”

And this is where De Witt, the kiff sunglasses designer-cum-skateboard recycler, comes in.
He has guys collecting old boards from all over the country – from Potch to Port Elizabeth.

“Once they have a decent stash [20 or more] I courier them to where I am based in Durban. My workshop, once two shelves in a garage, is now a 4.8m x 7.2m wooden cabin. We just filled the pool.”

De Witt started Sk8Shades in May 2012. A former skateboard ramp builder – he built the Jeffreys Bay Bowl/Sector 9 and Puddy’s 16m-wide Backyard Ramp in Pretoria, among others – the ramp-building business suddenly dive-bombed for De Witt and, despite living at home with his parents, he could hardly afford the luxury of smokes.

“After paying my bills and with R500 in the bank, all I had in the world besides a pile of tools was my 1994 Opel Kadett, on its last legs.

It was the same time my trusty five-year-old Von Zipper Fernsteins broke. I spent a couple of hours [researching] on the internet, then made the first pair [of sunglasses] with a jigsaw, a drill and a belt sander.

“They were no masterpiece, with hinges butchered from a plastic frame and the lenses from my old aviators cut down to fit the wayfarer style. I still have the first pair. I usually look at them once a week to remind me how far I’ve come.”

After De Witt made his first pair of shades, he was asked to build ramps for Red Bull and a backyard half-pipe in Pretoria. With the profits he wisely invested in more tools.

“I got a Dremel [a type of multitool], a scroll saw and a bandsaw. A few people then approached me to quote on building skate ramps but I declined the work. My friends and mom said I was crazy but I said: ‘Give me three months, let me work on this and if things don’t change, I’ll go look for a job!’ My dad said: ‘Go for it!’ I dedicated all my time to figuring out how to make Sk8shades my way.”

Instead of using exotic hardwoods like walnut, rosewood and zebrano, which De Witt did not have easy access to, he turned to his old skateboards. Spending restless nights he researched bandsaw techniques and grafted hard from 6am to 10pm.

And now hipsters from Norway to Australia are wearing De Witt’s beautiful designer Sk8Shades bought online from Etsy. He is working on license agreements with distributors in France, Italy, Monaco, the Netherlands and Spain.

De Witt chooses all the styles, colours and combinations that make Sk8shades and he does all the shaping himself. He employs a young apprentice, Douglas Galtrey, to help to prepare and finish the shades. Lenses are polarised, UV400 protected, scratch-resistant, shock-absorbent and De Witt will even add your prescription lenses to a unique pair of Sk8Shades.

Visit www.sk8shades.com or call Dave de Witt on 082 879 2143

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