My five year old brother, Finley, recently got into “ramping” – his boyish term for tricking on his BMX bicycle. While makeshift ramps using planks and bricks were fun at first, Finley and my Dad, Greg, soon started wondering which skate parks the Mother City had to offer for better bike trick potential.
One Saturday they picked me up in a loaded Volvo 4×4 and we Google-mapped our way through the suburb of Athlone in search of Nantes skate park, built as part of the 2013 upgrade to the community park from which it takes its name.
On arrival we were greeted by a fruit medley – raised mounds painted as strawberries and a watermelon half-pipe – and a colourful graffiti mural spelling out the word “NANTES”. Although small, the skate park allowed space for a dozen kids to enjoy its facilities. A group of adults huddled under a tree nearby enjoying the Cape Town autumn day, and a few older boys sat on the other side of the park listening to dance music on a portable speaker.
Excited to get started, my brother gathered speed and showed off a few “bunny-hops”, while o ur Dad looked on with pride and I sat down to watch.
Teens in designer labels helped kids with broken shoes, offering the youngsters a turn on their board while they sat on the wall or slept in the sun. There were nods of acknowledgement if someone succeeded a good trick, or murmurs of sympathy when a misplaced foot ended in a hard fall.
A forgotten sport
“Skaters are thought of as rebels or social deviants and are usually banned from public areas,” says Marco Morgan, Chairman helped with the process for National Skate Collective – an organisation that works to grow the skateboarding culture in South Africa and provide a unified voice and platform for skaters to engage with authorities.
“Skate parks in Cape Town have not seen the success they deserve despite the demand for facilities. In my experience it usually boils down to demand, location and design.”
The new skate park under the Mill Street Bridge in Gardens, Central Cape Town, indicates a revived interest in the skate scene and The National Skate Collective who helped with the process of setting up the new skate park in Gardens.
According to Morgan, there is a negative stigma attached to skateboarding and skateboarders, with the subculture often looked at as a destructive activity for delinquents.
Although a few Cape Town skate parks have been community-led, such as the Inspired2Change skate park in Somerset West funded by brothers Chris and Fanie van der Merwe, others have not been so successful due to inaccessible location, low demand and budget constraints which didn’t allow for the correct design.
Benefits and support
“A skate park or facility is a lot more than just a space to engage with the sport or activity, it provides a place to gather and connect and for youth to feel free and independent,” Morgan explains. “Skateboarding can create a connection between people and, like many sports, can be a catalyst for social cohesion amongst race, ethnicity and social backgrounds.”
While many receive skateboards and training from the goodwill of skaters and the support of the community, there are a number of organisations working locally to support skateboarding.
Skate support for local youth includes Indigo Youth Movement in the Cape Flats and The Nebula Skate Programme which recently launched with the support of the City of Cape Town and will soon be expanding into Valhalla Skatepark in Elsies River.
Somerset West has the Inspired2Become NGO as well as Africa Skate and Nyangayethu has a skate programme as part of their wider youth development strategy.
“Skateboarding has always been subject to the ‘wave of popularity’ and although skateboarding and the skate community are present, it isn’t always the flavour of the month.,” says Morgan. “At the moment a shift in perception of the skate subculture is occurring, together with a wave of acceptance towards skateboarders.”
He attributes this shift to an open “conversation” on the topic, challenging people’s views of the scene and changing how skateboarder perceive themselves and their role in the City.
“There has been a concerted effort by the skate community to challenge negative perceptions of the skate scene, as well as the laws and harsh conditions created by these perceptions.”
But Morgan does not believe the solution is as simple as building more skateparks, but that these should form part of a bigger strategy to serve the needs of the skate community.
“In order to change people’s view of the sport, it’s important to empower skateboarders, the general public and lawmakers to continue the dialogue towards solutions.”
Cape Town skate parks
If you’re not one of the lucky few to have a private skatepark in your backyard (a trend in the wealthier neighbourhoods of Cape Town) why not visit one of the city owned skate parks below*:
- Maitland, Voortrekker Road**
- West, Radloff Park, Lourensford Road
- Kleinvlei Quality Public Space, Melkbos Street
- Belhar Quality Public Space, Belhar Drive
- Edgemead, Edgemead Drive
- Durbanville skatepark, De Villiers Drive
- Valhalla Park, Angela Street, Bishop Lavis
- Belhar, Dahalia road
- Delft Quality Public Space, Delft Main road
- Dunoon sports ground, Dunoon north
- Gardens Skate park, Mill Street
- Hanover park, Surran Road
- Nantes park, Appledene Road, Athlone
- Rondebosch, Laidlaw Lane
- Scottsdene Quality Public Space, Eoan Avenue
- Strand Rink, Main road, Strand
- Strandfontein sports ground, Spine road, Strandfontein
- Westridge sports ground, De Duin Avenue, Mitchells Plain
*NOTE: Not all of these skate parks are adequately designed, maintained and utilized.
**NOTE: This skate park is not considered particularly safe.
Visit the National Skate Collective Facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/pages/National-Skate-Collective/313344875389908?sk=timeline/