From The Vault: A Brief History of Skateboarding in Durban

I originally wrote this article for spree.co.za back in December of 2017. Now that they’ve been absorbed by Superbalist, I can’t find it anywhere. I figured I’d give it a bit of an edit and republish it here. Enjoy.

As the first sunburn of December in Durban sinks in, I can’t help but remember the days when I would spend hours under the summer sun, skinny jeans clinging to scrawny legs, t-shirt wrapped around my head to absorb the sweat/make some sort of fashion statement, oversized DC skate shoes pounding the ground, skating the 6 weeks of holidays away with friends. Skateboarding in Durban has come a long way since those days.

I grew up skating. I was never any good at it. I’d always breathe a sigh of relief whenever I successfully ollied onto a pavement. But, lack of ability aside, it was a huge part of my identity growing up. I read blunt magazine religiously and would spend every afternoon at the local ledge. Every day, I’d try to grind it. Some days, I’d even succeed. Sundays and school holidays were for the beachfront skatepark. Originally, there was the wooden Island Style one that was like a weird Tony Hawk Pro Skater extra level. There were old military jets and helicopters next to the park because it shared a building with a military museum. There was also a metal quarter-pipe on the promenade. Only those who didn’t fear Tetanus shots would dare to brave it. 

The Beachfront Skatepark

Eventually, those relics of Durban skate history were replaced by a public concrete skatepark on the beachfront. Perfect for cooling off by taking a dip in the ocean when things get too heated. This became a home away from home for many of the 031’s skate rats. Misfit teenagers and young (mostly) adults would flock to the park to get their fix of ramps and rails, with a solid dose of socialising and shenanigans thrown in for good measure. So many friendships and relationships started and ended in that park. 

Local skate rats making use of the beachfront skatepark. Photo by Paige Furness.

They still do. The park still regularly teems with skaters, bmxers, rollerskaters and bladers, kids on scooters and their terrified parents. It’s had a redesign since I called it home, but it’s still very much the same graffiti-covered concrete playground that has scraped more skin than a dermatologist. The only difference about the skaters at the park these days is that they’re way more fashionable in their slick Vans and Cons and are way better skaters than my friends and I ever were. The days of wearing a shoelace as a belt are well and truly over, thankfully. 

The next hub for skating in Durban was Gateway’s Wavehouse and their Tony Hawk designed skatepark, although these days it’s a shell of its former self with most of the park being replaced by waterslides. The snake run is still a vibe, but Gateway is no longer the skate hub it was when I used to work at the Revolution skate shop. It’s a pity, but I’m not sure malls are the right fit for skate rats anyway. Even Durban’s original mall hot-spot, The Pavilion, had a skatepark for a few years but it also closed its doors.

The Longboard Takeover.

That being said, there are still plenty of places and ways to skate in Durban. Longboarding has grown into its own subcultures of casuals who cruise the beachfront promenade, hardcore downhill speed-freaks, and slick sliders. When longboarders first came on the scene in Durban, I was of the “longboarders are wrong-boarders” opinion and was one of the childish idiots who would get a laugh out of telling longboarders to do a kickflip. Until one of them did, on their longboard. And I couldn’t, on my “short” board. Then I shut up and learned to appreciate the various subcultures of skateboarding. 

Durban’s hilly topography is heavenly for those looking to hurl themselves down long stretches of tarmac. Even if the tarmac itself isn’t always the smoothest sailing and can send an unsuspecting skater flying as the wheels jam up on a stone or in a pothole. Every year, a few brave souls use the Comrades road closures to hurtle down roads that are usually reserved for automibles. When they’re not bombing public roads, you can often find Durban’s downhillers at the Stellawood Cemetery. 

For those who would rather not risk arrest or aren’t thrilled at the idea of hanging out in a cemetery, the speedsters now have their own custom park in Ballito- the Mamba skate track. The Mamba is a course made by a few of Durban’s skate ballies in the scenic Eden Village. It’s a unique thrill to cruise through the course whilst the sun peeks through the trees above. 

Pump, pump, pump it up.

The Mamba is not the only option for skaters looking for more than just rails and ramps. Ballito is also home to the Sugar Rush pump track (so-called because of the “pumping” action it takes to navigate the course). eNanda Adventures near Inanda Dam also offers a track for skaters and bmxers to enjoy. Although, Oxford Village claims they were the first to set up a permanent pump track in Durban. Pump tracks seem to be growing in popularity as they take up less space and are easier to navigate than a traditional skatepark.

One of the coolest skate spaces in KZN is the Indigo Skate Camp in the Valley of 1000 Hills. Founded in 2001, the rural facility would see urban skaters meet up with the locals and share their skills with the youngsters in the area. Whenever international teams come to town, they pay the camp a visit. The local skaters take pleasure in showing the pros a thing or two. These days, the camp has a tourism ambassador programme and employs 35 youths in the surrounding village.

While Durban will probably always be known as Surf City RSA, skateboarding has become ingrained in our culture. Skaters can regularly be seen pounding the silky smooth surface of Moses Mabhida Stadium’s outer rim, bombing down Florida Road, or cruising through town to the beach, sometimes with a surfboard or bodyboard under their arm. While we could do with a few more skateparks, every weekend this summer, backyard mini-ramps and empty pools will get shredded like it’s Dogtown. 

Featured image by Paige Furness.

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