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Monday, July 9, 2012
Birdsnakes in South Africa

Goodwill skate missions are nothing new, but unfortunately they are something of a scarcity. With so many people trolling Google Earth for spots around the globe, very few skateboarders are thinking about the kids they could impact in those remote parts if they'd just bring an extra beater set up to give away. One skateboard complete could potentially start a wildfire of a skate scene. It's our duty as the fortunate travelers to make sure we bring extra matches when we travel. The Skatepark of Tampa crew regularly organizes "Boards for Bros" donation programs to help get needy kids in their area skating. A few years back they helped me organize a goodwill trip to Cuba to bring kids skateboards and sneakers. As a result, all of our lives were forever changed for the better. The feeling we carry with us every day is worth a million times more than the value of a board.

Knowing that I support goodwill missions, German cinematographer Lucas Fiederling contacted me to see if I'd like a copy of his Birdsnake dvd, which documents a trip to South Africa to spread skateboarding to kids that would never be able to afford a board. The video is visually breathtaking and the message it conveys transcends skateboarding. It's worth ordering a copy, even if you're just looking for new skate destinations (tons of great spots down there). Five Euros of each copy sold goes towards sending more product to South Africa -- or you can donate without buying a dvd. Who was on the Birdsnake Tour?
Fiederling: My good homie Louis Taubert had been to South Africa before and we had been thinking about this trip for almost 2 years. When we finally went it was Louis and myself, some of the South African homies, Andrea DoSouto (a photographer from Barcelona) and Germany's Niklas Speer von Cappeln.

Where did you go?
Sam Clark had done a similar trip through the country before, so there were a few spots he knew of already. Besides that, we planned our trip around Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg. These were the places where the shops hooked gave us more collected stuff for the kids. It was impossible to take everything in the van at once.

How many complete skateboards and shoes did you give away on your trip?
We gave away around 45 completes and 30 pairs of shoes. It's not that much, but luckily in lots of the places we found shop owners next to parking lots who would hold on to the boards overnight so more kids could share and use them and then return them in the evenings.

What made your crew want to travel with product to give away?
It's to easy doing something that makes you feel good while also enjoying all the magic moments that happen on skate trips. Louis works with Anker Rampen from Germany, whom had built some parks down there already. It just made sense to bring some boards down there so more kids would be able to skate. Also, my dad has supported kids in Brazil, where he lived for years before he passed away last year. For me it was a great way to remember him and do something that he would've loved.

What were the best stories of the trip?
Definitely every moment we spent with the kids. Before the trip I had some hard times with some business struggles and working with companies on skate videos. I was starting to be over it and lost the knowledge of why I was still doing this and not finding a "real" job for half the stress and double the money. When I was in South Africa, from the first session on, seeing the kids and their approach to skating gave me that childhood magical feeling of how much fun skateboarding is -- I instantly got my love for skateboarding back.

SA local cruising the streets.

Also, we had a nice moment with the police down there: After getting busted by a undercover cop in Joburg, we went back to the spot for more tries and another cop showed up and parked. He told us it was illegal to skate but he was also not allowed to smoke during his work time. So he lit a cigarette and said, "Now we are all illegal." He watched the rest of the session and was super hyped on the footage we got.

There wasn't a single time where people weren't totally stoked. Everyone gave us a lot of positive credit for what we were doing and was super keen to help us out in any way. Another time we had a security guard kick us out of a parking lot rail in Durban. We decided to give the local kids that had been watching us our setups. When security tried to kick them out it only took a few seconds until parents, more kids and shop owners joined the discussion, telling security to let the kids have some fun.

And yet, in some areas there are great skateparks and no skate scene. We arrived in Scottsdene for example, where they have a perfect concrete park -- better than most in Germany. Still, no one skates it since the kids in that area can't even afford shoes or a toy like a skateboard. After we skated it for a awhile the kids came running and truly couldn't believe that we left them our boards. Also, the Indigo Skatecamp in the mountains outside of Durban is insane! Dallas Oberholzer built the ramps: a halfpipe and a gnarly bowl down there in the middle of nowhere. Element supported the kids with complete boards a few years back and you can even find footage of Tony Hawk shredding the place on youtube. All the people in that area are farmers and live in typical round houses. I didn't see a single playground or anything similar in the area. Of course that means that now every kid who lives within the next three mountain ranges are skaters, and they all hang out in the park all day and shred the bowl. It's insane and surreal to see something like that growing out of nowhere in an area like that.

With so many skaters from around the world traveling to impoverished areas to skate their spots how important would you say it is to leave product behind and give back to those communities?
I think it's very important and also very easy. You don't need to raise money for crazy shipping costs, because every place in the world that has a little bit of skateboarding will have some kind of a skate shop not far away. Every shop-owner will be down to collect old boards and trucks for you to pick up. You just have to make some calls a few months before hand and take the boards to the kids -- which will also make the whole trip more fun for you. It's the most motivating thing to see children standing on a skateboard the first time and seeing that look in their eyes. It's almost a modern revolution, a new way to unite people from all over and giving them a peaceful thing they can enjoy doing together, no matter which country or religion they are from. Skateboarders all speak the same language.

Our dream is to save some kids from starting to do stupid things and ruining their lives, simply by giving them something they can focus on. Every skater has times when the world sucks, but skateboarding kept them going and on the right track. We've all heard of former heroin addicts who later joined skateboarding again and continued their careers like they have never been gone. Skateboarding is a true life saver.