A few years ago, while traversing the proverbial YouTube wormhole, I came across a young black skateboarder named Theotis Beasley. The young man, from Inglewood, California, began an interview video documenting a trip back to his local skatepark. He mentioned that one of his homeboys let him know there had been a drive-by in the park earlier that day. The reality of growing up in Inglewood meant a lot of his friends became gang members during their youth. In stark contrast, Theotis began skateboarding around age 11 and immediately took it seriously. Selling skateboarding as a sport to his trepidatious mother was a tough pitch. She would have felt the early pain of replacing decks, bearings, and wheels as the video clearly documented a young Theotis easily landing a slew of tricks with ease, untypical of a kid his age.
Theotis was discovered at Hawthorne Skatepark by pro skater Andrew Reynolds, who co-founded Baker skateboards with Jay Strickland. Andrew had ended up at Hawthorne and watched as this 12-year-old kid did nollie heelflips off a three-stair. This is a pretty difficult trick done off a really high platform. I met Theotis about a year ago, and the humility abundant onscreen matched the humility I experienced in person—a kind of humility not typical of a skateboarder with his level of talent.
The Baker founders took his information and threw him some decks (the part of the skateboard that a skater stands on). But the interest in the young man did not stop there—later on, Andrew was searching for Theotis at all the Hawthorne skate shops. Almost immediately after that, a young Theotis cameoed in his first ever skate video, introduction to case study analysis https://heystamford.com/writing/domy-homework-com/8/ follow url viagra for sale in sacramento mass media essay topics cheap kamagra viagra follow writing essays about literature write on black paper term paper writer software source link annotated bibliography websites viagra united states professional biography writing sites us here http://wnpv1440.com/teacher/essay-typewriter/33/ go here raisin in the sun essay essay world peace esl resume editing site for college mla title formatting enter cialis weight loss pills myself as a writer essay mary shelley essay paid to write an essay summer vacation in village essay https://www.nypre.com/programs/online-writers/37/ parts of research report https://groups.csail.mit.edu/cb/paircoil2/?pdf=how-to-write-an-evaluation-report-for-an-event Baker 3, at 12 years old. Theotis now rides for the Nike Skateboarding Team, and his plethora of sponsors include Mountain Dew and the infamous Baker Skateboards.
I started pseudo-skating at age four.
At the time, we lived in a little town in Zimbabwe called Zvishavane, which had an Anglicized name, Shabani, and was usually referred to as Shabani-Mine because it was a mining town. The crux of the town’s vibrant economy was the asbestos mine (mesothelioma, anyone?) and by virtue of that, white-collar employees like my father had discretionary income that could rival that of the Western world at the time. This made my Zimbabwean childhood, in many respects, parallel to those of the peers I would later meet in Idaho.
Discretionary income meant I could get things, and I could afford to have hobbies like skateboarding. My father bought me my first Ninja Turtle-themed skateboard, shaped more like a coffin cruiser, with plastic rails on the underside for board slides (when the rider rides the edge of a platform with either the wood of the board or the steel beneath the board). Did I know the plastic rails were for board slides? No! Did I know that the bigger wheels were for a more stable cruise? No! I pseudo-skateboarded because at the time, my idea of a skateboard was a tool the Ninja Turtles used to secure jelly beans and sausage pizzas. I had not seen humans who looked like me riding.
America has a hegemony in terms of media control over what we see in the rest of the world—things back then (arguably still now) were binary: the archetypal black vs. white. I had never seen a black person on a skateboard, nor would I see a black person on a skateboard until moving to America. My family and I moved to the United States when I was 17. I began snowboarding within six months after we emigrated. Now, this was a departure, even in my own mind, within the paradigm of what a black fellow could do—initially, I seemed to seek implicit permission. Then one day, I was approached by a new family friend and invited to go snowboarding the next day. The next day, I woke up at an unceremoniously early hour, adorning my frigid African body with Walmart’s cold winter wear. The first day of snowboarding went like any other: lots of falls and, finally at 2 pm, standing, riding, and falling…but standing! Later that week, maybe serendipitously, I would for the first time see a young, dread-locked black male with a resonant voice, and with a very familiar last name, Masekela, announcing the Winter X Games on ESPN.
Sal Masekela, son of the late famed South African jazz musician, Hugh Masekela (my father’s favorite artist), was the host of both the X Games and the Winter X Games on ESPN for 13 years. What he signified immediately was a sense of belonging for this young Zimbabwean boy who had just started snowboarding and had immediately become addicted (I would begin skateboarding, longboarding specifically, three years later). Sal would announce the events in a way that was characteristically his own, with a command over the sport. Here was a person who descended from my specific geographic location of Africa, yet he was not only exemplifying knowledge of snowboarding, but doing so with a profound amount of insight about the athletes, the tricks, and the quality of the snow. Sal then became a fixture of my once-a-season X Games viewing, from skateboarding to snowboarding. In all the sports that he announced, some of his detractors would claim this was some sort of racial experiment at the behest of ESPN, due to the fact that black folks, nay, folks of color, are seen as monolithic. This attribution is perpetuated by the binary American media landscape that I came to discover—after emigrating to the U.S.—doesn’t just exist abroad. Sal Masekela is the reason why skate and snow culture became such a primary fixture in my professional life and in many others’.
In 2016, my company, The Rad Black Kids, released a hoodie with a print that said “Zimbabwe Surf Team.” The idea behind this hoodie was the perpetual question I would get every time I went to a mountain to snowboard: “Is this your first time?” It’s a simple question that doesn’t seem charged, but the implication was one of difference and not belonging, all attributable to what I looked like! The idea of the hoodie was this: I had a lot of friends from Zimbabwe who surfed, but even though Zimbabwe is a landlocked country, we are programmed to believe Africans at large may not surf. Unbeknownst to him, Sal Masekela inspired the idea in many a young mind, constantly fighting to just belong, that we could just be. Period. We could just exist within the archetype of self-definition, all because he was doing that himself.
I first heard about Theotis Beasley through the rumor mill as a skater who had begun skating because he “had seen Lil Wayne skate.” Seeing another black person doing it had given him explicit permission. This fact helped me associate cultural value to my capitalist exploits. I didn’t quite realize that by existing within the paradigm of skate and snow, I could be offering explicit permission for those on the margins to jump in.
Two black males redefined the space of skateboarding and action sports in a way that has affected not only the way I see myself, but how I have positioned myself professionally. I have committed my life to being anti-monolithic or, better yet, defining myself by my own interests, contrary to the binary media culture that enshrines and shapes the culture at large. This journey is one that you, reader, probably embark on every day. If there is something that you do, or something you may be timid to do, remember that not only is someone watching, but someone may sit with your journey and use that as fuel to change their own life…or maybe even just learn to stand on a board!
Written by Thulani Ngazimbi for the 9th Issue of UNDO MAGAZINE.