Fly On The Wall: SA pro skateboarder Brandon Valjalo gives blunt a behind the scenes account of Red Bull’s new ‘Greetings from Johannesburg’ video
If you are a South African skateboarder, unless you have been living under a rock in the Kalahari, you will have watched Red Bull’s latest video production ‘Soul Skaters of South Africa: Greetings from Johannesburg’. Superbly filmed and edited, it’s a fascinating insight into the skateboarding scene in Joburg. Packed with great skateboarding sequences, the 20 minute clip also documents the history of skating in Joburg, the trials and tribulations of several of the city’s best street skaters and how some of them, like Beki Meijor and Pravesh ‘Po’ Manga and others, are spreading the gospel of skate culture in Soweto and elsewhere in Jozi.
South African Olympic skateboarder and Red Bull team rider Brandon Valjalo featured in ‘Greetings from Johannesburg’, his hometown. Fresh from competing at the first 2024 Olympic qualifying contest in Sharjah in the Middle East (where he finished 61st), Brandon sat down via Zoom with blunt to talk exclusively for half anhour about the ‘Greetings… project – and how stoked and humbled he was to meet skaters from all over Africa at the recent overseas comp and the bright future of skateboarding on the continent.
Q&A by bluntEd. Photos by Karabo Mooki / courtesy Red Bull Content Pool.
How the Greetings From… project came about, what happened was we did a stop in London and that was kind of the first event / concept that I had been part of. We did Greetings From London, which was also a part of Greetings From Glasgow and they did a part with Jamie Foy and Jake Wootten and other skaters. We did a couple of demos and while we were doing the demos around the city and skating some of the street spots, they also brought the local crew from the UK to show them around and be their tour guides, but also explain the different key role players in the scene. And then me, I was just in the right place at the right time in London, while doing the European tour in summer, and I got into the tour with the guys because I am with Red Bull now and ended up doing all the demos with the guys, skating the streets with Foy and friends and stacking quite a bit of footage, which was really sick.
And then little did I know, in August they hit me up again to be part of the Greetings From Johannesburg project. It was really awesome to see it come to life for the Joburg skate scene, because we were able to explain to people how different people make a living from skateboarding, or are trying to make it work with skateboarding in my hometown. It also shows how you actually skate, how the city that you grow up in influences how you start skating. It is a really cool project and it got a lot of people involved. The core skate scene in Johannesburg got to explain their side of the story and how they grew up. From Soweto Skate Society to Island Girls Shred, how they came about, all the way to peoples’ stories, like Beki (Meijor), other skaters too, they got to explain where they skate and the local spots and how skateboarding actually is and how the scene actually comes together in Johannesburg.
“We are not spoilt for choice when it comes to spots, our spots are a lot more rough, we don’t have the perfect little skateparks that they have around the UK as well. So for us it is kind of more challenging and you can see the challenges that people face when it comes to their stories that they are telling in Greetings From Johannesburg.”
In terms of the production crew, they got Sam Maguire out; and he knows because he has done a lot of production for Red Bull in the past. So he facilitated the whole entire thing and from there he got the camera crew. Bret Shaw was in the mix and he has obviously been doing film and been working in skate production for as long as we can all imagine. He is a legend. He is somebody that I used to watch his clips and watch him put out clips of other people, so working with the legendary crew in South African skateboarding and just being in a van with everybody and hearing the stories that they have to tell about the South African skateboarding industry was incredible. It was like bridging the different generations all together, to create one masterpiece.
It was just a good opportunity really for us to be able to share our stories and our scene and who the people are in the scene, how shop owners are starting to work with different people in the industry. From parts of the culture, to grow skateboarding beyond skateboarders, to get more involved in the cultural aspect of African street culture, which is the hip hop, the graffiti, the b-boys and the dance, because obviously we are from Africa and we love to dance. So we are pretty much pushing it in a way for those people to understand that skateboarding is a part of culture. The Greetings From project was one of the most incredible experiences that I did, and it actually introduces you to the people who are actually making moves in the scene, and people that have been part of the scene for as long as you can remember.
The Johannesburg one obviously differs quite a lot to the UK ones. We are not spoilt for choice when it comes to spots, our spots are a lot more rough, we don’t have the perfect little skateparks that they have around the UK as well. So for us it is kind of more challenging and you can see the challenges that people face when it comes to their stories that they are telling in Greetings From Johannesburg. You can see that crime and the city and skateboarding in a third world developing country is not perceived the same way as in a first world country. Their government is more involved with the nurturing of skateboarding and setting up the federations and training the kids and the next generation of skaters in the UK, so South Africa is very out of touch, but also at the same time the scene here is stronger than ever.
Watch ‘Greetings From Johannesburg’ on YouTube:
It was an incredible experience to say the least, because it was also humbling at the same time. For me in particular, being able to go to Zone 6 in Soweto and go and skate the Red Bull DIY at Pimville, being in those environments and being in places throughout the city that I have never actually visited before, it was a good opportunity for to meet the locals in their local environments, and skate the streets where they grew up and to see it from their perspective. Knowing that yes, I do come from Johannesburg but I come from a different part of Johannesburg, which also shows that I have different story to tell compared to guys like Beki or guys like Po (Pravesh Manga), that have been in the city centre, trying to sell second hand product for example. Bringing us all together showed that like, I needed sheet of grip tape when I was skating with the guys on the tour, and I was like yo Beki or Po, can you guys help me out real quick, you know, like they sorted me out and then I actually supported them as well, that’s is what is it about, meeting each other and supporting each other.
Watching them hussle and seeing their journey makes me want to support them that much more. It’s 100% dedication. Beki is on his phone, he is doing things all the time, always contacting people, so is Po, he’s in the mix and he is contacting people all the time, making hussles happen. It’s like okay meet me over here, this board is going to cost this much, I will sort you out with this as well and let me know if you need anything else. They are also all about customer service and the way that they like to treat people is 100% fair. It is exactly like informal business, but it’s formal at the same time, because we are skaters we don’t really do it like that, but knowing how they are doing it is in support of wanting the industry and the scene to grow throughout Johannesburg. It is pretty incredible to watch what they are doing and the hussles that they are making come to life. They are not ripping anybody off, they are giving them really good prices on everything and all the second hand equipment. It’s good to see there is growth in the scene and people are actually trying to make it their living rather than having to work a 9-5 job and trying to skate, they are trying to make the skate hussle their career.
“It was an incredible experience to say the least, because it was also humbling at the same time. For me in particular, being able to go to Zone 6 in Soweto and go and skate the Red Bull DIY at Pimville, being in those environments and being in places throughout the city that I have never actually visited before, it was a good opportunity for to meet the locals in their local environments.”
Their goals are completely different to an ordinary skate shop’s goal, or a business’s goals, where their main goal is just to make profit or turnover the most revenue that they can. It is more so being involved in the scene, meeting people and also connecting people with products and seeing their friends and the people that are around them and the environments that they are in, just being the guy that’s the plug. In Joburg they see it as if you want to skate then they want to be the guy to help you. It is also about street credibility and you earn a reputation, so in Joburg it is about being that guy.
If you need a board, Beki will get you dialled in. So it gets to more of a personal level and you know as skateboarders money has never been the motivation, it has always been an aspect of like the street credibility and also the being the best possible version of yourself. And progression and just being more in the scene. But if it came down to help, potentially what they could do is all the international scenes, where there is so much product that is always being run through all the time, it could get donated to South Africa, to one of the initiatives where the boards can arrive and he can actually use them to sell or give away to the less fortunate kids that won’t be able to afford to buy a brand new set up, that are currently going for a lot of money, like R1,500 for a deck.
For a kid on the street to pay that for a deck that they are probably going to break in a month and half, so it is ridiculous. And they are okay like I can’t afford that, that is way out of my reach, for them it is a matter of getting product in that other guys are done with, the more international guys are done with boards after the three four days and they are changing it to another one and they are like that board still have a whole life in it, maybe a life for one skater and another after that, handing down boards. You see the boards, how chipped they are and how square the nose is and the tail and that is just being handed down. I remember giving one of my boards to a kid in Joburg and I went back and I saw that the board had cracked but he had taken a piece of wood and nails and hammered it in between the break, so the board would still stay going. That was for me, just whatever keeps the kids rolling, in terms of help and support and making sure they have more access to product to be able to move on the streets … and also with the more exposure that people get, in the international scene, more people are going to want to help if they have their story out there.
I was just in Dubai with the Uganda skate team and the guys had a crowdfunding together and got some of the athletes out there and when the athletes came out everybody wanted to give out product or extra shoes, we gave everything to the guys from Uganda and also the different African countries too. For them it was the first experience of being in an international event like this and seeing how hungry they are and how motivated they are to be part of it and how humble they are. It is inspiring to see and to know and it is quite humbling at the same time. You realise that you wanna help, you want to lend a helping hand to grow the sport and to give less fortunate people the opportunity to be able to come and do these things. Because we are all human at the end of the day and the more they get exposed to the industry, the more they’re gonna wanna help. Skateboarders helping skateboarders, essentially.
This was the first real run at the Olympics where there were multiple African countries participating for the first time. The coolest thing about it was I never got that competitive energy, but rather when I was introduced to everybody, all the homies from Mozambique, from Zambia, Uganda, when we came together it doesn’t feel like it is competitive, because we are all African and we all came together. We have started a whatsapp group, with everybody on it so we can discuss things and different challenges that we encounter in Africa, whether it is government funding for an event or to get an event, or different challenges for facilities that people don’t have. Equipment for example, as far as it can go. We made this Whatsapp group to stay in touch and support each other. Because we know that we are not there yet. We still need to be working together to do what we need to achieve across Africa.
“My goal is to explore a little bit more of Africa and know the key roleplayers in that scene and see how we can help each other to grow skateboarding. The Zambian skateboarding scene is alive, the Mozambique scene is more alive than ever and the Uganda scene especially as well. The guys rip.”
I think at the end of the day it is a competition though, we all went out there to do our best, but they are so supportive of everybody. I supported them. I was cheering them on the sidelines when I saw the homies from Africa landing their tricks and it is humbling to say the least, because they were also really stoked to see me and to skate with me. They said to me ‘bro we can see you are on that level we can see we want you to represent us’, they almost seemed like they had accepted that I was going to go and participate in Paris. And I was like, hey guys listen I don’t want to hear any of that. You are here to compete, I respect you and I am humbled if you think I deserve to go, but you guys are also here to compete and these are all people, yes some are your role models. I remember the first time I skated with all the guys I used to watch every single day, you know on TV at X-games or Street League or I was watching them do a part on Thrasher. Seeing them in person it is quite like ‘oh woah’, but then like at the same time you are there to compete, I said to them guys I haven’t qualified for Paris yet it could be you and they just need the understanding of how it works. As humbling for me as it was to be at the Olympics, don’t you want to be that guy?
I never thought I was going to be that guy and if it happened to me, it can happen to you too, if you focus. I gave them the formula of how they should go back, how they should practice and how they should look at it. From a psychological point of view you know skateboarding is all 99% confidence. If you have confidence you can do anything. I told them you need to believe in yourself. It was quite inspiring too to see the guys come out because they don’t have any skateparks like that, I know from skating different kinds of skateparks, skating a park that’s perfect with obstacles that shoot you higher, you need more control to be able to do the same trick on that obstacle higher there. It is not easy, especially when you skate at a skatepark that is rough and the ground isn’t smooth, you just make the best with whatever skate park or DIY you have.
So the guys came out there and they were doing it with confidence and they were doing basic tricks of skateboarding, but they were putting together perfect runs, some of them, on the smaller obstacles and not necessarily the biggest handrails. It showed me that skateboarding is more alive now than ever in Africa and whatever I can do to help South African skating, you also need to make it African, you need to grow competitive when it comes to qualifying for the Olympic games. You are going to have to compete against all the other African countries now. And with them trying to get facilities and product and everything they need so that they can keep the dream alive, it is a completely different ball game when it comes to Africa. But at the same time there is hunger, and with hunger comes motivation and that is something that you can’t actually buy. I am looking forward to it
It is kind of the same principle as the Brazilian skate scene. We have raw talent in Africa and even with doing projects and events with Red Bull, I have seen talented skaters here. Right now I am sitting in Egypt and I am seeing really talented skaters from Egypt. And for me my goal is to explore a little bit more of Africa and know the key roleplayers in that scene and see how we can help each other to grow skateboarding. The Zambian skateboarding scene is alive, the Mozambique scene is more alive than ever and the Uganda scene especially as well. The guys rip. Throughout the African scene, I would say there are those aspirations for them to represent their country, but at the moment they are just trying to escape for as long as they possibly can. They are still trying to get the equipment that they need. Their priorities are a bit different because they don’t have as much as what everybody else has. First things first, you need a board to want to represent your country. Or first to skate, and then you need shoes, and if that is on your mind, how do you even think of the other goals that you want to achieve?
Red Bull are leading the way to be able to help the core scene and the core industry in South Africa and make it authentic. They want to bring out the raw, real skateboarding that Johannesburg and the rest of South Africa actually has, which is also a really good thing. From being able to travel throughout the whole of Africa, skating around there as well, seeing how Red Bull are also trying to help in those different regions to actually build the industry up and help the kids to realize that this is an actual industry and that we can make it something that they can do. So they are supporting all the right areas of skateboarding, which is really good for all of us to see, especially the more core skaters and the old heads and legends on the scene.
Right now we all just really grateful to have the opportunity to be a part of all of this, but I hope that in time all the people that they are meeting and networking with and all the international skaters start giving more support towards the African skateboarding scene. They need facilities and they need help and product, and then they can have those same aspirations because we have raw talent in Africa and that is one of those things that money can’t buy, that’s just from pure talent. With me travelling and representing South Africa, we don’t necessarily have the infrastructure yet in place where we can travel with physios or people that can help repair your body, so Red Bull have been helping shape that and treating skaters like an actual athlete and prolonging your career and giving you that confidence that you need when it comes to competition, that okay you are ready because your body is ready, it is just that extra 10% extra confidence when you get out there and you have to perform and do your best and be the best version of yourself.
Check out Joburg skateboarder Beki Meijor’s skateboard hussle, We Sorted.
Watch his street division runs at the recent Olympic Qualifier, the World Skateboarding Championships in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates here.