From the blunt mag archive: Errol ‘Bong’ Interview, blunt 1.1
10 April, 2023 – Legendary South African skateboarder, musician and man of many people who loved him, Errol ‘Bong’ Strachan passed away this weekend. RIP Bong, you touched so many people with your skateboarding skills and jovial, helpful ways and we mourn your loss deeply. Thanks for everything, blunt magazine salutes you.
We interviewed Bong in our first issue, blunt 1.1, which came out in April 1997. A 100% skateboarder and larger-than-life character and a mighty inspiration, there will only ever be one Errol ‘Bong’.
In Shortmarket street in Cape Town, there’s a tiny shop. Skaters hang outside, grinding off the pavement, cruising down the street. Inside the cigarette smoke laden atmosphere is merry, with skaters of all disciplines joking constantly, and a steady stream of customers being buzzed in and out of the security gate.
Behind the counter sits a big, bearded and dreadlocked man, whose presence is and cocky comments dominate. His attention is constantly diverted by the shrill ringing of his telephone and he conducts business friendly but sharply.
This man is Errol ‘Bong’, owner of Bong’s skateshop and one of South Africa’s most dedicated skaters. Bong, 38, became labelled with his nickname during the seventies, when the slang for a hard fall was a “bong”, and in connection with the Rasta connotations, it stuck.
He began skating while attending Grassy Park High School, when a few of his schoolmates formed the Comet Skate Club, which often met at the now defunct Kenilworth Park half pipe. At the time he was a keen soccer player, and despite feeling he was good enough to make the local team – which played in the white league – Bong found skating way more interesting.
Bong, 38, became labelled with his nickname during the seventies, when the slang for a hard fall was a “bong”, and in connection with the Rasta connotations, it stuck.
He had surfed a few times, and decided to give it a go. He rapidly became one of the best freestyle skaters in the country. Bong taught himself the freestyle moves popular at the time by studying sequence photos in issues of Skateboarder magazine.
Yet, he found no outlet for his skill and his notoriety as a freestyle street skater grew only from those who had seen him perform. “There was a national circuit back then, but it was white orientated and never in Cape Town,” he reflects.
The errant Bong found the kerbs and streets of Muizenberg the ideal place to display his skill, and was chased out of the area many times by the local cops. But before long they realised he was not going to go away and eventually cleared the streets when he was on a roll.
Through the 1980s, skateboarding’s mainstream popularity died worldwide, and faded all but completely in South Africa. Bong blames this partly on greedy surf shop owners who, although they promoted the sport superficially, did not care for its long term future.
“They did not provide adequate facilities, such as skateparks or ramps, and were basically out to make a fast buck,” he says.”
But the dedicated Bong continued his passion, and to survive financially, he part-timed as a nightclub bouncer, musician (he played guitar in reggae and punk bands), and as a sound engineer at gigs.
“But I skated through it all, and that made me as good as I was,” he says. And following his win at the Pick n’ Pay freestyle contest at Camps Bay in 1990, he won every national and provincial contest he entered. “I never once came second,” he says proudly.
“Most ous skating now were in nappies when I did my first kickflip,” says Bong. “But the reason I’m into it is not for money. Seriously bru, this sport is my whole life.”
In 1993 the cashless Bong was offered a full sponsorship to attend the freestyle world champs in Germany, where was to contest his unofficial top five world ranking, which was allotted to him on his reputation alone.
But his wife was due with his first child at the time, and Bong decided he would not attend, feeling at the time that he could not skate for the still apartheid controlled South Africa. “It didn’t feel right,” justifies.
This proved a frustrating choice for Bong, who subsequently skated with the ladies world champ, ‘Coco’ in Cape Town (then ranked 10th on the men’s ratings). She said afterward that he easily matched, if not surpassed, the best freestyle skaters in the world.
Bong’s long-time friend, hot Elsie’s River skater Arnie Lambert, obtained him a job at Cape Town’s Surf Centre, and this began for Bong a life in retail, which he took to like polyurethane to asphalt. He then, following a loan, assimilated a fledgling skate equipment and clothing retail outlet in the Waterfront Skatepark.
When they went under, he went into business with snakeboarder Matt, and they moved into the current premises. Between his business dealings and music interests, Bong, much to his regret, no longer finds time to skate.
But his love of the sport is such that he and other interested parties were instrumental in organising the Waterfront skate contest in December last year and they hope their national tour will be successful.
“That contest was experimental,” Bong explains the motivation behind it. “We wanted to see whether we could attract the Joburg guys, and I am glad to say they supported us well. But it could have been much better, because the production company which was supposed to handle the media promotion and ads did fuck all. You have got people who know nothing about skating handling it. And that is why us skaters have now decided to do it ourselves.”
Bong’s love of skating extends to a desire to see it spread among the underprivileged communities; and not only those of his Cape Flats compatriots, but in all spheres.
“A sport can’t grow without clinics, and we want to provide equipment to township kids, they can skate all day instead of being bored,” he furthers.
As far as South African skateboarding goes, Bong feels that we have talent that equals the best in the world.
Finally, despite his fatherly attitude towards skating in the country, Bong does not see himself as the ‘guru’ of the SA skate scene.
“Ja, most ous skating now were in nappies when I did my first kickflip,” he adds jokingly, and then becomes focused. “But the reason I’m into it is not for money. Seriously bru, this sport is my whole life.”
2022 Update: Bong, 63, is now the bass player for legendary Cape Town reggae band, The Rudimentals.
Check out some archive footage of Bong from an old SA TV show.
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