Joburg’s The Skate School creates a safe space for little kids, girls and Mzansi’s LGBTQI skating youth

Mar 2, 2022


Shayne Robinson and his daughter Auralia, 7, at The Skate School indoor skate park. Shayne, 50, has purposely created a space that is safe for little kids, girls and LGBTQI youth. Image courtesy The Skate School.

OG SA skater Shayne Robinson’s Skate School in Joburg recently held its first gender-neutral skate comp and is encouraging more girls and LGBTQI youth to skate.

By bluntEd. Images by Tim Moolman / Courtesy The Skate School

Shayne Robinson talks about his skate school in Joburg with babbling excitement. Shayne is an old school Joburg skateboarder who started skating in the late 1980s, and placed in a few skate comps over the years.

He recently quit his job as an award-winning photojournalist during the Covid lockdowns in 2020 to start The Skate School and open an indoor skate park and a small skate shop in the Fairlands shopping mall.

Since then, The Skate School has turned into a thriving enterprise. Now with more than 170 students, the park provides a unique safe place for girls and non-gender conforming youth to skate without fear. “I have a lot of LGBTI kids, a lot of them,” says Shayne. “They and they are loving this space because they can just be themselves.”

The Skate School recently held their first gender-free skate comp, with the girls holding their own against the boys by winning or placing in the top three in every age group.

Shayne, now 50, has had his own ups and downs in the South African skateboarding scene. By his own admission never a great contest skater – “my best result was a fourth in some bowl comp in Vereeniging back in the day” – he says he often felt like a bit of an outsider.

“I was always kind of behind the curve because I was older than most of the kids I was skating with, but I wasn’t as old as the older guys. I came between these two age groups, so I always felt a bit out.”


Shayne Robinson, layback air, The Skate School skate park. Shayne tries to set the best example he can both on and off his board. “I’ll never ask my kids to do something I haven’t done,” he says. “Or I at least will try to do it with them.” Photo by Tim Moolman.

Shane also copped flak in the ‘90s from skateboarders for taking up rollerblading in the early 1990s, even though he was multiple SA Champ in several divisions and represented South Africa at the world roller derby champs one year, the SA team beating Mexico. “We got smashed 61-0 by the USA, so at least we didn’t come last,” he smiles.

“But skateboarding was always there,” he is quick to add. After inline skating crashed in the late 90s, Shayne picked up his skateboard(s) again and between having a three kids and embarking on a career as a hardboiled photojournalist – who covered everything from ballet in Alexandria township, which won him a World Press Award, to wars in the Middle East.

In between assignments and being a dad to three kids, he skated his own makeshift ramps or bombed hills on his longboard whenever he could.

“I have a lot of LGBTQI kids, a lot of them,” says Shayne. “And they are loving this space because they can just be themselves.”

But then Covid-19 rocked the world and like many people in the world, Shayne lost his source of income and was forced to reconsider his options. With his photojournalism work drying up, Shayne had more free time and decided to start teaching his youngest daughter to skateboard at a public tennis court in Randburg when the restrictions dropped to Level 4 in mid-2020.

“You were allowed to exercise,” recalls Shayne, “so all these moms were coming to the Randburg sports ground with their kids to ride bikes and walk around to exercise. And one of the moms approached me and said ‘hey that looks pretty cool, do you mind if I bring my daughter tomorrow?’ and I said ‘I have a spare board, come’. She arrived the next day with three other moms and five other kids. I ran back home and got more boards – I had three normal boards and two longboards – and I started teaching these girls to skate.”

“A week later we had 30 kids running at three different venues and I was like hey, there is something here,” adds Shayne, who bought up every skateboard he could find for his fast-growing number of students


Shayne started his skate school during COVID lockdowns at a local tennis court, but soon realised he needed a permanent venue where his kids could skate freely – and to escape from the ubiquitous Jozi summer afternoon rain storms. Image courtesy The Skate School.

Feeling restricted because his lessons were being conducted in public spaces that were
sometimes too busy, Shayne set up a makeshift skate park out of pallets and nicked concrete curbs in a semi-private location, which helped. But the dreaded Jozi afternoon summer rain also was a problem, forcing him to cancel too many lessons, and Shayne realised he needed a more permanent solution.

“I was like, shit no, we need an indoor venue and then the search started, trying to find a venue at a shopping centre, because what I really wanted to do was bring skateboarding to the people. I wanted moms and dads to walk past and see that skateboarding was not the druggies hanging out under a tree, it was 5 and 6 year old little boys and little girls, so then we started pushing really hard on the girls side, with my daughter skating, other little girls were coming in and all of a sudden we were sitting on a 60/40 split – 60% girls and 40% boys.”


Auralia, Shayne’s seven-year-old daughter – who first provided him with the inspiration to start teaching skateboarding– dropping in at The Skate School. “With my daughter skating, other little girls were coming in and all of a sudden we were sitting on a 60/40 split – 60% girls and 40% boys,” he says. Image courtesy The Skate School.

A few months ago The Skate School held its first competition for its students. Given the numbers of girls and open attitudes of his kids towards gender, he decided to dispense with girls and boys divisions, in what must be a first for South African skateboarding.

“We had age categories, no girls and boys categories. We just had skaters. And everybody skated in the same skate park, they all competed against each other. In our Peewee sections, first place was a girl, second and third were boys. In our Junior category, first place was a boy, 2nd was a girl, 3rd was a girl, and in our Senior category, first was a girl, second a boy and third was a girl.”

“I wanted moms and dads to walk past and see that skateboarding was not the druggies hanging out under a tree, it was 5 and 6 year old little boys and little girls.”

Before the comp, Shayne spent an hour with each entrant, educating them on how to put together a contest run, which none of them had ever done before. The fact that the girls did so well, he reckons, is because they paid attention to him and plotted their runs out on paper beforehand – and saved their hardest tricks for last.

“The guys didn’t really listen to me, they were kind of just in and go!,” laughs Shayne. “They would go for the biggest trick first and fall and they wasted 25 seconds of their 45 second run. I think that is why the girls won, because they planned it way better than the boys did.”


: The Skate School under construction with the kids chipping in. Image courtesy The Skate School.

The Skate School held its first ‘gender swap’ dress up day recently, with Shayne joining in. “All the boys came as girls and all the girls came as boys,” he says. “And the shopping centre didn’t know what to make of this, because here are all these boys and girls and this 50-year-old man skating around in a dress.”

The Skate School has been so successful Shayne has expanded to rollerblading and roller skating lessons, and he is now looking for a bigger premises where he can add a vert ramp and flat area for flatland skating and roller skating/blading. He hopes to see a day when kids – both rich and poor, black and white, straight or not – can come to his park and get all the support they need.


The Skate School now has more than 170 members and Shayne is currently looking for a larger premises where he can build his dream skatepark where he can add a vert ramp and flat area for flatland skating and roller skating/blading, which he also teaches.

“I think we have so much talent locally,” he says. “My ultimate dream is to have this facility that is of an Olympic standard where people can come and train, but then I want buses that go to schools, pick the kids up, bring them back, and they have access to tutors, physios, occupational therapists, and literally you come to the skatepark and do your homework, pick up a skateboard as a reward and go skate, or a pair of rollerblades or whatever it is.”

Personally, Shayne sees himself running his skate school for the rest of his life. “The scene has given me so much in the last year and half, it has literally given me a reason to live again and a reason to be happy every single day of my life. I know I get laughed at and I take a lot of flak from certains parts of the industry and I really don’t give a shit. I will do pretty much anything for my kids, man.”

For more info go to The Skate School.

Thanks to Tim Moolman for the photos, check out his amazing photography @timmoolmanphoto

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