Skateboarding is life.
A sport with addictivity.
Standing at over six feet tall, 27-year-old Charl Jensel wears a broad smile and an afro hairstyle. Five minutes into our conversation, he’s grinning, cracking jokes and appearing to be content and motivated by the sport he loves. “When you set foot on a skateboard you want to do something”, he enthuses. “You see an amazing trick and you want to do it yourself. That creates goals in you, man. You get addicted to it and there’s no going back to your old life”. The old life Charl speaks about was tough. He grew up in Cape Flats in South Africa’s Western Cape and, like many of the youngsters around him, staying in school was a struggle. He found himself mixing with the wrong crowd, dropping out of education and falling into trouble.
“In my community today, kids drop out of school like nothing you could imagine”, he says. “Drugs and gangs rule the streets. They’re the most dominant role models encouraging kids to do negative things”.
Charl as a big brother of the programme.
Charl describes himself as one of the lucky ones. Skateboarding saved him. Today, he oversees the work of the “Indigo Youth Movement” in the Western Cape, a programme supported by the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation which teaches life skills through the sport of skateboarding in both Durban and the Western Cape in South Africa. In the communities in which the programme runs – mostly densely populated township areas – life is tough and sport is powerful. “There are very few role models in these communities and there are so many negative distractions so the programme is so important. I have a lot of kids telling me if it wasn’t for skating and for this programme that they would have been in trouble today”. Charl goes on to provide proof. He sees himself as a “big brother” for the youngsters in the programme and talks candidly about an incident which happened recently.
“A sixteen-year-old kid got shot dead.”
“A sixteen-year-old kid got shot dead, he was part of the programme”, says Charl, his voice suddenly sombre. “About a month or so before it happened he started missing sessions at the programme and hanging around with the wrong people. At the moment a gang war is taking place in our communities. He got shot down on the spot, mistaken for someone else.”
Charl continues: “The kid who got buried that day, he was only 16 years old. Teachers and parents from his school were there at the funeral. He was one of the kids I actually got back into school. Kids know, if you’re not in the programme, you can get into trouble. We’re getting to that point here in South Africa I think”.
A vision for his life.
“I started on the kerbs, man”, Charl says, discussing his first footsteps on a skateboard. Skating gave him goals, an opportunity and a way out of the community he was in. Although he dropped out of high school, Charl had a goal and a vision in life to be the best skateboarder he could be. Working at a local skate park, Charl was living his dream, skating every day. “I thought I was going to work there for the rest of my life. The fact I am sitting where I am today is a testament to the power sport has to change”. Top South African skateboarder Dallas Oberholzer, who ran the “Indigo Youth Movement” in Durban, got in touch and asked him to start something positive in his own community. At first, he declined. “I had a closed mindset; I didn’t think skateboarding was a sport, I didn’t realise the power it had”. After a visit to meet Dallas, Charl’s eyes were opened, his mind was made up, he was going to start giving back and making a difference. “I saw the movement, I saw the programme in action and the respect the kids had for each other and for their elders. This was what was needed where I come from, that’s what is lacking, there is no discipline and that’s when I told them that I’d get involved. I wanted to make a change”.
Valuable life lessons.
Through being involved in Indigo, Charl was involved in the Laureus “Youth Empowerment through Sport” (YES) programme, an initiative to empower young people to become leaders, teaching valuable life lessons through sport. Through his shift in mindset, Charl himself returned to education. Growing as a skateboarder and mentor to young people, his eyes were opened up to the opportunities around him. “I felt like there was something missing”, he recalls. After speaking with his parents, he received the support he needed and returned to college to complete his studies, two years after setting foot on a skateboard. Although he’s in charge of a sports programme, Charl’s role reaches further than the half-pipes of skate parks.
“Yesterday, one of the kids asked me to help get him back in school. I missed 70 days of school when I was younger and now I’m telling everyone in the project to stay in education, all because of skateboarding”.
Tony Hawk is thrilled by the programme.
Laureus Academy Member and Skateboarding legend Tony Hawk has a special affiliation to the “Indigo Youth Movement”, visiting the project on two occasions to find out first-hand the impact it is having on young people in the local community. Hawk said: “It was very inspiring to see the kids that live in these little villages and have the option to go and do something as different as skateboarding and see how they embrace it. They really love the challenge of it, they love the action, they love the exercise and it was fun to see how they interpret skating. It gives them self-esteem, helps them in their careers. I also think just the act of skating can teach so much about self-confidence, self-motivation and overcoming your own challenges, as opposed to only participating in team sports, where you are relying on the team or relying on the coach to tell you what to do. That is an important aspect of maturing, but I think the idea that skating is as much a form of self-expression as it is a sport and an art form is as important as well”.
Hopes, dreams and a way out.
Charl is philosophical about the future of the programme and his goals and aspirations for the young people in the communities he works with. “I’m just stoked that I can change these kids’ lives. They learn things every day and that’s very important, that’s how you grow. These kids would honestly have been lost, they would have had nothing without the programme, now they’ve got hopes and dreams and a way out”.