This EPIC conversation with the man behind Alpha longboards covers everything from downhill skateboard racing in Brazil, surfing traffic in Cape Town and the African identity. Truly rad.
Where will you be skating?
On my local freeride hill in District Six, Cape Town. Need to do some R&D testing for my wheel sponsor Kryptonics STAR*TRAC.
How did you get into skating?
I used to travel around lots between family members as a kid and when I was 14 years old I spent some time at my grandmother’s and my cousin lived there too and he had a board, I put together one for myself from all his spare parts. This was street skating and I was first into that before I decided to go full-on into the downhill scene a few years later. I started in 1994, and here I am, 21 years later.
21 years later and still in love?
Most definitely. Every day!
At the time you transitioned to skating down hills – who else was doing it?
I was always into riding hills as I spent some of my teen years in a suburb with many hills, Woodstock, Cape Town, and was actually taught how to powerslide in 1994 by a local legend Wayne Moses, who became my best mate at the time. So, while I was into street skating, I was also able to slide and stuff and bomb hills. We did not really know anyone else doing the powersliding stuff so as far as we knew it was just us. We didn’t even know a “Cliff Coleman” existed.
When the first downhill race happened in Cape Town in March 1999, the Red Bull Downhill Extreme ( Red Bull DHX), that’s when some of the local downhill cats came out of the woodwork and we got to know some more local riders. Especially local guys like Stuart Bradburn (who won the inuagaral 1999 DHX) and Craig McKune. At that point we were still all bombing hills on street setups but with bigger and softer wheels. It’s at these events where we got to meet the likes of the George Orton’s, Chris Chaput’s, Darryl Freeman’s, Alexandre Maia’s, Juliano Cassemiro’s, Eric Lee’s, Manu Antuna’s… the list goes on. Meeting these international cats also meant getting exposed to better and radder downhill skating equipment.
Were there any events prior to that point?
Nope, none at all.
How did the first Red Bull DHX change things for the community?
It showed us locals that there was an organised way for us to be doing downhill skateboarding and racing, and that there was a whole world out there who was doing it that we could be part of. And as I said, it also exposed us to the tools of the trade we did not know existed.
Did meeting the internationals impact your skating?
It was actually just a rad extension of how the street-skating family was here locally, a brotherhood and sisterhood where we all shared the same passion and that passion made us the best of friends after five minutes of meeting one another. Skating-wise it also showed me what I needed to do to become a better racer. I have never been a great racer, but more of a free-rider that races, and I saw that it didn’t all need to be competitive, but a race was also an excuse to hang out with mates.
What was the biggest lesson from that experience?
Have fun, be ruthless, be sure of yourself and work at your skating, especially me not being a naturally gifted skateboarder.
“If it wasn’t for the buttboard and street-luge guys who made things happen in our infancy… we would not be where we are today in South African gravity racing.”
When did you race after that?
There were DHX events in 2000, 2001 and 2002 and smaller local events in-between organized by the then newly-formed South African Gravity Racing Association (SAGRA) headed up mainly by the street-luge guys like Simon White, Leander Lacey and Richard Knaggs. If it wasn’t for the buttboard and street-luge guys who made things happen in our infancy stages we would not have been where we are today in South African gravity racing. I started racing overseas in 2004 at Altburon in Switzerland and Almatrieb in Germany. Then in 2005 raced Teutonia in Brazil, a break from local and international racing, then Newtons Playground again in 2009.
Have you been involved with SAGRA over the years?
Yeah, for about two years if I remember correctly during the early 2000’s. Was involved with logistics and lots of hay-packing and rice-director once or twice.
Were you the first generation of Africans to race abroad?
It wasn’t something I thought of at the time, but a few years ago a very good friend and racer that I met in those early years, a German, Martin “Moadl’, pointed out that although there were white South Africans racing a year or two before me internationally, I was the first black South African to race on the international circuit.
What did you do to get ready for your first overseas season?
Skate as much beforehand on some of the gnarliest roads that I knew in my vicinity, which was The Glen, where they held the Red Bull DHX event. Not sure if I even put that much thought and prep into it. I reckon I was just frothing to get over there!
How were the Euro races?
They were fast and the riding, ruthless! Back then shoving and pushing during heats were fine, hahahaha. I remember seeing some street lugers being used as bounce-offs on corners by some of the European guys, gnarly man. I remember in one of my heats at Altburon in Switzerland myself and another crossed the line leaning on each other and both bailed. But great fun! The close-knit family vibe was a huge standout, and many times it felt like the racing was a by-product of just getting to hang with the extended downhill skateboarding family. Also rad to see that just like myself, people skated everything… downhill, street, park, slalom, freestyle, everything.
There seems to be a tight relationship between DH skaters in Switzerland & SA. Why?
For this credit will have to be given to the Fibertec guys, especially Reinke who forged strong relationships with riders locally very early on, and getting cats to ride their boards and do well on them. Especially guys like Mike Zietsman, Stuart Bradburn and Craig Mckune who set the foundations for the connection early on. The Swiss riders have always loved coming here starting with guys and girls like Beni Weber, Bettina Luginbugl and later on the Stefan Rufli’s, Rebekka Gemperle’s, and Christoff Batt’s to name a few. They are always a rad bunch of skaters and the vibes are always positive. Stoked that I will be driving and hanging out with them in Slovenia for KNK this summer! Thanks Samy!
Was Teutonia as crazy as it looks?
Yeah man! At that point I had always wanted to go to Brazil after meeting riders like Alexandre Maia and Juliano “Lilica” Cassemiro in Cape Town at the Red Bull DHX in Cape Town. I saw the first Teutonia race, 2004 I think, on the internet then and decided that I wanted to make the mission. Scraped some cash together and made it happen. I landed there and the family vibe was amazing. Besides the Brazilians I already knew from racing, I met brothers like Guilherme Neto, Walter D’Oliveira, Rogerio Rodrigues and Fabio “Gorducho” to name a few that helped me navigate my way around and down south to the race and then to stay in the home of Brazilian downhill legend Douglas Dalua was epic. At that point, I had not gone 100kph yet and to be forced to go that fast on a rough surface just blew my mind. Watching the locals shred the hill at speeds of 125kph just made me see what I would need to work on to remain even just relevant in downhill skating at that point. The location is trippy. You start at a church at the top and end at a graveyard at the bottom. I was very happy to walk away with a 26th place overall and 107kph at that point.
“The location (Teutonia) is trippy. You start at a church at the top and end with a graveyard at the bottom.”
Is that an analogy for our existence?
Hahahahaha, possibly. Each time we get to cheat the graveyard from doing its job and the faith we trusted in when praying at the top of a hill proves to be stronger.
Why did you take a break from racing?
I noticed that the scene was changing a bit and things were getting very product-orientated with all these new companies popping up and racing was getting very technical and aggressive, but more importantly, not fun. I mean it was technical and aggressive before, but not in a jock-way where it was ALL ABOUT the competition, and then cats would spend forever on their keyboards bitching about this or the other and friendships were severed permanently. I mean, I started skateboarding to not have to conform to the team sport/jock mentality and also to create a gap between myself and the jocks. But then all of a sudden the jocks and their mentality were the ones downhill skateboarding/longboarding and I just had to run man. I was so in love with skateboarding that it was difficult to not take things personally when I felt skateboarding was being negatively influenced.
It was rad to come back after a bit of a break with a refreshed mind and a stronger sense of myself to not let the vibes at events really affect me. It’s also at this point where I really started focussing on bringing up some groms in racing and showing them how to purely have fun racing and have healthy competition. And in a way their clean slates with no baggage also reminded me of why I enjoyed it too.
“I started skateboarding to not have to conform to the team sport/jock mentality… but then all of a sudden the jocks and their mentality were the ones downhill skateboarding and I just had to run…”
Did you have fun skating in Australia?
Newton’s Playground man! The first time I saw smoke coming out of standup riders shoes as they foot-braked! Not a single moment to just settle into your tuck and enjoy the view, hahahaha. LOVED IT!
What’s your favourite DH run?
What setups were you riding in those days?
An Alpha Longboard drop-through deck, cast Randal 180’s and blue Kryptonics Classics, 80mm and 85mm with the narrow contact patch.
Are any of those your sponsors?
Up until that point, no. I am lucky to now be a Global Ambassador for Kryptonics STAR*TRAC for their re-release of this iconic wheel that set the wheel standard in the 70’s and 80’s. My other sponsors include Triple 8 NYC Protective Gear, Globe Shoes, Skatersocks tube socks, Ballo wooden sunglasses, 2Bop Clothing, Killer Bearings, Revolution Skateboard Supply Co, and Red Bull South Africa helps out when what I do aligns with their brand ideas.
Has landing sponsors been a priority at any point in your career?
No, it’ never been a priority, but it definitely helps not having to spend money on the skating essentials and some of your extra cash can go towards a skate trip or something. Besides the product, I value the affirmation and appreciation the skate industry shows one when deciding to sponsor you.
What gives you the most pleasure when you’re on the board?
I always say that it’s when I am on my board when I feel the most myself. When I feel like Kent. And it’s the knowledge that I can live and explore my life on a board that gives me the greatest pleasure.
I love the urban city environment. I love concrete. I love tar. I love the turbulent nature of cities. And to be able to move in synergy with all that while on my board is a blessing for me.
“I love the urban city environment. I love concrete. I love tar. I love the turbulent nature of cities. And to be able to move in synergy with all that while on my board is a blessing for me.”
Which of the skateboarding communities have you been involved with most over the decades?
I would say mainly the downhill skating scene, also because besides being a downhill skater, I am also a custom longboard manufacturer at my company I started in 2000/1, Alpha Longboards.
I must admit, though, that I draw more inspiration from street skating for my own personal downhill riding. I enjoy the honesty and rawness in it.
“I draw more inspiration from street skating for my own personal downhill riding. I enjoy the honesty and rawness in it.”
Isn’t there as much honesty to be found in DH?
There is, but it’s a longboard/downhill honesty, not one that I can relate to, possibly because I have my skating background in street skating. I find that downhill/longboarding is filled with followers rather than original thinkers. I mean, there was a while that I even beat myself up about the fact that I couldn’t do a toeside standup slide, until I thought “FUCKIT, I just actually don’t enjoy them (the few times I attempted them and came close)”. Props to cats for doing it, but yeah, tired of going to a slide event and seeing everyone do the same thing.
What would making longboarding more ‘raw’?
Less imitating and obsessing over products. Just skate. Stop obsessing over “thane lines brooooooo”. The equipment doesn’t define the rider. I always laugh at longboarders who cry over chips in their boards and who think their decks must last for a year. Man! Try being a street skater and having to replace your board every 6 weeks or so!
“Just skate. Stop obsessing over “thane lines, brooooooo”. The equipment doesn’t define the rider.”
If anything, what should kids be obsessing over?
Having fun, healthy competition, and not taking losing personally. I always tell the groms we mentor that if skating is not fun anymore, rather stop and take a break, regroup and then come back. Because if we’re bummed at skate sessions, chances are we are going to bum out others who just simply want to come and have fun.
What has been your favourite season of competing?
I definitely think that 2013/14 were two rad years because I was racing in the Masters category locally. And honestly man, old cats are competitive but we also don’t care, we’re just stoked to still be here having a blast. Big up to the Mike Upham, John Upham and Anton Pratt for the rad times and the more to come.
Upham, Pratt, Lingeveldt. All of you make skate stuff – coincidence?
Not sure, I guess we all came up in skateboarding when there was not that much available and we had to make certain skate parts because we needed it.
Have you done any collaborations?
The collaborations I do are with a select handful of artists. I offer their artwork on my boards to clients and then I commission them to do custom artwork once a client decides. I am lucky to have access and to be able to work with these artists as their work and message in some way or the other runs parallel to what Alpha stands for, namely an African identity, an African voice that has something to say and should be heard, and a growing knowledge of self and an idea of how we can sustain who we are by being partners, not slaves of the rest of the world. These artists include Khaya Witbooi, Atang Tshikare, Rico Swanepoel, Kaylin Carollisen and Jeromeo Falck.
“Alpha stands for, namely an African identity, an African voice that has something to say and should be heard, and a growing knowledge of self and an idea of how we can sustain who we are by being partners, not slaves of the rest of the world.”
How can a skateboard be part of an African’s identity?”
By making it our own, doing it our way. Making it our way. Incorporating our own ideas, thinking and lifestyle into how we approach using the board. Customizing it to represent us, and in this way, use it to inspire us, because it’s ours.
Did you do any international skating in the years?
No, none in those two seasons.
What led you to make your first skateboard?
The need for it after being whipped at my first few events while skating a street deck. And also not really having money to buy an American or European longboard brand deck at that time.
What shapes did you develop in those early days?
Very basic old-school pintail style shapes that I saw companies like Sector 9 put out. I still had to get to know the finer details of differences in wheelbases and concave.
Who else was riding Kent made boards?
I wasn’t making many racing boards at that point, mainly cruiser decks for the recreational skaters. I was making lots of buttboards at this point as no one was really making them locally, and I was lucky to have Swiss Buttboard rider and World Cup champion Beni Weber do well on a board I made him at that time. Also because of my travels I always had riders order decks beforehand and then I just delivered and sent to them when I was in their country. My market locally has always been consistent and for this I am thankful.
What processes and ideas did you experiment with back then?
I kept and still do keep things pretty simple. My concaves are pretty standard, no fancy waves and stuff that feels like you have the Grand Canyon under your feet, haha. I use SA Pine, it’s a softer wood than the industry standard of Maple or Birch. I compliment its softness with fiberglassing on the bottom. All in all it’s a completely South African product and doesn’t cost an arm and a leg so that the lower income classes can’t afford to partake in this lifestyle we love.
How important is usually locally sourced wood?
For me, very important. I love knowing that my product is proudly South African using South African wood.
Was making race boards your primary objective?
Nope, not at all. I wanted people who made skateboarding and longboarding a part of their daily lives to buy my boards mainly. That’s why I focused on comfortable boards for recreational use and transportation use.
What was the first board you made that felt like it’d give you greater odds in competition.?
At that point, 2000/2001, I was still bombing hills on street decks, so the first metre-long flat deck I cut out that offered stability at faster speeds was the bees knees to me! Obviously as my skating progressed the more I could be specific about board-shaping and what I rode and what others wanted in my boards.
What’s your favourite shape to skate fast on?
I was on a drop-through for many years until Swiss female rider and past World Champion and good friend Rebekka “Bekks” Gemperle convinced me to go back to top-mount. So for the last few years I ride the exact same dimension deck for freeriding and high-speed. A top-mount 36” single kick, 9.4” wide with 24” wheelbase. I call the shape a Shooter.
Still on randals?
No, for freeriding I am on the cast Navigator Drones, and on my racing setup I am on the Navigator Precision Trucks.
Did top mounting your board make a difference?
Definitely. The faster response I get from a topmount definitely suits my style of skating, especially with a shorter wheelbase. I try and race with something of a similar feeling to what I ride daily as my commuter or freeride board so that the transition is minimal on race weekend. Thank you Bekks!
Starting Alpha Longboards was the beginning of the fulfilment a dream and also the beginning of a life-course that would prove to be my love affair.
And to others I want purchasing an Alpha Longboard to be either the beginning of a more positive way of life for you, or the beginning of the process of doing things you have always put off in your life.
How can purchasing an item change the course of one’s life?
Depends on what that item allows you to do, and that in turn could change an attitude or worldview. It’s like when you are a motorist who has never skated before and when driving all you do is get irritated by skaters who use the road with their skateboards as a means of transport. Then you buy a skateboard, use it for transport and see the other side of it and how angry and irresponsible motorists could mean life or death for a skateboarder on the road.
Why is it important to introduce groms to DH skating?
That’s the future, the bearers of the torch, the future lifeblood of our lifestyle. That’s why we must show them a pure love for skateboarding. And not force them to live in the past, but learn from it. What have our foreparents done that we are STILL HERE. As much as we can teach and guide, we have to trust the young to guide us in how to stay relevant.
What have you learnt from the young?
To look at things with fresh, objective eyes. As older cats we are stuck in our ways lots of the time and become very self-righteous about things. Also means that experimentation happens and sometimes something rad can come out of it.
What are you doing locally to keep the torch burning?
Simple just skating and pushing, making sure the scene does not disappear. Skating with the crew and the social media presence also means that the non-skating world sees that there’s long term consistency and that what we do is not a passing fad. They have to take note, we are here to stay.
“They have to take note, we (skateboarders) are here to stay...”
How is 2015 going for you?
It’s been good. Biggest news is that myself and my lady will have a daughter in October so I am really looking forward to that and just preparing, making sure that all my ducks are in a row with Alpha. From a business perspective things are looking solid and consistently ticking over. Not selling out haha.
Congratulations on the beta, alpha!
How big is the temptation to sell out?
Honestly, I am not that tempted. I have been approached a few times by bigger companies and individuals with lots of cash to go “bigger”. But really, I firmly believe in doing things the way I do with Alpha, and also that there is a place for skate-run and skater-owned. Saying no to some opportunities is not always the best business decision for me, but I always say that I don’t want to lay in bed at night and think “Fuck, I sold out today”. The way I run Alpha Longboards now allows me the freedom to still full-on skate, shape and travel, all on my own terms.
Any big plans for the summer?
Yeah I head to Germany end of July and then head to Slovenia for the KNK Bears Guts freeride, and then just some summer skating with my Hamburg Alpha Longboards crew in and around Germany.
What do you do when you’re not skating/shaping?
I am also a professional photographer, so I try to do the one thing when I am not busy with the other. And also watching street skateboarding videos online religiously. All that will change when our daughter gets born… or maybe not, because then I can do it with her on my lap.
How did you end up on CNN?
I have been very lucky with the kind of and amount of mainstream media exposure I receive. Early on in Alpha’s life I decided that I want to use it as a tool to express most of me. I love art, I love skateboarding, I love using both of these to convey messages, I love people who use their art forms to convey messages, I love being relevant, I love influencing young cats with all this and showing them that there is more and everything out there for them Combining all these means that I am present in more bubbles than most. Not just skateboarding. And the world is stoked on that and want to hear it. So cats find me, consider me a relevant African voice, and ask me to share. I have featured on CNN 3 times already, so I am on a good roll.
What does this kind of exposure mean for the kids in the community?
They’re stoked that they get to see someone they saw on television in person daily. Having me as a reference point for how ”good” they are and what they are doing also makes them know that their skill level is not too far off to reach higher heights in skateboarding.
What’s the interplay between art and skate?
There’s a long history of a close connection between skateboarding and the arts. For me skating has always been about individuality and self-expression. This comes out in skate graphics. As skateboarders we are also vocal and our art is also how we express our thoughts and feelings about our environments.
Pick 3 numbers between 1-30.
14, 18, 30
10 – who’s your favourite skater?
Right now, Luan Oliveira.
18 – Norman Plante asks – If you could choose one person to be your new dad, who would that person be?
Hawaiian surf legend Eddie Aikau. I would have loved to learn about the heart and mind process of how to always GO the way Eddie was known to always “Just Go!”.
30 – If you could travel to any time in history, where would you go?
The late 70’s, when skaters were going lower and touching the ground in the tricks of the day. It’s like today’s Puckdown VS Standup thing.
Looking forward to No Paws Racing?
Hahahaha, yeah, watch me pull out the high-speed foot brakes!
Kent. Bro. This was an epic. Thank you for sharing your story. Have fun in Slovenia and see you in the summer!
Thanks bro! Yeah man, lets find each other on a hill somewhere! And thank you to you for reaching out! Bless.
Any last words?
Thank you to skateboarding for choosing me to be a drop in this vast ocean, and simply allowing me to be me. Thank you to my family for never questioning my life-path. Thank you to my Lazy Alpha Sundays crew for making sure skating is always fun. To my sponsors, 2BOP Clothing, Globe Shoes, Skatersocks, Kryptonics Wheels, Ballo Sunglasses, Revolution Skateboard Supply Co., Killer Bearing Co., Triple 8 Protective Gear and Red Bull South Africa. And last but not least, to the cats skating an Alpha Longboard, you will always have a bit of me with you. BIG UP!
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