I Am Thalente: Black Boy Against The World… and Winning

If there was one sport I wish I could have excelled at, I wish it had been skateboarding. Skateboarding is like an art of carefree. It’s just you, your board, and skill against the world. Instead, for those of us who don’t have a knack for it, we could appreciate the Tony Hawk Pro Skater series. Tony Hawk Underground (T.H.U.G.) was one of the best skating games as it had you create a player with their own storyline that started them from humble beginnings and ended with them making it big. The game really got you enveloped by putting you in the story and seeing your character in that position to make it. Now the storyline for this game was merely just that for us — a game — but for skater Thalente Biyela, it was nothing compared to his come up.

Thalente hails from Durban, South Africa. He loves skateboarding as it offers him a freedom from life’s circumstances. His name is Zulu for “talent,” which is easily recognizable when seeing him perform in his local skate park. He’s known as the Mayor of the park as he knows everyone, knows what’s going on, and it feels as if he knows the skate park as if it were an extension of himself the way he rides around it. The skate park is also where Thalente was sleeping at night.

Thalente spent a majority of his years living on the streets of Durban, and in wanting to change his predicament a team of friends and supporters got together to make a video showcasing his skills to hopefully enable him to go to the states and make it with his passion for skateboarding. I Am Thalente is an extension of that video that’s really a documentary highlighting Thalente’s journey from meeting the 900 gawd Tony Hawk back in 2009, to Mr. Chuck Taylor’s MVP himself, Kenny Anderson. [quote_right]”Skateboarding is similar to swordsmanship. Both take time, patience, and skill”[/quote_right]

Thalente doesn’t shy away from discussing the realities of his situation. Explaining what he and other kids in the same living conditions have gone through, he delves into his own family background as well as the friends he’s encountered and the people that helped get him across the states to pursue his love of skateboarding. It’s this love that is at the heart of the documentary as we see Thalente struggle with his nature of skateboarding, which is rather relaxed and always in a skate park to having to perform tricks he’d normally do with ease at a skate park, on the street.

Photo by Jacqueline Burgess
Photo by Jacqueline Burgess

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At his first competition in the U.S. Thalente described the other competitors maneuvering their boards as if they were swords or AK’s. The way they attacked the rail like a hunter was so different from what he’d known back home. It’s this struggle in the transition from comfort to the unknown where we see who Thalente is and if he’s as good as his namesake. There couldn’t have been a better analogy for skateboarding then with that observation because if you look at it, skateboarding is so similar to swordsmanship. Both take time, patience, and skill.
“Black boys against the world… and winning”[/quote_left] The skateboard has been Thalente’s sword through out his life, a way out; and if he can master it, sharpen his ability to wield it well enough, he can go from a Ronin (samurai with no lord, no master) to getting a sponsor, which would be like a him serving a lord, representing that house. The documentary describes the levels of sponsorships and how nothing is guaranteed. Thalente has to adapt to a new terrain, adjust the tricks he knows to that terrain, and be able to show off to have people wanting to see more from him. This isn’t easy but Thalente sometimes makes it look that way.

Thalente’s journey is truly like that of a wandering samurai as he meets more and more pro skaters, some of the old guard and others that only had their skateboard as a means out (again, with no guarantee) similar to Thalente. I’m a huge fan of skateboarding with as limited knowledge as I can have from watching X-Games and being a fan of the video games; I’m an even bigger fan for stories where poor Black boys go against the world and win. Those don’t come our way too often. I Am Thalente has you view this documentary while having to check your own biases. As Before I watched the documentary I wondered about how his story will play out, I was also curious about how Durban is portrayed.

Do we get to see the parts with the houses and neighborhoods that are better than our own here in the states (deal with it) or are we going to only see the parts of the city that reflect poverty that the media would have you believe is running rampant through all countries in Africa? Yet we don’t discuss the colonization by, generational wealth of, and taking of land by white people as the reason that would place some people (read: Black people) in this circumstance. I had to keep reminding myself to check these things as we see Thalente’s reality. We as an audience are privy to Thalente’s environment, him as a product of it, and his passion leading him to a new reality.

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  • Omar Holmon is a content editor that is here to make .gifs, obscure references, and find the correlation between everything Black and Nerdy.

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