Anthony Parise is someone that we have been in touch with for a few years now through facebook, but only recently met in person when he came out to visit South Africa for the first time in nearly 5 years. Anthony, a US citizen, was stationed in the small Northern Cape village of Bothithong while volunteering for the Peace Corps a few years back and built a skate scene out of necessity, changing the lives of several as a result.
Anthony goes into detail about the good work he’s done in Bothithong, his recent trip to SA, and more in our latest installation of “Making A Difference”.
Anthony and some friends overlook the only skateable area in the small village of Bothithong.
What brought you to the small Northern Cape village of Bothithong? Can you describe the village and what the skateboarding scene was like when you moved there?
I originally came to Bothithong Village in 2009 as a volunteer with the United States Peace Corps. Our project at the time was called the School & Community Resource Project. My wife was teaching English and I was teaching math. We also started a computer learning program that ran after school a few days a week. Bothithong is a largely barren place that is at the tip of the Kalahari. The terrain consists mostly of sand and cactus-like vegetation. But there is a small river that runs through the village with some killer rock formations. The only concrete in the village is in the form of house foundations and a activity court at the primary school we taught. No one in the village had ever even seen a skateboard before I arrived.
Describe your organization and the what you aim to accomplish.
Together We Skate is a non-profit that is focused entirely on bringing skateboarding to underprivileged areas of South Africa. Originally, Bothithong village was the focus, but over the years we have grown to help Kuruman and Mothibistad as well. Together We Skate has several objectives but most importantly we need to support the skaters with a consistent supply of skateboard equipment. We also communicate with the local municipalities like Northern Cape Department of Sports to help get some of the skaters to events like KDC in Kimberley and skate for Hope tour events. Revolution Skate Co. has helped us enormously over the years by sending used equipment as often as they can.
Anthony teaches skate lessons in Bothithong back in 2009 when skateboarding was completely foreign to the village.
Now, in 2015, a Bothithong skater ollies a makeshift obstacle at the Bothithong skatepark.
Was building a skateboarding scene in the village the initial intention or was it something that happened organically?
It was totally organic. Originally, I did not expect to skate at all during my service, but I found a spot in the village where they had laid some new house foundations as part of an RDP (reconstruction and development project) site and was like “Dude, I can skate this!”. I then had my parents back in the States ship my board out. My very first day skating drew in about 10 kids that happened to see me in the distance cruising around the slab. Everyone took turns trying it out until the sun went down. That first day lit a fire that grew and grew.
How have the children and community grown as a result of your introduction of skateboarding to the area? How about the level of skating in Bothithong and the nearby city of Kuruman?
I’d like to think that my daily interactions with them through teaching, skating, or anything we were doing had a positive effect on a lot of people. It’s naive to think you’ll change the world but if my wife and I influenced even a few people in a positive way, than it is all worth it. I think most of the parents and elders in the community appreciate the joy skating brings. They see the positive effect it has and when i speak with community members I always explain how skating teaches independence, patience, and how to set and achieve challenging goals. Over the last few years, the level of skating here has risen so much, it’s crazy. You’ll always progress so much faster in a place with challenging things to skate, so the Bothithong skaters go to the Kuruman park when they can to skate and share tricks. They all know each other now and collaborate on trips and things. It’s rad.
Skaters from Bothithong, stoked as could be to have some fresh gear following Anthony’s trip to the Kumba Skate Plaza.
The Kuruman skaters were also taken care of, thanks to Vans.
Did you build any relationships in the SA skate industry as a result? Who supported you and your movement during your stay?
The first relationship I made was with Khule Ngubane in Durban. He introduced me to the shop running the skatepark, which was Revolution. After meeting the owner, Clayton, they were definitely hyped on what I wanted to do and Clayton sent me about 8 completes, 20 pairs of shoes, and a bunch of extras. It was the start of a long relationship with those dudes. They are very supportive.
What prompted your recent visit back to South Africa and Bothithong specifically? Describe what you did during your stay.
We have had good success with getting equipment donated but that doesn’t help the fact that Bothithong has little to skate. Getting proper funding has been an issue and that is what we need to build something out there. It is a pressing need so I decided to film a documentary which will be used to generate funding from businesses in America. Our goal will be to raise around 50,000-75,000 ZAR to build a larger slab with nice ramps and rails on our land in Bothithong. I was able to get several hectares of land donated to us by the family I stayed with during Peace Corps to build whatever we can. I was able to raise a small amount of money before coming out so that we were able to build and repair some small ramps and a box on the slab we currently have. It is better than nothing but they really need so much more.
The Bothithong crew, maxin’.
Anthony spending time with his host family in Bothithong.
How did you find your stay in Kimberley? What did you think of the level of skating coming from the local skaters?
My stay out there was so cool. Getting to skate the park was rad and hanging with you and your friends made for some good times and nice memories. You guys have been amazing hosts and super generous. The skaters out there are clearly top notch. Left and right I saw dudes killing it on everything. Non-stop SKATE games being played and all the rest. It’s cool there are so many kids that come out to skate and just get better and better every day. Leaving with 24 pairs of shoes, decks and hardware for Kuruman and Bothithong wasn’t too bad either!
Where do you see the future of Bothithong Skateboarding and what do you think it will take for skateboarding to grow in the area and other small villages across the country?
Bothithong is like my second home so I will always have a presence there but if I can make that my model site, I would like to take my approach to other promising villages around the province. I believe skating will grow itself in almost any area where equipment can be provided in a sustainable way. Kids see it and just immediately want to try it. It’s definitely an addictive activity, but in a great way. My documentary will focus a lot on the positives that skateboarding has in rural communities but it will take more help from outside sponsors to get there. Getting my organization, and any other like it, into the eyes of many is the best way to find that help.
Photos: Anthony Parise