Faces Skater Profiles

Thalente Biyela attempts to go from South African street kid to pro skater

'Look, I could even be dead without skating. It's mandatory.'

Thalente Biyela is trying make the journey from South African street kid to pro skater. He grew up on the streets, alone, homeless, and selling drugs just to survive. Then he found skating, and now filmmakers led by Natalie Johns are seeking funding to create a documentary of his journey from the streets of Durban to California, where he is attempting to make his skating dreams come true. With time running out to raise money for the documentary, GrindTV spoke to Thalente to hear his incredible and inspirational story.

You have been in the U.S. for a year now. How has it been?
At first it was hard. I didn’t know anyone and everything is so different to South Africa. I had to be a lone ranger for a long time. However, since I have made friends, it has been easier.

Do you miss South Africa?
I miss my friends, but I don’t miss the crazy life I had there. My main goal was just to leave South Africa—leave and just never come back. I see how messed up it is. You know there are just so few opportunities, and there are so many talented people who just don’t get a chance. I was lucky to meet the right people at the right time, and take that opportunity. It could have been anyone, but it was me.

Thalente Biyela; photo courtesy of Thalente Biyela

Thalente Biyela; photo courtesy of Thalente Biyela

What was your life like there?
Well I was homeless from 11. My mum passed away, my stepfather was abusive, and we sold drugs for a living. I was on my own from a very young age. I had left school at 8, so I couldn’t read or write. It was just hard. I was living on the streets near the beach at Durban. Then they put a skatepark in at North Beach Durban and that changed everything.

What part did skating play in changing your life?
Skateboarding played a massive part. Look, even if I didn’t skate, the way I was living would have been a f#*$ing crazy story, but skateboarding made me what I am today. It made everything possible; it helped me meet people who backed me. They made me realize that my life wasn’t over and that it could change. They gave me hope and belief and that all came from skating. It was what I was meant to do. Just to be good at something was amazing and I got good, so quickly and so early. I mean I still got into the drugs after that and my life went to sh*# for a while, but skating was the No. 1 thing in my life. Look, I could even be dead without skating. It’s mandatory.

Thalente Biyela

A Thalente Biyela tailslide; photo by Coulthard

And yet now you have been living in Los Angeles, being mentored by legends like Kenny Anderson and trying to become a pro skater.
Yeah, I mean it will be an amazing story even if I got to live my dream even for just a short time, but to actually make it last, to turn the dream into a reality, that’s what I want. And you know I can feel it happening, dude, but there are so many good skaters in L.A. You just have to put in the hours, skate every day, learn all the time, and get good in your way, with your own style.

Do you feel the pressure that it might not work out? That you will have to go back to South Africa?
I’m prepared for hard work. I know what I want and most important, it’s all in my hands. I can’t afford to fail; this is my only chance. So, sure, it’s pressure, but it’s also freedom. I’ve been through some really hard sh#* in my life, and this is something I can do and succeed. Or at the very least just do my very best and try as hard as I can.

What’s the plan now?
Well we are still trying to raise money for the documentary called “I am Thalente.” Plus I am aiming to get as much footage as I can and send it out to sponsors. LRG, my first real sponsor, has been great, but I want stay here and make an impact. I want to make this dream happen.

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