Tony Hawk meets "fearless" Zulu skateboarders

VALLEY OF A THOUSAND HILLS, South Africa Tue Aug 11, 2009 10:02am EDT

1 of 2. Skateboarding legend Tony Hawk performs at the valley of a thousand hills in Kwazulu-Natal, August 8, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Marius Bosch

VALLEY OF A THOUSAND HILLS, South Africa Aug 11 (Reuters Life!) - Skateboarding legend Tony Hawk found fearless Zulu skaters and a modern skate park in a remote South Africa valley where cellphones do not work and goats roam dusty dirt roads.

Hawk travelled to the Indigo skate camp in the Valley of a Thousand Hills, an impoverished rural area in South Africa's KwaZulu-Natal province, to meet young "AmaZulu" skaters who took to the ramps with enthusiasm.

"These guys are unspoiled by the media. They are fearless," Hawk said as skateboarders -- some as young as six -- performed daunting tricks on a ramp overlooking traditional Zulu homesteads set on rolling hills.

KwaZulu-Natal is the traditional home of South African President Jacob Zuma's Zulu tribe but poverty and unemployment are rife in many rural areas.

The camp is the brainchild of South African professional skateboarder Dallas Oberholzer who wanted to bring the city sport of skateboarding to the countryside.

"Whites and tourists had never shown an interest... Nothing ever comes down to them there, one or two Zuma T-shirts or one or two charities. It was a forgotten community," he said.

Since the camp was started eight years ago, scores of rural youngsters have become skateboarders and many city children have attended the camps, learning new skateboarding tricks in a unique cultural environment.

"It is one of the most amazing skateboard sites I have ever been to. The experience of seeing these young people from disadvantaged backgrounds is something that will stay with me forever," Hawk said.

About 70 youngsters in the valley have taken up skateboarding, some of them have since toured abroad and others now work at a skate park in the port city of Durban.

Some have become instructors, setting examples for younger skaters.

"These little guys are looking at what's happening with the older guys and they are going: 'Damn, I want a piece and they are really dedicating themselves to improving their skills'," Oberholzer said.

Hawk, who became a professional skateboarder when he was 14 and endorsed the Tony Hawk videogame series which has generated over $1 billion since Activision launched the series in 1999, said he didn't think he would be known in the area.

"I didn't expect these kids to know who I am by any means, I just want to go and skate with them."

And skate he did.

The youngsters cheered his tricks, shouting loudly when he performed a difficult handstand on the ramp. A feat many tried to emulate when it was their turn.

Oberholzer said the AmaZulu skaters took chances many city youngsters would not attempt.

"It is in their culture. The children in the city hold back a lot but these boys are so outdoor, rough and rugged that they don't hold back."

(Editing by Paul Casciato)

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