Opinion: Skateboard commuting in Durban

Submitted by: Richardo Pennell, Monday, June 29, 2015

<p><em>Richardo skateboards from Overport to Glenwood daily.</em></p>

Richardo skateboards from Overport to Glenwood daily.

Richardo Pennell’s love for skateboarding inspired him to explore it as an alternate mode of transportation. In this article he reflects on his experience as a skateboard commuter in Durban.

On a daily basis I skate 4km, from Overport City to Glenwood which takes about 30 minutes. People think I’m crazy for skating on the streets of Durban, and whilst there are challenges and risks to consider, using my hobby as a mode of transportation has many benefits and has shaped my perspective of the city. 

The benefits

Skating is economical, environmentally friendly, and time efficient. I save money on fuel and fares and the costs of maintaining a skateboard is minimal. I also find it more convenient as it saves me the hassle of being stuck in traffic, finding parking and waiting for taxis to fill up with passengers which can be very frustrating.

The greatest benefit however is the sheer joy I derive from skating. Skating is my definition of freedom. I find the rush of living on the edge liberating. The feeling is indescribable. I have noticed that whenever I’m having a bad day, I tend to feel happier if I am constantly moving forward. I’ve always loved the experience of feeling one with nature and skating definitely makes me feel more in touch with my surroundings.

The challenges

Skateboard commuting involves planning a route which is safe, not too busy, and downhill and often involves using mixed modes of transport. Since the route from Glenwood to Overport is mainly uphill, I catch a taxi in the mornings and skate back to Glenwood in the afternoons.

There is a fair amount of risk involved in skating on the road and one needs to be very vigilant and obey the rules of the road.  The road surface is a key consideration, you have to look out for uneven bricks and swerve around branches, seeds and litter. One also needs to be weary of pedestrians and traffic and manage speed accordingly. Getting used to skating in traffic can be very daunting and requires mastering the techniques of foot placements, body positioning and body movement.

The weather plays a big part in my commute to places. If it is raining I choose not to skate as it is easy to lose control of the skateboard on a wet road and water also damages the board. Wind direction is a further consideration, skating against the wind is very difficult and strong winds can make it impossible to pick up momentum.  

The practicality of carrying a skateboard around once you arrive at your destination can also be a challenge as there aren’t always facilities to safely lock it away.

It is very important to be alert and trust yourself as you often have to make split second decisions. Such confidence is built as you successfully tackle greater challenges such as taking on a steeper hill or reaching higher speeds.

Shaping my perspective

Skating gives you an opportunity to interact with passers-by and really connect with your surroundings, which is how I fell in love with this city. The beautiful scenery, the smooth roads and the level of respect and interest that people show towards skateboarders has changed my perspective of the city. When I see motorists hooting and swearing at each other, I think of all that they are missing out on by being impatient and it makes me sad as we are sharing the same road to get to our destination. Skating allows me to travel at my own pace and I feel more connected to the spaces that I pass through every day.

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Richardo Pennell