Freewheelin’ through downtown Jozi
Why walk when you can glide? Here’s a fun new way to see Jozi up close and on the fly
WHAT City Skate Tours WHERE Johannesburg CBD WHO Melanie van Zyl
From never having set foot on a skateboard in my life (in fact, I’ve always been a little terrified of these whizzing machines), Ayanda Mnyandu had me up and rolling in under 30 minutes. He taught me the basics of steering, stopping and which foot to put where first by literally holding my hand through the process. I even learnt a new skating term – that I ride ‘mongo’ (pushing off with my dominant foot and putting it in front instead of at the back).
Ayanda has had some practise guiding newbies into the playful world of boarding. His regular nine-to-five has him busy at the nearby Skateistan nonprofit school, where inner-city kids have a safe space to learn. For every hour spent in the classroom, they are rewarded with an hour of skate time and, to my delight, there’s a strong focus on getting girls to do it too. We popped past for a quick look during the girlsonly hour and I saw not only talent on the small half-pipes, but buckets of confidence too. Downtown Joburg can be an intimidating place, but Ayanda showed me a different side of the city on his innovative tour – and the skating courage of those girls boosted my own.
Bustling Johannesburg CBD quietens down on the weekend, creating a pleasant environment for sightseeing on a skateboard. We started off rolling past the street art in the ‘Place of Light’ (aka Maboneng Precinct) and proceeded to Beyers Naudé Square and the city library. I loved seeing these historical buildings from a skater’s perspective – the library stairs have been fenced in to prevent further damage from overuse, and I spotted sticky, grey edges on squaredoff surfaces, where wax from the bottom of boards has left its telltale residue, thanks to grinding practice.
From there, we zigzagged between various landmarks and Ayanda revealed the stories buried in their walls. Victory House was home to Joburg’s first lift (people queued for a chance to ride it to the top). Chancellor House on Fox Street is where Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo practised law in the 1950s.
Swallows Inn is one of the area’s oldest restaurants in the city’s first Chinatown. Ayanda’s love of history rubbed off on me and many of the gritty facades shone under this new lens.
The tour ended with a skate past Mary Fitzgerald Square and the Market Theatre in Newtown, below the colourful, graffitied pillars of the M1 highway, and looped back to the new mall, Newtown Junction, where we caught an Uber back to the start. I was pretty pooped at the end – we’d covered around six kilometres, according to my Fitbit – but it didn’t stop me grinning widely at my new-found skills.
FITNESS FACTOR 5/10.
If you can do a regular walking tour, you can certainly skate. It’s mostly flat terrain with a couple of easy downhills.
VERDICT I’ve done a few Joburg walking tours before, but Ayanda’s historical knowledge adds a different dimension to stories I thought I knew. I felt safe the entire trip and grew more and more confident – enough to whizz down Fox Street and Miriam Makeba Street, and plenty of sidewalks in between.
All in all, it’s a fantastic way to get to grips with the different districts of Joburg CBD and a wonderful way to see the city. Next time, I’m roping in a group of friends.
COST R300 pp, including skateboard rental, protective gear and transport.
THE DETAILS The tour is on Saturdays and Sundays only, at 10am or 2pm, and begins at the Curiocity African Design Hostel at 302 Fox Street in Maboneng. It lasts three hours and is suitable for beginners (under-18s require adult supervision). Bring a bottle of water and a backpack to leave your hands free.
BOOK 079-839-8833, email@example.com
ABOVE Ayanda Mnyandu passes the famous 40-metre image of Mandela shadow-boxing on the corner of Staib Street and Beacon Road. ABOVE RIGHT Melanie van Zyl takes a break next to one of the many beautiful murals in Maboneng. OPPOSITE Ayanda has been skateboarding for about eight years and started running the tours at the end of 2017.