African Made: Thalente Biyela
Thalente, originally from Durban, is currently a Cape Town-based skateboarder, skate coach, and a man trying to pursue his public speaking dream.
So Thalente, what do you appreciate about your upbringing?
I appreciate the knowledge, information and guidance that I got. Life could have gone one of two ways for me so I’m glad that I had pretty solid people guiding me in the right direction, which I think a lot of us need at a very young age. So ya, I’d say wisdom and guidance.
What helped to shape the person you are today?
A lot of the life lessons and a lot of the stuff that I’ve been through. It’s helped me appreciate and understand life a bit better. I have a newfound appreciation for life. I’m grateful to be living. Being homeless for half of my life. Being addicted to heroin for seven years. Growing up with an abusive stepfather, and my mom basically staying at home, selling drugs. My environment was never the best for me to prosper and actually do something with my life, which is why I actually clinged to skateboarding so much. It was like an outlet for me. An escape, a new way of living life away from the life that I was brought up in. I would say that and surrounding myself with good people helped to shape my life into what it is now. Skateboarding obviously being the vessel for that, it’s opened up so many doors for me. Skateboarding and the amazing people I have in my life, and the people I’m going to still meet along the way - I wouldn’t change it for anything really.
What excites you about being African?
The authentic part about being a South African is what means the most to me. Like, spending a couple years in America, that’s one thing I missed so much - how real South African people are and how in tune they are with being South African and how refreshing that is. I missed it so much, if I had just a little bit of the authentic side of the South African in America, it would have basically completed my stay. There’s no place like it. People are very different here.
I guess it could be one of many things. But I would say the very core beliefs in everything we do, what we stand for. What I stand for. What I basically believe in, which is a better world for everyone, equality on all levels, for all races, all sexes. And just changing the world one skate lesson at a time, one piece of information at a time. Guidance or hope for some people who don’t have or don’t feel like they have that. Giving people the sense of a second chance, or that there is more to life. That you can do whatever, no matter where or who you are. You can rise above your circumstances, they don’t define who you actually are. There’s so much more out there. The world has a lot to offer, and life is beautiful. It has its ups and downs, but it’s an amazing thing. The fact that we get to live it and share it with people is just as incredible.
What do you love about Africa as a place?
I love the diversity and how it’s growing as a place. Watching it unfold slowly but surely has been quite a rad process. It’s not as segregated as it used to be. I like that every day it’s changing for the better. It’s gonna take time, but I think it’s unfolding amazingly, and I’m glad to be a part of the process.
What is your favourite African food?
I would say probably a beans bunny chow because I’m from Durban. I kind of grew up on broad beans bunny chows. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever had to date. It’s cheap, filling, and not that bad for you as well - bread and beans.
What clothing style do you feel most comfortable in?
Anything kind of loose, but fitting. Shorts are a must if I can wear shorts. A t-shirt, cap and sunglasses. It has to fit my skating style, and I can also not be skating and still feel comfortable in it, and stylish. I take inspiration from my friends, not anyone specific. I think we feed off each other. If I like your shoes and I can afford them, I’m going to buy them.
What are your hopes or plans for your future?
I basically want to travel a bit more, possibly go back to the United States. I want to start my own brand. It’s gonna be a mixture of clothing and impacting youth and people in general. Empowering people, giving people opportunities, changing lives. I also want to share my life story with the world, do some public speaking, write a book, all that.
Why do you like Wataka socks?
First, the colours are sick, the patterns are rad, and they’re comfortable socks. Meeting Gwyn and then finding out that she owned Wataka made the idea of Wataka that much more cool because of the person that she is and what she stands for. It made it that much more exciting to be like “Oh you want ME to wear your socks? And you want to take photos of me?” Yes please.
It’s rad to also be associated with brands that stand for a little bit more than just taking money from the people. Wataka is actually trying to make a difference and be impactful in a different way. Having a different vision. It’s actually something I would want for my company and brand - for it to stand for something more than just “This is what I sell. Buy this”.
Who has supported you in your journey to becoming who you are?
I’ve met and been privileged enough to have incredible people in my life, but I would say to name a few; Tammy who’s basically been my guardian angel. She got me off the streets, got me off of drugs, helped me get a passport and ID. She made me feel like someONE not someTHING. Being in the situation that I was in made me feel like I was less than, so she gave me a new sense of hope. She taught me how to love because she loved me unconditionally. I’m very fortunate to have her in my life.
Natalie Johns is another amazing lady who made the documentary about my life story "I Am Thalente". I lived with her for five years in America. She’s such an amazing person, She was always there for me.
There’re so many more people, I can’t name them all but I think they know individually how grateful I am to have had them in my life. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for all these amazing people.
What is your favourite African word? And what does it mean?
My favourite African word is “Lekker”. It’s got multiple expressions. It’s got a very nice vibe to it, and it’s catchy. When you’re somewhere else in the world and you say “lekker”, people are like “what does that mean, that sounds kinda cool”.