International News: South Africa

The South African skateboard market and industry has changed vastly in every sector since SKATE Biz last reported on the country’s market and industry two years ago.

Almost every sector-media, skateparks, local brands, growth-are totally transformed and all with positive signs.

All seems quite miraculous when thinking that at the end of 2002 we were faced with our biggest currency crash and the ZAR (South African rand) plunged to less than thirteen rand to one U.S. dollar.

Toward the end of 2001 two local brands emerged onto the market, KFD and Iron Fist, gaining enough momentum and support to combat the weak currency with more affordable U.S.A.-made products.

Since 2003 the rand has steadily gained strength, and the momentum has continued, leaving us with the rand sitting around 6.5 rand to one dollar, a rate we have not seen since 1982. Coinciding with the rand’s strengthening was the weakening of the U.S. economy and hard times for the U.S. skate industry. Closeouts from stock-ridden manufacturers, the presence and support of local brands, and a strengthening currency and economy were all major push factors that aided in the revolutionary change that the South African skate industry has undergone.

Skates For Africa, Boogaloos, (R)EVOLUTION, and Iron Fist are the dominant distributors in the country, with the latter two being the most recent additions to the industry. Boogaloos and Skates For Africa have maintained their stance of focusing on their expanding retail chain stores while (R)EVOLUTION has set its energy on supplying all the ‘core independent stores. Iron Fist has teamed up with Quiksilver and has a thick presence in their Board Rider and TSS stores along with other ‘core stores.

All skate- and surf-crossover-chain stores have expanded fairly rapidly over the last two years, especially the Quiksilver Board Rider’s stores that recently acquired all the Cape Town-based Sport And Surf stores, making them the biggest chain by a long shot.

A refreshing change and shake around in the market is also attributed to the swarm of skater-owned and-operated stores that are taking their own sizeable pieces of the retail pie from a market that was formerly monopolized by non-skater-run skate- and crossover-chain stores. Skateboarders around the country are opening up their own stores or growing from single- to multi-store skate shops. Within the last year the number of ‘core independent skate stores has grown by over 300 percent, most locating in street and lifestyle areas far from the typical shopping-mall approach, adding a refreshing street-level feeling to skateboarding. This double combination of growth in competition and currency has pushed retail prices down and concerns up for skate-focused stores situated in glossy high-rental malls.

The growth of stores and skateboarding cannot be attributed to the above factors alone. The skate media industry has undergone a major facelift, mostly due to the arrival of Session skateboard magazine, South Africa’s first-ever successful, dedicated skateboard magazine. It is a bimonthly, high-gloss publication, covering South African skateboarders local and abroad, and it’s the brainchild of Brendan Body-skateboarder, editor, and owner.

Along with the arrival of Session came SPF Media-South Africa’s first 100-percent skateboard-video company. Headed up by skateboarding brothers Jeremy and Bubs Farber, they have so far created three skate videos with local and international video footage covering only South African skateboarders. Their controversial Web also served as an online skateboarding resource platform.

More recently coming into light in the media sphere are the arrivals of SNAC magazine, a South African attempt at the U.S.-free ‘zine Happy, and AV Skateboarding-a seasonal video magazine that is visually documenting the scene nationwide.

Although Blunt is still the largest crossover pubblication in the country, the flood of new media companies and formats have received a lot of attention from the industry and public and has afforded advertisers to take sides in a fast-emerging market that before offered no alternatives.

Even the Web has come a long way, and although it’s at the bottom of the list, its presence and receptiveness are growing rapidly. There are no well-established e-commerce sites yet, but a trend leaning toward it is currently emerging.

With the media field accelerating by leaps and bounds, the amount of skate events have also caught the eye of the public, and events companies are fighting for a way in the door. Extreme sports have been on the events calendar from company functions and shopping-mall attractions to suburban fairs and school fundraisers. Attempts at emulating the X-Games have been persistent in numbers but slow in result.

There has been an increase in the amount of skateparks built, and the Durban Council has recently funded the first modern-looking concrete skatepark on the beach. Smaller skateparks are popping up in suburbs everywhere and there are a few parks planned for next year.

The only real threats to the industry have come in the form of counterfeit products and the huge onslaught of pseudo-skate companies or imitation brands. Lizard, a local surf company, has capitalized on the Osiris D3 image, to name one, and made a line of cheap imitation products that have stolen and killed any identity the original brand may have had.

A handful of new skateboard companies have also appeared on the market within the last year. But due to a greater skateboarder involvement in the industry and a now more educated market, the brands’ intentions and objectives have been highly questioned and often scrutinized. KFD and Iron Fist continue to gain loyal support as they evolve as brands, with KFD going with a more hardgoods focus and Iron Fist devoting energy to apparel.