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Olympic history maker on mission to promote skateboarding in Kenya

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NAIROBI, Kenya, Nov 27 – When he first stepped on a skateboard at the age of 3, Brandon Valjalo had no idea that he would one day etch his name in the history books as the first ever African to compete in the street competition at the Olympics.

Although he finished 18th at the final round of competition in Tokyo, the experience was an eye-opener for the South African who then experienced a ‘light bulb’ moment during which his passion to grow the sport around the continent was aroused.

This passion has spurred him from down south to the city in the sun – Nairobi – where he hopes to inspire the next generation of skateboarders to follow in his footsteps to the Olympics stage.

“I feel like I have a responsibility to help grow the sport of skateboarding around the continent. I was the first Olympic skateboarder from Africa and I hope to inspire the kids to get on the skateboard and enjoy themselves. I hope they see that everything is possible if you put your mind to it,” Valjalo says.

The South African began skateboarding as a three-year-old as a hobby but fate had other plans as he soon developed an affinity for titles.

He is the four-time national skateboarding champion and has flown the country’s flag at various international competition, including the World Cup of Skateboarding in 2017 as well as the World Skateboarding Championships in 2019 and 2021.

Of course, every sport has its risks and skateboarding is no different.

Brandon Valjalo in action at the Red Bull Mind the Gap skateboard competition at Kenyatta Avenue. PHOTO/RAYMOND MAKHAYA.

The 2017 Africa Skate Champion admits injuries are part and parcel of the game but adds that this has done little to dampen his love for skateboarding.

As a matter of fact, he had to compete at the Tokyo Olympics in a plaster after breaking his wrist before the preliminary round of the competition.

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In the face of such danger, Valjalo is defiant, noting that the adrenaline that comes with skateboarding makes the risks worth it.

“Skateboarding is 99 per cent confidence. You have to believe in yourself because no one else will. You have to approach skateboarding with a positive mindset and confidence. The objective is to have fun and enjoy yourself,” he says.

He was among the judges at the Red Bull Mind the Gap skateboarding competition along Kenyatta Avenue on Saturday afternoon.

The annual event, which was first held in 2011, features professional and amateur skateboarders who are expected to perform various stunts including over a 10ft gap.

Valjalo interacted with skateboarders and wowed the crowd with his skills on the skateboard as he gave pointers to upcoming talent on how to improve their craft.

The 24-year-old applauded the talent on display at the event and noted that skateboarding can become a huge sport in the country with the right support from corporate bodies.

“I think the world has not yet woken up to the reality that there is a lot of skateboarding talent in Africa. The continent is really underrated. I have been impressed by the passion and commitment of the skateboarding community over…everyone is very passionate and I would like to encourage more companies to come on board and support them,” he said.

Brandon Valjalo in action at the Red Bull Mind the Gap skateboard competition at Kenyatta Avenue. PHOTO/RAYMOND MAKHAYA.

Valjalo was nostalgic as he saw spectators of all ages gathered to see him in action.

“It feels so nostalgic seeing kids as young as when I started skating, gathered here for the love of this game. Skateboarding is very incredible…I remember when you are at that age, nothing else really matters. Skateboarding has taught me very many life lessons that I didn’t realise until I became old. So, thank you to skateboarding for the things you have taught me,” he said.

Valjalo promised that he will always keep an eye on Kenya to help promote the sport in the country in whatever way.

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