I AM THALENTE follows Thalente Biyela, a 17 year-old homeless skateboard prodigy in South Africa who catches the eye of the professional skate-world when a DIY video of him skating goes viral. A group of top pro-skaters and figures in the skate world, including Kenny Anderson and legend Tony Hawk, offer Thalente support and an opportunity to pursue his dream of skating and competing in the U.S, to rise about his circumstances and help him shape his own future.
Thalente Biyela: Yeah, it’s a very beautiful country, but I feel like the realness of the people. That was the real difference in the culture shock when I moved here from South Africa, how two-faced people are here. Back home people are a little more real and up front. That seems to be like things are a little more censored here, well in [Los Angeles] specifically. But, South Africa is a beautiful place.
CR: So, you would say your experience with people there is a little more genuine as opposed to the United States?
TB: Yes, definitely. I’m not saying everyone is this way, but from what I’ve experienced, being the person that I am, because I love observing before getting into any situation. I just like stepping back and looking from the outside before I jump in head first. I’m not quick to judge. You can’t force people to think differently it’s just their state of mind. If that’s what works for you do your thing. I’m not here to point fingers.
CR: Yes, I’m from the New York/New Jersey area myself, it’s pretty cutthroat and people are always in a rush, and when I travel to different areas of the country people seem to be a lot nicer. It almost makes me question what they want from me.
CR: One thing that really struck a chord with us was your positivity and infectious personality, which was profiled throughout the movie. With all your hardships, being homeless, how did you maintain you positive mindset?
TB: Definitely. I feel like the people I had around me, were positive, good people. I also had really negative and bad people in my life too, which definitely didn’t help my situation. I always wanted to get out of the situation I was in. I just didn’t know how to go about it. The bad influences definitely didn’t help me have a clear path of knowing exactly what to do. So, when I brought them out and surrounded myself with the people that wanted me to succeed, do well and make something of my life it made a big difference. It also just changed the way I acted, because I wasn’t exposed to all the negative stuff. It led me to think and be a way more positive person then when I was on the streets, doing drugs and hanging out with the wrong people.
CR: I couldn’t have said it better myself. In order to grow as a person, you kind of have to step away from all those constraints that are holding you down. This kind of segues us into skateboarding. You fell in love with the sport at an early age, many days practicing from the time you woke up to the time you went to bed. Describe your love for it and what special place does it hold in your heart?
TB: The love for the sport is endless. If you’re a skateboarder, or even if you had just a glimpse for the sport, you know what an incredible thing it is. It’s not just a fun thing, which is definitely what attracted me to it in the first place, but it’s a way of life. You can apply it to your everyday living. That’s when it sort of had a special place in my heart. This is a tool that you can use beyond just learning tricks. It teaches you how to talk to people and how to deal with certain situations. It teaches you how to fall and get back up. It’s the same thing that you deal with in life, but it’s just a different form of that.
From it I learned all about myself and other people. It has opened my mind so much more. Within the community there’s no criticism of who you are, where you’re from or what you dress like. It’s really about your homies and your community. It’s really like paying it forward from there, which is rad. I feel like skateboarding was a gateway to so much that has happened for me now.
CR: That’s amazing! It definitely is one of those things that brings all walks of life together — rich, you can be poor or anyone in the world. To touch on the film, what are you excited to shed light on? Were you nervous at all filming?
TB: I think what I’m really looking forward to is my story getting out there hopefully for empowering and uplifting people who have been or are in a certain situation. That was my view from the beginning when I knew that Natalie was making the film about me. I thought how could I be of help in a sense. Once I saw it for that that’s all I wanted. I just wanted to let people know that have been through hard stuff that it’s going to be okay, it’s not going to last forever. Change is possible!
CR: Absolutely! Would you consider Tony Hawk and Kenny Anderson that helping hand influence for you?
TB: Oh yeah, definitely! I was just talking to Tony. It’s pretty crazy for me coming from seeing these dudes on a screen, and then being live and skating with them. I have them as people that I can call my friends and tell them that I’m going through something. They are those dudes, which is an amazing thing. I’ve come across a lot of people in my life, and it is a really cold world, but it’s amazing to have these two great people in my life now. It’s such a blessing. It’s hard to come by generally great people.