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Travel

​The Pigeon Plan Is Flying Skateboards to South Africa

The non-profit wants to take a group of skaters from Germany to South Africa, delivering skateboards to the South African kids who have skateparks-a-plenty, but no money to buy boards.
February 18, 2015, 10:12pm
Photos by Sam Clark.

Please don't ask me about current events. I gave up watching the news some time ago because I got sick of hearing about horrible disasters and the Kardashians (is there even a difference?). I only subscribe to the Sunday paper for the coupons and the sports section, where I derive no small amount of joy from reading about my former team, the New Jersey Nets, and their continued losing streak. I am well aware that there is war, famine, and genocide taking place across the globe. But ever since having children, I just don't have the stomach for it.

It's funny, before having kids I was the most negative, pessimistic, doom-and-gloom prick you'd ever come across. But just months before my first son was born, I snuck into Havana, Cuba along with my five-month pregnant wife and 18 friends to give away hundreds of skateboards and Vans sneakers to the kids there, documented in the VICE videos above. It was one of those life-changing experiences you read about in fortune cookies, and it came at just the right time to make me think about raising my children as wide-eyed pseudo-hippies instead of gothy negatrons.

Ever since then, I've been trying to find positive stories of love and compassion on the web to read to my boys, but they're few and far between. There are a ton of pointless cat videos on YouTube, but what the hell happened to all the stories about cats being rescued from trees? I don't just want mindlessly cute, I want stories that showcase humanity's goodness. Does that not happen anymore? Are all those cats just stuck up there? If you shake a tree will hundreds of cats drop down like apples?

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But there are still some inspiring stories out there. Just recently I received an email from filmmaker and friend Lucas Fiederling hipping me to a thing called the Pigeon Plan. The plan is to take a group of skaters from Germany to South Africa, delivering skateboards to the South African kids who have skateparks-a-plenty, but no money to buy boards. It reminded me of my trip to Cuba all those years ago, so I reached out to the Pigeon Plan's founder, Louis Taubert, to learn more about his program and see how I could help.

VICE: Where does the name Pigeon Plan come from?
Louis Taubert: Pigeons are our flying rats. They are seen as dirty and full of disease and no one really gives a shit about them. Dirty pigeons surround us on the streets like skateboarders. Also my last name is Taubert and "Taube" means pigeon in German.

What are the goals of the Pigeon Plan and what are you raising money for? How many boards do you hope to bring with you on this trip in March?
We are now sending 100 old skateboards from Germany to South Africa to hold one-week workshops at various institutions. On site, we will leave 20 boards at each institution (a children's home, primary school, and youth center) with a little set up (manual pad and kicker) for the kids. The kids can rent the boards and the ramps, go skate during the day, and every week, one or two of the local skateboarders from South Africa will look after them, create a little session, or just be there for them.

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You went on a trip to South Africa in 2011 that sparked this Pigeon Plan. Where did you go and why did you choose those places?
Back in 2011, we went 2,500 miles through South Africa. I'd always wanted to see more than just Cape Town, and we decided to hit as many places as possible. From Western Cape through the garden route, Port Elizabeth, and East London, all the way up to Durban and afterward to Johannesburg and Pretoria. Quite a mission in two weeks, now that I think about it.

Roughly how many complete skateboards and shoes did you give away on that first trip?
I think around 25 boards and around 20 pairs of shoes.

What made your crew want to travel with product to give away then, and what prompted you to start the Pigeon Plan?
Well, when I got to South Africa the first time, I realized how some of the kids could need a passion like I have. Skateboarding helped me getting through a lot of shit, and we just wanted to share that with the kids of South Africa. And it's basically the same right now with the Pigeon Plan, it's just more sustainable. We don't know what happened with the boards afterward or if we even got anyone to keep skating from 2011. Now we want to build something that future generations can benefit from.

Did you try to include any skateboard brands on this goodwill mission? I found that when I went to Cuba, most brands were extremely generous and wanted to help spread the gospel of skateboarding.
Yes, skateboard brands want to support. For now, we wanted to collect old boards and let the people contribute their old stuff—to just use what's lying around at home. For that, we worked together with four core skateshops in Germany. The boards were in good condition and I think that it prevents theft. Old boards do not really have a huge value.

Tell me about the upcoming March trip.
Well, it's more like a solo trip for me. I will fly over to hold the workshop with my good friends and local skateboarders from Cape Town. When I leave, I want to get them volunteerships. That's where the sustainability comes. Right now we have three different institutions around Cape Town. There are plenty more that are very interested. We'll see how it goes, where it makes the most sense, and how much we can really do properly.

How will you achieve sustainability? Will someone relocate to South Africa semi-permanently to try and teach the kids to skate and cultivate a larger scene?
Yes. The locals will stay, for sure. I told my friend Dewald about my Pigeon Plan idea one year ago. He is 100 percent involved and keen on it.

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What are the politics of the areas you're visiting? I know when we went to Cuba, despite it being a goodwill mission, we faced a tough time bringing the goods into the country due to the embargo. What are the channels you need to go through to bring this stuff to South Africa?
Politics are mad when it comes to importing goods. It's a hell of a lot of work to get rebated from import fees. I'm working on it every day and I know we will get this permit. I also understand the fear of the country. Anyone could say, "Hey, I'm importing goods for a non-profit purpose," and afterward sell it. But the boards are on their way now, arriving on February 16, and we still don't have the permit. Import fees are 20 to 24 percent of the estimated value, by the way. That is a shit ton of money. We are working with an NPO as well, and every donation will go directly to our project, the Pigeon Plan. Feel free to support us. It's for a good cause!

During your 2011 trip it seemed like some people in remote areas were in total awe of skateboarding.
They were pretty keen and interested in what we were doing. Kids wanted to try it straight away, and some security guards for sure. And some areas already had huge skateparks, but no equipment or money to afford boards. The community thinks that putting a skatepark somewhere will do the job, but equipment is needed too. Big/great skateparks are dope and I love them, but you can also be happy with a piece of tar and create your own way of skating, being creative and expressing yourself through movement. But you can't do that without a skateboard.

Can you discuss the Transkei Region, the childhood home of Nelson Mandela? It seemed really remote and like most people didn't know what a skateboard was.
Yes, that area was pretty unknown. We gave two boards away to two kids who we spotted on the road. The region was more like a break in between skate missions to get some rest and power for upcoming sessions. Not many streets in that area, just lots of sandy roads and more of a village vibe.

Pro skaters travel to impoverished areas all around the world to skate their spots. How important would you say it is to leave product behind, to give back to those communities?
It's important to give back. For the Pigeon Plan it's not about traveling the world, though. Our intention is to share the act of skating and to let the kids have a great time in our workshops. More like giving kids from disadvantaged areas the possibility to find a passion for their lives, to find friends all over and learn from them/with them.

I think once the skateboard love is there, the kids will make their way to town and skate other spots. They will learn within the community and, in the best case, commit for the lifetime deal and go travel. But that's so far away. The first step is bringing them the skateboards in March.

To donate go to www.pigeonplan.betterplace.org

More stupid can be found at Chrisnieratko.com or @Nieratko