The Ready State Virtual Mobility Coach is like having a virtual Kelly Starrett in your pocket.
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Kelly: [0:05:04] Selema, welcome to The Ready State Podcast, my friend.
Selema Masekela: [0:05:08] Thank you for having me. It is a high honor to sit with you on this Friday.
Kelly: [0:05:13] Let me just get right to the burning question everyone has, which is I feel like your airs aren’t very good backside, one. And do you feel like that’s because you’re just like an adult size man who actually back squats and has muscle mass? I mean that’s the kind of thing on you on the internet.
Selema Masekela: [0:05:28] You know what? It’s the truth. And backside airs have been the bane of my existence since time. Just because everyone has a thing that they’re not, that is like their Achilles heel. Like Tony Hawk, I forget, there’s a trick that he can’t do, that he told me he couldn’t do, and I was like, “What?” He’s like, “Yeah, I just can’t grab my board that way, that’s why I always do it this way.” And I was like, “Oh.” But yeah, backside airs are… I think it’s just there’s too much mass going on. The lack of quad dominance just makes it hard for me to get back there.
Kelly: [0:05:59] What I love is-
Juliet: [0:05:59] Did you just say quad dominance because I mean Kelly now wants to be your best friend forever. You said quad dominance.
Selema Masekela: [0:06:07] And quad dominance is something that we say around the yard at DEUCE.
Kelly: [0:06:11] Is that because you’re too quad dominant or you want to be quad dominant? Like that guy is quad dominant. Check out the quad dominance on that woman.
Selema Masekela: [0:06:20] I was once quad dominant. And then I learned how to recruit everything that was going on behind me, and became a better athlete. And so yeah, now the quad dominance has ended.
Kelly: [0:06:35] We have so much to start with. But let’s take just a slightly different tack for a second because a quick bio of you which I think everyone has heard, I think you’re living under a rock if you haven’t been involved in action sports and all of the advocacy that you’ve been doing for a minute.
Juliet: [0:06:51] Don’t think you’re going to skip over all of those questions.
Kelly: [0:06:53] I’m not. You’re coming back, woman. That’s why you keep me honest. But you have seen the evolution of these we’ll call them… Action sport isn’t the right word. Lifestyle sports, surfing, skating. Men and women are going higher, they’re going bigger, they’re going faster. Do you feel like we’ve seen sort of the modern athleticism and training of kind of the classic sports finally infiltrate these communities? Because it’s sort of bananas what people are doing now. Like truly bananas.
Selema Masekela: [0:07:24] Absolutely. For years and years and years, it was highly uncool to go to the gym as an action sports lifestyle athlete. Like you going to the gym meant doing your sport more. God forbid people found out you were training. It’d be like, “You’ve what? Training? Bro, you don’t need to train, you just need more time on your board.” And that was a… You needed more time on your board and you needed more time at the bar. Like before contests, surf contests, snowboard contests, skate contests, traditionally in the late 90s, the 90s all the way through the early 2000s, the aughts, if you were not seen at the bar the night before, and word got around that you had gone to bed early, and perhaps you did better than the guys who were in the bar the night before, you got shit because you were trying to be some sort of a super hero, some sort of like a Boy Scout. Let alone go to the gym. And I think the amount of injuries that went down as a result of that.
And this sort of we were butted up against a very safe ceiling of non-progression, executing all the stuff that people knew very well with more and more style. But there was non-progression. That ended in the mid-2000s when on the low people started going to the gym and started training. And I think, yeah, that changed the game. What we’ve seen in the last 15 years is a direct result of sports science meeting lifestyle sports. And now it’s just like, it’s through the roof. You’re not cool now if you don’t train.
Juliet: [0:09:11] You know, I think back to when Kelly and I first started watching these sports, and we were also simultaneously just starting our own sort of CrossFit career and spending a lot of time in the gym, and actually sitting on the couch and watching the first iteration of the half pipe at the Olympics, and saying to each other, dude, if these people just squatted, especially the women, at least that was my view, the women, man they could be doing so much more here. And then obviously they have. And now what everybody could pull off is just bonkers.
Kelly: [0:09:41] Yeah. Do you remember where, it was either Sochi or the Olympics before that where they did the first slope style. The number of women who had ACL injuries on skis was so catastrophic that they almost couldn’t field the top 10 athletes.
Juliet: [0:09:57] In the finale.
Kelly: [0:09:57] At the Olympics, in the finale, because there were so many lower extremity injuries. It’s come a long ways.
Selema Masekela: [0:10:02] It has come a long ways. And I think, listen, I’m a sideways stander.
Kelly: [0:10:08] You’re bragging.
Selema Masekela: [0:10:09] I am. But I’m scared shitless of skiing because of that. I just think landing downhill with legs splayed with four edges is asking a lot of your body if you’re not… You better be training those knees and hips and ankles and everything else to be like, A, super mobility through all of the strength on earth. And you’ve got to be bulletproof. I like my chances landing in a actual squat position for all the things that I do, because that’s naturally how you stand up.
Kelly: [0:10:46] Yeah, you’re blocked.
Selema Masekela: [0:10:47] Yeah, you’re blocked. I couldn’t imagine sending it off a big jump on skis. I’d rather take my chances on a snowboard. But no offense to the ski community who right now is going, “I knew he was a hater of the two planks.”
Juliet: [0:11:01] Okay. So I do want to talk a little bit about your background. I know you moved a lot as a kid. Can you just kind of give picture of where you were, what your childhood was like a little bit?
Kelly: [0:11:10] And I’ll just jump in and say I completely relate. I moved to the United States from Europe when I was 15 and it was like dropping into a different world.
Selema Masekela: [0:11:18] Where in Europe?
Kelly: [0:11:19] I grew up in Garmisch, Germany in the Alps where I skied and kayaked and played.
Juliet: [0:11:26] I think I also moved by the way to Long Beach for high school. And I think Kelly and I had possibly the opposite experience as you from a diversity standpoint because I went from Boulder, Colorado where there was literally not a single nonwhite person, to Long Beach, where my high school was exceptionally diverse. And same with Kelly, who went to Mt. Vernon. And I think you went from, am I correct, from New York City to Carlsbad, California?
Kelly: [0:11:52] Yeah.
Selema Masekela: [0:11:52] Yeah. New York City to New England for almost three years. Then Carlsbad, California. Then Los Angeles. My family were from South Africa and Haiti.
Kelly: [0:12:04] What was that transition like from New England, and let’s be honest, Staten Island, which is important because you’re a skater, right? Staten Island skaters. But how’d that feel like, going to the West Coast?
Selema Masekela: [0:12:17] It was like moving to another planet. Everything that I thought I knew, I think my biggest reference of what Southern California was, was The Karate Kid.
Kelly: [0:12:31] I was not expecting that.
Selema Masekela: [0:12:33] Yeah, that was my Southern California measure, probably because I had a wild crush on Elisabeth Shue, who was the cheerleader in the original Karate Kid. But you know what I mean? People driving around in Cabriolets and things like that. And the beef between, “You’re from Encino?” and all those things. That was how I thought of SoCal.
And I knew nothing about surf culture. I was skating, but I didn’t really know anything about the culture outside of what I saw in the magazines. And I had a very, very, very diverse upbringing. Like I said, South African dad, Haitian mother, Puerto Rican stepfather. And I grew up in a neighborhood with everyone. Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Jamaicans, West Africans, Eastern Europeans, large Jewish community, as well as an Arab Palestinian community. And I had a girl in elementary school who had two dads. Check that box, you know?
And you got to learn everything about everyone’s cultures. And you ate each other’s food and you heard each other’s music. And you knew, you had texturally what people were about and where they came from. And you celebrated that. You knew each other’s music and things. Not to mention I also grew up in the birth of hip hop. Like it exploded in my childhood. So coming from that and thinking like the world is, everybody sort of understands that we’re all wonderfully different, and then moving to the West Coast that had none of that in a utopia that was based around eternal sunshine and the ocean and why would you want to live anywhere else or know about other people, look at what we have here, it was kind of a wild arrival. And I showed up at a school where the only sort of diversity came from our local Mexican population.
And then in a school of over 2,000 kids, there were two other black kids in my school. And neither of them lived in town. They specifically came to school to play the sports. One was a track star and the other one… There were three. Two played football, one ran track. And then it was like, hey, guys. And in my gym class that week, I’ll never forget, it was a testing week. And I wasn’t fast but I was quick. So shuttle run and the 40, people were like, oh. And the coach showed up, took me out of my classroom like three days after I got there. “Hey, welcome, heard from Coach Cooper that you put up some numbers.”
Juliet: [0:15:20] Of course it’s Coach Cooper.
Selema Masekela: [0:15:23] Yeah. “That you put up some numbers. Wonder if you want to spend some time with us this summer developing for football.” And I was like, “Yeah, that’s nice, but definitely not.” And then but they didn’t take that for a no. Called my house, came to see my mom, and my mom was like, “My baby will not be getting beat up on your football field.” And that was such a difference maker for me. And fortunately, surfing was what everyone did there. Surfing and skateboarding. And I was like that looks cool, I want to try that. And the rest is history. It really changed my life.
Kelly: [0:16:01] Were you skating on the East Coast already?
Selema Masekela: [0:16:02] I was. I started skating in New England because… Well, I did live on a couple of weekends a month still in New York with my dad. I was in a very blue collar town in New England that was also predominately white called Attleboro. Famous for a certain New England Patriot who may or may not have committed some murders there.
Juliet: [0:16:25] Allegedly.
Selema Masekela: [0:16:26] Allegedly. That’s, you know. Allegedly. But yet he sits in a prison. Allegedly. So that was a weird school. But the only kids that were cool, the kids who were the coolest to me and not cliquey were the four punk rock skateboarders. And so a kid named Scott Forbes gave me a skateboard and some Thrasher magazines and that’s how I started to discover skateboarding. So I had, it was like a great little preset for getting to California. And so suddenly I was like, oh, everything that was in the magazines is now where I live.
Juliet: [0:17:00] Before I get to the surfing piece, I did want to ask you, because I’ve only processed this experience for me as an adult, wondering if you relate to it, which is moving in high school at a time pre-internet, it hasn’t really been until I was an adult that I really realized it was like a severing of everything I knew because there was no internet, right? Now I feel like if you move, you’re friends with everybody and you can stay connected or whatever. But when I left everything, I knew from where I grew up and moved to Long Beach, California in the middle of high school, it was just a total severing because of… I mean I may have exchanged a few actual written letters with some people.
Kelly: [0:17:35] Yeah. I went to three high schools like you.
Juliet: [0:17:36] Yeah, but I don’t know. I wonder if you’ve thought about that or shared that experience at all.
Selema Masekela [0:17:41] I feel like I should be paying you for this counseling fee. I should be laying on a couch right now. I went to four high schools. Three in New England and one in California. I moved into my high school in California in May of my junior year.
Kelly: [0:18:01] Easy.
Selema Masekela: [0:18:04] My mother always gets mad at me. Whenever she hears me talk about this, she’s like, “Are you sure it was May?’ I’m like, “Mom, listen, just-”
Kelly: [0:18:14] You want to see the scars, mom?
Juliet: [0:18:15] Yeah, you’re like-
Selema Masekela: [0:18:15] Just take the L, and you can say that we didn’t know what we were doing then. It’s cool. I understand you didn’t have a script. But yes, it was definitely May because there was like three weeks left in this new school I went to, and it’s like, “I’ll see you guys in September.” But yeah, I looked up Carlsbad in the encyclopedia to try and get a point of reference for where we going. And there was a blurb about the motocross track. And that was it. There was a famous motocross track there at the time. It was a small town. I didn’t know even really its proximity to the beach. But I looked it up. That was me doing the Google search for what my parents threw at me.
Juliet: [0:19:00] I think I looked in like the Thomas Guide, you know that had the map and the spiral bound map, and I looked and I was like okay, all right, I see that there’s some water here, and that’s about all I know.
Kelly: [0:19:08] I went to that Remember the Titans, that football league, that was my league in Virginia. And then I went to Carmel High School, which sounds like what it was like. I dropped-
Juliet: [0:19:19] You mean Country Club High School?
Kelly: [0:19:21] I dropped into… And it was lots of different kinds of white people, if I’m being honest. My first day of football practice, because meeting kids was… At least I played football. And we went to the beach and we played football on the beach. And I was like I have no idea what California’s about. I just felt so over my head.
Selema Masekela: [0:19:36] Wait, you went to Carmel?
Kelly: [0:19:37] I did.
Selema Masekela: [0:19:38] That’s a football powerhouse.
Kelly: [0:19:40] Maybe. That’s very generous of you. In the 90s-
Juliet: [0:19:43] When Kelly was the tight end, it was definitely a football powerhouse.
Kelly: [0:19:46] Aw, bless you. Let me ask you this because-
Selema Masekela: [0:19:49] Aw, so romantic.
Kelly: [0:19:51] You, one of the reasons that we love for kids to do sports is that it gives you a neutral ground where you can meet kids, right? You can meet, you find a tribe, you just sort of get accepted at the school. Football didn’t suit you necessarily. You had this skating background. How did you get pulled into surfing? Was it a radical change? Because you were a sideways slider already in your brain. So some of the connections have to have been there. You had to have picked it up faster than the average kid.
Selema Masekela: [0:20:22] I did. And also, I was a gymnast in junior high school.
Kelly: [0:20:26] We call those cheaters.
Selema Masekela: [0:20:27] Yes. I was a cheater. And my neighborhood growing up in Staten Island, the two buildings that I lived in, we had monkey bars that we played on where we would play tag. There’s a tag league now that’s kind of hardcore based. I don’t know if you’ve seen it on the internet.
Kelly: [0:20:44] Oh yes.
Juliet: [0:20:45] Yep.
Selema Masekela: [0:20:45] That tag league, that was my childhood in New York. The first time that someone, I saw like a YouTube clip or something of this tag league, I was like holy shit, that’s-
Juliet: [0:20:59] That’s what I was doing.
Selema Masekela: [0:21:00] That’s what we were doing. And now I’m like, oh, this is why you’re like a weird low key, high-functioning athlete, is because as kids, you made your entire reputation was based on how you could play tag on these monkey bars. And you were not allowed to touch the ground. So you had to jump from thing to thing and run across ladders and learn how to jump to this thing, swing around and do a kick to get to the other thing. And if you fell, you were out of the game. And we were constantly developing this crazy skillset. That and then doing gymnastics, our own version of what we call hood gymnastics out on the grass or in the dirt. And if there was one kid that could flip really well, other kids would break themselves to try and gain that level. And I was that kid.
And then that led to getting into gymnastics in junior high school and high school. So that and a little bit of skateboarding gave me the ability at 17, which is late to start surfing, to be ablet to get to it. And to answer your question, it started from a group of kids inviting me out to lunch like a week after I’d been at school. And we went to a place called Carl’s Jr., which I didn’t know what that was. Western cheeseburger changed my life.
Kelly: [0:22:21] I’m home.
Juliet: [0:22:21] Wait, isn’t it Western bacon cheeseburger? Isn’t there bacon on that?
Selema Masekela: [0:22:23] Yeah, the Western bacon cheeseburger, which I’ll never eat again because I had a run in with food poisoning about a year later and I never went back to Carl’s Jr. ever again. But that Carl’s Jr. lunch trip was pivotal because we went and sat in the parking lot at Tamarack State Beach in Carlsbad in the car with these kids. And everyone’s speaking this other language and they’re watching dudes, at the time it looked like to me breakdancing on water. And I was like, yeah, that looks cool, surfing. And I had seen surfing the year before in Australia. I had gone on tour with my dad for a couple of months, who was a musician. And I went on the road with him. And I had seen kids surfing and I was like, that’s amazing, it looks like breakdancing, beat boarding on water. If I ever had a chance to do that, I would do that. And that’s what these kids did. And I was like, “I want to do that.” And they’re like, “Really? All right, bro, be at my house on Saturday, 8 a.m.”
Kelly: [0:25:15] I don’t know what’s worse, that you’re imitating me in high school or Juliet imitating me all the time. I always sound dumb. And you’re not helping. Thanks.
Selema Masekela: [0:23:26] Bro. No problem, bro. And that’s how I started surfing and I was lucky that these kids were all really good surfers. They didn’t just surf. They were surfers. They lived for it. They were second generation in their family type surfers. And they were super passionate about it. But I think they also kind of took for granted what it was that they did. For me it was just like massive, wild, life discovery. Getting it that late opened me up to spiritual, metaphysical portions of myself that I did not know existed. And I really attacked it with my whole heart. A kid lent me a wetsuit. Another guy’s dad gave me an old, beat up surfboard. He actually loaned it to me and then I never gave it back, and he was like, “All right, keep it.” And that was it.
Juliet: [0:24:21] I know you were just talking about the spiritual and the metaphysical, like real things, but my Carl’s Jr. experience when I moved to Southern California was The Green Burrito. Do you remember that place?
Selema Masekela: [0:24:31] Yes. Adjacent.
Juliet: [0:24:34] Yeah, it was an adjacent food situation. So you mentioned it briefly, and I really would love to learn a little bit about your dad. I know he passed away a couple years ago. And sorry about that.
Selema Masekela: [0:24:46] Thank you.
Juliet: [0:24:46] But I think he was a legendary musician from South Africa and I have a feeling he influenced you in many ways. So I’d love to just have you tell us a little bit about him and-
Kelly [0:24:55] In fact, one of our friends was just here at the studio doing some work, and we said we were going to talk to you, and he’s like, “Any relationship to that other Masekela?”
Juliet: [0:25:05] And we’re like, yep.
Kelly: [0:25:06] And he was like, “Oh my God.”
Juliet: [0:25:07] Oh my God. And also, just to add, tack on another question, do you think his own activism around South African apartheid has influenced your activism?
Kelly: [0:25:18] Or how has it?
Juliet: [0:25:19] Or how has it?
Selema Masekela: [0:25:20] A great two parter. Thank you for the two piece. My dad was Hugh Masekela, a legendary trumpeter, tuba horn player, singer, and activist by default. He was a political exile of South Africa during the apartheid regime and came here in the late 50s. Went to the Manhattan School of Music, started playing with Miles Davis and all the greats of that era. Ended up having a huge career as he fused modern bee bop jazz at the time with his traditional South African music that he was raised with and helped to create this sound called worldbeat music.
But while he was experiencing all this success, he could not go home. He could not share it with his family because he spoke out against apartheid in a way that if he’d gone back to South Africa, he risked being jailed for life or killed. And it was real. He had plenty of other friends that both had happened to.
What was amazing about my father and for me growing up and my earliest relationship memories with my father were spent in the jazz club with him at like 5, 6 years of age. My dad had me on the weekends, and instead of taking me to the park, we went to the club at night. As a youngster, I would be in the club. And he’d be playing jazz sets, which would be one at 11 p.m. and another one at like 1:30 a.m. And we’d leave the club at like 3:30 a.m. in the morning. Sometimes I’d be asleep in a booth. But I fell asleep to his music. I got to spend my time watching him perform and story tell.
And musically what he did was he took people on a journey that made them feel what South Africa was, what it tasted like, what it smelled like, what it sounded like. And he told stories about this very brutal regime, this government that was rooted in a very genius and brilliant execution of racism by law. And I say brilliant because it worked. It worked too well, that four or five million Dutch and British people were able to subjugate 25 million native South Africans to the point that you needed a… Let’s say I wanted to come down. Where are you guys located?
Juliet: [0:27:46] We’re north of San Francisco
Selema Masekela: [0:27:47] I like how you didn’t give up the ZIP code.
Kelly: [0:27:5] Never.
Selema Masekela: [0:27:51] If I wanted to come and see you in Marin, I would need a passport and a reason why I would be walking the streets of Marin. And someone could stop me, anyone could stop me and ask me to see my papers. And if it was deemed illegitimate that I was there, because I sure as hell wouldn’t be there for leisure, I would be working for someone in the area, then I would be arrested, jailed, never seen by my family if they chose to do so, beaten, all those type of things. That was what my father existed in.
And it was worse than that. That was just kind of the light laws, if you will. And so I got to watch my dad really passionately story tell what he was fighting for. He was happy to have his success but he was also longing to go home. And people didn’t believe that apartheid was going to end anytime soon. Most people didn’t know what it was. Politically it was used as a football. The United States at the time, under the Reagan administration, absolutely supported the South African government and tried to make it sound like apartheid was something that was good for the African people.
And you know the tropes of, “These people are just trying to keep their people safe,” et cetera, et cetera. When behind the scenes, it was genius. And it wasn’t until the late 80s because of the awareness of people like my father and other artists — Paul Simon did a great job with his Graceland album, which my dad played on — to amplify, that people started to be like, hey, wait a minute, this is bad. And then it started being on the news and people started seeing the manner in which South Africans were being slaughtered at the hands of this government. And it started to change.
And as soon as my dad knew he was able to go home safely, he moved back to South Africa in 1990 and lived there until he died in 2018. He continued to travel and make music around the world. But he went home.
So to answer your question, my father was never silent when it came to oppressed people and racism and just general imbalances in how we see people. So for me, yeah, would it be easier if I just kept my mouth shut? Yes, perhaps.
Kelly: [0:30:16] Always just more convenient.
Juliet: [0:30:18] It would be convenient for sure.
Selema Masekela: [0:30:19] Yeah, it’d be more convenient but I would also be miserable. In that way, yeah, and especially in the last few years, some of the blatant imbalances and barriers to entry for people being able to live their best lives exist in some of the spaces I play in, then it’s my job to give some perspective, hopefully be able to open some minds, begin some dialogue, and help people shift into the idea of opening and expanding landscapes so that we can celebrate the joys of living at this level as together as possible. And that idea unfortunately scares the shit out of some people.
Kelly: [0:31:01] I think it’s a perfect sort of pivot to talk about one of the things we’re so excited to talk to you about, your current project of advocacy and door opening. But I think it’s interesting, we’re about the same age. I think you’re a couple years older than we are.
Selema Masekela: [0:31:17] Thanks.
Kelly: [0:31:18] You’re welcome. But your back squat’s still very pretty.
Juliet: [0:31:23] And he’s no longer quad dominant.
Kelly: [0:31:25] For me, you are the voice and face of a generation where we grew up seeing the sports that we engage in. Juliet and I are both professional paddlers. We’re both whitewater paddlers, river runners. And it’s been really interesting to watch your career trajectory of musician, producer, face, voice of a generation of young, extreme athletes or alternative, nontraditional sport athletes.
Juliet: [0:31:53] Fringe sports.
Kelly: [0:31:55] Very fringe. And not so fringe.
Selema Masekela: [0:31:57] I like that. Fringe.
Kelly: [0:31:58] And then simultaneously seeing that warp into your advocacy and your bent toward social justice has really been, it’s fun to watch and fun to see you aggregate the emergent phenomenon of your voice in this field really is not so different than your dad.
Juliet: [0:32:18] I have no idea if there was a question in that.
Kelly: [0:32:21] Well, I just want to be able to talk about where we’re going for the mentorship.
Juliet: [0:32:24] Okay.
Selema Masekela: [0:32:24] I appreciate that. It really means a lot to hear it from that perspective. It’s hard I think sometimes for people to comprehend what it’s like to love certain activities and spaces with the entirety of your being, but never get to, or rarely get to see other people that look like you or share your background enjoying it with you. It is a very, very, very strange thing. And I know that growing up, a lot of times kids would say to me, “Hey, man, it’s really cool that you’re not a regular black guy, that you’re more like us. Literally you do our stuff.” Pat on the back. And I’d be like, thank you? This strange idea that someone convinced you in how you grew up, et cetera, your family conversations around the… I don’t know what. That people who don’t look like you don’t do these things that you enjoy because it’s just not stuff that they’re into. The idea that, oh, well, black people just don’t like water or cold or mountains or any of these other myths. And so yeah, I don’t want these activities to be fringe. I believe that they should be enjoyed by everyone. And I think people are learning or beginning to learn that the history of the outdoors is kind of messy in America, and understanding that these unfortunately were very, very safe spaces that were made to be the last bastions of people that exist in safety and whiteness. That’s how the outdoors came to be so hot and cool.
And when people find that out, they have two choices. One, go, oh, I didn’t know that, I should learn some more and also how can I be a part of changing that. Or two, become so offended or so scared that they’ll just be like, well, that was not my problem and I feel attacked, which people are so good at feeling attacked.
Juliet: [0:34:00] We have a lot of those people.
Selema Masekela: [0:34:39] Yeah. So why are you talking about that here? It’s for everyone. And I just wish that you wouldn’t bring this politics into this space. If everybody would just be cool, we wouldn’t have these problems. Okay, if only it could be so wonderfully easy as if we don’t talk about it, it doesn’t exist. Like Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice. Okay, sure. That’s where I can tend to get a little frustrated and my voice can get a little more intense because we don’t get any movement that way.
Kelly: [0:35:14] It’s got to be hard for a young black surfer/skater/snowboarder kid to feel like you have a voice to make change until you’re almost 50, a lot of cultural iconographic power that you have and now advocacy. Did you feel like you were missing a lever? Did you feel like you didn’t have access to those gears of real change? The people you know, the brands you know, the companies that you know and have worked with, I mean you almost, it’s taken you this long to be able to really change what you’re describing.
Selema Masekela: [0:35:52] I’m going to say something that might sound strange. But if it was not for George Floyd, we would not be having this conversation in the way we’re having it today. And I believe that history will look back at the George Floyd moment, and yes, we will acknowledge that we were in this very horrible place in where police by way of a shitty culture, a shitty policing culture, were put in horrible, horrible positions to think that it is okay to end the lives of others that they don’t seem important because that’s the power they were given. I’m just going to say it.
Juliet: [0:35:43] That’s the training and the culture.
Selema Masekela: [0:36:46] That’s the training and the culture and that is the power. So we will have that lens and hopefully we’ll look back and some things changed. But the other thing that we’re going to look back on is that it was a moment where marginalized, smaller voices in a whole slew of underserved communities finally said, you know what, we’re done. We’re done being smaller, we’re done being made to feel like we had to emulate and assimilate in spaces to make other people feel comfortable with our presence being there. So if there is a problem in this space, we’re going to talk about it now.
And that’s how I was moved when it came to surfing and snowboarding in particular. I was like, you know what, I’m angry. I’ve been dealing with these type of killings and injustices for the entirety of my life. The only time that I’ve ever had to beg for my life has been at the hands of the police. I could have been that statistic on two very distinct occasions where I begged for my life, being in the right place but in the wrong eye, so to speak.
Once in a 7-Eleven reading a magazine for too long and the person behind the counter calling the cops to be like, “I think this black boy is planning to do something to me, you should come and talk to him and his friends.” And they showed up with the cavalry and put guns to our heads and said, “If you move, we’ll blow your fucking heads off.” Only to find out that we indeed did have no weapons after sitting us out on the curb in handcuffs for an hour.
And the second time when I used to clean car dealerships at night in Carlsbad. And some people were driving by and saw a black man walking through the parking lot with a trash can and a vacuum cleaner sticking out of it and thought he must be up to no good, I should call the cops. Send in the cavalry, shotguns.
Juliet: [0:38:43] He must be stealing that vacuum.
Selema Masekela: [0:38:46] Yes. He’s clearly loading up that trash can with car radios or some shit. And they sent in the whole cavalry, five or six cruisers, shotguns, lights, the whole deal, came, put me on my… I had a doble barrel shotgun in the back of my head, laying on the ground, all the instructions being given, and if I had flinched the wrong way, they could have lit me up and we wouldn’t be having this conversation.
Both of those incidents playing a very, very, very pivotal role in how still to this day, as a very successful well-known black man on television, every time a cop car drives past me or is in my rear-view mirror, I make sure that everything is in order. And it was that moment finally with George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, which we also witnessed on television and the fact that no one could hide, right? COVID and lockdown had us in a place where everyone was forced to see and listen because there was nowhere for you to go and be too busy to know about the thing, right? So all of us as a society, we were forced to digest these things. And George Floyd was the final stroke with which people said, no, we’re going to now address the entirety of the imbalances and how the history of racism in this country makes just general, everyday life and the pursuit of basic happiness a challenge for marginalized people.
And for me, I’m like, okay, well, here’s my space. These are the things that I’ve been putting up with. And I’m watching the door be closed to people who look like me. We’re going to talk about this. And so that’s really where I no longer had a choice. That spirit of my father literally rose in me. I could feel him speaking to me from the beyond and being like, “My son, it is time for you to use your voice.” And so that’s what I’ve been trying to do. And there has been progress. There has been a wave. And I’m seeing it in so many spaces.
And I look at the people who are learning to use their platforms. I’ve seen what Alex Honnold has been doing in the climbing space. And to see someone like him who is the most celebrated badass on earth, right, when it comes to what he has achieved in his space, and when I watch him post about expanding a landscape for black climbers, take a look through Alex Hunnold’s comments when he decides to use his space to advocate for opening doors. His audience, a very huge sector of his audience all of a sudden are so pressed, and very like, whoa, Alex, it was cool when you did that thing with no ropes and stuff and changed the game, but you can’t be… What are you doing, bro? That’s not a thing, what you’re talking about.
Juliet: [0:41:48] Yeah. Stick to your lane, which is climbing.
Selema Masekela: [0:41:50] Yeah. Just climb. Just put your hands in the bag.
Juliet: [0:41:54] Don’t ever think a thought.
Selema Masekela: [0:41:56] Yeah. Don’t think a thought, please, because that’s going to fuck me up. I heard someone say, not to me, but they were like, just the conversation of just race, it’s so uncomfortable. I’m like, if you think the conversation about racism is uncomfortable, try racism.
Juliet: [0:47:15] Try that on for size.
Selema Masekela: [0:42:17] Try racism on and then let me know how uncomfortable you are.
Kelly: [0:42:22] Do you feel like skateboarding is more diverse or has more diverse or has a voice of greater diversity because it’s always been so underground and so-
Juliet: [0:42:34] And it’s more urban.
Kelly: [0:42:36] Countercultural and so subversive. Because I mean that is really truly your skating route, and the skaters there. And I mean do you feel like that stands in juxtaposition? And maybe I’m just making that assumption that it’s more diverse. Does that stand in opposition? Because our sport of whitewater paddling and racing and hucking down waterfalls and things is as undiverse as it can get.
Selema Masekela: [0:42:56] Yeah. I do think skateboarding just by default, just taking skateboarding out of the box is already 10,000 times more accessible. You can do it anywhere. In fact, white kids that are professional skateboarders go to the hood to go and skate at schools and places that have become iconic. It’s kind of the reverse. You’ve got to go to the places where you’ve never… You’ve got to get other skaters from that neighborhood to vouch for you so that you can go and do the thing.
So I think skateboarding is far more accessible. There is this thing on everybody breaking themselves on the same type things that takes away race being an issue. And kids get a chance because they’re interacting with people who don’t look like them, that come from other places, to learn about these people and their struggles and how different it is. Like when a black kid gets busted at a skate spot and a white kid gets busted at a skate spot by the cops, they generally have different types of experiences in how quickly they escalate and which kid is going to be able to talk his way out of the situation more. And so white kids learn that and see and they’re like, oh, okay, if shit goes down, I’m going to make sure I speak up so that you don’t have to go through some shit.
And skateboarding, it also has work to do when it comes to the way the business is set up and ownership of companies. But yes, skateboarding definitely, the merging of punk rock and hip hop and we are all one, they are way, way, way more ahead of the game. And I’m sure that in your world… By the way, I’m one of the hosts of the GoPro Games. Are you guys going to be there?
Juliet: [0:44:43] No.
Selema Masekela: [0:44:44] What?
Kelly: [0:44:44] In Vale?
Selema Masekela [0:44:45] Yeah, in Vale. Yeah.
Kelly: [0:44:47] So they used to be called the Jeep Whitewater Games. before that they were the Tiva Games. And I have actually won those races. But they weren’t cool. There was no GoPro yet. But maybe we’ll need to pop out.
Juliet: [0:44:56] We’re retired. We’re retired now.
Selema Masekela: [0:44:48] Pop out. Pop out. I’ll be like, hey, I’ve got some special guests. Mid June. Listen, come on. We’ll talk about it off the show.
Juliet: [0:45:05] Okay. We’ll talk about it off camera. Okay, tell us about Stoked. We’re very excited about Stoked.
Kelly: [0:45:10] Let me just, we’ve got to tell you this. This is the coolest. And it resonates with us. And when we learned about it, it blew our minds. And we’re super fired up about it.
Selema Masekela: [0:45:18] Thank you. Stoked is a mentoring organization that my friend Steve Larosiliere and I started in 2005 to use the principles of action sports, specifically skateboarding, snowboarding, and surfing, to get kids who normally would not be exposed to these opportunities how to learn how to become better people. Taking the principles of falling down and getting back up, the need to navigate new terrain, and how to overcome obstacles, communication, and building mutual respect with people to achieve goals together. How do you build relationship with a new environment, never been to the ocean before even though I live five miles from it as the crow flies, but I haven’t had access to it, and what that’s like when a kid is able to break down this fear of something that has been told is not for them, then harness the power of the ocean. Stand up and ride a wave and be able to call themselves a surfer.
What can happen in those six weeks that can affect the way a kid is able to make decisions in their lives, and then using, building a curriculum around these different things to help kids see a vision of possibility within their own lives and who they would like to be as persons. And also, them finding out that they actually, some of them for the first time finding out, that they actually have the power to make that choice for who they would like to be in this journey. And I think that is something that these type of sports, your sport as well, you find out, you know who you are when you are able to overcome, find comfort in discomfort, execute a goal. Where does your life go from there? I don’t even have to know you to know that how you live your lives, probably how you raise your kids, how you interact with others, is based around those experiences. And so giving that access to kids who have been told that their parents ain’t shit, their grandparents weren’t shit, where they live ain’t shit, they ain’t shit. And have them find out that, no, not only you are the shit, and here’s how the shit you are. These are things that you can achieve if given access to them, and what are the possibilities that can go from here.
Juliet: [0:47:53] We learned, not to talk about us, but we learned that some of these experiences can even impact kids specifically on like literally a cellular level. And the back story is for 10 years, Kelly and I ran a camp for kids-
Kelly: [0:48:06] A leadership school.
Juliet: [0:48:07] A leadership school, camp, whatever, for kids with HIV and AIDS. And in-
Kelly: [0:48:12] It was whitewater kayaking.
Juliet: [0:48:13] Whitewater kayaking camp. And in the span of one week of camp that we did a year, of course we increased the nonwhite whitewater kayakers in the entire world by 10,000 percent. But what was super interesting about it was the kids would go home from these camps, and their physicians universally would report them having better numbers, their actual bloodwork and the things they were tracking. And that was so meaningful for Kelly and I to realize. We obviously had been doing outdoor sports our entire lives and we knew that it impacted us. But to actually start to see data about, wow, this is actually impacting these kids on a cellular level, making them healthier, that was crazy to learn that.
Kelly: [0:48:55] They’d go become leaders, they’d become advocates, they’d start teaching. And one of the interesting things about Stoked that really resonates with us is that we had, I mean I think we were five percent white over those 10 years. And we had kids who had never even floated before. So forget being in the ocean, they had never actually floated. We put them on a lifejacket. Not only could they not swim, didn’t matter because it wasn’t a requisite to go whitewater kayaking, the kids in there had never floated or slept outdoors or made each other food. There were just so many things that we were like, oh okay, we have taken some of these barriers and we’ve set them even further away than we realize. And just the opportunity to do those things was changing.
Selema Masekela: [0:49:39] Yeah man. That’s so cool that you were able to get a glimpse at actual data. Because I believe that with my whole heart, that that is the case. And when you learn some of the history of how violently some of these spaces were protected from certain sectors of people-
Kelly: [0:49:59] Surfing’s a good example.
Selema Masekela: [0:50:01] Surfing’s a great example in this country. I mean just the ocean in general. There would be wade ins in the 50s and 60s where groups of black people would gather together and be like we’re going to go to this beach and we’re going to wade, w-a-d-e, in the shore break in defiance of these laws that they’re not supposed to be there. And the police would show up with German shepherds and dogs because they were called by the people who thought these brown people will not be dirtying my water, my sand. And they would attack them with dogs and beat them and drag them off to jail for stepping foot in water that was not supposed to be theirs because other people didn’t want them dirtying their space. The public pools in this country, incidents where people would just show up and pour bleach in the pool while black kids were swimming to burn their skin and teach them never to show up at these places again.
And that happened all over this country for years. The history of The Sierra Club even is messy when you go back to its roots. And people, you have that in your history, if you have that culturally in your history and in your family, and it’s passed down to you, like don’t go to these places or these spaces, bad shit might happen to you, of course you’re going to learn to become, learn to think, yeah, maybe that’s not for me, or that is “a white activity,” or why would you be doing that white thing, et cetera.
That’s one of the beautiful things about racism, is that as a system, if we teach it long enough and if it operates long enough, the people who are objected to it actually start to believe it. And that’s what I would like to… That’s something that I want to be a part of breaking. And I also implore people who have power in those spaces to understand that, yeah, I as a black man who’s visible in these spaces can say things and get people’s attention. But it’s the people with real power, the people who have real access, they can do 10 billion times more than I can by affecting their circles and having these conversations and figuring out ways to expand the landscape and provide more access just with the things that they have in their toolbox. They don’t have to go and join some special thing or formulate some big club or organization. It’s just like, okay, what do I have access to that I can help to change this even a little bit?
Juliet: [0:52:38] Do you see any change at all in the wake of the George Floyd murder or any other trigger that the power players in the outdoor industry, which I assume are like the Patagonias and The North Face and all the skate companies, right, I assume at a business level those companies would obviously play a huge role in this.
Kelly: [0:52:59] Yeah, who do you think is doing a good job as your ally?
Juliet: [0:53:00] Is anyone doing a good job?
Kelly: [0:52:03] Or a better job now.
Juliet: [0:52:04] Yeah. Or any job.
Selema Masekela: [0:53:04] I think Patagonia has taken some great steps. I’ve seen the way they have given platforms. So there are lots… One thing I can say is there are a lot of people of color, indigenous people, black people, that have formulated groups online to advocate for themselves and do outreach. And what is cool is that I’m seeing the brands that are locating the people that are doing it right and giving them a chance to have their voices amplified and to use their platforms to engage more.
Patagonia’s been doing a great job with it. They have this podcast that they’re doing called The Trail Ahead with an outdoor trail runner from Portland, a black woman. And it’s just so cool, the conversations that are being had, and that these conversations are being amplified on Patagonia’s platform for people who normally wouldn’t get to listen in and learn how various types of people engage in these spaces. I think they’ve done a great job.
I mean, full disclosure, I sit on the board now at Burton Snowboards. They invited me onto the board in November. Prior to that, there had never been a black person, person of color, who sat on that board. Would I have gotten that call up if it wasn’t for George Floyd? I don’t think so. And I’m honored and humbled. I never in a million years would have thought that would happen, especially in the wake of Jake Burton passing. So I am so grateful to be able to get to see their enthusiasm in wanting to build anti-racism and build inclusion, more importantly, into the culture of the brand, being an inclusive brand. And that takes time to build that into the DNA of your brand. But they are looking to do so.
The Ski Industries of America, SIA, the put a person of color on their board recently. And I think people are learning, okay, the only way that we’re going to be able to learn about these things is if we actually have the perspectives and voices from within the BIPOC community helping us actually make decisions, acting in a way that holds a mirror to us that shows us. If you don’t know your blind spots, putting the same people in the room that all have the same blind spots and saying, okay, let’s solve this problem.
Juliet: [0:55:35] Right. Let’s have a diversity initiative. Great.
Selema Masekela: [0:55:37] I’ve seen people posting videos of here’s the diversity initiative. And I’m looking around at the pictures and I’m like, um, is this like an Onion post because, you know. So it’s welcoming in those voices, being okay with giving up a little bit of that power. But as I tell people or brands that I consult, stop thinking about it from a place of giving up power, and start thinking of it from a place of sharing power. And in turn, by sharing power, creating more power, giving yourself more fuel, the opportunity to be a better brand. And in the end, a more profitable brand because I tell people all the time, you might want to look at the numbers of the demographics of this country and where we’re going to be in 5, 10, 15 years. You could continue to put your head in the sand and pretend like it’s not a thing, but yeah, numbers do not lie. And these landscapes are going to need to be expanded as a brand, for your thing to be viable, or it’s just going to leave without you.
Kelly: [0:56:58] Like I say, we have lots of tangential friends. We’ve met once. I have been following you for a minute. You’ve become the voice of my young shreddy angsty teenage ripper self. You are a musician, you are a producer, you host.
Juliet: [0:57:19] Actor.
Kelly: [0:57:19] Actor. I mean-
Selema Masekela: [0:57:21] Actor’s a stretch. I make cameos from time to time.
Kelly: [0:57:25] Count it. SAG card.
Juliet: [0:57:25] Count it.
Kelly: [0:57:26] And it feels like you really have just come into your power. I mean really feels like you’re organized. I mean besides Stoked, and we will have all the links to that because-
Juliet: [0:57:35] Such fans.
Kelly: [0:57:36] If you’re listening to this and want to change, support this organization, what are you fired up about right now in the near future that’s feeding your soul because you are, really sort of have that problem of you can do so many things so well.
Selema Masekela: [0:57:51] Thank you for recognizing the problem part of it because my management and agency would be like, thank you. See, we’re not the only ones who want you to fucking focus. Choose, choose, choose, so we can get the bags.
I am excited, there’s a brand that I am a partner in called Mami Wati. It is a clothing brand out of South Africa, a surf wear brad. Everything is made on the continent. And it is reimagining the lens of how we share what surfing looks and feels like from the perspective of the largest surfable continent on the planet and what surfing looks like across Africa. Basically, an outdoor lifestyle brand from an African spin.
And we just launched a book called AFROSURF that really tells the story of indigenous black culture and the ocean through the lens of seeing endless pictures and stories of mostly black people surfing. And it’s beautiful. It’s 300 pages. We curated it during COVID utilizing a bunch of relationships that we had via Instagram, et cetera, and built this thing somehow or another in like seven months. We Crowdfunded it, so presold 1,400 copies to get it made. We produced those. They went like that. And then Penguin Random House just picked us up with 20,000 copies that will go on sale globally on June 15.
Kelly: [0:59:26] What?
Juliet: [0:59:27] Congratulations.
Selema Masekela: [0:59:28] Thank you.
Kelly: [0:59:29] Nothing like betting on a golden horse already. I love it.
Selema Masekela: [0:59:33] Yeah. All of the proceeds from the book go towards two water therapy organization. One is called Waves for Change and the other is called Surfers Not Street Children. And basically, helping to shift communities in and around the African diaspora by helping these communities build relationship with the ocean and feel empowered to be stewards of the ocean. And by default, I think we ended up being, we’re like a weird beta test for the rest of the industry to be like, see, it actually isn’t that hard, you’ve just got to be unafraid to go there. And so I’m very, very excited about that. I have a couple of shows.
Kelly: [1:00:21] Congrats.
Selema Masekela: [1:00:21] Thank you. Thank you. I’m really, really excited about it. I have a couple of shows in development right now in the scripted and unscripted spaces that, fingers crossed, somebody’s going to call and say we’re greenlit. But I’m still working at Red Bull.
Kelly: [1:00:36] After this podcast, for sure.
Selema Masekela: [1:00:38] Thanks.
Juliet: [1:00:39] This is going to be the turning point.
Selema Masekela: [1:00:40] Thank you. Thank you. I’ll run you your money if that is the case. I still get the privilege of being an ambassador at Red Bull and the Red Bull Media House. Excited that we’re going to have a Red Bull brand page back this October. Still doing the What Shapes Us podcast. And generally speaking, man, just having a blast. I started a nontoxic deodorant company called Hume, H-u-m-e. You can check us out @humesupernatural. We have cracked the code for the natural active lifestyle nontoxic deodorant brand that works.
Juliet: [1:01:17] It doesn’t make you smell worse?
Selema Masekela: [1:01:19] No, absolutely not. I’m not going to talk shit on any of the other brands that don’t work, but-
Juliet: [1:01:25] Oh, I’d be happy to because I’ve tried them all.
Kelly: [1:01:27] But we’re all hippies. That salt Crystal thing-
Juliet: [1:01:28] I was using the Crystal for a while and that definitely makes you smell worse.
Selema Masaekela: [1:01:34] Yeah, my mother is a holistic health practitioner and basically was the beta tester for all the shit that is cool now. So the Crystal was in my house during the years that I was trying to talk to girls, and I’m like, “Mom, it doesn’t work.”
Kelly: [1:01:49] Where’s the aluminum, mom? Give me the aluminum.
Juliet: [1:01:49] I need the Axe Body Spray right now.
Selema Masekela: [1:01:52] I want the bumps under… At least let me have some boils in my armpits and smell good and possibly shorten my life. But we’ve cracked the code and very happy people have helped us be successful in the last year. So-
Kelly: [1:02:08] I will be on Hume in two seconds.
Selema Masekela: [1:02:11] Listen to me, A, I will send you guys a little care package. But B, this shit’s going to change your life. You’re going to be like, what? Are you kidding me? It’s really good.
So those are the things that I am actively focused on right now, and just waking up every day feeling like I’m in the bonus, man. There’s something about midlife. When you’re in your 30s you just never want to see it, and then you get here and you’re like, oh, this is awesome. I have been quietly investing in an account that I didn’t even know that I was investing in. And now that I access it and I’m able to pull out wisdom. And you have to live and fail a lot and make some horrible mistakes with a few successes along the way to I believe be invested in this account. And then at a certain point you start to get access to limited amounts of wisdom. And I’m in the space now where I’ve gotten to play with what would wisdom say about this. And then wisdom steps up and wisdom’s like, hey, I wish I could’ve been here for you in your 20s and 30s and even your early 40s, but here we are. Let’s make some wiser choices.
Kelly: [1:03:28] It takes a minute.
Juliet: [1:03:29] Takes a minute.
Kelly: [1:03:30] We say in our family, you don’t get something for nothing.
Selema Masekela: [1:03:31] No. I’m glad I didn’t have access to it then.
Kelly: [1:03:35] Well, you did, but just you couldn’t have heard it. You couldn’t have possibly heard it.
Juliet: [1:03:38] You were just putting things into the bank at that point.
Selema Masekela: [1:03:42] Exactly.
Kelly: [1:03:43] And maybe, just hang onto this, we weren’t ready for your voice.
Selema Masekela: [1:03:48] Thank you. Where do I send you guys the money?
Juliet: [1:03:53] Where… We obviously will link to everything we’ve discussed in the show notes, but where can people find you, follow you, support Stoked and all the other organizations you’re involved in?
Selema Masekela: [1:04:05] Thank you. Stoked.org is where you can learn about all things Stoked. You can become a Stoked ignitor. And if you live in the areas where we work, in Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York, you can become a volunteer. I am @selemama on Instagram, on le Twitter. My music is Alekesam, which is Masekela backwards, on Spotify, Apple Music, or wherever you enjoy listening to music. And Mami Wata is Mami Wata Surf on all of the platforms. And oh, Hume. Hume Supernatural, H-u-m-e Supernatural on all of the platforms.
Kelly: [1:04:54] So lazy. How many jobs you got? So lazy.
Juliet: [1:04:57] So lazy.
Selema Masekela: [1:04:58] So lazy. So lazy. And yeah, come by if you’re in Venice and you want to bang some weights around, try to kill yourself. Come to DEUCE. Hang us out. Follow DEUCE.
Kelly: [1:05:10] We need to. I’ve actually, I’ve never been-
Juliet: [1:05:10] It’s been too long. It’s been too long.
Kelly: [1:05:12] To DEUCE, which is embarrassing because I have like 50 friends who train there.
Selema Masekela: [1:05:17] On this trip when you come down, in exchange for me coming up and drowning with you at Laird’s, you guys have to come and train at DEUCE for a day.
Juliet: [1:05:25] Deal.
Kelly: [1:05:26] Deal.
Juliet: [1:05:26] Deal.
Kelly: [1:05:26] Deal. My friend, thank you.
Juliet: [1:05:29] Thank you. Thank you.
Kelly: [1:05:29] So much.
Juliet: [1:05:30] Happy Friday.
Selema Masekela: [1:05:31] Thank you so much for having me. And let us know anything else that you may need to wrap this up.Back to Episode