Being ‘The Only’ in the Spaces You Love, Using Your Platform, and Living in the Bonus
Selema Masekela is a beloved commentator, journalist, host, and Emmy nominated producer best known for his work across VICE, E!, ESPN/ABC, Nat Geo, Red Bull Media House and beyond. A relentlessly curious narrator of the human experience, he thrives as a Black man who has historically been ‘the only’ in the spaces of action sports and entertainment. The son of South African jazz legend and activist Hugh Masekela, Selema‘s roots are as South African as they are New York City and San Diego.
Music and water being the most influential parts of his life at the age of 16 he first felt ‘at home’ on a surfboard; at 8 you’d find him sitting at Birdland in late night jazz sessions with his father and Miles Davis. It’s this unique life experience which paved the way for him not only becoming the face of ESPN’s X-Games but also a musician himself, recording under the alias ‘Alekesam’ (Masekela backwards).
His recently launched podcast, What Shapes Us?, explores he and his guests human experiences; who they are, what drives and gives them joy. Its mission is to highlight people and places through a mold breaking lens and redefine culture. He is the co-founder of Stoked Mentoring, an organization dedicated to mentoring at risk youth through action sports and the host of Hyundai’s series The Un-Adventurers on Tastemade Network. In 2020, Selema was also welcomed onto the Board of Directors for Burton Snowboards as a general advisor.
Selema joins us to talk what it’s like to be the only person of color in the spaces you love, using whatever is in your toolbox to help break the cycle of racism, and how middle age is pretty sweet.
Musicians, Athletes, and Non-Profits mentioned in the episode:
05:13 Selema is great at a lot of stuff, just not backside airs; In his defense, even Tony Hawk isn’t good at everything either.
05:53 The term “Quad dominance” is bandied about at Deuce too
06:56 The evolution of action sports/lifestyle sports with the addition of strength training
09:42 The first Slopestyle at the Sochi Olympics saw a lot of ACL injuries
11:00 Selema’s youth: moving to the west coast was like moving to another planet; He assumed it would be like Karate Kid
16:00 Selema started skating in New England when the only cool/friendly kids at school were the punk rock skaters; Scott Forbes gave him a skateboard and some Thrasher Magazines and the rest was history.
17:00 Moving in high school, pre-internet, was a literal severing of all ties
17:55 Selema moved in May of his Junior year; he might have looked up Carlsbad in the encyclopedia
19:50 Sports give kids a neutral ground to meet their other kids
20:22 Selema picked up surfing pretty quickly after arriving in Carlsbad
20:30 Selema credits monkey bar tag in his neighborhood in New York with his athleticism – it looked like THIS.
22:03 Carl’s Jr, the gateway to surfing
25:20 Selema’s dad, Hugh Maskela, was a legendary jazz musician and had a huge impact on him
25:45 Hugh Masekela was playing with Miles Davis, Charles Mingus among many others, and had a huge career fusing jazz with his traditional South African music which helped to create World Beat Music; At the same time, Hugh was not allowed to return to SA because he had spoken out against apartheid
29:11 It wasn’t until the late 80s because of artists like Hugh and Paul Simon that the world starting understanding how terrible South African apartheid was
32:25 It is a strange thing to love an activity with all of your being but never see anyone else that looks like you enjoying it with you
32:54 Experiencing racism; Stereotypes; Myths
35:52 George Floyd’s death may be the only reason we are having the conversations about racism in the way that we are
37:42 Selema has on two occasions had to beg for his life at the hands of police; George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery
39:55 Selema can no longer stay silent in his communities
40:55 People like Alex Honnold are using their platforms
41:59 If you think the conversation about racism is uncomfortable, try racism
42:23 Skateboarding by its nature is a little more diverse; more accessible
45:09 Stoked, Selema’s non-profit is closing the opportunity gap by taking the power of community and culture of action sports (skateboarding, snowboarding, surfing) to give youth the skills, relationships, and experiences to succeed.
47:54 The Starrett’s ran Camp Liquid, a leadership camp (white water kayaking) for kids with HIV and Aids; Access to these types of experiences impact kids on a cellular level
49:51 Historically, some of our outdoor spaces have been violently protected for certain sectors of people; In the 50s and 60s, groups of black people would go to a beach for organized “wade-ins” to wade in the water in defiance of the laws excluding black and brown people
51:39 The the thing about racism…
51:39 People with access to these spaces and people with power need to speak up and affect change in these spaces
52:38 Patagonia is one company that is taking steps in the right direction; The Trail Ahead Podcast
54:07 Selema now sits on the board of Burton Snowboards
55:00 Ski Industries of America (SIA) just placed a person of color on there board
55:08 The only way to make progress is to have BIPOC voices included on boards and in the leadership of companies
57:33 What’s next for Selema: Mami Wata; Afrosurf Book with all proceeds going to non-profits Waves for Change and Surfers Not Street Children; A couple of shows in development; Redbull Ambassador; What Shapes Us Podcast; Hume Deodorant
62:27 Mid-life is like living in the bonus
63:54 Selema’s Socials
This episode of The Ready State Podcast is sponsored by Paleovalley Essential C Complex. Created to be the most powerful, completely natural and organic source of vitamin C on the planet, Essential C Complex is one of the only supplements the Starretts take every single day. Because nothing’s funny about scurvy. For more info and 15% off, click HERE!
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