Dave De Witt’s objects bear residual traces of earlier times and actions. They represent a path marked by forms and footprints and of something consumed in an earlier act – that of a carefree young boy that picked up his first skateboard in 1987 and cut his teeth at the old Sanlam Center Skatepark in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal.
WORDS: BELLA KLAVA
PHOTOGRAPHY: portrait / OLIVER KRUGER
PHOTOGRAPHY: skating / JANSEN VAN STADEN
“My father skated in the 70’s in Kimberley before he went to the army. He made me my first skateboard which basically was a roller-skate sawn in half and screwed to a plank. He said if you can skate this then I’ll buy you a Skika from Game and gave me shit when I took off the tail block and nose guard.”
But by 1991 the skatepark closed down and sadly he could no longer skate with friends. On turning eighteen he left home and whiled away the time surfing a few couches. He was trying to figure out what he wanted to do with his life when he managed to secure a position as a loom tuner at one of the local mills.
“A friend of mine’s dad got me to try out an apprenticeship so I ended up at the mill and it was a really good experience as it taught me how to take machines apart and put them back together. As an apprentice you get to do a lot of courses which taught me skills that I am still using to this day. The hours were a bit hectic but I ended doing a solid 4 years there.”
At this time the Wave House opened up in Durban and Dave decided to head down there even though it meant having to take a salary cut. It was worth it as it allowed him to skate again and be around more like-minded people. At this point he started working at the FlowRiders and became an instructor at the artificial indoor surf machines which allowed surfers to practice in a safer more controlled environment. Over time the skatepark started rotting away and he applied himself to taking it apart and fixing it up. As his father had a workshop and was a bit of a general handy man around the house he had access to tools and whatever he needed to work with.
“I was always interested in how certain joins and things were put together. So at Wave House they would get carpenters in but at the end to save costs we got asked to help fix up the ramps and to do general maintenance.”
At the same time as the FlowRider gig he also started building skateparks and bowls on the side. “I ended up in Italy doing demos. It opened up a lot of doors for me as it lead to me being an instructor on a few cruise ships. So the plan was to try and get into the States while I was working on board the cruise liners and maybe start building parks over there through the connections I made at Wave House, but unfortunately because of my visa I could only work offshore and it never materialized.”
Upon returning to South Africa he had some savings. He had to weigh up his options on what he would do next. He ended up working at a Skate shop in Durban and running the skatepark. It was during this time that a little bit of misfortune followed by a series of serendipitous events resulted in something truly unique.
“So I am a carpenter and handy man and I always need my shades and the one day I pulled out of my driveway and the screw fell out of my pair of wire frame Aviators and it’s in my car, behind the seat and there is no way I’m gonna find it. That thing is gone… I searched for like an hour. I had those glasses for ages, they were part of my face.“
A friend of his lent him a crappy pair for a while but he realized he needed his lenses back. At that time he had seen some wooden sunglasses at a local market and decided to take a closer look. So he figured – “I am a carpenter type of dude. I can maybe figure that out. It’s gonna be a mission but let’s see what happens.”
After some initial research he realized that there was nothing on how to make your own pair of wooden glasses online. He remembered that he had a curved piece of wood outside – an old skateboard with some nice colours on it and some graphics lying in his cut off box in his workshop.
“Guys online were using Walnut and all kinds of exotic woods, cutting veneers and laminating it themselves and I did not have any tools to do that. So I was like fuck it, I got a piece of a skateboard with a curve in it that should work. So I took a drill, jigsaw and belt sander and hit the driveway.”
With the first pair he shaped it to roughly a Wayfarer kind of style and took the lenses from his old Aviators and sanded and grinded them down. ”I had to window putty that shit in there!” he laughs. He melted the hinges from an old pair of his mom’s plastic sunglasses and just DIY’d it all together. Dave started wearing them around and there was an immediate interest in them.
He then posted a few pictures online and within three months he had already sold his first pair. A few local and international blogs picked up on it and the orders started rolling in. After that he realized that he had to start getting more quality lenses and after a long search acquired an old lens cutter. This turned out to be an essential part of his business going forward.
To date Dave has produced almost two thousand pairs of sunglasses in between doing carpentry, shop fitting and skatepark building. Almost everything is used from the old boards with some of the final offcuts even going into the resin for surfboard fins. Now settled in Cape Town he has also started producing amazing lightshades made from the remaining offcuts from the old boards.
“I needed lighting for a show that I was doing and after the first one I realized that I needed good lighting and good display stands for it to stand out a bit more. So I started playing round with some of the offcuts. So it just kind of happened, I had an idea and it just evolved over about a week with adding more pieces and it just grew from there and ended up in a Protea shape.”
In addition to focusing on new functional and formal possibilities around discarded materials and expanding their life cycles Dave has also been a prominent figure in the South African skateboarding community. His objects could be seen as byproducts of the social and environmental factors that drive our patterns of consumption within contemporary material culture.
But Dave’s craftsmanship is in stark contrast with the carelessness in which we use and dispose of everyday objects. They seem to vie against the ramifications of consumerism. In the hands of Dave De Witt the collective material memory of the skatepark is finding new pathways.