‘So much work went into producing, editing and self distributing each issue, but you also need to make a living somehow.’
Tell us something about South Africa people do not know?
There are plenty of amazing skateboarders and spots, but unfortunately most local skaters don’t have the resources to travel abroad. So unless you go, you’ll never know.
Who started Session in 2002 and what inspired the idea in first place?
Session was founded by a skateboarder from Johannesburg named Brendan Body, with help from motivated friends. Brendan grew up skating and his father was in the print business, so he put two and two together and founded South Africa’s very own publication dedicated to skateboarding. There were crossover ‘culture’ publications before Session, but nothing purely dedicated to skateboarding.
What were some of the highlights when you look back?
For me, I guess before I co-owned the mag, I was always super excited to see an issue, which only came out every two months. Seeing new spots and reading interviews with new skaters from other cities always inspired me. Once I started running the mag in 2014, I guess my highlights were putting together tour projects and travelling around South Africa, meeting people and going on adventures to produce content for the mag.
‘ I have always been super interested in the emerging skate scenes in many African countries, and now we can reach people all over Africa and they can reach us.’
15 Years and 80 issues later you stopped prints. What happened?
It became increasingly more difficult to sell advertising, and being a free mag, if you don’t have enough ads then you can’t pay for it. I worked multiple jobs, and the amount of work to put each issue together became increasingly hard to justify for so little money. So much work went into producing, editing and self-distributing each issue, but you also need to make a living somehow. Certain brands were always incredible and super supportive, but there weren’t enough of those in the local scene who were prepared to pay to support print. Everything was shifting toward digital platforms and that’s where brands focused their attention. That and South Africa’s economy is extremely volatile, particularly in the last few years, so it’s not an easy place for skate brands to operate. So many brands in the scene sadly disappeared.
Is there any silver lining for Session to move entirely to a digital platform?
Well for one we can reach way more people! I have always been super interested in the emerging skate scenes in many African countries, and now we can reach people all over Africa and they can reach us. We also don’t have the burden of the print bill and distro costs. In print, whether you sell many ads or only a few, you still have to pay the bills. But with the switch to digital, we have a policy whereby if someone in the crew (or an associated photographer/videographer) does work, then they get paid for it. But if nothing is going on for a while and brands aren’t doing anything with us, then we can still share content and connect with the community, but we can work on other things that are bringing us an income. We can also get content out way faster! You can film and edit something and get it out there right away, whereas with a bi-monthly print mag you can only fit in so much, and a lot of things get delayed or perhaps never make the cut to the final print mag.
‘I would say special edition print mags are the way to go nowadays.’
Were you able to attract more brands on your digital platform?
I think it changed the relationship we had with brands and the kind of content we produce. Instead of just being sent a generic print ad every two months, digital created a new space to work with a brand and create unique content for their channels and ours. But to add to the point, the thing I find odd is that certain brands stopped supporting the platform when we left print, meanwhile we have a much bigger reach. They would pay a substantial amount for an ad in a print mag that had 4000 copies per issue, but they won’t support any content creation on a platform that can reach 10 000 people. Often brand mangers or people in charge of skate brands in South Africa don’t really understand the skate scene. It’s like they will happily throw in a generic ad of an overseas rider, but they won’t even spend one third of that amount to produce local content for the digital channels. But then again, other brands totally get it and they do so much to support trips, events and content creation in general.
Do you still do editorial stuff or is it only videos?
We do a variety of different things, but not too much in the way of traditional editorial layouts anymore. All of us guys in the Session crew do a lot of things to help produce content for brands, and we share it through Session and on the relevant brand’s platforms. So, for example, our chief videographer is also the team manager of Vans South Africa, so if there is a Vans event we will have a video of the event, but also photos and text. But it will be split over Instagram posts, youtube and our website, but not in necessarily in a PDF layout. One of the side projects I’ve been working on for the past few years is helping to produce Africa skate content for Red Bull Skate. So, there are other ways to feature people and talk about what’s going on in the skate scene without doing traditional magazine editorials.
What are some of the challenges Session faces today?
I would say the only real challenge is financial. We have ideas and motivation, we always want to be doing more, but it’s tough to find the resources to pay for it. Particularly in the last 18 months or so, due to Covid. Our primary revenue streams are from tours and events, but those dried up completely with Covid. So, we all just focus more on other things, and do things for Session when we can.
Do you think people are still interested in prints?
I think people are definitely still interested in print, but I don’t think they are willing to pay for it like they once did. We were a mag you had to buy for many years, but when that slowed, we made it free for the last couple years, and then people couldn’t get enough of it, every copy disappeared.
Is there anything you would differently if you do prints again?
I would say special edition print mags are the way to go nowadays. Like maybe one a year with the best content. I guess the environmental impact of printing copious amounts of print mags is not good at all either, so making them more special so that people really hold onto them and appreciate them is a good thing, rather than just paging through once and then discarding.
Will there be a revival you think?
I’m not too convinced, the world is way faster now. I think there will always be print in some form, but I don’t think it will go back to how it was in the foreseeable future.
When you look at skate mags and of course other publications, it looks like that advertisers become more involved in the editorial aspect. Were you confronted with this situation back in your print days too?
I’ve never personally been in a situation where an advertiser tried to dictate content, but I’ll certainly make a conscious effort to try and support the brands that support the mag. So, we would come up with content ideas that are ‘supported’ by a brand. Then it’s a win-win for the brand and our mag.
‘It can be stressful sometimes if you’re trying to balance your day job and some or other project, but for me, if I just see something that stands out then I’m hyped to share it and get more people to know about it.’
Do you take it as a responsibility, challenge or blessing to be main platform for skateboarding in Africa?
I mean the continent is huge so I am sure you never run out of material but also you want every nation to provide a voice too.
I never really think of Session as the ‘main’ platform, it’s just a platform and we try to push content that stands out to us. We try to focus on South Africa and the wider African continent specifically because nobody else is really focusing on Africa all that much, and we’re hyped on it. Of course, we’re hyped on what’s going on around the world, but there are so many platforms out there, we want to try and push something more local to us. It can be stressful sometimes if you’re trying to balance your day job and some or other project, but for me, if I just see something that stands out then I’m hyped to share it and get more people to know about it. There are cool Instagram accounts to follow in east Africa, west Africa, etc. But I guess we are pretty consistent in sharing things from around the continent and at home in SA. But there are other guys too, like a friend of ours in Ghana who runs League SB. Or our good friend Mosako who is a photographer in Botswana, and he travels to Nigeria quite a lot too, and is one of the few content creators shooting skating in different African countries.
Last question. If you could interview one person, who would it be and why?
I’ve been fortunate to meet and interview a lot of cool people in skateboarding over the years, so I’m not sure there is anybody specific I’d love to interview. But I’d certainly love to hang out and skate with plenty of people. I think you can get to know people better from a more informal setting than a straightforward interview. Just skating and having fun. Sometimes the best people in skateboarding aren’t even the best skaters, but they love to just be around it. No matter what continent I’m on, I’m always drawn to those sort of characters.
Let me re-phrase this question. Which interview stands out for you personally?
I guess my favourite interviews in Session are just with local South African skaters talking about real stuff. Stuff that many overseas mags weren’t mentioning at the time. Like a friend of mine opened up in an interview and talked about the fact that he was gay and what that was like growing up, or discussing issues with people like how they have been dealing with alcohol or drugs. A lot of the focus in skateboarding is so much about tricks or products, but at the end of the day there is the whole human side to it, and I think it’s important to be honest about what you’ve been through or what you’re dealing with, and maybe that can help someone else who is going through something similar. I also really like travel features, it’s an opportunity to get insight into a new place, not just in the pictures, but also in the stories people have about going on an adventure somewhere, skate trips in Africa are always a real adventure!
‘Sometimes the best people in skateboarding aren’t even the best skaters, but they love to just be around it. No matter what continent I’m on, I’m always drawn to those sort of characters.’