One of our goals with Keeping it Rolling is to highlight amazing work skateboarders are doing around the world in hopes that it inspires others to start something in their own scene.
Jeff and Jess Thorburn of East Vancouver Skate Club saw what Skate After School was doing through their Radical Reshuffle program and decided to start their own ‘Bits + Pieces’ program to help get boards into the hands of kids who could use them. We caught up with Jeff and Jess to hear about their program, the advantages of keeping skateboarding’s structure loose, and how re-used gear can make a difference for kids just getting started.
Can you give us a brief rundown on the East Van Skate Club and what sparked the idea to get it started?
Being involved in skateboarding on a few different levels, and as parents of a 10-year-old, we found that we were talking about skateboarding with a lot of parents in the schoolyard. We’ve always tried to find ways to create more natural, unstructured environments for kids, without firm commitments, sign-ups, fees, uniforms, start and end times—Sandlot-style, basically. That was the way many of us were introduced to skateboarding and a big part of what we all continue to love about it. So one night we talked about creating something like that, a skateboard club. We did some nice watercolor logos that fit the vibe we wanted, and then we spread the word through our community that we’d be at this really mellow, old park on Sunday mornings at 10 AM and invited anyone that was interested to come on out. Deluxe donated us six completes, and Protec sent us pads and helmets so that even if people didn’t have a board when they came out, they could still get rolling. It’s been a year now and we’re having a great time.
Pre-COVID-19 I remember us talking some about ‘Keep It Rolling’ and you mentioned that finding used boards for kids wasn’t a big part of your program. What inspired you to start your Bits + Pieces program? How has it been going so far?
A few weeks ago, we saw that Skate After School was doing their Radical Reshuffle, and it just clicked. We knew that we could do that, we should do that, and we wanted to do that. Vancouver is a great city, but there’s a lot of social and economic inequity packed into a relatively small area. It just felt like now more than ever we needed to lean into finding ways we could give back. So we put the word out there, encouraging people to support our local shops if they can, but to let us know if they would like a used skateboard, no questions asked. At the same time, we asked for donations from our community, and so far, it’s all balanced out quite nicely. As we write this, two weeks in, we’ve delivered 25 skateboards to kids between the ages of 3 and 14, and picked up or had donations delivered to us from skaters and shops all over the city. Currently, we’re looking down our hallway filled with eight more completes ready to go out, and a big pile of decks and wheels just waiting for trucks to bring them together.
Since the pandemic hit, have you shifted to any sort of online meetups or anything to keep the connections with the young skaters going?
The first thing we did after having to cancel our weekly meet-ups was to put a page on our website to house some of the videos we think kids and caregivers might enjoy watching together. We wanted to share videos with them that have that same spirit of what we try to do. Skateboarding that’s stylish, fun, and flowing, because we know that if you type “skateboarding” into Youtube, you’re going to get a slew of videos filled with, “Hey guys…subscribe here…like this…follow this.”
The Bits + Pieces project really fits in well because we’ve always wanted to broaden the reach of who we connect with, and getting skateboards out to people that are interested but maybe don’t have the means to purchase a skateboard of their own.
Being an older skater, I’m guessing you didn’t have ‘Skate Clubs’ growing up, what are some of the advantages you see to having organized programs for kids getting into skating opposed to the way we did it; go to the park, get scared of the older skaters, learn as you go?
We really wanted to bridge that generational gap. I’m sure this is the case for many older skaters out there: we’re always keen to talk to all sorts of people at skateparks. Especially with new skaters and their caregivers, we want to make it clear that you’re welcome here, and we will tactfully show you some of the ins and outs of this thing if you want. So like we said earlier, we wanted to keep things just loosely organized. We meet lots of kids that don’t really have any skate pals yet because maybe they’re the only skater at their school, which many of us can relate to. As big as skateboarding maybe, that’s still often the case. So doing our meet-ups turned into a way for kids to connect with other kids that love skateboarding, and made for a nice way to introduce the parents/caregivers into the community as well. The club setting offers an easy access point for everyone to come out and get comfortable, learn about skatepark etiquette and pick up tips on how to best support the kids in their lives while they learn and grow. Really the kids just skate together, mimic each other, and have some laughs. We just roll around, joke with them, support them, give them tips and high fives when they need them, or leave them alone when they want to figure it out themselves.
From what you’ve seen the past year, do a lot of your club members take to it and continue to skate. Does having access to donated boards, play a large role in whether or not they continue?
We continue to see so many of the kids coming out to our meet-ups and all of the other events that the Vancouver Skateboard Coalition host. Often they’ll bring friends, neighbors, cousins, whoever else wants to give it a shot, and having our boards, helmets, and pads on hand to loan them is helpful. After adding this Bits + Pieces element to what we do, hopefully, we’ll have even more kids showing up with boards already, boards that they can call their own and skate anytime. Having more boards out there under kids’ feet and floating around in parks and neighborhoods will inevitably get more kids skating. We figure, if you want to play soccer or basketball, it’s fairly easy to find a ball somewhere. Let’s try to do the same thing with skateboards.
There are a lot of shifts happening in the world and within skateboarding when it comes to both environmentalism and inclusivity. As a lifelong skateboarder and someone who is directly influencing the next generation of skaters how do you approach the topics through your meetups?
Before we officially launched the club, we spent a lot of time writing down what we wanted it to look and feel like. We wanted to make sure everyone felt welcome at our meet-ups and in our community. We’ve got a really great and diverse skateboard community in our city, particularly here in East Vancouver. There are a bunch of people and groups doing all sorts of amazing things for our community. So much happens down the street from us at Antisocial Skateboard Shop that touches on the issues you mentioned and more, and if we can be one more little part piece of fabric on our community quilt, and help pull more people of all ages into what we think is the most radical of activities while telling them that we see them, that they have a voice, and we’ve got their back, we’re all going to be the better for it.
Seeing how skate shops and the skateboard community as a whole have rallied to support each other through this pandemic has been really inspiring. If someone is looking to help an organization like yours where would be the best place to start?
Over the last two months, we’ve felt like everything we love about skateboarding has really meshed together, and we hope that continues. It’s hard times for many, but the love and support people are showing each other is amazing. Firstly, whenever you can, support your local skateboard shop. Whether they publicize it or not, the owners and staff are more than likely the people that are advocating for skateboarding with the city council, for parks, events, and respect. They’re making things happen, all while offering you direct access to rad skateboard products. Beyond that, our advice would be to find out what’s the aspect of skateboarding that means the most to you, figure out something you love to do—art, writing, community organizing, etc.—and find a way to connect those things. See what you can add to your community through your talents and efforts.
That is as good as it gets. Thanks for all the inspiration and everything you’re doing for the Vancouver community.