RVA SK8 Club Interview with Bean Weatherford

RVA SK8 Club founder Bean Weatherford (leprechaun top right) celebrating a Halloween Skate Jam.

RVA SK8 Club is doing it right, taking whatever resources they have and making the most of them. Bringing skateboarding to schools and kids that might not otherwise have access to it and helping the city get skateparks built along the way. Our friend Grant Fiero talked with their founder Bean Weatherford to hear how it all got started. We hope you find their story as inspiring as we do.

What’s up Bean, it’s so cool to see what you’re doing with RVA (Richmond Virginia) Skate Club, what made you want to start an after school skateboard program?

I was actually living in San Francisco for like 5 years, and I worked for rec and park out there. I worked with their after school program for a bit, it’s called Shred and Butter. It was super fun, I had the coolest job ever. I moved back here to Richmond, and there’s nothing like that here. Parents are very supportive of skating out there, so when I moved back here I wanted to start something like it. I was sort of thinking of starting it as a business, I didn’t really know what the next steps to take were. Then I met Richmond Area Skateboard Alliance (RASA), which is the group in Richmond that’s been building a city-sponsored DIY spot called Texas Beach. They were raising money for the DIY by doing these benefit shows, and my band played at a couple of those. At one of the shows, their table had a sign saying they were looking for an after school coordinator, and I was like “Whoa, I can do that!” So I talked to them, and Chris, who helps run the club with me, and I figured out a plan, and talked to the city. We built ramps out of raw materials, all the boards were donated from skaters, Shipyard Skateboards and Goodtimes Skateboards, which are local companies based out of Richmond. It was just a hodgepodge of old boards and stuff. Everything is hand me down boards, and we used leftover wood to build some quarter pipes and kickers.

So the boards that these kids at schools are learning to skate on are used boards that are passed down from local skaters mainly?

Yeah. We’ve gotten a couple of new decks, but for the most part, we’ve been using hand me down decks from skaters here in Richmond. We try and get 7.75 and under, to try and give the kids something a little smaller. Chris works for Virginia Commonwealth University, in their sculpture department, and he cut out these metal feet, one says “RVA Skate Club”, and we spray paint them on the griptape of boards to show the kids where they should stand, based on whether they are goofy or regular-footed.

Oh, that’s super cool!

Yeah, kids always want to put their feet together when they stand on a board, and then they eat shit immediately, so we’re like “Nah, nah, you want to spread your feet out”, so we spray paint these feet on the grip.

Wow, that’s really cool, I’ve never seen anyone do that before. When did you realize that used boards could have a longer life by being used in your organization?

When we were first starting out we had zero budget, no money, so all we could do was ask. A board that you or I might think is a piece of junk, is a prized possession to a seven-year-old who has never stepped on a skateboard. These kids are just learning how to ride, maybe drop in, maybe ollie, so these boards are special to them.

Yeah definitely, it’s cool to think about that perspective difference, how these kids are stoked because they just want to skate. I think if skaters are more aware of how their old board can be reused, they would find somewhere to donate their used board instead of tossing it in the trash.

I think so too. It’s cool to see people wanting to donate boards. These older dudes that have been skating forever have a closet full of decks piled up, and it’s like “Oh, I can leave these sitting in my attic for the rest of my life, or I can repurpose it.” We get a lot of decks offered to us, after a while we had to start asking for trucks, wheels, and hardware. We do our after school program on Tuesdays and Thursdays during the school year, and we’re trying to have Saturday programs at skateparks for kids who are really about it. If there’s a kid there who is really into it, we’ve had a couple of our guys who have connections with local companies, whether it be Venue Skate Shop or Goodtimes, and they might sneak the kid a complete at the end of the session.

Oh, that’s rad.

Yeah, we’ve had kids, and we’re talking elementary-age here, learning how to drop in, then learning how to ollie, and doing mini runs. Obviously we have a lot of kids that don’t pick it up at all. But, the cool thing about the skate club is these kids just go for it, they’re eating it left and right, falling, but they don’t care.

That’s really cool you guys are able to offer that Saturday session for the kids who really want to skate.

Yeah, and our immediate goal is to have a program with the city rec and park, so any kid can sign up for it, like they have for soccer, or basketball. I’m going to talk to them about doing a summer program this year, which is something we haven’t done before.

Sick! I know you mentioned Venue and Goodtimes, have you guys collected used gear from them, or anything other shops/brands in the area?

We’ve been talking about doing that for over a year now. We kind of just put out calls on the RASA Instagram. Like I said, RASA has been building the park here. We basically look at the organization now as two branches; there’s the park building branch and then the after school branch. We’ll post on their Instagram about needing volunteers or boards. We put on benefit shows too, and lots of people will bring stuff to donate to those shows.

Oh cool, so it’s mainly just skaters in the Richmond area donating their old gear then?

Yeah, pretty much. That’s where we’re at right now. Like I said, we send a board home with some of these kids, and we’d really like to expand that. Kids come to the program while it’s at their school, which is for two weeks, and then, now what? The kid realizes they like skateboarding, but we have to move on to the next school. We’ve had parents that by the third or fourth session are coming to the school to take photos, and cheer for their kids like it’s any other sport. Which is really awesome to see. They also thank us and talk to us about what we do. One parent was like “My kid has always been so quiet, this is the first thing I’ve seen that’s pulled him out of his shell. He’s inviting his other skate friend over for sleepovers”, that’s the coolest thing ever.

That’s so cool!

We’re starting it man, the next generation of little skate rats.

Yeah, it’s sick that you guys have that influence, you’re sharing what skateboarding is, and what we love about it.

Yeah, and I don’t know if you’re familiar, but Richmond’s public schools are really bad, really underfunded and neglected. It’s always a huge political debate, there’s always promises, every city administration is like “The schools, the schools”, it’s all just a bunch of talk. Some of these schools are in awful condition. We purposely choose the lowest income schools, the people at rec and park are like “Yeah you probably don’t want to go to that school”, and we’re like Nah, nah. That’s where we want to be!” We’re not trying to cater to the private school kids. In reality, if you’re a rich white kid in the suburbs of Richmond, and you want to get a skateboard, you’re probably going to get a skateboard. But if you go to these schools, and you want a skateboard, it’s not going to happen. We don’t even have a proper skatepark, it’s still being built, we’re still arguing with the city. They are finally coming to terms that people are using these skateparks. The one park, that was a DIY, but is a city-sanctioned park now, it’s a pretty completed park, but it’s tiny for a city the size of Richmond. Just recently Dreamland built a park in Charlottesville, which is like an hour away, it’s awesome as hell. The city was going to get some prefab park built, but as Dreamland was building that Charlottesville park we got them to sit down with Richmond too. We’re basically like the skateboard lobby for the city of Richmond, and they need it.

It’s amazing that you get to bring skateboarding to these kids who otherwise wouldn’t be able to skate. It’s also really cool how these kids are learning how to skate on boards that Richmond skaters used and donated themselves.

Yeah, Richmond is changing. It’s getting more expensive here, every neighborhood is being gentrified. There’s a whole population that’s kind of overlooked. I just try to look out for our neighbors. I love it, man, sometimes doing the leg work and emails and all that, you lose sight of the real thing, but as soon as you’re at the school, and these kids are cruising around on a board, laughing, and having the best time ever you’re like “Yes, hell yes. Skateboarding.”

That’s what it’s about, that’s amazing.

It’s made my life so much better. Every time I’m on a board I feel like I’m a teenager again. I forget about all my worries. I always tell the rec and park people, it’s going to go down in like thirty years from now when we look back, the two great urban sports are going to be basketball and skateboarding. Skateboarding is so adaptive, that’s what it’s all about, your environment. You can walk out your front door if you live in a city, and you have something to skate.

Yeah, definitely. I know you’ve mentioned a few stories, but do you have a favorite experience in your time running RVA Sk8 Club?

One of the first schools we were at, we were all like “How’s this going to go? Are kids going to be into it?”, you have no idea until you do it. We were at Barack Obama Elementary, this kid dropped in on his own at the first session, we were like “Whoa, that’s pretty crazy”, and he was learning how to ollie in the grass. By the second session he was dropping in and ollieing, and my mind was just blown. Definitely the day that the mom came too, and was taking photos and told us the whole story about her son coming out of his shell. She was like “He’s never been about a sport or anything!”, and he’s going for it, riding off the kicker by himself. I think it’s cool to get them into it when they’re at the age where they just want to have fun and do whatever, and realize “Oh yeah, screw a video game, I’m ready to go skateboard”, I mean, if there’s one kid that says that then I feel like we’re successful.

Those are really cool stories, especially about that kid’s mom being so supportive of his skating. Do you have a piece of advice for someone who was thinking of starting an organization of their own to reuse decks and give back to the community?

Don’t make your ramps too heavy (laughs), we made our quarter pipes of used wood, and they’re ridiculously heavy. I’d just say, you want to be well staffed. If you get out there and there’s twenty kids and three of you, it’s pretty hard to really give the kids attention. It took us a while, our first semester we were begging people to volunteer. Now we got like five or six volunteers every time. You got to have your committed core of volunteers. I would trade a lot of funding for two or three solid volunteers any day of the week. Give me the volunteers. You can do without money, but you can’t do without good volunteers. Spray painting the feet on the grip is a genius move, I got to give credit to my boy Chris for that one.

Awesome, that’s some great insight. Thank you for taking the time to do this, what you’re doing is amazing. It’s rad to see you reusing boards, and building the skate scene out there in Richmond.

Yeah, we want to make this thing bigger. We already got some middle schools hitting us up, and we want to do this summer program. We’ve got to give credit to the Richmond skate scene for all the support. Thank you.

For more information on RVA SK8 Club follow the @rasaproject