Skateboarding group seeks to shake off negative stereotypes

by Peter J. Teagle - Posted on May 29, 2019 - 02:24 PM

Photo: Young skater Chase Liberty prepares to drop into a half-pipe at April’s “Shred for Bread” fundraiser hosted by the Triangle Skateboard Alliance at Brown Park on Route 14 in Gloucester.

Young skater Chase Liberty prepares to drop into a half-pipe at April’s “Shred for Bread” fundraiser hosted by the Triangle Skateboard Alliance at Brown Park on Route 14 in Gloucester.

Skateboarding has a new face in Gloucester. Looking to put to bed the decades-old stereotype of skaters as punks or grungy teenagers, the Triangle Skateboard Alliance is bringing philanthropy to the next generation of athletes, and president Max Pfannebecker says it’s working.

“Philanthropy is necessary because of the public image of skateboarding,” he said. “The biggest thing you can do to change a stigma is to control the narrative.”

Pfannebecker is one of around a half dozen parents of skaters or former skaters who came together in 2017 to form the TSA, a group dedicated to revitalizing skate parks and building charity into the local skate culture. Pfannebecker’s 10-year-old son is a skater and his attraction to “board sports” helped to kickstart the growth of this mission.

TSA’s model relies on community education grants, contests, donors, and e-commerce from merchandise to raise money to host skate camps and build, expand, and maintain skate parks. One such park, Brown Park in Gloucester, is a pet project of Pfannebecker.

“We exist to raise money to build or improve skate parks,” he stated, adding that TSA does maintenance and repairs that Gloucester’s Parks, Recreation and Tourism department may not have the budget to complete. 

Another component of their model is getting young skaters to become involved in philanthropy to better their community, something that Pfannebecker says has been more successful than people might think.

At the TSA’s last fundraiser, the annual “Shred For Bread” held at Brown Park, 322 pounds of food was raised in just three hours to benefit the Bread For Life Food Pantry. Their fall school supply fundraiser last year also generated over 150 school supply donations for students in need. More than 50 volunteers, many of whom are skaters, put in over 1,000 hours of community service through TSA in these fundraising efforts. 

Beyond simply donating food and school supplies, Pfannebecker said that since they became involved at neighboring James City County Skate Park, police calls to the site have been cut by around 90 percent, with more than 30 annual calls being reduced to just three last year. TSA efforts in Gloucester have also boosted use of Brown Park, with the Gloucester PRT reporting a 71 percent increase in Brown Park attendance in 2018.

“That’s the value of building philanthropy in this sport,” Pfannebecker said. “The reality is that kids are much safer at a skate park than they are skating on the street or doing something else.”

To grow these efforts and fulfill their mission of expanding Brown Park, TSA is looking to launch a mobile skate shop and more merchandise to increase funding. The group has invested in screen printing machines to make custom T-shirts and plans on using recycled art pieces made from skateboards and skating accessories, bike chain bracelets, and custom board art as future revenue sources, with profits being reinvested into philanthropy, park repairs and expansion.

“It’s basically the same model as Tom’s Shoes without all the BS,” said Pfannebecker.

Because of the high cost of breaking into skateboarding, TSA hosts several skate camps throughout the year and offers scholarships for kids who may want to try skateboarding but whose parents lack the disposable income to buy them gear.

“We want kids to enter the sport,” Pfannebecker said, “but it’s expensive to get into … a decent beginner board starts at $100, plus you’ve got to get a helmet, pads and all this gear.

“And that’s sometimes too much for a parent to buy when their kid may fall off once and lose interest,” he added.

To combat this issue, TSA offers four scholarships to their camps, two through the Gloucester Family YMCA and two through the Boys & Girls Club, so children can develop their interest in skateboarding without the cost of the initial investment.

“It’s been a great partnership,” said Patricia McGrath, Superintendent of Parks for Gloucester County. McGrath reported the TSA’s efforts reduce stress on her department’s maintenance budget, which allows money to be spent elsewhere.

“Skateboarding is an individual sport for those who want to be part of something without being part of a typical sports team,” she added, with Pfannebecker calling it “an alternative to stick and ball sports.”

“I think it’s a great sport because it taught my son grit,” Pfannebecker said. “When he’s having trouble with long division, he thinks about working three hours on a wall ride at Brown.” Recalling his son’s early skating, Pfannebecker continued “and all those ‘skate punks’ who were at the park when my son started came up and talked to him to give him advice on how to be a better skater.”

All of TSA’s work appears to be garnering some attention from the international skating community, as after the success of the most recent Shred for Bread event, TSA reported that the Jamaican Skateboard Federation reached out asking for help to plan their own sister event to Shred For Bread to benefit the capital Kingston‘s community.

Pfannebecker said that receiving this contact from Jamaica reinforced his own belief that their mission is one worth growing. Through social media and a website coming soon that will link to resources related to all 60 of Virginia’s public skate parks, TSA is hoping they can continue to grow their blend of skating and philanthropy across Virginia.

“I’d like to eventually be the organization people ask for money,” Pfannebecker said of the group’s long-term goal, “so if the kids somewhere like out in Galax want to renovate their old skate park, we want to one day help them do that.”