Shredding Colorado Springs 

Sk8-Strong grows pros, parks and community

"Hey, you're goofy too! I've never met anyone else who was goofy."

Jono Schwan grins at me as he says this.

Since we just met about 20 minutes prior, I'm pretty sure the 17-year-old founder of Sk8-Strong isn't referring to my nature. But as it's my first time ever to step on a skateboard, I give him a quizzical look from beneath my helmet.

Turns out "goofy" is the type of stance taken on the board — left foot in back near the tail. "Regulars," he explains, are those who ride left foot front.

It's the first skill he'll teach me. Simply standing on the board. I wobble, but my balance isn't too bad, and he cheers me on.

He's way more confident about my skills than I am, but his enthusiasm is contagious. That, and his skill for putting people at ease, pushes me to keep going.

It was another "Goofy" that inspired Schwan to skate. Around 6 or 7, he says, he saw Disney's A Goofy Movie. Goofy's son does a handstand on a skateboard at the end of the film and Schwan wanted to do the same.

"I told my parents that, they got me the skateboard, and before I even really had gotten used to it under my feet I was like, 'All right, time to do the handstand.' So I did the handstand, and I totally thrashed my face and everything. And I was like, 'All right, I'm done with skateboarding. This wasn't that fun.'"

But a stint living in Australia with his family changed that.

"They had such a great skateboarding environment, it was impossible not to be attracted to it. When I saw the skate parks there, I gave it a go again."

You could say it stuck.

At 12, back in Colorado Springs and missing both the community support and the accessibility to vert ramps he'd had in Australia, he started Sk8-Strong. Sk8-Strong raised the money to bring vert to the skate park at Memorial Park

"The city was a huge support there. We had a lot of help from them to make that happen," he says. "And then, after we got the vert ramp here, we realized that now it's the only park in the nation that is public, so it's free to everyone, and it has professional-quality facilities in every aspect of skateboarding ... street, super park, bowl and vert."

Those facilities allowed Sk8-Strong to kick off its own annual competition, Rocky Mountain Rampage, three years ago.

"Basically what it is," he explains, "it's the door-opening opportunity for amateurs to break into those pro ranks and also act as filling in the gaps for skateboarding. Women's skateboarding really wasn't covered as much as men's was. They didn't have a single professional contest in the vert or transition aspects until Sk8-Strong did the Rampage. Then, after that, they kind of generated coverage and saw, wow, these women really can shred, and they've taken off."

Schwan says as a result of Rampage, Colorado Springs has seen at least a handful of locals get the opportunity to go pro. (Schwan himself debuted as a professional skateboarder at the Dew Tour Finals in 2011. Since then, among other competitions around the world, he's competed in Rome at the World Cup Championships and in the X-Games.)

But competition isn't the only thing the completely volunteer-run Sk8-Strong does. It offers clinics called "progression sessions" for younger kids to not only learn new tricks, but to learn the healthy side of skateboarding and how to take an athletic approach to skating.

"They have a normal skate session," Schwan explains, "but they're mentored in a way that they progress one way or another."

Basic classes aren't limited to a certain age. "We've had people as young as 4½ ... and then, you know, we've got some skaters 50-plus that come. It's really whoever wants to come and enjoy skateboarding and progress."

Sk8-Strong also offers pro clinics, inviting professional skateboarders to talk about their experiences with the sport and share their knowledge of tricks; runs an amateur contest series and a final amateur competition; and organizes community projects, such as Deck the Ramps, a food drive for Colorado Springs Rescue Mission.

Lesson over, I watch Schwan shred the vert ramps with another local, 17-year-old Bryce Stark. Stark's mom Brandy sits with me in the grass near the ramps and as we chat I'm impressed that she doesn't flinch (like I do) each time the guys take a fall.

She laughs when I ask her if she worries about her son. One of the things Sk8-Strong teaches, she explains, is how to fall, so she knows he knows what he's doing.

"He's had a couple gnarly concussions," she says. "Rolled ankles, [but] nothing major."

Stark went pro in bowl through Sk8-Strong. "If Sk8-Strong hadn't brought the circuit here, it would have been a lot harder. ... It's changed his whole life," she says.

He's finished high school early, trains in a gym six days a week and travels because of the sport. "It gives him something to strive for."

It's a sentiment understood by Schwan:

"The fact that I'm absolutely in love with skateboarding and everything about it and that through this organization I might be able to change it and make it better, it's pretty unreal to think about."

For a rundown of this week's Give!-related events, see p. 37 in this week's issue of the Independent.


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