For the third summer in a row, Dan Bokma and his crew of volunteers are offering free skateboarding lessons Sunday mornings at Barrie’s downtown skate park.
Bokma, manager of nearby skate shop Souldiers Barrie, says the goal is to help bring their favourite sport to more people. He also wants to help repair the reputation of not only the Queen's Park facility, but also the whole local skate scene.
“I’ve been a skater here my whole life and the skate park was pretty well known as having a bit of a rough patch in the early 2010s. … We had a lot of people hanging out there, the majority of who weren’t even skaters, that just caused a lot of trouble," he tells BarrieToday. "There really became a pretty bad stigma for the local skateboard scene that, in my opinion, still kind of stands today, depending on who you ask.”
When he opened his shop three years ago, Bokma says it was important to him to get involved in the community and work toward rectifying that reputation.
“When we opened, the skate scene was diminishing quite a bit," he says. "A lot of people didn’t really want to get their kids into skateboarding because of the perception of what the local skate culture was promoting.”
Helping improve that perception is one of the reasons he and fellow volunteers continue to show up week after week to share their skills with anyone wanting to learn.
“Skateboarding certainly brought me a lot of joy in life, so we saw it as an opportunity to bring that to other people," Bokma says.
Skateboarding can have a bit of a learning curve, and while there are plenty of YouTube videos available, nothing beats first-hand experience and in-person help from someone who has already mastered the art, he says.
“I find even a day's worth of instruction can help get kids over that little bump. It’s not always as easy as watching a video. A lot of the time, it takes direct interaction. … A YouTube video can’t really tell you you need to turn your feet or bend your knees a little bit more. It might say these things, and the person may think they’re doing it, but as you get nervous you tend to focus less on what you’re doing so it always helps having somebody who knows what they’re doing watch and give you some better instructions.”
While Bokma acknowledges they could make some pretty good bank if they charged for the lessons instead, making money was never the intent of the weekly lessons.
“For me growing up, skateboarding wasn’t what I would call a wealthy kid’s sport. It was that sport that appealed to the kid that was maybe more artistic or a little more secluded," he says. "I just don’t see (the lessons) as something people should have to pay for.
“Essentially, when you’re a kid, you get a skateboard for $150 or $200 and you’re set. It’s a very even playing field. You don’t need a boat and a wake or access to a snow hill. To me, it seemed like it was the right way to go about things.”
Bokma insists the program wouldn’t be possible without his crew of local volunteers.
“If it was just me out there, we wouldn’t stand a chance. If we didn’t have these guys and girls out there we wouldn’t have anything,” he says, adding they typically have anywhere from eight to 15 volunteers.
Due to the fact the lessons are outside, everything is, of course, weather-dependent.
“Last year, I think we got rained out of at least 60 per cent of our lessons,” he says, adding the drainage at the Park Street location isn’t the best, which means sometimes even heavy rain the night before can impact whether or not lessons will take place.
Anyone is welcome to come. All Bokma and his fellow volunteers ask is you bring a board and show up a few minutes before lessons are set to begin, as even being five minutes late can be a bit overwhelming for the kids.
“It’s better to be there right from the beginning. The kids don’t know each other and it’s a lot easier when you form these groups all at once and everyone sees they’re all on a level playing field,” he says. “It can be a bit intimidating, and a big part of what we’re trying to do is kill that intimidation that can exist for a newbie coming into the skate scene — especially the younger crowd.”
Parents are required to stay on site during lessons.
“It’s skateboarding, so it’s not uncommon to get some scrapes or bruises, but if someone were to get injured with everything going on these days, we just don’t have the ability to treat them," Bokma says.
Lessons take place each Sunday from 9 a.m. until noon at the Barrie Skate Park, next to the Barrie Armoury, weather permitting.