Your Kids

Rolling along: Skateworks provides an outlet and place of acceptance

Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Skateworks’ Kevin Paya guides a student on a skateboarding ramp during a lesson last week at Grant Park.

Jason Strubing has a suggestion for Los Altos youth who have no interest in traditional sports like baseball and football – try picking up a skateboard.

Strubing – who owns and operates Skateworks at 379 State St. in downtown Los Altos – said the sport is an ideal outlet for all ages.

“It’s not a team sport, but rather more of a brotherhood sport,” said the Boulder Creek native, whose family started Skateworks in 1988. “You can pretty much go to any skate park and immediately make friends.”

Strubing believes that skateboarding’s ability to embrace individualism while fostering an atmosphere of acceptance for all walks of life is overlooked.

“There are no rules or anything like organized sports,” Skateworks employee Kevin Paya said. “You can do it by yourself, you can do it anywhere and it’s relatively cheap, too. … I don’t think any other sport taps into a person’s creative side like skateboarding does.”

Strubing said his struggles fitting in as a kid inspired his family to open the first Skateworks shop in Boulder Creek. The father of three distinctly recalls feeling out of place when he and his brothers entered local skateboard shops in Santa Cruz as teens. It was an experience he didn’t want to replicate with his own business.

“We were skate rats, but the environment (at the local skate shop) was so intimidating for a kid. It just wasn’t very accepting,” Strubing said. “Eventually, it basically came down to, ‘We should open our own shop, where you check your attitude at the door. This is an accepting place.’”

Rolling in the right direction

Strubing said the sport continues to gain popularity in Los Altos. Shortly after opening his State Street store in 2011, Strubing recalled seeing a small group of children enter his shop “mesmerized” by the idea of skateboarding. He quickly learned that the kids viewed Skateworks as a place they could call their own in downtown Los Altos.

“They’d come and hang out for two or three hours a day,” he said. “I’d ask them what they did before this and the answer was, ‘We hung out in the Walgreens parking lot.’”

A little more than a year ago the store expanded its efforts to promote skateboarding, offering private lessons and group classes through a partnership with the Los Altos Recreation Department. On any given day in downtown Los Altos, Paya can be found skateboarding with a handful of kids decked out in helmets and pads trailing close behind.

“I’m a huge celebrity – if you’re under the age of 12,” quipped Paya, 26.

The lessons have resulted in early positive reviews.

Los Altos resident Angie Harrison said she enrolled her 9-year-old son, Ryan, in lessons with Paya through the city as an alternative to other sports he enjoys, such as baseball, tennis and skiing. She also encouraged her son to take up skateboarding for a more practical reason – transportation.

“The kids usually walk or ride a bike in my neighborhood,” she said. “I thought maybe skateboarding would be a good way for him to get to school.”

Los Altos resident Setsuko Sato said she enrolled sons Masa, 6, and Tomo, 9, in skateboarding lessons because the sport meant so much to her brother growing up in Los Angeles during the 1970s. She credited Paya’s ability to connect with kids and his emphasis on safety as reasons his lessons are a popular choice among Los Altos parents.

“They just love Kevin – he’s really laid back,” Sato said of her sons. “He really knows how to push them past their comfort level but still keep it safe.”

“I didn’t realize until I started doing this that I was good with kids,” Paya said. “I just talk to them the same way I would with Jason or anyone else. I genuinely feel there hasn’t been a kid who wasn’t totally stoked after his or her first lesson.”

Just like mom and dad

Strubing believes that stereotypes of skateboarders no longer apply, in part because of a new generation of parents who grew up with the sport. He added that skateboarding has gained interest locally and on a national level thanks to televised events such as the X Games.

“I think it is generational,” Strubing said. “I’m 42, so I’m really a part of that first generation of parents who were self-professed skaters.”

Paya agreed, adding that he believes the sport – for competitive reasons and otherwise – will continue its upward climb in popularity with local youth.

“There used to be that preconceived notion that skaters had mohawks and spray-painted graffiti all over the place,” Paya said. “But really, it’s just like any other sport.”

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Skateboard class at Grant Park - Photos by Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier

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