Astrip of wood fastened onto wheels is sport for some and transportation for others, but those who combine skateboarding with Christian teaching claim it can also serve as a vehicle for evangelism.
"Christ met physical needs," 43-year-old skateboarder Tom Fain says. "When He healed [people], it was for a physical need. But in that moment, He was able to speak to them in a spiritual aspect. That's what we're doing, using a physical thing to draw them in."
Mr. Fain, a youth pastor at Ventura First Assembly of God in California, uses his skateboarding skills to teach teens across America. After performing a series of "old school" skateboarding stunts, many of which incorporate handstands, Mr. Fain tells how he moved from professional skateboarder at age 16 to alcoholic, criminal, and drug abuser two years later: "I looked in a mirror and hated the person I had become. I prayed, 'God if You're real, end my life tonight.' What I wanted Him to do was let me die. I wanted to go to sleep and not wake up again."
Mr. Fain did wake up the next morning, but something had changed: He no longer wanted to drink and use drugs. "It was a miracle," he says. Today, Mr. Fain speaks to skateboarding groups that range in size from a few hundred to a few thousand. In one rural Alabama town, 500 kids showed up at a church parking lot to see him perform.
Some younger Christian skateboarders now form evangelistic demo teams. Tyler Johnson, 17, performs "freestyle" skateboarding, travels with a New York group called Saved Skaters, and hopes to "correctly portray the Lord and teach His Word." Others, like Diane Desiderio, prefer skating with groups that aren't overtly Christian, but still show their difference from standard fare. She skates with her husband Primo and states, "We're not into bad graphics. We would not ride for a company or wear their shirts if they displayed anything against God."
Such decisions may sound trivial, but to skateboarders those choices are significant. "Skateboard design is a very large discussion topic at skateboard parks," said Jonathan Tenkely, art director for a Colorado-based company called 490 Skateboards (named after Christ's call to forgive 70 times 7). He notes that some skateboard designs are essentially soft-core pornography and others say, "Attack a police officer" or "Throw your board at a police officer," but his company's proclaim "The 490 Skater Dude!" or "Grind the devil off your deck and out of your life!"
Mr. Tenkely says, "We want to bring the light of Christ through a message that's not in your face, but that [kids] and their parents can be proud of." Skateboarders from Calvary Chapel in La Habra, Calif., take a similar approach, operating a "Shine Shop" that sells skateboards and athletic gear with Christian messages. According to Jason Stead, missions pastor, the shop has led to church-planting opportunities through skateboarding demonstrations in Mexico and Japan, and Shine Shops now exist there.
Glen Caulkins, a former three-time national snowboarding champion, is working to change the skateboarding culture by founding the Young Skaters Christian Association. He contends that "unsupervised public skate parks are often filled with a hard-core group . . . cursing, pierced, and tattooed"-so he hopes that churches will build and supervise skate parks.
Mr. Fain hopes more churches will see the need to evangelize skateboarders: "Young people are searching, but they have so many things coming at them. They're really searching for truth."