Shred Francisco: building community and fitness through skateboarding

Organization: Shred Francisco
Author: Diptesh Soni

Diptesh Soni: My story

My name is Diptesh Soni, but the kids call me Mr. Diptesh. I’m an Americorps member currently working at the Mission Dolores School in the heart of San Francisco’s predominantly Hispanic neighborhood. I spend most of my time assisting teachers in the class and tutoring kids. When I’m not doing that I’m working on getting Shred Francisco – Mission Dolores’ after-school skateboarding and arts camp – off the ground.

I grew up all over the place. I was born in Durban, South Africa and spent much of my childhood moving between South Africa and England. My family and I eventually moved to Mystic, Connecticut when I was 12.

That’s when I started skateboarding.

To be perfectly honest, the main reason I started skating was to be cool. No joke. While my middle school buddies were all pretty nice, it wasn’t much fun being the foreign kid in the post-9/11 era. They all found my British accent hilarious and my sister and I were pretty much the only Indian kids in the whole school.

Skateboarding became my solace. It provided me with a competitive way of being accepted by my peers. Not to mention that it was a much better alternative to vegging out in front of the TV playing video games in my free time.

How Shred Francisco began

I was reminded of this on my first day at Mission Dolores. As I walked out to the playground after school, with my skateboard in hand, I was quickly approached by a group of apprehensive 7th graders. They all loved skating, but some of their parents didn’t approve of the hobby, and some of them just plain couldn’t afford it.

It was a pity. Skating, a physical activity I had come to know and love so much over the last ten years, was being limited by the misunderstanding of an older generation and a lack of money. It had allowed me to make friends, it had given me endless hours of fun, and it had turned into my main mode of transportation. Why couldn’t these kids experience the same rewards?

It was with this in mind that I started Shred Francisco. I wanted to bring the joys and benefits of skateboarding to a new set of people. This was a way of bringing a community together through both physical fitness and art, and I wanted to dispel the idea that skating was just a pastime of hoodlums and misfits – to prove that it can be creative, constructive, and relatively cheap.

Challenges and successes along the road

So far we’ve been having a great time. The first half of the program consists of a board-painting workshop in which kids plan out their own skateboard design and eventually paint it on their brand new decks. We’ve been able to solicit help from local artists throughout the process and many people – parents, teachers, and children, among others, have been very receptive to the idea.

The biggest problem has been, predictably: money. While skateboarding started off as a cheap diversion for disenfranchised California youths, commercialism has brought it to the world stage and made it a profitable and expensive enterprise. A good quality complete skateboard can cost anywhere between $100 and $200, not including pads, helmets, shoes, ramps, rails and other accessories.

These costs are just not practical for most of the families at Mission Dolores. That’s why the next step is to hold fundraisers and gather donations so that by the time spring semester rolls around we’ll have enough money to get the kids on some wheels, cruising down the asphalt and shredding the gnar!

Not only do we plan to have a mini skatepark set up in the school playground mid-way through next semester, I hope to make the program a transportable model that can be implemented in other locations, including developing countries.

Our vision for the future

In many ways, skateboarding combines positive qualities of American culture and society that can be usefully applied in other parts of the world. Through the process, children learn a diverse array of skills – from painting and fundraising, to the use of digital media and new modes of communications to promote a cause they feel passionate about.

International outreach programs such as the Rhythm Road – a State Department-funded jazz exchange project – and Skateistan – a skateboard and arts camp in Kabul – prove that aspects of American society once considered marginal and dangerous can be used as powerful tools for cross-cultural interaction and global change at large. By engaging, educating, and empowering the youth of today I hope Shred Francisco can do the same.

Want to support Diptesh’s work?

To learn more about Shred Francisco and how you can help, check out their blog and consider making a tax-deductible donation.

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