Rob Skate Ferguson leads a skateboard education revolution.
There’s a saying that skateboarders are made, not born. OK, no one actually ever said that, but maybe they should. The reason? Learning to skate, just like many other sports, is now something for which you can take lessons.
In the East Bay, one of the leaders of this skateboard education revolution is Rob Ferguson, the man behind the Rob Skate Skateboard Academy. A lifelong skater, Ferguson, who goes by “Skate,” has run his academy for 10 years. It teaches skateboarding to beginners, advanced skaters, and everyone in between in a private indoor skate park across from the West Oakland BART station. The academy also holds weekend overnight camps throughout Northern California and puts an emphasis on teaching “mindfulness skateboarding.”
Paul Kilduff: What is mindfulness skateboarding?
Rob Skate: We focus a lot on social/emotional awareness. And so the mindfulness really comes out of all the things that you’ve learned and that you’re going to be obtaining while you’re within our program. So it’s more than just skateboarding. We put lots of vocalization into it, so we are really verbal, and we have everybody reflect as we’re going through a lot of our skating. So a lot of stuff that really comes out is grit and growth mindset, self-management, social awareness, self-efficiency, learning strategies, which often relates to classroom effort.
PK: There aren’t skateboard classes offered in PE classs. This is where you come in, right?
RS: That’s where we come in. There are quite a few schools that are talking about embedding it within their PE. We’re working pretty hard to create a curriculum and work closely with schools to start building that out, see what that would look like.
PK: So schools are going to start having teams and compete?
RS: That’s what we’re trying to work out right now. This year is just really laying out all the groundwork. We’re talking with PAL, the Police Athletic League, so they could be like the housers of it.
PK: Skateboarding’s become so mainstream — does that in any way take away from its appeal? I’ve always thought of skateboarding as a rebellious thing.
RS: It absolutely does have that image. A lot of the core skaters absolutely hate the fact that it’s going to be in the Olympics. A lot of my peers will never be for it. They keep themselves separate. They don’t like the fact that a lot of people are starting to dress like how they’re dressing, how they’ve become a trend. Because growing up, we’ve all used skateboarding as our art form to kind of show what we’re about. Even though we didn’t fall into the social norms, we were still going to represent us because we believe in what we’re doing. And now that everyone is about that, it’s really discomforting for a lot of the older generation.
PK: It sounds like you’re fine with it though.
RS: Yes. My biggest goal is to employ as many skaters as possible and keep as many skaters within the skate culture making a living to where they don’t have to go outside and do something that they don’t want to do.
PK: You know what they say about motorcyclists, right? There are two kinds of motorcyclists: Those that have been down and those that are going down. Does that apply to skateboarding?
RS: Well, everybody has their falls. To give a perspective, when I was growing up skating and a lot of my peers who didn’t have individuals to teach them how to skateboard, we all had major injuries. Lots of bones broken, fractures, whatever. Now in this generation with all the camps that are out there … I’m just going to talk on my program. For the 10 years we’ve been in business, we have never had a kid with a serious injury. No breaks, no fractures.
PK: What about your injuries?
RS: I’ve had a broken ankle. Fractured hip. Broke both my wrists, same time. I’ve had a fractured collarbone — that was probably the most painful one actually.
PK: Why are kids not getting injured today?
RS: First and foremost is the accessibility of technology and just videos online. When I was growing up, I had to pop in a VHS and rewind it to try to see how they did it. You know like push play, pause, play, pause, play, pause. Now with YouTube and all the different outlets, they have a step by step on everything they want to learn. For those that actually do have coaches, a lot of the teaching places are very hands on. And that allows that extra level of comfort, and it builds confidence, and once you build that confidence within yourself, it changes everything. Skateboarding is 90 percent confidence.
PK: Did you wear protective gear when you were starting out?
PK: Do you wish you did?
RS: Yes, I do.
PK: On the X Games you see these guys going so far up in the air. I mean, I can’t believe some of that stuff that they’re doing.
RS: Big air? 30 feet, 40 feet.
PK: Yeah. If kids come to you and say, “Hey, that’s what I want to do,” how do you deal with their parents? I’m assuming some kids are going to be able to do that, but that’s a pretty small percentage, right?
RS: There gets to a point with any kid that I work with and is training directly under me where I have to sit down with the parents and the child and we have to have that conversation. “Hey, look, your child has progressed to this level, and if they want to compete, and if they want to take it to the next level, these are the risks that are going to be involved, and these are the risks that are going to be taken.” So it’s a very serious conversation.
PK: Any of your students competing at that level?
RS: I’ve had quite a few. This year I’ve had two of my students go pro. The most recent is a kid; well, he’s an adult now. His name is Ducky. That’s what we call him, but his name is Zach Kovacs. And then our runner-up, who we’re waiting to go pro next, is actually a little kid. He’s only 11, and his name is Matty Jessee. I’ve been teaching him since he was 3.
PK: A 3-year-old skateboarding?
RS: I start at 2½.
PK: The U.S. Olympic skateboarding team, are they going to wear uniforms?
RS: I’m pretty sure they will be. And that is something that a lot of skaters are anti. We’re definitely anti-uniform.
PK: Have you legally changed your last name to Skate?
RS: No, I have not.
PK: Any plans to do that?
RS: It’s in consideration. I’ve been asked that a lot.
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Astrological Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Eden Hospital, Castro Valley
Motto: “Don’t think. Just do”
Book on nightstand: The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love by bell hooks
Favorite curse word: Flippity-flop? It’s very rare I curse. I just make up words or sounds!