The Venice Beach Skate Park may have showcased the gamut of skateboarding tricks but it has not seen wheels ride quite like these before.
Situated on the sand in an area that revolutionized skateboarding, the Dennis “Polar Bear” Agnew Skate Park in Venice has drawn local skaters and those from far away who hope to show off their tricks or improve their skills on one of the only beachfront skate facilities in the nation.
Though most have used a skateboard as their method of riding since the park opened last year, the plaza recently hosted a style not usually displayed — wheelchair skating. Professional wheelchair skaters Christiaan Bailey and Aaron Fotheringham were among the latest group of riders who came to see what the popular Venice facility has to offer at an event Friday, March 5th.
While Fotheringham, who successfully landed the first wheelchair back-flip in history, and Bailey have received acclaim for their skating feats, they visited Venice for a more important cause. As part of an event organized by the Life Rolls On foundation, Bailey, Fotheringham and other instructors came to work with quadriplegics and paraplegics who aspire to learn how to skate despite their disability.
Called “They Will Skate Again,” the event is based on other programs that the foundation holds for surfing and snowboarding and is meant to empower the disabled with the opportunity to skate adaptively.
“These events are to allow people to get back into the sports that they love,” said Jesse Billauer, director of national outreach for Life Rolls On.
“It’s to open up their mind, let them feel a bit of independence and freedom, and to let them do what they love. It’s great to open up new doors for people.”
Life Rolls On, a division of the Christopher & Diana Reeve Foundation, works to improve the quality of life for young people affected by spinal cord injury and utilizes action sports as a platform to inspire unlimited possibilities despite paralysis.
Billauer explained that the name of the foundation speaks to its primary mission: to inspire the paralyzed to “get out there and be active.”
Life Rolls On spokeswoman Kris Nakamura said the Venice event was the first that the organization has held for skating, and while surfing programs are limited to the coasts, the foundation hopes to take its skating events across the country.
“We’re thrilled about this event here in Venice, where skating was born practically. We couldn’t have asked for a better location,” she said.
The various Life Rolls On programs are intended to rally the spinal cord injury community into believing in possibilities, Nakamura noted.
“It’s really to push the possibilities and give people hope, letting them know that ‘life rolls on’ after a spinal injury,” she said.
The March 5th event included eight people who wanted to learn how to chair skate and four participants with limited mobility who were coached on standing on a skateboard. In addition to Bailey and Fotheringham, who served as guest coaches, the participants got tips from instructors including Venice professional skater Jesse Martinez, original Z-Boys member Jim Muir and Ezekiel team rider Derek Fukuhara.
Bailey, originally a professional surfer who became paralyzed four years ago in a skateboarding accident, works as an ambassador for Life Rolls On and praised its efforts in helping people conquer their personal goals. He said it was a personal goal that motivated him to get back to the sports he loves after suffering the injury, and he wanted to convey the same message to the youths in Venice.
“If you allow your injury to get to you, you’ll just be depressed. You’ve got to do what you love no matter what,” Bailey said.
Muir, a skating pioneer with the Z-Boys of Dogtown, sustained a spinal cord injury in a surfing accident and said he is blessed to have most of his mobility back to allow him to pursue new opportunities. He credited “They Will Skate Again” with giving aspiring skaters confidence and a chance to take part in a new experience.
“(The foundation) helps people to progress in life despite their disability and to find new opportunities,” Muir said.
One participant who was seeking a new challenge was 19-year-old Jose Mendoza of Bakersfield, who said he had not skated prior to his injury three years ago but was “really enthused” about giving it a try. He added that he was inspired by how far his coach Bailey has come as a disabled athlete, which shows that those in wheelchairs can still reach high.
Tiffany Giddes, 28, of Beverly Hills, was also learning to skate for the first time since her injury nine years ago and said she has never let her condition stand in the way of her dreams.
“I won’t let it slow me down. If anything, me being in a chair has pushed me to do the things I wanted to do,” said Giddes, noting that she moved to California from Florida for new opportunities.
The proof that these youngsters see themselves as anything but limited could be found in their smiles as they performed their first wheelchair turnaround on one wheel with the ocean in the background and their instructors cheering them on.
Professional skater Fotheringham, who has been in a wheelchair throughout his life, said he has always considered the wheelchair as a tool of opportunity rather than a limitation, stressing the message that the “chair doesn’t own you.”
“What I’d like to teach them is to have fun with what they have and to not think of being ‘in’ a wheelchair, think of being ‘on’ a wheelchair,” Fotheringham said.