Skateboarding can play an important role in keeping young people out of trouble – and social enterprise is well placed to lend a helping hand.

Skateboarding has been big business since the days of the Z-Boys in the late 1970s. Since then skating, and the board sports industry, has been commercially driven. In recent years social enterprises, charities and cultural organisations have begun to tap into the soul of skateboarding and use it as a force for social change.

Skateboarding, with its intoxicating mix of personal freedom and tribal belonging, offers a way for many young people to find confidence and happiness. Whether it is rallying together to save a beloved skate park from closure or helping a newbie learn a trick, I've always found the skate community to be one that looks after its own. I think that once a sense of community is instilled in young people it is possible to push it beyond the skate park fence and into the wider community.

Harnessing the passion and dedication that skaters have for their sport and feeding it into community projects has been tried and tested in the States by Danny Keith, former owner of one of the oldest skate shops in California, Santa Cruz. He is an active philanthropist who set up Grind Out Hunger and has recently opened a not-for-profit skate and surf shop in Santa Cruz.

Keith's mission started in 2003 when someone put a food donation barrel in his store and he was shocked and disappointed that no one donated. This incident inspired him to engage with the local community and encourage young people to help their peers.

Keith now uses his skate shop as a space for young people to get involved with their community – while doing something they love. He has managed to collect around $1m of food donations and has inspired scores of young skaters to make an impact on their own community. We’re planning to join forces on an event at some point soon.

Another amazing project, A.Skate, has a very different focus – reaching out to autistic children. An incredible film Heart Child documents the journey of Crys Worley and her son Sasha who is autistic. Crys set up A.Skate to help children like Sasha and their families to be a part of our social world through skateboarding.

I love the global approach taken by Skateistan – the group has introduced skating to Afghanistan, Cambodia and Pakistan. By creating the first skateboarding school in Kabul, they have managed to reach out to street kids and especially girls. They hope to empower the next generation, using skating as a hook to help build trust with kids who are struggling.

I came across XtraVert by chance when I moved to Cornwall. My love for skating goes back to childhood and the classic 80’s skate film Gleaming the Cube! I was so impressed by the way it used skating as a hook to engage kids who are Neet (not in education, employment, or training) and I knew I wanted to be part of it.

XtraVert is just one of many social enterprise ventures run by Real Ideas Organisation which works as a social enterprise by selling a range of services to schools; running training, qualifications and learning programmes paid for by a variety of sources including the Skills Funding Agency, schools and the Department for Work and Pensions; and offering products and services to the public, including veg boxes, conferences and events and weddings.

XtraVert has evolved over the years. When it started it was focused purely on training young people in Cornwall, not in education or training to learn new skills to help them get into college or jobs. The project was so successful that we employed three trainees from the programme as full time members of the team. One of them, Jack Latham-Byrne is a great example of how we can help young people. He struggled at school due to dyslexia and left with no qualifications and bleak hopes for the future. But he loved skating, heard about XtraVert, came along and learned carpentry skills through building skate ramps. Now he uses his specialist knowledge of skating and carpentry to create fantastic products for the skate industry.

We operate as a real business, making skate ramps to sell and hire for events and we’re looking to expand. We still support our local community through learning programmes for 16- to 19-year-olds which help our students enter college, employment or apprenticeships. We believe it will help improve their chances of finding work, or taking up education again.

We run skate camps too, covering all aspects of skating from teaching kids the basics to graphic design. It’s fantastic to see young people who have struggled with education and training and lacked confidence, dropping-in on our 3ft mini ramp by the end of the programme.

We’ve got high hopes for the future of XtraVert, and the power of board sports to engage young people across the world. We’re looking to build our own team of riders to raise our profile within the skate industry and encourage more skate brands to engage with not-for-profit. If we want to change the world, we have to start with children and young people, and we have to start with enough of them to make a difference.

Jenna Grassick is manager of XtraVert in Newquay, Cornwall.

The above article by Jenna Grassick first published on in 2013.