As Iowa skate culture swells, Skate DSM is giving away 500 skateboards and helmets to local kids

Skate DSM leads summer skate clinics for beginner skaters of all ages. — via Skate DSM on Facebook

Students pre-K through 8th grade can nab a free, brand-new skateboard and helmet through a new initiative from Skate DSM.

“One of the biggest goals of Skate DSM is to really get more kids on skateboards,” said organization president Norm Sterzenbach. “The Get on Board Project is literally getting more kids on skateboards.”

The Get on Board Project is a pilot program for 2022 giving out “high quality, entry level” skateboards and Pro-Tec helmets to students enrolled in a Polk, Dallas or Warren County school. Skate DSM made this project possible with financial donations and a partnership with Subsect Skateshop and their distributers.

When the project launched on March 11, Sterzenbach says Skate DSM didn’t know what to expect as a response from the community.

“We knew we had 500 skateboards. We knew we had 500 helmets. But we just didn’t know if 50 kids were going to apply, or if 1,000 kids were going to apply. Seems like we’re closer to 1,000,” Sterzenbach said with a giggle. “Which is great! [It] shows that there’s a lot of enthusiasm out there in the community for this.”

By March 28, Sterzenbach said they have received more than 800 applications — well over the amount of skateboards and helmets available, which means a lot of applications to consider and hard work for the judges.

“On the application one of the questions that we’re asking is ‘Why do you want to skateboard and how would you use it?’ So, we’re going to be looking at those responses as a part of the reason, [and] as a part of the eligibility for who can get it [a skateboard and helmet],” Sterzenbach said. “We want to make sure we are getting skateboards and helmets in the hands of kids that really have a passion for wanting to try to learn skateboarding.”

Skate DSM leads summer skate clinics for beginner skaters of all ages. — via Skate DSM on Facebook

Sterzenbach said he wants to eliminate the financial barrier of buying equipment for aspiring skaters.

“We want to have diversity in all respects in this. So, we want to have economic diversity; obviously we want to gear this more towards kids who may not be able to get a skateboard and helmet on their own.”

“But additionally, we want to have diversity across multiple demographics. So age, demographic location, economic status, gender and ethnicity. So, we’re going to hopefully be able to hand out skateboards to the entire community to kids of all ages.”

Another barrier that Skate DSM wants to knock down is access to skate education. For the past couple summers, the organization has hosted intro to skateboarding classes at Des Moines’ Lauridsen Skate Park, the biggest skate park in the U.S. as of May 2021.

“Our clinics throughout the summer are going to serve as skate lessons [or] an intro to skateboarding,” Sterzenbach explained. “Kids can come down to the park, meet some of our experienced skaters, learn the basics and fundamentals of skateboarding, meet other kids that are potentially their own age and skill level, and skate in a fun and safe environment.”

Skate DSM May clinic 2021 — Jami Milne

Amid a rapid growth in skaters and skating infrastructure in Iowa, Skate DSM wants to highlight the transformative potential of skateboarding (which made its Olympics debut in Tokyo last summer).

“Skateboarding is a unique activity because it combines extreme physical exertion with precise muscle coordination and balance. It’s a great activity for kids’ physical and mental health,” Skate DSM explains on their website. “Skateboarding also encourages kids to interact with one another and builds vital social and interpersonal skills. Skateboarding also teaches perseverance.”

Sterzenbach said he first gained a love for skateboarding in the ’80s, despite being small and not particularly athletic. At the time, he was actually into BMX riding. Once skateboarding began to enter popular culture, bike shops started to sell skateboards. He spent a lot of time in these shops and eventually became friends with skaters, and decided to try it out one day.

Norm Sterzenbach, president of Skate DSM

Back to the Future played a big role in” his interest as well, Sterzenbach admitted. “Being 10 years old and seeing Michael J. Fox on the skateboard, it just seemed cool at the time. So, it was sort of an inspiration, [and] something that made me want to try it.”

He continued, “It was a huge part of my early life. You don’t really realize it at the time, but it shaped a lot of who I am today from the experiences that I had, the friendships that I developed, confidence, creativity, [and] perseverance.”

He didn’t skateboard as often the older he got, but found his way back to his passion while helping to fundraise for the Lauridsen Skate Park, leading to the founding of Skate DSM in 2018.

“Since then, it’s been a passion project of mine to put Des Moines on the skateboarding map and really give our local skaters an opportunity to shine and showcase what they can do,” Sterzenbach said.

Lauridsen Skate Park — Alex Sveda

Conversations about building America’s biggest skatepark in Des Moines began more than 15 years ago.

“Des Moines is an up-and-coming and emerging city. We’ve had a vibrant skateboarding scene in this community for several decades. Yet the skate parks in the community just did not reflect other communities of our size and certainly other communities that have strong skateboarding communities,” Sterzenbach explained. “So, it was time that a skate park was built for the community. In fact, it is time that there are several skate parks that are built in this community of this size.”

After Lauridsen became a reality, Skate DSM realized there needed to be an entity that continued towards the growth and nurturing of the skateboarding community in Des Moines. So, they decided to stick together, go beyond just building a cutting-edge park, and got to planning on how to make the skateboarding community blossom.

Since the building of the park, the organization has been invited to teach afterschool programs and collaborate with nonprofit organizations. They may even help local school districts integrate skateboarding into P.E. curricula.

The Get on Board Project is still new, but “It’s been good so far,” Sterzenbach said. “We’ve gotten a lot of enthusiastic responses. It’s been, just about from every metric, from social media interest in the post that we posted about this program to the applications — I think it’s so far been a success.”

The application deadline to be considered for the first Get on Board program is April 22. Skateboards and helmets will be distributed to the selected applicants on May 6.

Students can still apply after April 22 to be considered for future distribution events. Those not selected for the first round of free skateboards and helmets are still eligible for future giveaways. They do not need to reapply.

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