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SKATEYOGI Teaches Rippers Young and Old to Face Their Fears

Skateboarding’s scary. If you want to do it, you’re going to fall, no matter your age or skill level. Young and old, beginner or pro. Life’s a bit like that too. And in both skating and life, it’s best if we can learn to work through our fears, to act, and eventually to create. Those things—along with basic skills like pushing, tick-tacks, and dropping in—are what Kevin Banahan and his partner Yasuyo Takeo teach at SKATEYOGI in Brooklyn’s Prospect Lefferts Gardens neighborhood. To step inside their world and get some insight on how to be fearless ourselves, O.N.S recently stopped by their shop and indoor skatepark to chat.

Can you tell us how you started SKATEYOGI and what it is exactly?

It all started off as an adult beginner skateboarding class I taught through Urban Asanas, a yoga studio in Crown Heights, back in 2013. I had just lost a job in the corporate world where I was clearly not a good fit. I was encouraged by my partner Yasuyo to try combining my passions for teaching and skateboarding. After a yoga class one day, we mentioned this idea to Urban Asanas founder Jyll, who invited me to begin teaching a skateboarding class for her community of yogis in nearby Brower Park. What I started to realize is how many similarities there are between yoga and skateboarding. Both are moving meditations that require focus, balance, and constant practice. After these early classes, I came up with the name SKATEYOGI to represent our approach to skateboarding as a non-competitive form of self expression. I wanted to welcome everyone to come and experience skateboarding in an ego-free environment. Slowly and steadily, more classes were added including different programs for kids. We now have our own indoor skate space and shop in Brooklyn and offer classes, after school and summer camp programs for students of all ages.

Skateboarding is so unique because anyone who tries it is guaranteed to fall, and that’s scary. How do you and your team deal with teaching kids about fear and standing up to it?

The first thing we do is let everyone know that it is totally fine to fall. A lot of times the kids aren’t afraid of hurting themselves—they’re afraid of failure. We flip that on them by celebrating the falls with cheering and clapping. When a kid looks up from a fall and sees a teacher giving them positive encouragement for their effort, that gives them confidence to keep trying for themselves, not worrying about what others are thinking. We then help guide the students towards small victories so they can experience incremental achievements as they get comfortable with skateboarding.

Do you see any corollaries there with taking the jump to start your own business? That must be scary too!

Absolutely! We could never have guessed all the things we would need to know to run a business. At some point you have to jump in and learn as you go. Again, the trick is to embrace small failures and challenges as opportunities to learn. I remember as a teenage skateboarder, I really wanted to slide down a handrail. I learned every component of the trick, including boardsliding a flat bar and jumping down steps. I practiced all the different parts enough that I knew I could put it together. At that point it’s a mental game of overcoming the fear of failure. One day after gathering the courage, I gave it a few attempts and then really went for it—I barely slid the end of the rail, but I rolled away in sheer joy. This is exactly what it felt like signing the lease on our storefront. We had a good idea from our first few years of classes and programs that there was enough interest to make it work, but at some point we had to take a leap and go for it.

Do you supplement your skate schools with other creative things, like making art?

When the kids aren’t skating the ramps, they take breaks in our front area where we have lots of art supplies. Skateboarding has such a rich tradition of creativity so it lends itself well to projects like grip tape decoration, sticker art, and journaling. I’ve even had students show me school writing assignments that they’ve done on the topic of skateboarding.

I know you also teach adults to skate and improve their skating. How is that different from teaching younger people?

Teaching adults to skate is awesome. They all really want to be there and for some it’s something they’ve wanted to do for a long time. Just like a kids’ class, we do a circle time with introductions and pretty quickly a small group of strangers are smiling, laughing, and cheering each other on. With adults, I do a lot more explanation of steps. While a kid might just try something they don’t understand, an adult student typically does better with smaller steps that add up to more complex moves. Sometimes kids get frustrated when they can’t do tricks right away. On the other hand, I’ve seen a lot of adult students surprise themselves with how well they can learn because they didn’t have high expectations.

Outside of skating, what keeps you motivated? Are there any books, magazines, or musicians that help?

My main source of motivation is my 8-year-old daughter. Her playfulness and curiosity inspire me to keep a fresh perspective. She also keeps me current on all the elementary school trends and topics, which help me understand my students better. Watching her play Minecraft reminded me of how kids love building things. We make that a part of our program with different ramp setups that are easy to build and reconfigure.

What would you say to someone who wants to learn to skate but is afraid?

Learn at your own pace. It’s better to take it slow and get comfortable than to jump ahead and hurt yourself doing something preventable. In our basics classes, we start with how to step on and off your board and repeat that until students are confident enough to push a little to move forward. In order to take the edge off, we also practice some simulated falling and jumping off the board in a safe environment.

Finally, what’s the best part about skateboarding to you and getting to make it your job?

For me, the best part of skateboarding is the time in between. It’s like that saying “It’s about the journey, not the destination.” You throw your board down, cruising through the sidewalks and streets. You’re in the flow and open to any number of new experiences—the people you meet along the way and the feeling of being right in the moment. I could honestly say most of the friends I’ve made in my life have been through skateboarding, even my partner, Yasuyo, who I met while skating to a friend’s house. Now this carries over into my work at SKATEYOGI, sharing these moments with all the students, parents, and everyone else we have the honor of spending time with. And I get to give high fives all day long.

To learn more about SKATEYOGI, check out their website here. 

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