Melanie Bartlett took her 5-year-old daughter, Basma Akabouche, to youth skate camp at West Philly's Skate the Foundry with no intention of getting on a board herself.

But when instructor Nancy Thi Pham saw Bartlett watching Akabouche, she encouraged Bartlett to try it.

Barlett, 40, realized skating was something she and Akabouche could do together but didn't know how to build her skills, so she approached Skate the Foundry founder and longtime skater Brett Williams to start a class for adults. Registration for the first class in August filled up so fast the Foundry now holds regular adult classes.

"I always wanted to skate," said Bartlett. "After skate camp, we were hooked."

Designed for skaters of varying skill levels, each lesson tackles different obstacles and is capped at 15 people per class to ensure maximum learning opportunity. The hour-long sessions are scheduled throughout the month, featuring lessons on different types of skating, from park skating to bowl skating, all geared toward rookie adults. 

Williams enjoys the community fostered by skating and is excited to see it expand to include people not traditionally thought of as skaters. With 20 years of boarding behind him, he notes that skateboarding has moved from being an activity for outcasts associated with heavy metal music and baggy pants to a sport in the mainstream, citing its addition to the 2020 Olympics.

Adult skateboarding students wait for their turn on the halfpipe at Skate the Foundry on 40th Street.
MAGGIE LOESCH / Staff Photographer
Adult skateboarding students wait for their turn on the halfpipe at Skate the Foundry on 40th Street.

Williams and Pham lead the sessions. They start by covering the basics like stance, balance, and falling. Yes, they teach falling. And you will fall. But Pham will teach you how to fall on your butt rather than your wrists or ankles, to avoid breaking them. Each class requires a helmet and kneepads; elbow pads and wrist guards are recommended. But don't let falling discourage you. You are a beginner, after all.

They move on to offering assistance when you're looking to increase speed or to have a go at the ramps. At the end of each session, you won't be ripping on the halfpipe or popping Ollies, but it is completely possible to go in as the biggest newbie and come out as someone comfortable riding a skateboard.

Nancy Thi Pham, 31, demonstrates how to fall without getting injured.
MAGGIE LOESCH / Staff Photographer
Nancy Thi Pham, 31, demonstrates how to fall without getting injured.

Tips before you go:

  • What should you wear? Pham and Williams agree there isn't a best type of shoe for skateboarding, and what people wear is a matter of preference. Pham, acknowledging that her choice may seem basic, finds herself back in a pair of Vans every time she tries something new. She credits their flexibly, comfort when breaking them in, and soft soles for what keeps her wearing them. The design of the bottom of the shoe allows Pham to feel the board underneath her feet, which she says helps her keep control. Williams prefers a thicker and stiffer surface between him and the board and recommends mid-top shoes for ankle protection.
  • As a beginner, you may not be interested in buying a board just yet, and that's OK. For the class, Skate the Foundry lends skateboards on a first come, first served basis, and you can reserve one online for $1. But keep in mind, it won't be as tailor-made to you as a new board.
  • If you're going to buy a board for this class, you have a few options. You can go to a skate shop like South Street's Nocturnal Skateshop and invest in a board that will set you back roughly $150 to $180. With the price tag come custom fitting and quality. If you are unsure you will ever ride again, there are cheaper alternatives at places like Walmart and Amazon, but you probably won't get the quality of a skate shop purchase.
  • Whether you're buying or borrowing, try to jump on the board you're using at least a few times before class to make the lesson more fulfilling. When Maya Nojechowicz saw Skate the Foundry's ad on Facebook, she started her lesson. She spent the two weeks leading up to the official workshop watching YouTube videos for skateboarding beginners and put her equipment to use in a parking lot a few times. Before it was time to put her board up, Nojechowicz had successfully turned on the halfpipe and acknowledged that without that prep she would have been more afraid to push herself.
  • After the class, take what you learn to a new space. You're learning the basics, but you can put them to use anywhere. If you're still looking to learn or get more guided practice, you can register for another adult class — the Foundry is starting adult beginner II classes — to use it as a building block. The idea is that with every class you'll get a little more comfortable or try something new.

Skateboarding is all about confidence. Throughout my session, I was encouraged to just go for it and do what feels natural. I was also reminded that if my ride got too wild, I could just step off the board with my back foot. Easier said than done, but simply hopping off when you feel out of control can save you from a gnarly fall. Trusting myself and slightly giving in to those little out-of-control moments was when the real learning happened. Jesse Clayton, who spends nine months out of the year traveling to build skate parks for his company, 5th Pocket Skatepark, was helping out with the first Saturday morning lesson and offered a few words: "When you feel vulnerable, you're on the brink of something cool."

The next beginners class is Saturday, Oct. 13 at Skate the Foundry, 894 N 40th St. For more information and class schedules call 215-954-0750 or go to www.skatethefoundry.com