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.
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.
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."