Rylan Aaseby began skateboarding when he was ten years old. At the age of 16, he participated in a City Council meeting to design a local skatepark near his hometown of Breckenridge, MN. He spent much of his time in high school skating at the park that he himself helped to design.
Now, a gentle, soft-spoken 29 year old father of four, Aaseby doesn’t fit the skateboarder stereotype at first glance. By day, he teaches “The Psalms” at the Institute for Global Outreach Developments Int’l, Hebrew class at G.O.D. Elementary School, and works forty hours a week as a handyman. Yet after work each day, he can often be found outside skateboarding, his three daughters trailing behind on their bikes.
During the last few months, Aaseby has combined his aptitude for skateboarding with his capacity for building in order to benefit young people through constructing a skatepark for the Hopewell neighborhood, where the G.O.D. Int’l headquarters is based. The skatepark, which sits on a designated section of the basketball courts, was funded by G.O.D. Int’l and generous supporters, and will be finished this month. Labor for construction was donated by Music City Handymen (Aaseby’s employer). The finished skatepark will contain a quarter pipe and 12-foot wide bank ramp on each end, a 12’ long ledge with a fly-box next to it and a manual pad. While this might sound like gibberish to those of us who know nothing about skateboarding, when Aaseby talks about it, his eyes light up with the possibilities this venue could produce.
Aaseby’s enthusiasm for the skatepark is not only rooted in his history with skateboarding, but in his desire to participate in the efforts of G.O.D. Int’l to be a transformative presence in the Hopewell neighborhood. When G.O.D. relocated its headquarters to Hopewell five years ago, the neighborhood was anything but a safe place for young people. It was rare to see young people recreating outside. If they were outside, it often involved simply “hanging out” or even rough play. The kids were aware of the drug activity in the neighborhood, and it affected their interactions to an unhealthy degree. But as a police officer recently mentioned to our receptionist, “It’s as though a switch was flipped when you all moved in. Hopewell’s quite a nice little neighborhood now. We hardly ever come out on calls here anymore.”
We attribute this shift in Hopewell to God’s presence, and also to our intentional work to create a neighborhood that is safe, secure, and even fun. In keeping with the words of the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah, we understand that the people of God should seek the well being of the location where they find themselves, and in doing so they will find their own well being (29:7). The construction of the skate park is one of many efforts to be a positive presence here. Young people now have access to affordable summer camps, after-school literacy programs, opportunities to attend music concerts, stage productions and poetry nights, and the freedom to spend time in the community garden or utilizing the renovated basketball court. They can access all of these options right here in our neighborhood!
Aaseby knows that he’s not the only one in the area who is interested in offering such a venue to young people. While skating near his house, Aaseby developed a rapport with his neighbor JP Thompson, a BMX biker. Their connection led to Thompson collaborating as co-designer on the proposal for the skatepark. Thompson reflects, “This is a good thing for the community. Hopefully, it will keep kids out of trouble and motivate them to want to do something productive in life.” Thompson grew up in Hopewell, and he’s quick to testify to what a rough neighborhood it used to be. Unlike many of his neighbors, Thompson believes he stayed out of trouble because he had something to occupy his time: learning tricks on his BMX bike.
Aaseby explains how the skatepark can offer a new option for kids like Thompson. “Right now, [young people] are just wandering the streets, but this way, they can have a place to go. They can learn skateboarding, and not be persuaded by an unhealthy skate culture.” Aaseby is adamant that the park will not become a place for youth to loiter, smoke, or get into trouble. It will be located in a central part of the neighborhood, which will invite participation and promote safety. Appropriate signage encouraging proper safety precautions and adequate equipment will be a part of the skatepark’s construction. “I have hopes of being able to do ‘best trick competitions,’ or ‘best run competitions,’ ‘biggest air’… Little things like that will encourage enthusiasm but also get people out there skating together, learning each other’s stories and building good relationships.”
Since the construction of the skatepark began, young boys are suddenly emerging, with skateboards in tow–most of whom neighbors have never seen out of doors. Skateparks like this one provide a safe place for young people to find recreation. Though skateboarding is sometimes perceived to be a high-risk sport, many people don’t realize that the majority of serious accidents related to skateboarding also involve motor vehicles. A skatepark is a safe alternative for kids who would otherwise be skating on the streets. Skateparks offer protection from traffic, centralized public attention, and lighting at night.
In America, where more than one third of youth are estimated to be overweight or obese, a skatepark is a great way to motivate physical activity.(1) Many P.E. teachers across the nation are introducing skateboarding into their curriculum because they recognize its appeal to young people, specifically those who are less inclined to participate in organized competitive sports. (Sources: USAToday, ESPN).
Aaseby designed the skate park at lower heights and safer angles than others in the Nashville area. The nearest skate park is ten miles away from Hopewell, and thus largely inaccessible to the many young people whose parents work a majority of the day. His intention with this particular design was to encourage the participation of younger children, while also ensuring their safety.
Physically, skateboarding strengthens bones, muscles balance and coordination. Socially, it necessitates mutual respect and networking abilities. Participation is very low-cost, making it accessible to everyone. Hand-me-down equipment is easy to find, and even a new skateboard can be purchased for around $30 and last for several years. The hardest thing to find is a safe place to do it. We are happy to provide that place.
Written by Sara Davis
(1) Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years. In 2012, more than one third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese.
Ogden CL, Carroll MD, Kit BK, Flegal KM. Prevalence of childhood and adult obesity in the United States, 2011-2012. Journal of the American Medical Association2014;311(8):806-814.
National Center for Health Statistics. Health, United States, 2011: With Special Features on Socioeconomic Status and Health. Hyattsville, MD; U.S. Department of Health and Human