By Aleksandra Bliszczyk
A Seymour youth initiative called Gnarly Neighbours is offering skateboarding lessons to children of all ages for free at Chittick Park.
The classes are volunteer-run by 26-year-old Jayden Sheridan, who grew up in Seymour.
He moved back to Seymour in 2019 when his son started school, after working in youth services with the YMCA in Melbourne for five years.
“It was just to give kids something to do,” Mr Sheridan said.
“There’s always something to learn. It’s not the easiest sport but everyone’s got their unique style and they’ve got the skate park in common.”
Mr Sheridan has been skateboarding for almost two decades, teaching children, running events, competitions and school programs as an adult.
Growing up in a regional town, Mr Sheridan said children could become especially bored and restless.
As a child in Seymour himself, skateboarding helped him form strong community bonds and develop social and life skills while keeping fit.
“The skate park was kind of like a second home because of that community,” he said.
“Always having that safe place and outlet to keep busy there are other distractions in small towns that kids can get caught up in and this provides an alternative.
“There’s so many life lessons to be learnt – it’s pretty cliche, but you fall and get back up again.”
Mr Sheridan said it was a hobby that children could take with them into adulthood, and a way for them to play and express themselves more than in some other physical activities.
“If you kick a football differently it won’t work as well, but if you do it differently on a skateboard, it’s cool and funky,” he said.
Mr Sheridan runs the sessions three days a week on a volunteer basis. The classes are free and everyone is welcome.
“Sometimes we have 20 to 30 kids in a session. I’ve had three-year-olds down there learning to skate, up to 17,” he said.
“When they’re in the program doing it with me, they’re sweethearts. I’ve learnt how to keep them all entertained and I just mix it up for the ones that are a bit older.”
He said the positive response from parents had been overwhelming, and many volunteer to help in an organisational capacity.
He is now looking to expand to provide different programs and get more children involved.
Mr Sheridan has launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for more boards and safety gear for children who can’t afford their own, or just want to try it out first, as well as equipment for fabric screen-printing and tie-dye workshops he has planned for this year.
He also hopes to buy a trailer with a skate ramp, so he can take the skate park on the road with him, running classes in schools across Mitchell Shire and in undercover venues when it’s raining.
In the campaign’s first two days it raised close to $3000 of a $10,000 goal, and although he said lockdown had been tough on many, he was grateful for the community support.
“All the parents are over the moon with what we’re doing and I feel like it’s really brought the community together,” he said.
To donate to Gnarly Neighbours, visit gofund.me/9ae14385.
Gnarly Neighbours runs all-genders sessions every Monday and Wednesday from 4pm to 5pm, and a girls-only session every Saturday from 10am 11am.
To join, email Jayden at email@example.com, or contact him via Gnarly Neighbours’ social media. Close-toed shoes and helmets are required, but skateboards can be provided.