Skateboarders hone ABCs of leaps, landings and life

From skateboarding basics, like turning and stopping, to jumps, flips and other more complex board tricks, the two-week summer skateboarding camps currently in full swing at UC Berkeley’s Clark Kerr campus teach young boarders all about the fundamentals of the sport.

Beyond those hard skills that will be put to good use when they venture to their local skate park, campers will likely also take away some softer life skills that should serve them well in the world at large and the years ahead.

Sean O'Loughlin

Skate camp director O’Loughlin emphasizes respect and responsibility as much as board skills and safety.

“There are a lot of skate camps out there but we are one of the few that actually teaches kids how to skateboard and how to do it safely,” says Sean O’Loughlin, skate camp director for Berkeley’s Department of Recreational Sports. “Awareness. Balance. Compression. That’s the unifying theme that relates to the board, your body and surroundings, and underpins everything we teach.”

Dressed in quintessential skatepark baseball cap, T-shirt, baggy pants and kicks, and sporting his fair share of tattoos, O’Loughlin embraces individual expression and respect for others as the route to happiness in life.

“Etiquette plays a huge part in how the skateboarding community works in much the same way that how you interact with others is important in all areas of life,” O’Loughlin says.

The Central Valley native worked closely with Jennifer Selke, a Berkeley-trained educational psychologist and director of the Cal Youth Camps program, to develop a one-of-a-kind summer program that combines tailored skateboarding instruction with social-emotional learning.

“We incorporate a lot of social-skills lessons into our skateboarding instruction, so while we’re teaching kids how to skate we’re also talking about things like self-awareness, managing emotions, cooperating with others, dealing with problems.”

Up and running since 2000, the skate camps, which cater to 8- to 16-year-olds and can accommodate skill levels from beginner to advanced, are offered in two-week sessions, mornings and afternoons, from June through August.

The skateboard enclosure at Clark Kerr features a range of ramps and street obstacles of varying designs and heights, including a 13-foot vertical U-ramp suitable for expert boarders.

UC Berkeley’s summer skateboard camp, which caters to 8- to 16-year-olds, runs from June through August at Clark Kerr.

Beginners are encouraged to enroll in the Basic Camp, where they will learn skateboard mechanics and basic riding skills, such as stance, balance, turning, transitions and “dropping in” on a small ramp.

“If you come in with no experience, we make sure you leave being able to push off, ride, turn and stop, so that you’re comfortable boarding down the street,” O’Loughlin says.

The program’s Elite Camp is designed for more advanced skaters and focuses on more complex maneuvers, such as jumps, flips, obstacle slides and “dropping in” on larger ramps.

“Our instructors break everything down into its smallest parts so the kids see and understand the mechanics of how things work and what’s going on between the surface, the board and their body,” O’Loughlin says.

Enrollment is limited to roughly 20 campers per morning or afternoon session with one instructor and one assistant assigned to small groups of five or six students to ensure personal attention and focused instruction.

“We also teach kids how to behave at the skate park so they don’t get into trouble, and to act with respect and responsibility when they’re on the street,” O’Loughlin says. “I always let them know that behavior is a choice, but that choice comes with consequences.”

All skaters receive comprehensive instruction on skateboard safety, equipment maintenance and injury prevention.

UC Berkeley summer skate camp

A camp instructor coaches one young skater as fellow campers look on.

“The most important skill we teach here is how to fall. The entire first day of every camp is all about falling properly,” O’Loughlin says. “If someone does get hurt later, we go through what happened and then reteach the fall.”

Groups typically include skaters of multiple skill levels and Elite Camp skaters who demonstrate a high level of maturity are encouraged to take on a leadership role during camp, mentoring less experienced peers and assisting instructors.

That leadership-opportunity strategy has created a pipeline of campers-turned-instructors like 18-year-old Brandon Lasko, who first came to skate camp as an 8-year-old and has spent the last five years working first as an assistant counselor and now as a counselor. Having graduated high school in the spring, Lasko is readying himself to attend San Francisco State University in the fall.

“One of the great things about being around so long is that you get to see these kids grow up, go on to college or get jobs and start to make their way in the world, and you hope you played some small part,” O’Loughlin says.

For additional information about the skate camp and other summer programs at Berkeley, visit Cal Camps and Youth Programs, email or call (510) 643-2267.