Editor’s Note: On August 17, The Inertia’s EVOLVE Summit will celebrate individuals making positive contributions to surf and outdoor culture. President and Founder of STOKED, Steve Larosiliere has created a life-changing program that mentors underprivileged kids through access to action sports participation. But how does he leave an impact that lasts longer than a day on the beach or a weekend on the slopes? And what’s the true value of action sports for children living in low-income areas, foster homes, and struggling just to get to school? This is the question The Inertia’s Juan Hernandez posed to Steve about his work. He’ll be discussing the real value of skills learned in skateparks, in the ocean, and the outdoors in Los Angeles at EVOLVE next month. Tickets sold out quickly last year, so grab one before they’re gone. Enter SECONDWAVE at checkout to save $45 on early bird tickets.
According to The National Bureau of Economic Research, a child’s family income is now the greatest predictor of how successful that child will be as an adult. Children from low-income communities are less likely to graduate from high school and more likely to battle low self-esteem. On the flip side, a child with wealthy parents is more likely to graduate from college and pursue a fulfilling career. Riding a wave, building a skateboard, and gliding down a snowy mountain can show teens that they are capable of greatness. Individual sports force kids to address fear, dig deep, and conquer by trying. When they succeed the glory is internal, a feeling of self-accomplishment that instills resilience, confidence and excitement to keep tackling new challenges.
So I believe the most valuable part of introducing underprivileged kids to action sports is opportunity. The opportunity is the spark that allows for other things to happen.
When I first started Stoked, I had a passion for snowboarding, skateboarding, and surfing. I was mentoring kids in many mentoring programs where you just sit at a table and do nothing. I just wanted to do something different, and as I got more and more into snowboard culture and being outdoors, I realized there was a benefit just in being able to be outdoors. You get perspective, you get to be present. When you’re going down a mountain or going down a wave there’s really no time to think, “Did I pay my bills?” You have to be completely present, and in that moment of being 100 percent present is where magic happens. You actually start to create new possibilities and see yourself in new ways. Throughout that process is the learning, the transitions, and the growth. And that enables you to gain confidence in other areas of your life.
For example, a kid that I was mentoring had never left his neighborhood. He’d never left his group home that he lived in and his world consisted of 20 blocks. I thought there’s no way for him to grow unless he gets to see something else. So for me (and a lot of people that are reading this), we chase adventure. Being able to have adventure and the luxury of options like “where should I surf today” or “what vacation should I take” enables a tremendous amount of empathy and understanding that adds a lot of value to life.
When you look at the problems that are facing underprivileged kids it really comes down to a couple of things. One is just being able to develop skills, whether it’s social/emotional or even hard technical skills. The other is financial capital; these kids can’t necessarily afford summer camps, vacations, or even just money to do most extracurricular things. The other thing is cultural capital: having access to different environments. And finally, social capital; they don’t have many people modeling positive behavior. Meanwhile, if you’re growing up in Huntington Beach or San Clemente or Encinitas, you have access to the beach, access to people that are successful, and there’s informal mentoring there while you grow up in these places. You have this path to opportunities set up for you.
So I’m not interested in training kids to become professional athletes. I like for them to become proficient, but I use it as a framework for teaching all the things I believe young people from low-income backgrounds need: skills, relationships, experience, and culture. To get even more technical, these activities offer social-emotional benefits. Economists are now saying to succeed you need a core base of skills like problem-solving, adaptability and flexibility, collaboration, and these are all things we get in action sports. We also get resilience and independence. So my way of elevating people out of poverty is “let’s get every kid on a board.”
Editor’s Note: Special thanks to our partners OluKai, 4ocean, Zola, Caliva, Klean Kanteen, Pau Maui Vodka, Qalo, Kindhumans, Rise Brewing Co., All Good Products, and 805 Beer for making this monumental gathering possible. Thank you also to STOKE for enabling us to host this event as sustainably as we possibly can. Enter code LASTCALL to save $35 on tickets until midnight PT on 8.10!