When I started skateboarding in the late ‘90s, my newfound passion and education mixed like oil and water.
Teachers were vocal against my ‘rebellious’ pastime as it challenged their image of what a productive scholar should look like. As I got older and read magazines about my favourite amateurs and professionals, discussions about academia were rarely, if ever, covered. Today, there is a much more refined narrative about skaters hitting the books and earning degrees. The College Skateboarding Educational Foundation is a California-based nonprofit that is aiming to amplify this trend by awarding scholarships to deserving skaters that are interested in attending university. I recently had a conversation with founders Keegan Guizard and Tommy Barker, in addition to board member Ethan K. Singleton, about how CSEF is improving the lives of skaters who challenge the stereotype that skateboarding and school can’t coexist.
Keegan, tell me about your experience at North Carolina State University and how that led to starting CSEF with Tommy and Neftalie Williams?
Keegan: When I was a freshman, ten colleagues and I met then-senior Lee Kennedy, who helped present ourselves as a skate club to the school. The following year we became a club sport, which meant that we could propose a budget to host local events, build ramps, and share what we were doing with a larger audience. We even arranged trips up and down the east coast, travelling as skateboarders on someone else’s dime.
I wasn’t looking forward to graduating because I was having so much fun doing that. But I was being proactive, thinking about what would come next. From 2012 to 2019 I ran a company called Collegiate Skate Tour. I took what we were doing at NC State and began hosting intra-university competitions all around the country. I did that for seven years; I was still doing that when we founded CSEF. In 2015 I moved out to Southern California, and in 2016 I was introduced to Neftalie. He hosted me at his class, ‘Skateboarding Business Culture and Society,’ at the University of Southern California. I was the ‘college skateboarding guy,’ so he invited me to talk about what I do.
How did you get involved, Tommy?
Tommy: Neftalie connected me to Keegan through his class at USC. We had a conversation, over coffee, about education and skateboarding. I got a professional certificate in Nonprofit Business Management. My final project for that program was a business plan about scholarships for skateboarders. So, with Neftalie also involved, CSEF was born. I feel like skateboarding is at a point now where education is becoming more assimilated into the culture.
What are you hoping to achieve by providing scholarships to skateboarders who need financial support?
Tommy: I think we all do this for different reasons, which has changed the longer we have been doing it. In the beginning, I was always kind of disappointed that no one was pushing [skateboarding culture] in an academic direction. Today, I’m doing it for the kids; I wish I could give them all scholarships. For all of us, education is how we can work together to make the world a better place. The mission is to cut down student debt and have students actually graduate without making decisions based on financial reasons. I always mention the Nelson Mandella quote, ‘Education is the most powerful weapon that we can use to change the world.’ This is our form of changing the world.
Ethan: The entire world is shifting. We all see the power of skateboarding to unify across boundaries of age, race, gender, and ethnicity. We have to use skateboarding as a tool to show, for example, that one skater might have a natural eye for architecture. Maybe we can use that as a point of reference within the classroom, and extract those skills from there. A second skater could be an awesome designer or engineer. A third skater might make a great physical therapist.
Keegan: When we first started out, we wanted to see this paradigm shift, and we were just there to offer scholarships. We wanted to tell the stories of skaters that decided to go to school because that seemed rare at the time. Speaking from my own perspective, there are so many rad skateboarders—it doesn’t matter their skill level or background—that love skateboarding. At this point, it’s more about supporting those people that are already telling their stories to encourage others to do the same. Now, it’s about the problem of student debt and sharing stories of skaters who have done this against all odds.
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What are the qualifications you are looking for in applicants? What is the timeline for applications?
Keegan: This year began in early February, and it’s going until June 1st. There is a solid chance we will expand it for a week, as we’ve been getting a lot of attention recently. The rubric is based on three things: financial need, good grades, and community involvement. We narrow it down to a final thirty to forty. There are easily forty applicants that we want to give scholarships to, but thus far we can give ten, at most, a year. If applicants have a real plan for how they are going to use their degree, that’s extra points. If they are a STEM major, that’s extra points. We want to support the people that are already helping themselves attend school, are still broke, and help their community as well. I will say that it’s extra cool when the people we give scholarships to totally rip. It’s not part of the application process, though [laughs]. All skill levels are welcomed.
Before the pandemic, you held in-person fundraising events. How has that changed now?
Tommy: Since the pandemic, we have held two benefit fundraisers. It’s a way to seek donations and educate others about CSEF’s mission in a fun way. It was amazing how many people agreed to take part in our last one. Torey Pudwill surprised us and gave a donation. We had Mikey Alfred involved the day before North Hollywood dropped, which is like number two in the US right now. Mike Burnett from Thrasher joined and told us stories that no one knew, like how P-Stone had a master’s degree in Economics, which I still can’t wrap my head around.
Ethan: I think what is so valuable about the fundraiser, which is harder to capture than an in-person event, is building familiarity with the history between skating and academics. You might be surprised who, in the industry, has found that balance for themselves. I also think it’s especially true, in the era of COVID, that it might be difficult to find funds to graduate. Imagine how much more difficult it is when you are separated from your community and you are still trying to find reasons to keep going? The conversations were great across the board.
How can readers help? Are you still accepting donations for 2021?
Tommy: Collegeskateboarding.com is the portal for everything. You can donate, fill out an application, learn about who we have helped in the past, and see all of the people involved.
Keegan: On Venmo, the handle is @collegeskateboarding. The best way to support us right now is to go to our website and become a recurring donor, even if it’s five or ten dollars per month. If we can get a bunch of people to join, we can have a solid foundation for each year.
As a hypothetical question, who is one professional—or even amateur—skater that might have benefitted from going to college?
Ethan: I will say that there are skaters, from different generations, that would have benefitted from having the kind of structure that school provides. Without naming names, we have seen a lot of people come and go; whether it be falling into drugs or otherwise, with no backup plan.
Tommy: Rodney Mullen! [editor’s note: Rodney was enrolled in a chemical engineering program at the University of Florida but left his senior year to take over management of World Industries]. Imagine if he got a master’s or a doctorate? I did an event at MIT with him, and I got to see him in his zone. I watched him on stage with these experts in their fields, and he held his own with them. In my personal experience, Andrew Reynolds could have asked me to do anything when I was seventeen, and I would have done it. What if he had told me to go to college? That’s really the mantra CSEF has, having skaters share their message, ‘Here are your life choices, this could be a good path for you.’