March 8, 2007
Skateboarder’s project links charity and sport
Devin Schneider looks like a typical 13-year-old boy: his long hair covers dark brown eyes, a smile reveals a mouthful of braces, and he wears a long hooded sweatshirt, T-shirt and jeans. He's quiet, sometimes keeping his eyes downcast as he thinks of what to say.
But Devin Schneider isn't your typical 13-year-old. Not even close.
Many students his age struggle to come up with a mitzvah project that speaks to their interests, but choosing one was easy for this skateboarder from Temple Adat Elohim in Thousand Oaks.
Devin collected materials and money to create more than 30 skateboards for Boarding House Mentors, a nonprofit group that works with at-risk youth and teaches them to skateboard and surf.
"I was getting ideas from Rabbi [Ted] Riter," Devin said. "He asked me what I liked to do and I said I liked to play guitar and skateboard. So we came up with the idea to get skateboards and parts, new, old, as many as I could."
Devin never thought he would get to bring his love for skateboarding into his rite of passage: "I thought it would be like my sister, and I'd work at a shelter, but this was a lot more fun."
His love of skateboarding began when he was 9, when a friend introduced him to the sport. But it was no surprise to Devin's parents, Scott and Mindy, who both skateboarded when they were younger.
"It surprised me that he hadn't done it yet at that point," Mindy Schneider said, noting that while she enjoyed skateboarding as a teen, she wouldn't get on a skateboard now.
Amazingly, Devin has only injured himself once, and that was while snowboarding with his family in Mammoth. The Schneiders also have gone to the X-Games for the past few years and have built a mini-skate park in their back yard, complete with ramps and rails.
But finding a public place in the Conejo Valley to board isn't so easy. Devin, who loves performing tricks on stairs, says that skateboarders get an unwarranted bad rap.
"People think of skateboarders as vandals ... that we break things," Devin said. "And that's not what we do. They kick us out of places. We'll be at stairs at a school and a teacher threatens to call the cops."
Some of his friends have even been issued $185 tickets for trespassing.
That her son and his friends are given a hard time doesn't make Mindy Schneider happy either.
"They just want to have fun ... and they are being harassed," she said. "I get it if there were around cars, but when they are trying to stay out of people's way, it's annoying."
While Mindy Schnedier mentioned that some members of the Thousand Oaks City Council are looking into creating a local skate park in the Conejo Valley, she said she doesn't expect it to happen any time soon. So on Fridays, Mindy drives her son to Skatelab in Simi Valley, a museum and indoor skating park where he can hang out with his friends, who affectionately refer to him by his online moniker Sk-8r Jew.
It's a name to which he doesn't take offense, especially since being Jewish is an important part of his life.
Last July the Schnedier family -- including two grandparents -- went with Adat Elohim to Israel, where Devin became a bar mitzvah on top of Masada.
"It is very different having a bar mitzvah there on top of Masada, as opposed to here in a synagogue," Mindy Schneider said.
When Devin isn't on his surfboard (as he plans to be this summer at camp Hess-Kramer), snowboard or skateboard, he's rocking on his guitar, most recently at the Canyon Club in Agoura Hills, as a student at the School of Rock. His tune of choice? Guns 'n' Roses "Sweet Child of Mine." He said he might even have a chance to play in the youth band at the temple -- if they can accommodate his electric guitar.
Next year, when he starts at Agoura High School, he's been asked to join the school's skateboarding club. However, at this point he said he's focusing on having fun, rather than competing. "I don't think I'm good enough," Devin said.
In the spring, Devin and his family will be going to Vans Skate Park in Orange County to give out the boards and teach kids how to skateboard. Mindy and Devin said they owe a lot to friends, neighbors and the Transition skate shop in Moorpark for making Devin's project a reality. Devin said he plans to continue fixing up boards and instructing others in the tricks of the trade.
But no lesson in the world can match the feeling of being on a board. "When you are going on your board and about to do a trick, and it is one you've tried a bunch of times and you could never do it -- and then you finally can -- it's the best feeling ever, because you've accomplished something," Devin said.
Boarding House Mentors http://www.boardinghousementors.org/
Temple Adat Elohim http://www.adatelohim.com/