Skateboarding making an ‘Impact’ in East York

Kids learn kick flips, ollies at classes held in church basement

Some of the students are practising standing on their skateboards without falling. Others are doing ollies — jumping with the board under their feet — and getting serious on the indoor ramp.

It’s another Saturday morning class with Yash Presswalla, who offers  skateboarding classes to young people aged six to 16.

He’s been teaching the sport around Toronto for more than a decade, and during the winter months, the lessons don’t stop. They’re simply moved from the local skate parks outside to an unexpected place, the basement of Danforth Church.

Today, Presswalla is teaching kick flips and board slides. That’s for the more experienced kids, though. Most are still learning the basics before tackling the harder stuff.

“I know quite a few tricks, but skateboarding can be very much a mental battle; what’s difficult for me might come easily to someone else,” Presswalla says. “However, the most basic trick, the ollie (jumping in the air with the skateboard), is probably my favourite.”

Once kids can balance on their skateboards and push off comfortably, the ollie is the first trick they work on. There is definitely a sense of order despite all the falls, scrapes and botched tricks in the class.

That’s something parents like Carolyn Richardson and her 11-year-old son Ryan love about the Impact Skateboard Club.

“My son has been coming to Yash’s camps for the past six years and he just loves it. There’s always instructors around to help him and I think this has been a very encouraging place for him,” Carolyn Richardson says. “It encourages him to keep practising his skills when he’s not here.”

It’s that kind of encouraging environment Presswalla and his instructors create. Skateboarding is only one part of what the participants learn here. Perseverance, self-confidence and other life skills mean just as much.

“The most rewarding part of teaching skateboarding is watching a child’s confidence take form and grow, over years and months, and sometimes within only a few moments,” Presswalla says. “We make it a point to address those feelings of accomplishment and offer tools to build on them, both on and off the skateboard.”

You get a real sense of that when talking to the older kids who volunteer and help out. One of them, Kalen Dennis-Cartasano, 15, says it’s about more than simply honing his skills in the sport he loves.

“Coming here helped me be inspired to help others. I used to skate all the time for myself and on my own until my friends would show up,” he says. “I started helping just to pass the time and it made me feel real good. It gave me a sense of purpose.”

In a place where the sounds of churchgoers fill the halls above, the laughter of friends, the smacking of boards on hardwood ramps and pings off metal rails echo below. There are plenty of falls and injuries in this sport, even among experienced skaters, but according to Dennis-Cartasano, it’s all worth it.

“I’ve broken my hand, tore up both my ankles, but I love it,” he says.

Down here, it’s clear he’s not the only one.