As an underground activity, skateboarding has always come along with stereotypes, many of them negative and misconstrued. But the rebellious, drug-taking-punk image of old is giving way to that of a skillful athlete with a daring edge. It's the skaters themselves making this change, and Richard Zuccarello is among those leading the way. His organization Skateboarders Against Drugs sends a positive message to the community while promoting the sport of skateboarding to kids.
The creation of Skateboarders Against Drugs was sparked in 2003 when an elementary school in Woodland Hills, Calif. asked professional skateboarder Zuccarello to help them with their anti-drug campaign.
"My team and I were given the opportunity to put on a skateboarding demonstration, speak to the children about drug prevention, sign autographs and hand out products," said Zuccarello. Tearing it up with some gravity-defying moves on a transported skateboard ramp, Zuccarello and his team of extreme skateboarders captured the attention of the youthful crowd and taught them about the dangers of drugs.
"I was deeply touched by the event," said Zuccarello. So, he created Skateboarders Against Drugs with the mission of using the excitement of the sport to promote community health and increase drug-prevention awareness in children and their families.
Say no to drugs, Say yes to skateboarding
"Getting a message across to a group of kids takes time and repetition," said Zuccarello. His signature layback invert and 180 staple gun fake may grab the crowd's attention, but the demos also show kids the heights they can reach if they focus their energy on positive activities like skateboarding instead of drugs. "We don't expect that this is a one shot vaccination against drug abuse, but rather a process of teaching kids how to make life choices that support their long-term goals."
According to Zuccarello, additional skaters continue to get involved, "We have a list of pros that will be invited to support the cause, and we will continue to look for skateboarders and bikers who are interested in getting involved."
One of the biggest stars in skateboarding history contributes to the project. "Christian Hosoi is on the advisory board and we hope will be participating in our scheduled events." Hosoi, the superstar who defined skateboarding alongside Tony Hawk in the 1980s, is living proof of the dangers of drugs.
After suffering from a drug addiction that ate away at his skateboarding, personal life and business, he found himself serving time in jail. With a new outlook on life, Hosoi is back to killin' it on the ramp again. This time he's using his skating to give back to the community and spread the anti-drug message from experience.
A hobby, a sport, a lifestyle
In addition to the anti-drug message, the members of Skateboarders Against Drugs work hard to promote skateboarding as a sport and get it the respect it deserves. The passion for skateboarding runs deep in these athletes.
As an avid skater for more than 20 years, Zuccarello's passion for the sport and culture continues to grow, as does his desire to increase recognition of skating. "It is definitely our goal to not only help prevent drug use, but to also promote skateboarding as a sport."
Zuccarello started skateboarding in 1979. "I got my first issue of Skateboarder magazine and was blown away by these photos of guys riding giant cement swimming pools on their skateboards." But it was a role model of his that sold him on the sport. "My dad took me to Del Mar Skateboard Ranch in San Diego, and I saw Tony Hawk skate the keyhole for the first time. Do I need to say anymore?"
Hitting the park, the streets and competitions, Zuccarello found his place in the skateboarding society and sponsors found him. A local punk band called JFA asked him to do a skate demo for one of their concerts in 1986. "I ripped it up in the demo and got my first photo taken for Transworld Skateboarding magazine that night," Zuccarello recalled. "After the demo, the lead singer, Brian Brannon, asked me to ride for his team JFA. During the concert, Brian dedicated the song 'Skateboard' to me and introduced me as their new team rider."
His skills continued to catch the eyes of numerous companies while he competed in the California Amateur Skateboard League (CASL) and in the National Skateboarding Association (NSA).
After years of touring demos throughout the Southwest, Zuccarello found himself called to extend the thrill of skating to others. "In 2002 I became a certified skateboarding instructor through the Skate Park Association USA and began working as a volunteer in the nonprofit skateboarding sector developing programs for the inner city."
His passion for teaching led him to found the Southern California School of Skateboarding, a member of the School of Skateboarding International Skateboard Network. The creation of Skateboarders Against Drugs quickly followed as Zuccarello's desire to reach out to the community grew stronger.
Zuccarello isn't alone in the mission to spread the good word of skateboarding. Many top skaters like Hawk, Hosoi and Mike Vallely use their talent to increase the publicity and corporate interest needed to keep skateboarding alive. Increasing competitions also adds legitimacy to skateboarding. "(The X Games) have helped a great deal," Zuccarello stated. "Not just with the skaters, but with the families who now see the activity as a sport worthy of respect."
While the goal of Skateboarders Against Drugs is one shared by many in the industry, it has its challenges. As Zuccarello observed, "The biggest challenge is going to be fund-raising." The cost to put on the demos is extremely high. "If we want to continue to impact the lives of children, we will need an increase in our operating budget first."
Corporate interest in skateboarding is on the rise, but is still low considering the sport's increasing audience. "We have the support of a few local skateboard companies -- PEP, Old Star and SVS," said Zuccarello. "We are currently pursuing larger, sustaining sponsorship opportunities from major companies." With the event calendar for Skateboarders Against Drugs growing, there will be numerous opportunities for event sponsorship.
Zuccarello added that when it comes to improving the image of skateboarding, "two important factors are increased publicity and corporate interest." But most importantly Zuccarello said, "We plan to earn respect by being respectful to others and through our continued actions."
To plan an event at your school or in your community, fill out the event request form at SkateAgainstDrugs.org.
Richard Zuccarello is a skateboarding legend known for perfecting the layback invert and credited for inventing tricks including the 180 staple gun fake, the layback invert varial and the one-footed punk rock revert. Today, Rich teaches the art of skateboarding at the Southern California School of Skateboarding, competes and performs in demos, and runs the nonprofit Skateboarders Against Drugs.