In September 2020, one of Matt Cline’s middle school students walked into the classroom, and the teacher asked the kid how his summer was.
"I asked him if he skated a bunch and he shook his head," recalls Cline, 27. "It turns out his skateboard got stolen and he couldn’t afford to buy new gear."
That sparked something in Cline, who has known he wanted to be a teacher from the time he was 10 years old. He remembered what it was like to be a kid and to lose something you didn’t have the means to replace. He also remembered skating in Windsor Park when an older kid threatened him and rolled away on a board his parents bought him.
"I wanted to do something," Cline says.
So he did. With some time away from work, Cline looked for a direct way to help kids find solace and confidence on the wheels of a skateboard. He founded Inclined Kids, an organization dedicated to providing free gear and skateboard lessons to youth on Treaty 1 land.
But to make something free, Cline needed to raise some cash. In December 2020, he streamed himself playing Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater for 24 hours straight, raising more than $2,000.
Then he remembered a Skate 4 Cancer fundraiser he went to as a teen, where he won a customized deck — the part of the skateboard a user stands on — that’s been hanging on his wall ever since. Cline approached several local artists to design their own distinct decks and raffled them off; the fundraiser was so successful, it’s back for a second year.
Tickets for the raffle are available until May 6, and cost $5 for one entry, $10 for three entries, and $25 for 10 entries. Entrants should send an e-transfer to firstname.lastname@example.org, and specify which deck or decks they are interested in. Images of the decks and more information about the artists can be found on Instagram @inclinedkids or at the website www.inclinedkids.ca. Tickets are also available on May 6 at the Lucky Girl Pop-Up at the Centennial Concert Hall.
Tickets are on sale until Friday.
A skateboard is a great canvas for storytelling. When one’s been used for a long time, it gets chipped, scratched and busted. Certain models evoke memories of certain skaters. Veteran skaters might reminisce about their first deck, and the first tricks they pulled off with it, with the same starry-eyed reverence hockey players reserve for their first stick or pair of skates.
But the deck is also a great canvas for visual art and expression of personal style, so it felt natural to give the artists a chance to take a blank slate and make it their own. They become pieces of art that need no frame.
Tattoo artist Holly Biberdorf’s delightful board features a grinning alligator — or is it a crocodile? — crawling from one end to the other. Hanna Reimer’s uses bright, colourful loops that mean whatever you want them to mean. Visual artist Peatr Thomas’s board sends a clear message in capital letters: LAND BACK. Natalie Kilimnik’s features colour palettes that are simple yet captivating. Matea Radic took a minimal approach, squeezing into a blue rectangle a pink, serpentine creature that still has a smile on its face despite its cramped surroundings.
Kid Radish turned their deck into a joyful sun wearing sunglasses. Catherine Cormier’s creation blends music and skateboarding with a funky flair. And William Hudson’s draws attention to the tragedy of violence against Indigenous women and girls; his daughter Eishia was shot and killed by a member of the Winnipeg Police Service in April 2020 at the age of 16.
Cline says the boards are each distinct and one-of-a-kind, and that they’re less suited for taking to the skatepark than finding an open niche on your gallery wall.
"I’d use any of these as art," Cline says. "I really have always valued the artwork on skateboards." His home’s walls are full of them.
He’s a firm believer that skateboarding is a tool for good. It inspires fitness, friendship and creativity. It requires focus and commitment, and helps take people from point A to point B, both literally and figuratively. It helps people find like-minded individuals who lift each other up and educate one another. It’s also a lot of fun.
That’s something that not only kids with the means to afford it should be able to enjoy, he says. "My teaching philosophy, and my general philosophy, is that kids have a lot to offer. We just need to let them grow and show what they can do."
That’s part of the reason for his organization’s name: kids are inclined to try. They’re inclined to learn and take big swings. If at first they don’t succeed, they’re inclined to try, try again. To Cline, that’s not just in skateboarding, that’s in life. (His last name is also Cline.)
So what do the fundraisers support? In addition to gear, they pay for lessons and weekly programming, including at Ndinawe, an organization serving youth at risk of experiencing housing instability or homelessness. They also pay for an upcoming weekly program called Eat, Sk8, Meditate, where kids share healthy snacks, learn how to skate, and practise using mindfulness and meditation.
In all, it helps kids get access to the skateboarding community, become confident and grow as individuals. Sometimes, that’s as simple as giving them a skateboard with no strings attached.
Ben Waldman covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.