Dozens of youths got a sick surprise Friday from Ryan Sheckler and Nyjah Huston, the professional skateboarders who competed for $200,000 in Sunday's Street League Skateboarding championship at the Prudential Center.
The pros dropped in on the young skaters Friday afternoon at Championship Plaza in Newark to talk one-on-one about skate tricks – and life lessons.
The group of athletes were a mix from GardenSk8 indoor skate park in Pine Brook, and Stoked, a non-profit mentoring organization that couples action sports – like skateboarding and snowboarding – with urban youth to help teach life skills.
"The biggest lesson skateboarding has taught me is how to respect others. I've traveled the world and it just makes you very aware of your surroundings … and how to make a difference," said Sheckler, 22, a professional skateboarder for 10 years.
Besides perfecting their kick-flips and ollies, the two community-focused organizations brought their skaters together in Newark to draw a parallel between skating and life.
"What we do at Stoked is tell (the kids), 'Those tricks you want to land? That's the same thing as going for passing a test, or graduating college, or getting a good job, or having a good relationship with your family," said Steve Larosiliere, who founded Stoked in 2005 with TV host Sal Masakela.
Ten of 60 Stoked members earned tickets to Sunday's Street League Skateboarding championship – the "Super Bowl of skateboarding" – by performing two hours of community service.
The universal appeal of skateboarding boils down to one thing – accessibility, according to GardenSk8 owner Todd Schwartz.
"The same skateboard that Nyjah and Ryan are riding is the same that the kids are riding. All you need is a little area that has concrete and asphalt and you can skate," he said. "And that's why it's flourished like you haven't believed, especially in urban areas."
Skateboarding is an ever-growing sport and mode of transportation in Newark, with skaters regularly seen coasting down city streets and zipping in and out of traffic. In 2009, Newark welcomed its first-ever skatepark, located in the South Ward, and last year, in the East Ward.
At GardenSk8, 17-year-old Jasahn Stewart is a budding mentor and a "great kid" to younger skaters, said Schwartz. Stewart, a West Orange resident, even has his own inspirational website, Shreducate.com, updated with thought-provoking posts about everyday life.
"Getting (Stewart) out and involved in something like this is the way we pay it forward for him, mentoring him to mentor others," said Schwartz.
A skateboarder for nearly seven years, Stewart said he was pumped to have met Sheckler and Huston, who was crowned the Street League champion Sunday night.
"It's something I can't see myself without," said Stewart of skating, calling his GardenSk8 pals as "homies for life."