Skateboarding was a huge part of Jason McKoy’s youth, giving him a needed outlet.
“Skateboarding was like ‘Narnia’ to me,” he says. “It was this world of wonder, where you had all these different kids from various backgrounds all challenging themselves to do a doper trick. The vibe was dope, the art and design that was a consequence of being ‘counterculture’ was dope, and the clash of music — hip-hop, metal, punk — was dope.”
Through skateboarding culture, Jason was exposed to a lot of edgie artists and bands. The experience led to a career in graphic art and apparel design produced by his business, McKoy Creative.
As a kid, reading about and watching a video of skateboarder Willy Santos “really solidified that anybody can skateboard in spite of race, religion, upbringing, etc.,” he says. “I wanted to be the Black Willy Santos.”
Skateboarding tends to appeal to kids who are looking for something different.
“It was something I could do by myself if I wanted to, because I didn’t really like participating in team sports and I was an indoor kid,” Jason says. “What really drew me to skateboarding was the graphics on the decks and the tricks I would see skaters do that defied logic and gravity. I never got that good. I was a train wreck. But I loved the lifestyle, culture and freedom that skateboarding affords.”
Two years ago, Jason was asked to join the Two-Way Street Fest board of the Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation. The board was tasked with organizing a block party and family day. Not surprising, Jason’s first thought turned to skateboarding.
”I pitched the idea for a pop-up skate park where we teach kids how to skate, and they were all in,” Jason says.
He went looking for sponsors to help obtain the skateboard gear and pitched the idea to Nick Miller at Black Forge Coffee House.
Nick liked the idea, but instead of the one-day event, he wanted to create a full-on nonprofit that collects new and used skateboard gear, fixes them up, and teaches kids to skate to engage their interest and keep them active.
From there, Trash to Thrash, a Pittsburgh-based non-profit operating under New Sun Rising, was born. Their refurbished equipment and skateboard training are directed at kids in under-served and low-income neighborhoods. Cash donations help pay for some of the new parts needed to complete skateboard decks, along with helmets and other safety gear.
Jason and Nick now stage pop-up Skate Jam events throughout the area to connect kids with skateboarding. During bad weather, learn-to-skate sessions take place indoors at Switch and Signal Skatepark.
For Skate Jams, Trash to Thrash partners with a community organization then builds a temporary skatepark with ramps and obstacle, complete with quarter pipes and grind rails. Skaters from all over Pittsburgh are invited to skate for free at the pop-ups.
But, more importantly, the events attract as many as 12 to 24 skateboarding novices ranging in age from 5 to 12. And that’s where the real fun begins.
“We teach them skateboard basics, from history to construction and maintenance, to actually riding and stopping,” Jason says. “They usually take it from there and pick up on things really quickly.”
By the time the kids go home, they’re proud skateboard owners who have learned a few wicked thrasher tricks.
Beyond teaching skateboarding, Trash to Thrash plans kid-focused workshops in graphic design, screen printing, photography and carpentry.
“The goal is to teach kids not only how to thrash, but how to be entrepreneurs and turn something they love doing into a possible career,” Jason says. “Or, at the very least, something they can use to boost their own creativity, using skateboarding as a vehicle.”