If you're still planning your summer vacation and are searching for something extra than just a holiday, check out this feature from our archives, presenting the best volunteer projects to share your love for your sport and give something back to those born into a less fortunate set of life circumstances than your good self
Words by Gemma Freeman
Remember that feeling of pure stoke when you linked your first turns or landed an ollie? How the worries of the world melted away, while you focused on this new skill? Well imagine igniting this emotion in a child who's family can't afford shoes, let alone a skate deck, or who's mind was previously dominated by drugs, drinking or depression, on a trip where you get to surf, skate or snowboard yourself as much as you like too. Welcome to the world of responsible travel, where, as a volunteer, instead of choking native communities with the clichéd capitalist holiday, you're making a real difference to local lives – and rewarded with riding time in incredible locations. Here are our top three projects:
Indigo Skate Camps
Durban, South Africa
"Skateboarding is an inspiration to visualise, focus, create, and uplift our abilities amongst the energies of earth," says Dallas Oberholzer, former South Africa vertical and mini ramp champion, ex-pro skater and Director of the Indigo Skate Camps.
Supported by Element skateboards, campers aged 9 to 18 stay in dorm chalets for 6 or 4 day camps, where they learn to skate with experienced youth workers, join rain forest hikes, learn nature skills with qualified wilderness instructors, plus experience African culture first hand – from dance lessons to Zulu story telling.
An average day means waking at dawn with the roosters, then completing daily tasks in the early morning - before it gets too hot – such as constructing a kitchen, tending the organic vegetable gardens, preparing food, looking after kids in day care, playing with or educating them. Lunch is at 11am, followed by relaxing during the warm afternoons, before skaters arrive for after school tuition at 3pm.
A grassroots initiative, the biggest difference volunteers bring to local children is the progression in communication and English language skills, as well as helping them discover their creative abilities through skating. They also learn valuable business and employment skills by helping to run the Indigo skatepark and shop in nearby Durban.
Camper Cyril explains: "When I get on a board, I feel that my skateboard is like a paintbrush. I’m creating art right there on that ramp."
It's a back-to-nature experience, but this ensures authenticity and low costs. Volunteers pay a flat rate of just $12 a day, stay in traditional Zulu round huts and eat with a host family. A minuscule amount of money to be immersed in the rich culture of an African rural community, in a raw, adventurous slice of paradise.
"Skateboarding is mine to enjoy," says camper Amimi, 15. “You might come from there, I might come from here, but it’s possible that we could skate the same."
What started out as an ambitious idea, Dallas has realised his dream of creating a successful vehicle for change. If you want to help, any donations of old toys, clothes, skateboards, musical instruments, DVDs and shoes are always appreciated, and you can also give online.
“This area has largely been neglected due to its isolation which in turn is a blessing for pioneering travellers," explains Dallas. “Now the local children are proud to have an activity that they are passionate about and can share with visitors."
Ticket To Ride World Adventures
Santa Teresa, Costa Rica
To massively improve your surfing, learn Spanish and give back to those less fortunate than yourself, albeit in semi-luxury, Ticket To Ride 'Worldwide Surfing Adventures' are offering a brand new six-week surf trip on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, following a number of successful projects across Africa. Ok, so its prices do match the trip's high end service, but no other project offers teaching experience at local schools, plus 36 hours of scheduled surf lessons, ten hours of one to one coaching, video and photo analysis, water safety and surfing etiquette instruction, Spanish lessons, five weeks of yoga, fishing, snorkelling and quad biking, plus road trips around the country.
With costs from £2995, it's a princely price, but includes transfers plus accommodation in stylish hill-top, beach side log cabins, complete with private jungle, swimming pool, bar and balconies. Course materials and the first two weeks equipment rental are also included.
It's a life changing experience, as early camper Kiriana Wilson explains: “Costa Rica is heaven on earth, thanks for an amazing trip!"
The Chill Program from Burton Snowboards
Serfaus, Austria and Italy
“I had plenty of issues myself as a kid, but I was lucky enough to have a strong support system that kept me grounded," explains Jake Burton, founder of Burton Snowboards. “We created Chill because learning how to snowboard gives youth hope and confidence during a time in their life when they need as much support as they can get."
Started in 1995 by Jake and his wife Donna Carpenter in Burlington, Vermont, Chill began as Burton's way of repaying their local community, by instigating a learn-to-snowboard program for 'under-served' kids – who may normally have never gotten the chance. Now it takes place in fourteen North American states (although now run as a separate non-profit entity in the US), plus Sydney, Australia, Innsbruck, Austria and a new Italian destination, which, in 2009 alone, taught more than 2500 kids challenged by crime, drug and alcohol addiction, violence, excessive anger, depression, feelings of worthlessness and more, to ride.
Everything is provided – kit, gear, lessons, transportation, lift tickets, snacks and more – thanks to volunteers in each host city and local sponsors. The result is more kids snowboarding, and reaping the confidence, social skills, achievement, and patience that board riding brings.
For Stephanie, a camper from New York, Burton's initiative changed her life. “Before Chill I wasn't exactly in a good place and I didn't care if I existed. I believed that I had nothing to live for, I felt I was nothing, I had nothing and nothing mattered. Chill became the only good thing in my life. Thanks to their hard work and huge heart I've experienced happiness and contentment, that I believed only existed in my imagination."
In the US, Chill needs up to forty volunteers per city, but right now there are just two European programs – in Serfaus, Austria and a new Italian destination. Organised by Burton PR co-ordinator Ulrich Köhler, it's a four-week program over consecutive Saturdays from February to March, and, although volunteer opportunities are limited this season, future plans include further projects across the continent. Can't give up your time but still want to be involved? You can also donate via PayPal, cheque or more online to show your support.
In addition to sharing your love for snowboarding with kids that may never otherwise experience the mountains, being a chill volunteer is fun and rewarding as Lauren DiGeronimo, a Nation Coordinator in the US says, “The more I spend time with, and work with, youth, the more I get to be one of them. They have an incredible innocence, that constantly reminds me to never give up that idea of enjoying life and having fun. Everyone needs a little fun in their life."