Everyday after school, Shawn Harvey grabs his skateboard, skates out of the tribal housing community he lives in and glides into the new skate park in Fort Defiance, Arizona. He started skating when he was nine years old, but he began competing when he realized he could win a new skateboard.
“My mom couldn’t afford to buy me boards all the time,” Harvey said. “So every time there would be a skate competition coming up I’d try to keep my board in good shape, see how long it would last, at least to be able to skate a skate competition with it and maybe get another one.”
On September 8, during the 66th Annual Navajo Nation Fair Skate and BMX Competition held at the Office of Dine Youth/Boys and Girls Club of the Dine Nation skate park in Ft. Defiance, dozens of skateboarders and bikers, including Harvey, competed for a chance to win a skateboard and other prizes.
Harvey, 13, is now a sponsored skater for Lucky Day Skate Co., and no longer has to compete for a board, but that didn't stop him from entering.
‘’It has changed for me,” he said. “Now that I’m sponsored, I don’t really need to worry about it, but I just joined to compete and have fun.”
Many aren’t as fortunate as Harvey, which is why Urian Begay, health education technician for Navajo Health Education Program in Ft. Defiance, helps put on such competitions multiple times a year. The Navajo Health Education Program reaches out to students and presents at various schools and communities about subjects such as tobacco, drug use and STDs.
The Skate and BMX Competition gave out first, second and third place prizes in five categories—12 and under, 13-14 years old, 15-17 year olds, 18 and over and a girl’s division. Each skater was given two minutes on the course in a minimum for three rounds. Difficulty of a trick, consistency, proficiency, accuracy, and smooth style were all considered in the 1-10 point judging system.
First place winners in each category received a complete board with trucks, wheels and bolts. Second place winners received a board, wheels and bearings. Third place winners received a board.
Begay said putting on competitions are a way to reach out to a group of youth that is sometimes overlooked.
“It gives them a little bit of competitiveness, that little bit of inside growl, or purr, at least for these guys, but I think it kind of, in a way kind of forces them to step their game up just a bit,” Begay said. “This is just one of the things we do for the community as far as basically trying to reach out to areas that are generally overlooked.” He said typically volleyball, basketball, softball and other tournaments are put on to cater to what most youth enjoy doing, but that it's becoming increasingly clear skating has been increasing in popularity in Indian country, but that the bike community is often overlooked, which is why they decided to add them to the competition this year.
“It was basically hearing it from the community itself,” Begay said. “Guys come around riding bikes, they’ll show up during the skate comps, riding side by side the skaters. I keep getting asked the question, ‘when you putting up a bike comp? So we talked about it and were like well, let’s give it a try.”
Begay said he ways also a skater and always wanted to bring such events like the competition back to the reservation, and he’s happy to help honor skaters and bikers (they are a passionate bunch) as there's still many people who don't recognize how popular these two things have become.
“You don’t really see a whole lot of [skate and bike] competitions on the reservations, they’re kind of far and few in between, so this is one thing we’ve kept going and it’s been getting bigger and bigger,” he said. "It’s basically our emphasis here giving to the youth, and just letting them know that there are programs out there that recognize their skills and their talents, and know that we really want to help them exceed and excel in those aspects, so that’s kind of just what we’re doing.”
Kintaro Dooline, 17, a skater turned biker from Sawmill, Ariz., said he appreciates what Begay and local organizations are doing to consider bikers and skaters like him.
“If it wasn’t for them building the park I don’t think I would have been where I’m at right now,” Dooline said. “It’s something (a bike competition) that we’ve been wanting, us bikers.”
Dooline, a student at Window Rock High School, said he’s at the skate park daily. He said he started out skateboarding but learned to do tricks on a bike five years ago.
“It was just really something that I did every day and I just started liking it,” he said. “I just want to thank my family for always sticking behind me for what I like to do.” It’s that kind of support that Begay hopes to give skaters and bikers by continuing to host competitions.
He said skaters and bikers alike are often misunderstood. He added that there is a public stigma that skateboarders are troublemakers, but he knows that’s not the case.
“I don’t see that. Kids have problems but this is sort of their element. A lot of them are very skilled in other things as well, we got a couple of guys who are very proficient to music, other guys who are into videography, photography, that type of thing, and you know it’s just their way of life I suppose” he said. “We try to just nurture it and encourage it in the best way possible.”