Remember that sense of accomplishment you had catching your first wave? Remember that sense of fear you overcame dropping in on that first overhead day? Stoked Mentoring, a non-profit organization, brings these values to “at-risk” youth who would otherwise not get the chance to experience what we have all come to love – surfing.
Stoked Mentoring was born in 2004 in the Canadian slopes when Founder and Executive Director, Steve Larosiliere, decided to harness his passion for snowboarding to benefit at-risk youth through a unique mentoring program. The newly created “Snow Mentor” quickly gained support and before the end of the year, had partners which included Burton Snowboards, Zoo York, Forum Snowboards, and Sal Masekela, then the host of ESPN’s X-Games. Programs focusing on skateboarding and surfing were subsequently launched.
Surf Mentor was launched in New York City in 2006 with the help of Surfrider NYC. Surf Mentor in Los Angeles was launched the following year. During the summer, both New York and Los Angeles surf programs include 12 mentoring pairs. To date, Stoked has earned the support from familiar surfing brands including Quiksilver, DC Shoes, Planet Earth, Da Kine, and Flow.
Ulupono Surf had the opportunity to chat with Steve and Stoked Mentoring’s Los Angeles Head Volunteer Surf Instructor, Peter Paris.
Ulupono Surf (US): Thank you both for everything that you do! Tell us a little bit about the communities you target. What exactly does “at-risk” youth mean?
Steve Larosiliere (SL): In Los Angeles and New York we work with youth who are in under-served communities. The majority of our kids come from single-parent house-holds and lack any type of guidance and/or positive role models. Their schools are over-crowded and effective after-school programs are non-existent. With this type of environment, these youth are likely to get involved with drugs, get pregnant, join a gang, and not graduate high school. This is the product of an “at-risk” youth.
US: Stoked Mentoring’s average mentoring hours are over double that of other mentoring programs. What’s the deal there?
SL: At Stoked, we create an environment that is enriching for both youth and adult. Not only do our kids learn something new, in this case an action-sport, but the adult does as well. Both parties learn the sport together thus starting on the same playing field. They go in sharing the same fear of the unknown instantly creating a bond. I believe this type of engagement creates a level of interest that makes these pairs want to succeed in what they’re doing. The only way to do that is by spending as much time together as they can.
US: So the mentors are learning the sport along with their mentees? That’s got to form a pretty strong bond. Especially the kinds of activities they are engaged in.
SL: Exactly. The feeling they get when they ride their first wave or conquer a jump off of a lift on the mountain cannot really be expressed in words. It’s a joy shared only by the mentoring pair. They become closer as they realize all of the hard work that goes into learning and succeeding in these sports. The skills they learn on the mountain apply directly to their life outside of Stoked. Communication, self-confidence, self-worth and the feeling of meeting a goal is what they learn in Stoked and what they will take with them when they begin their journey of adulthood.
US: Aside from being new to the sport, what sort of things does Stoked look for in a mentor?
SL: We look for qualities that exemplify a positive role-model; one who is intelligent both academically and emotionally. We look for a person of good family values and one who is successful in life. They don’t necessarily have to be the best at their job or earn an amazing living, but they do have to be on the right path and settled in their careers. They understand that working hard, being open to new things and achieving success by following your dreams are values imperative to being successful in life.
US: Peter, how did you get involved with Stoked and what do you do as their Head Volunteer Surfing Instructor?
Peter Paris (PP): I was lucky enough to score a job on the X Games in Puerto Escondido as a translator in 2005-06. It’s such a small venue you get to surf and hangout with all the heroes. It was such a milestone in my surflife. I was really amped… Anyway, I met Sal and we got to talking about his mentoring program and he mentioned they were looking for a surf instructor, which is what I do half of the year running Go Surf LA. I had been looking to get more involved with my surf community for a long time, so I volunteered to teach three years ago and never stopped.
US: I used to skate growing up. Picked up surfing once I learned to drive. Did a lot of snowboarding shortly after. Surfing is, hands down, the toughest. The Surf Mentor program runs six weeks during the summer. Is that enough to really learn how to surf?
PP: I agree surfing is the toughest of the three sports. We have some brave kids and mentors that become pretty independent surfers in six weeks. Everyone is catching waves on their own and at least standing on whitewash and some can take off and trim across the face.
US: Where do you guys surf and what kind of boards are you riding?
PP: We surf the beach breaks in Santa Monica, which is a great beginners beach and can get pretty fun. We ride INT and Sunset softboards between 8’0 and 9’4.
Surfing teaches you so many lessons. Stoked does a great job of discussing the process and emphasizing relevant themes like respect, trust, environment.
US: The ocean has a way of putting things in perspective. Out there, you don’t know what kind of car people drive or whether they wear a suit. Out there, we’re all just surfers. And out there, we are on nature’s clock. Do the kids appreciate this sense of equality when they are surfing?
PP: Surfing teaches you so many lessons. Stoked does a great job of discussing the process and emphasizing relevant themes like respect, trust, environment. I think the kids definitely get the sense that the person on the next peak over is just like them in a lot of ways.
US: Do you remember the first time a mentoring pair caught their first wave?
PP: One of the coolest things is that everyone stands up on the first day. So you know they’ve just made a huge breakthrough in their surflife.
US: What was your most memorable moment during your time with Surf Mentor?
PP: This year, about the third week in we had some kids that were riding along and would just jump into switch. I was like “What? We didn’t talk about that.” It was really cool to see them going for it on their own. You could definitely see the crossover from the Stoked Skate program.
Our network of sponsors, volunteers, mentors and schools are unbelievable. We are truly blessed to be where we are.
US: Steve, when you hooked up with Sal late in 2004, it was clear that you had some big ideas for Stoked Mentoring. In less than five years, you launched Skate and Surf Mentor. You extended your reach to Los Angeles. The sponsorship list reads like a who’s who of extreme sports. You earned non-profit status. You scored a fancy logo. You’re doing art auctions!! Are you there yet??
SL: We are certainly pleased with the expansion of Surf and Snow Mentor and are pleased to announce that we have expanded into Brooklyn. Our network of sponsors, volunteers, mentors and schools are unbelievable. We are truly blessed to be where we are. To say that we “are there yet” is not possible. Our work will never achieve a point where we cannot grow anymore. There will always be youth in need of positive guidance. There will always be a kid who needs that extra push or door to be opened so they can have the opportunities we had growing up. As long as there are those needs we will be around doing everything we can to create Successful Teens through Opportunity, Knowledge, Experience and Determination!
US: Thanks again to you both and the great people that make up Stoked. A lot of us think about doing kind things in life. Very few actually do them.
Any closing comments?
PP: Yeah, my whole involvement with Stoked is pretty serendipitous, and I really want to say what’s up to my sister Christie in Athens, Greece. She was working as a massage therapist there during the Olympics in 2004, when she was befriended by her client- another amazing person, Christy Nicolay. Christy was the Executive Producer for the Athens Olympics and Director for the X Games in Mexico. My sister introduced us when she was visiting in LA. Thanks a lot sis!
If you’d like to participate in or donate to Stoked Mentoring, visit their website. Stoked Mentoring has local chapters in Los Angeles and New York.