Skateboarders Enlisted in Hopatcong’s Anti-Drug Effort
Skaters and cops may be an unlikely partnership, but on Wednesday, the two parties locked arms for one singular cause: To show kids that there alternatives to drugs. “As much as people think it (skateboarding) is going to lead you into it (drugs and alcohol), it kept me away from it,” said R.J. Gavlak, an Original Skateboards employee who has volunteered to be a skateboard instructor for the borough’s new initiative to curb drug and alcohol use. The Fun Without Drugs Skateboarding Program launched Wednesday and will run each Wednesday from 3:30 to 4:45 p.m. until Dec. 19. Although the initiative got off to a wobbly start without any children registered to participate, Hopatcong Municipal Alliance Coordinator Lauren Swern believes it will catch on.The program was established by the Hopatcong Municipal Alliance, which decided to use grant money from the Governor’s Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse and Hopatcong Borough Police Department’s Drug Enforcement Demand Reduction Fund (money from fines collected from drug and alcohol offenses) to finance the innovative community-based program. Swern said the organization wanted to create a positive outlet for children that would build their self esteem, while also using existing borough resources. All heads turned to Hopatcong Skate Park behind the Rite Aid plaza on Hopatchung Road.
The alliance then reached out to Original Skateboards, a longboard skateboard company based in Newton, and Small Empire Skate Park in Flanders for support. Each company has offered skate instructors to assess young skaterboarders’ skill level and teach them new tricks based on their ability.
“Longboarding gives me a sense of happiness and it’s a stress reliever,” said Andrew Licata, an Original Skateboards employee who has also been featured in the company’s online skate videos. “If I’m having a bad day, it will calm me down, and if I’m having a good day, it’s a great way to hang out with friends and push each other.”
As opposed to turning to drugs and alcohol, Licata said he has used longboarding as his outlet.
“If something’s going wrong, I always had skateboarding,” Gavlak said. “It’s always been a big help for me.”
Gavlak said drug and alcohol abuse isn’t conducive to being a successful skateboarder: “To skateboard, you have to be pretty healthy and know what you’re doing.”
“It’s not good to mix the two,” Licata said. “If you’re on something, you could seriously injure yourself if you’re at a skate park.”
Bob Haffner, Hopatcong community police officer, said helmets are strictly required to participate and always required when skating at the borough’s concrete skate park. Hopatcong Skate Park will also be closed to all others not participating in the program Wednesdays from 3:30 to 4:45 p.m. Interested skaters or novices between the ages 10 and 15 must register for the program.
On rainy days, Swern said, program participants will be invited into one of the schools to play Tony Hawk on Nintendo Wii. Each skate session will be combined with a 15-minute drug and alcohol awareness lesson plan.
“If you get into it and you like it, skating’s something that will stick with you,” Gavlak said. “You can do it when you please and you can do it by yourself, which is awesome.”
By Lindsay Cayetana Bouchel