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Sean Reilly with some of his skate students. Photo: SUPPLIED

Connecting the community, one ollie at a time

Sean Reilly is a regular fixture at the Whitianga skate park. But he’s not just a skater – he’s a teacher, a mentor, and most recently, the recipient of Sport Waikato’s Community Connection award. 

The Whitianga Skate School was born out of necessity. An early childhood teacher, Sean had found himself between jobs at the beginning of the pandemic. With a passion for boarding, he said to his partner: why not offer skateboarding lessons?

What began with 30 kids grew week-on-week, until he found himself teaching 84 kids – and their mums, too. 

“Well over half the kids that I’ve got are new to skating,” Sean said. 

“They’re all beginners, so it’s kind of cool to see them try new things and enjoy trying skateboarding. I think it’s pretty rad.”

Sean said his classes catered to all ages, genders, and personalities. 

“It’s such an individual sport, everyone’s got their own little way of doing it –  there’s no one way to do things. Whether you like going fast or you like doing technical things, I think that’s a big thing. It’s like a real creative outlet.”

Sean was astonished to be nominated for the 2022 Waikato Sport and Active Recreation awards. 

“I was just blown away, really,” he said. “Especially to be going to an awards night. I didn’t really expect this time last year to be doing something like that.” 

For Sean, it was never about the recognition, but rather connecting with his former students, and introducing them to an exciting and challenging new hobby. 

“I grew up in Whiti, I’ve lived here my whole life,” he said. “When I grew up there wasn’t as many things for the kids to do.” 

Sean said there were now many local activities available in the area, such as surf lessons, ju-jitsu, touch and dance. 

“It’s really positive that there’s so many people doing cool things for the youth in our area that provide physical and mental wellbeing.”

And the community seems to agree. 

“To see how many people are into it and also supporting me and talking about how much of a beneficial thing it is for our kids and the people in our area – it’s pretty cool when you get feedback like that,” he said. 

Sean talks technique with his students. Photo: SUPPLIED

Sean provides all the gear the children need to learn, and he also has support from the local supermarket, who provide food for the children every afternoon. It’s become a small community in its own right, with many of the participating families becoming friends and supporting each other. Several home-schooling families from across the peninsula have also joined the skate school, and use it as an opportunity to socialise. 

One of Sean’s favourite things about his classes is seeing the growth in confidence and resilience in his students. 

“It’s one of those things you have to persevere at. It’s not like kicking a ball – skating you have to be able to fall over and get back on again. It’s a good metaphor for life, really, shake it off, get back up and keep going, don’t let it deter you,” Sean said.

“I think the thing that hooks people [is] once you land a move, how good it feels to put so much time and effort into something and achieve what you want from it.”

Sean is now looking to collaborate with some schools and expand his skate classes. 

“These kids are amazing, and I feel blessed to be able to provide them with some knowledge of a sport I love so much.”

By ALICE PARMINTER, Public Journalism funded by NZ on Air