Game Changer: Pro skateboarder shares passion with a new crowd
Before you even get to the River Arts District Skatepark you know you're entering a different world. Almost every inch of available wall is covered in graffiti and eclectic shops separate one piece of art from the other. Inside the skatepark, the uniqueness ramps up a notch thanks to Kevin Shelton. His voice is constant background music, playfully throwing people out and deeming them "ugly" every few seconds. "It attracts people that don't fit into some team type organizations things," Shelton said of skateboarding.
He's devoted his life to the sport and is currently ranked 113th in the world in the park discipline for 2018. He remembers the days when there were no skateparks in Asheville and he and his peers were sometimes treated as outlaws. He makes sure everyone who walks through the doors at RAD feel welcomed immediately; including Ian Lau. "He just gets Ian and he has from minute one," gushed Christine Lau, Ian's mother. "He expects only excellence from him and he gets it."
Ian has Asperger's Syndrome, a highly functioning form of Autism. The most obvious way it manifests is in social situations. "He struggles with even just reading body language or facial expressions," explained Christine. When he's riding a board, however, all those issues disappear. Ian has no problem interacting with Shelton, stealing his red trucker hat and knocking on his helmet to identify himself as a "knucklehead." Shelton will lead him to various ramps around the skatepark and hold his hand the first time he goes down. Quickly though, he's doing it on his own. "Rapid motion is kind of part of what helps him because his brain works real fast and works real diligently," Shelton explained of Ian, hearkening back to training he received on the slopes for teaching snowboarding to children with Autism. "You're going up the wall, you've got to think about pumping. When you get to the top of the wall you've got to think about compression and then you've got to think about showing off and rolling down, and waving at the crowd so you've got a whole lot to think about," said Shelton, wildly gesturing as he explained each step.
More beneficial than any trick is how Ian is received by his fellow skaters. Everyone lends a helping hand and jokes around with him, treating him as their equal. "I really think there is something here, there is something about skateboarding. Especially when you have the right coach," stated Christine. "I think of it as therapy for him [Ian]. Thankfully he loves it. It helps with the way he's wired. It helps things be easier."
Shelton will be holding skateboarding camps in April at RAD. They will run from April 2nd-6th, starting at 8:00am and ending at 8:00pm.