Churches Turn to Surfing and Skating to Spread Gospel

( [email protected] ) Jul 22, 2003 02:08 AM EDT

More churches in beach communities are catching the wave of popularity of surfing and skateboarding to reach out to young adults, Charisma News reported.

Trying to make religion relevant to everyday life, congregations and ministries in recent years have been turning to the activities once considered fringe sports, despite their reputation as aggressive, anti-establishment sports.

According to "The Orlando (Florida) Sentinel," "churches realize that surfing and skateboarding are fertile grounds for youth outreach." The newspaper noted that there's even a Christian skateboard-clothing company and a version of the New Testament aimed at surfers.

Skateboarding and surfing have been thrust into the mainstream thanks to events such as the X-Games and movies such as "Blue Crush." Some of the top professional boarders including skater Jamie Thomas and surfer C.T. Taylor are also enthusiastic Christians.

"You need to be culturally relevant and doctrinally sound," said Eddy Fredryk, who served for eight years as a youth pastor at First Baptist Church of Central Florida with congregations in Orlando and Ocoee. "It's been in the last 10 years that church people started thinking outside of the box. True Christianity is challenging Christians to take their faith to where they live and where they play."

Fredryk, 41, has skateboarded since the 1970s and until recently ran a skateboard ministry called Splinter. Recently, he moved to Fort Pierce, Fla., to become the senior pastor at Southside Baptist Church and to set up a Crosswaves chapter there.

A surfing ministry that proclaims to be "surfing for the Savior," Crosswaves offers free surfing lessons to anyone who stays for about an hour-long Bible study, the "Sentinel" reported.

"We're not a surfing ministry. We're a ministry that happens to surf," said Jim McCleary, 47, who started the ministry in 1996 after God spoke to him while dining with an Indonesian missionary.

Similar to Crosswaves, Ramp 48 skate park in Pompano Beach, Fla., lets skaters in for free, provided they listen to "the message." Co-owner of the park who leads a weekly Bible study, Mike Pechonis, 43, opened the park five years ago after a Friday-night skating ministry grew too big for his backyard.

Aside from one night a week, the park is a secular one and charges skaters by the hour.

"The Bible tells us it's active and alive," said Pechonis, who opened a second Ramp 48 in West Palm Beach, Fla., two years ago. "I just make it applicable and relatable to the skater."

Pechonis' ministry has impacted Pompano Beach resident Kevin Phillips, 16, a skateboarder who said he was a "total atheist" before attending the Tuesday Bible study at Ramp 48.

The first time he went to Ramp 48 about two years ago, Phillips admits, it was only for the free skate. He would "space out" during the 30-minute sermon and then hop to his feet when it was over.

Mindful that teenagers his age can slip easily into drugs and alcohol abuse, Phillips told the "Sentinel" that his life would be different without Ramp 48. "It would be girls and drugs, I know it. If this wasn't here, I wouldn't have picked up a Bible."

Phillips' transformation is exactly what leaders of surf and skate ministries pray for. They recognize that many kids, if their parents aren't churchgoers, may never step foot in a church.

"It's so powerful in kids' minds to see that [they] can wear skate clothing and be a Christian at the same time," said Mike Doyle, a pastor at Calvary Chapel in Gulf Breeze, Fla., who started a skateboard ministry called Boardriders. "They can have spiked hair, tattoos and baggy clothing, and God still loves them."