Paul Anderson slides behind a pulpit in a Northeast Portland warehouse and addresses 40 or so young men seated in flimsy plastic chairs. Around them, skateboard wheels squeak and squeal. Anderson begins: “Let’s pray, man.” Most hats come off, but some stay on. That, too, is cool.
This is Skatechurch. Founded in 1987 by a 23-year-old Anderson and his childhood friend Clint Bidleman in the parking lot of Northeast Portland’s Central Bible Church, it combines two religions into one: skateboarding and evangelical Christianity. Former semipro skaters, Anderson and Bidleman had become fed up with SoCal’s party scene. After Bidleman died in the early ’90s, Anderson continued their mission and, in 1996, built a warehouse for their church in that parking lot. The drill: skate for an hour, break for Bible study, back to skating.
With a weekly assembly of as many as 150 shredding brethren—they’re mostly male, mostly under 30—Skatechurch is one gritty outpost of a diverse flock of what one might call “alternative” evangelical options. (You shall know them by their modernist branding and dog-eared copies of Blue Like Jazz.) In this case, the emphasis falls on clean living rarely associated with the sport.
“We’re showing you can be a skateboarder without some of the elements pop culture says are essential,” says Dave Smith, Skatechurch’s development director. “I am no less a skater because I don’t do those extracurricular activities.”
The 6,400-square-foot warehouse includes a mini-ramp, two street courses, and a gaping wooden bowl completed last June. Skatechurch has clocked nearly 12,000 individual skaters since its conception 29 years ago. In January, they drew up plans for a 10,000-square-foot expansion, doubling its current capacity.
As Anderson, now 51, wraps up his sermon on heaven, he grins. “It’s going to be ... awesome,” he says, before dropping into the bowl.