The rapid spinning of wheels wasn’t the only thing rumbling the concrete of Derby Skate Park last Saturday. 

The noise of live heavy metal bands and the crackling of skateboards flooded the park on May 1. About 300 friends, neighbors, and family members watched local skaters shred in a six-hour skate competition in acknowledgement of Mental Health Awareness Month. 

Santa Cruz locals Nathan Henry and Jacob Dennis held the event to raise funds for Coastal Turning Point, a mental health center based in downtown Santa Cruz. Henry felt inspired to bring awareness to the local skate and surf community after his childhood friend, who suffered from mental health issues including bipolar disorder, passed away last year.

“I’ve grown up in the skate and surf community and I’ve always found that it’s been a great outlet and a great community to lean back on to help you when you’re feeling like you’re having a hard time,” Henry said. “I want to raise money to eventually get to the point where I can teach people who are bipolar, have ADD, ADHD, or depression and anxiety how to surf or how to skate. We got volunteers all throughout the community already ready to help these people, so for right now we’re raising money so I can get that started.”

The skate contest held four different segments, with the first two sections for groms, or kids under 17 who are highly skilled in skating or surfing. The other two segments were for women and men, respectively. Judges gave away prizes for the best slam, best trick, and for first, second, and third place winners. Most of the contestants, including Cole Meyer and Caroline King, were Santa Cruz locals who knew the organizers and wanted to support the cause.

Caroline King, sponsored by Skateworks, rips around the mini pocket quarter at Derby Skate Park. Photo by Gabriela Levy.

Through raffle prizes and a $20 admission fee for participants, Henry and Dennis raised almost $9,000, with 70 percent of the profits going to Coastal Turning Point.

“We don’t have any county funding or anything. We don’t have opportunities to give away the treatment as much as we’d like or to reduce the costs as much as we’d like,” said Cassia Bloom, co-owner and clinical director of Coastal Turning Point. “So it’s a real opportunity for us to help some of those people who call us.”

Bloom and executive director Sean Smith founded Coastal Turning Point in 2015 to provide support to those who suffer from mental health disorders, addiction, chronic pain, and psychological trauma. Bloom mentioned that she was impressed with the turnout and Smith looks forward to doing more events with Henry.

Meyer, who came in third place and won best trick for doing a darkslide on the lip of the bigger bowl, and Finn Tershy, who is sponsored by several skate companies including Spitfire Wheels and Skateworks, had similar thoughts on the contest. To them, the event was a space to gather with friends and have fun while also banding together to commemorate a loss in the community. 

“A lot of contests are really commercial big events and so it’s just cool to have the community come together and do something especially for a good cause,” Tershy said. “It’s not all built around making money and commercial value so that’s really cool to see how it’s just much more community oriented.”

In addition to organizing the fundraiser, earlier this year, Henry founded “Fight,” a non-profit organization that aims to destigmatize the conversation around mental health disorders and promotes healthy coping mechanisms through skating and surfing. 

King, who is sponsored by the locally owned shop Skateworks, said mental health issues are common yet brushed over within the skate community. At the event, King said she felt transparency she hadn’t before within the skate community regarding mental health awareness. 

“When it comes to mental health, don’t ever feel like you have to follow certain rules to be okay,” King said. “If you have to go skateboard and throw your skateboard and scream and yell and cry and dance, do that. Don’t ever feel like you have to apologize for the ways you need to make yourself okay as long as [you’re] not hurting anyone else.”