Grit City Grindhouse

Photo by: Jeff Hobson

According to Taylor Woodruff, manager at Grit City Grindhouse in downtown Tacoma, “Employers value people that have resilience and will work hard to keep improving.”

These traits are both celebrated and fostered at Grit City Grindhouse, which operates as an outreach program under the Alchemy Skateboarding nonprofit umbrella. Woodruff, who also serves as the nonprofit’s executive director, indicated many behaviors that come naturally to the skater also are highly valued in the workplace. In fact, without grit, Woodruff believes most entrepreneurs could not succeed.

“Skateboarders are inherent risk-takers, so it’s their lifestyle and culture to have determination, grit, and creativity,” Woodruff said. “Risk-taking is an admired trait when applied properly, and it’s our job here at the Grindhouse to help skaters learn to mitigate and promote the right types of risks, and then take the skills into the community.”

Alchemy was formed in 2014 as a 501c3, but the idea was conceived in 2011, when founder and advocate Ben

Warner led a charge to decriminalize skateboarding in Tacoma.

“We found out over half the skateboarders in the city had dropped out of high school, and we couldn’t understand why they were falling through the cracks,” Woodruff said. “These people were smart, had skills, and were extremely hard workers.”

According to Woodruff, the skating community in general had become marginalized across the nation, and the associated shame had become a huge barrier to success. “Skaters are viewed as outcasts in this country, and the stigma has impacted self-esteem and confidence,” he said, “We saw an entire network of young learners here that were already putting their skills to practice, but they couldn’t overcome the stigma.”

The team decided something had to be done. With the mission of closing the gap and working to integrate members of the skating community into the societal mainstream, the organization formed a series of programs to bolster healthy skater traits and teach skaters how to use these skills to succeed in school and the workplace.

Woodruff, a skater himself and graduate of the University of Puget Sound, indicated the organization’s goal is to, “create resources and skills to help local skaters get involved, and become viable employees and citizens,” which in turn, he added, “will go a long way to destigmatize and demystify the skating culture.”

In addition to the Grindhouse indoor skatepark, which enables staff to reach local skaters, Alchemy runs programs inside and outside the public education system. In some Tacoma schools, students are even able to earn credit for completing skateboard-friendly programs. The organization also administers mentorship programs that transform skaters into leaders.

“It’s a part of life to learn how to take intelligent risks,” Woodruff said. “Skateboarders already understand failure as a step to success, and that makes them excellent leadership material.”