Tampere's Samke central upper secondary school is rolling out Finland's first specialised high school skateboarding programme this autumn.
The institution is a specialised high school offering programmes in sports as well as communications, both of which are incorporated into the skateboarding-emphasised coursework.
"A similar programme has been going on in Malmö, Sweden since 2005," explained Teemu Grönlund, Samke's skateboarding curriculum coordinator.
The skater boys and girls are still expected to take part in traditional high school classes, but the programme also emphasises subjects such as audiovisual communication as well as event organisation. Photography and video production are key elements of the skating culture, Grönlund said.
Skateboarding tricks only last a few moments but skaters often record the manoeuvres for posterity and share them with friends.
If a student wants to put more emphasis on the competitive sports, then they can take advantage of the opportunities offered by the school's sports side, Grönlund explained.
"But competitive sports are just a small part of skateboarding," he emphasised.
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"Clearly this group [of students], which just got started, is interested in skate culture. This includes, for example, the development of urban culture, community spirit and events. And fashion," he exclaimed.
"Skateboarders have always been at the forefront of innovating fashion trends, and a couple of years after they do, the trends can be seen in retail shop windows," he said.
Grönlund is a researcher as well as a biology and geography teacher. He also helped to establish — and chairs — the Pirkanmaan Kaarikoirat association, a collective skateboard organisation promoting the sport as well as DIY culture often associated with skateboarding.
The skating students get to practice in Finland's largest indoor concrete skateboarding hall in the city's Hiedanranta district, a skater's obstacle course built by local skateboarding enthusiasts.
"This has long been a wish and dream of mine. Now it really seems that everything has come together," Grönlund said.
"The environment here at Hiedanranta certainly inspires everyone to develop their own areas of strength, whatever they may be. These days going to high school is tedious and time consuming — this is the counterbalance to it," he said.
'It's what I want to do'
Skater student Oona Kaskinen began skateboarding nine months ago but moved around 140km northeast from Turku to Tampere so she could take part in the specialised programme.
"I wanted to make sure that, in addition to school, I could do the sport as much as possible," she said.
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Meanwhile, Ruu Ahlstedt from Fiskars has skated for about a year-and-a-half.
"I skate every single day. I take the sport seriously because it's what I want to do," Ahlstedt said, although he isn't necessarily looking to make a living at the sport.
"I don't have the aspiration to become a professional. I just want to skate as much as I can and develop my skills as much as possible," he explained.
Kaskinen said she's aiming to learn new skills.
"I want to learn new tricks, the kind I have dreamed of doing. I'd also like to show people that skateboarding is a good thing and not just [the source of] some noisy voices on the street," she explained.
"I just want to skate and graduate with good grades," she added.
Coaching is a "strange word"
Two coaches — professional skaters Jussi Korhonen and Samu Karvonen — help to teach and train the students to learn new skills twice a week. Korhonen is a trained physical education instructor and Karvonen is in the process of finishing up a professional coaching degree.
Korhonen has been skateboarding for more than 30 years and even carved out an international career in the sport. Meanwhile, Karvonen is one of Finland's best known representatives of skateboarding.
Korhonen noted that some people think he might be too old to be involved in the sport anymore.
Conceding his relatively high age for the sport, he said "it does take longer to physically recover from [skateboarding]. Every time I hop on the board, I'm 14 years old. And with these high school students, in many ways I feel like them," Korhonen said.
Karvonen said that the title "skateboarding coach" didn't quite fit his actual job at the school.
"'Coaching' is a bit of a strange word. Rather we are mentors or tutors," he explained.
Getting deeply involved in skateboarding doesn't necessarily mean having to be a great athlete, according to Karvonen.
People can participate in the sport as photographers, event coordinators or as a local club operator who builds skate parks and promotes skateboarding, he said.
"Now we're giving and showing [the kids] there are more possibilities of what can be done together within the discipline, while enjoying the hobby," Karvonen explained.
The school's new programme for skaters was set up with help from the City of Tampere and the institution's Rector Tuija Ylöniemi. Additional cooperation came from the Olympic Committee as well as the Tampere sports academy (Tampereen Urheiluakatemia).