Extreme Faith

Another who is influencing the skate culture for the gospel is Dave Wylie. Ranked third nationally last year as an amateur, he has just joined the pro tour and is sponsored by 777. He is also a member of the 777 demonstration team and has appeared in three skateboarding videos.

"Because I am one of them [a skateboarder], I don't really have to reach out to people I don't understand," says Wylie, 22, a member of Calvary Chapel Capistrano Valley. "Steve uses me as a pawn to get others. He uses me to show people that you can do awesome things on a skateboard and be a Christian."

Fellow 777 skater Gorgoglione started skateboarding when he was 10, after an initial love affair with surfing. The progression was both natural and historical, as skateboarding was invented in the 1960s by surfers who practiced their sport on land with small, wheel-mounted versions of their wave-riding boards.

Gorgoglione went to church as a youth. Sometimes he actually went inside--but usually he was there after hours riding his skateboard on the sidewalks and performing ollies on the handrails.

Gorgoglione showed up at Shippy's house one day and taught Shippy's son, Logan, how to do a kickflip. Shippy taught Gorgoglione about the love of Jesus and the need for salvation.

"The day I met Steve, I accepted Jesus Christ in my heart," Gorgoglione says. "Now I can see how kids are being tormented by riding evil boards. There are a lot of demons, fire, blood and violence in skateboarding. Satan is after the minds of the kids. We put angels on our [777] boards, and we pray over each one."

And why do kids love extreme sports?

"It feels like you are flying," says Shippy's 12-year-old daughter, Michelle, who favors snowboarding and boogeyboarding. "All kids are daredevils."

Shippy attests to his daughter's fearlessness. "She did a front flip on a razor [shooter] over a 25-foot gap," he says. In July, his 8-year-old son, Logan--a skateboarder--was ranked second in the state by the California Association of Skateboarding.

Daniel Butcher, 9, of Orlando, Florida, thinks skateboarding teaches people how to reach and go beyond their limits.

"It is exciting and challenging," he says. "You can test yourself to see how well you can do, to reach your limits."

Chappell agrees. "It is a challenge," she says. "It is the rush, the element of speed. It is a positive way to vent your energy."

"When I was a teen, my whole life was racing bikes," says Shippy, now 37, but who had turned pro as a BMX racer by the time he was 14. "So I know what these kids are like and how the competition drives them. I know the rush they are looking for."

Teamed Up for Ministry

Like many individual sports, skateboarding operates with sponsors. Commercial enterprises, such as Mountain Dew, Panasonic, clothing companies and board manufacturers, sponsor professional skaters. Professionals such as Thomas, Tony Hawk and Eric Coston are identified by the brands they advertise.

Following this model, Shippy, who is based in San Clemente, California, set up 777 Skateboards in August 1998. The ministry has several dimensions, which include a core team of skaters who give demonstrations at church events and mainstream venues. Members of the core or Pro Ride Team are Wylie, Gorgoglione, Logan Shippy, Jeremy Cervantes and Andy Larochelle.

Also included is a very loose sponsorship of 50 other professionals and amateurs who wear Zoo Clothing and ride 777 boards. Shippy provides or sells equipment, attire and stickers to hundreds of skateboarding hobbyists around the world, mostly boys and girls under age 18. He gives out $100,000 of product a year and gets about 100 requests by e-mail per week.

"I'd like to give it all away, but I can't," he says.

He does support some youth who are not quite talented enough to be competitors under the usual skateboarding criteria.

"Out of 100 kids I talk to that want to ride 777, maybe one or two warrant a sponsorship," Shippy says. "The problem is, Jesus Christ sees all 100 as superstars and wants every one of them on His team. That is the challenge."

Although he has to be selective about whom he sponsors, Shippy responds to each e-mail request and answers questions about Jesus. In three years he has prayed individually with a couple of hundred skaters who wanted to receive Christ.

"There is nothing on earth I would rather do," Shippy says. "It is an incredible feeling to know you are doing exactly what you were created and designed to do."

For Shippy, the clear goal is making contact with the subculture.

"You have to become one of them," he says. "I am, and that is why I can reach them. If my excitement about skateboarding was not real, they can smell a fake a million miles away. You have to be in their hell. Then you can reach them."

With their crosses and "777" logo, skateboards built by Shippy's company offer an alternative to the dark images found on most boards. Shippy designs and manufactures his own 777 boards, using the finest products and technology. In fact, they are coming out with a Dave Wylie board, now that he has turned professional.

Zoo clothing raises eyebrows, both those of Christians and non-Christians.

"We have a little bit of an attitude," Shippy says. "We have to if the skaters are going to believe us. But we pray over every design."

One of the eye-catching T-shirt images depicts a young man urinating on the devil. Another features a tattooed skateboarder flexing his muscles in a Popeye pose and holding a newspaper with the headline "Good News." The tattoo is a heart with an arrow through it and Jesus' name written in the center.

The Zoo slogan? "A bunch of freaks with nothing better to do than to remind you of what really matters."

Despite having limited funds--he pays for almost everything out of his own pocket--Shippy runs Zoo Ministries and 777 Skateboards full time and has a staff of three.

"This is my ministry," he says. He also owns a construction company but spends most of his time with skateboarders.

"Everything is for Jesus. I just want to get a board or a shirt in their hands," Shippy says. "The message is there. It will get them thinking."

That's what happened with Steve Thronsen, former lead singer of the rock group Cottonmouth Kings. A demonstration by 777 Skateboards had been set up outside a concert hall where Thronsen was performing. After the event, Thronsen asked if he could ride the ramps, and soon after that encounter he accepted Christ as his Savior and quit the rock band.

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