Pushing for a cause: Evolution of B4BC’s Skate the Lake
TAHOE CITY, Calif. — In the early dawn hours of an October morning, a group of skateboarders wearing various shades of pink are huddled together in a group in the Homewood Mountain Resort parking lot. It’s 2007, and a surprise snow storm came in the night before, blanketing the paved bike paths. The skaters wait until the sun rises and snow starts melting before catching a shuttle to Sugar Pine State Park and trying to push 32 miles around parts of the Lake Tahoe Basin, together.
This is the first time I’ve ever been on a longboard. I had moved to North Lake Tahoe months before and heard that my friend Curt Sterner was putting on an event called Skate the Lake to bring awareness to breast cancer and how to prevent it early on. Sterner had been friends with Tahoe Longboards owner Chuck Buckley Vogt, and together they built up the event to what it is today.
“Way back before Skate the Lake, my mom got breast cancer,” Vogt says. He explains that at that time in his life, longboarding was the only positive thing he had going.
One of his high school buddies had skateboarded the entire 72 miles around Lake Tahoe, and he wanted to attempt it. He also felt that maybe he could improve the relationship with his mom by sending her some good vibes to beat the cancer as he skateboarded around the lake for her.
“I wanted to take my longboard and go around the whole lake, do something for her, as well as create awareness for this disease,” explains Vogt.
The best way to do that, he felt, was forming a big, marathon-style event open to the public, but it proved to be difficult getting permits from the five counties and two states that make up the Tahoe Basin. Around that time, Buckley met Sterner, an events organizer/punk band tour manager, and their common goal blossomed into what is now a decades-old friendship and business partnership.
“Chuck’s mom was a breast cancer survivor, and my mom was a survivor as well. I was involved with the Warped Tour and B4BC [Boarding for Breast Cancer], and I had done a running relay around Lake Tahoe where we each ran two miles. We thought maybe we could do a two-mile relay on skateboards around the lake as a fundraiser to go towards breast cancer prevention.
“I always saw B4BC on the [Vans] Warped Tour and helped them with their road cases. I loved what they did in educating young people ways that they could pay attention to their bodies to prevent breast cancer,” Sterner says.
How B4BC formed is an interesting story in itself; it was created in the late 90s when snowboarder Monica Steward died of breast cancer at 28 years old that stemmed from complications which surfaced from her delayed diagnosis. It rocked the snowboard community, and a few of her friends including Lisa Hudson, Kathleen Gasparini, along with pro snowboarders Shannon Dunn and Tina Basich, held the first ever B4BC Snowboard & Music Festival at Sierra-at-Tahoe in 1996. Sadly, Steward died right before the event, but her spirit was present in her celebration of life, love, music, and snowboarding.
“When I met Chuck, I said I wanted to support these guys. I liked that they were all about prevention and were on a mission to decrease the number of people affected by breast cancer,” Sterner recalls. He had met Vogt at a snowboard event in Tahoe, and the two became fast friends. However, since it was too hard to get permission to hold a skate event around the entire lake, they sat down and drew out a course around Lake Tahoe that was more possible for the public to complete.
“We came up with the logo, the name, broke it down into 32 miles, and invited everyone. After that first one, it really took off,” Vogt adds. In later years the course was shortened to 28 miles since the stretch to Dollar Point from Tahoe City and back was getting a bit hairy.
Sterner always wanted Skate the Lake to end at Commons Beach, too, and a few years down the road was fortunate to get the blessing of the Tahoe City Public Utilities District board to finish there with a party on the lake. The event is also now held in July or August to mitigate the risk of inclement weather. And then instead of charging participants a flat fee to enter, B4BC came up with the concept of the Top Fundraiser, encouraging participants to go out and raise money prior to the event. After implementing the new structure, Skate the Lake went from generating around $8,000 a year to $30,000.
“Kids started coming in with $2,000 instead of $25 as their entry fee. Fuel TV and Tahoe TV came out and filmed, and then social media helped- we went from MySpace to Facebook and Instagram,” Sterner chuckles.
B4BC also added a Skate the Coast event in Southern California held in October (Breast Cancer Awareness Month) and one in Des Moines, Iowa. And in Tahoe, participation in Skate the Lake has grown over the years from a couple dozen people to around 100 skateboarders, bike riders, and roller skaters, coming from all over the West Coast.
One of Skate the Lake’s top fundraisers is the Knight family, whose kids have grown up with the event. Jason works for the North Lake Tahoe Fire Department and his wife Lyndsay grew up in Tahoe City; they both still live in the area and are actively involved in the community. Jason has been skateboarding his whole life, but Lyndsay had just bought him a Tahoe Longboard when he saw a flyer for Skate the Lake at Tahoe Dave’s.
“My aunt had breast cancer and I thought it’d be good to do that and think of her. She had a lateral mastectomy years ago and is doing fine now,” Jason says. He’s taken part in Skate the Lake every year since 2006 and brought his family into it.
“When my son Collin was a baby, I skated with him in my arms and then when he was a little older, he would ride on the nose of my board. When my kids started skating it was a whole new thing. I think Collin was the youngest kid to Skate the Lake at six years old and our other son Dylan did it on his bike when he was five. When Dylan was seven, he skateboarded the entire distance,” Jason says. The Knight family has participated in Skate the Lake every year since their kids were born, and he credits his wife Lyndsay for being great at the fundraising part and getting the information out there in the months leading up to the event.
“We got into a fundraising competition with Skatey Katie Lyssand [2015’s top fundraiser] and a few other kids who participate in Skate the Lake every year; we’re trying to teach our kids to think of the world in a bigger way and make a difference, and this seemed like a great cause to get them involved in.
“Skate the Lake is a great family event, and we always look forward to seeing everyone every year; it’s a nice reunion. It’s cool to see new faces, too, like when the roller derby girls started coming out. There’s always a happy, fun, positive vibe.
“Lisa [Hudson] and Tina [Basich] have done such a good job on organizing and pushing the message for young people to take care of themselves, know their bodies, live healthy and active lives. It’s an easy cause for us to support; I hope to skate the lake with my grandkids someday,” Jason adds.
Personally, I always wanted to learn how to skateboard and figured that maybe I’d get the hang of it if I was with fellow skateboarders who knew what they were doing. It was pretty brutal, being out there on the paved bike path in the cold on my Talmont ’52 TLB, but the experience was powerful. I’ve taken part every year since 2007 and every time it’s a powerful experience as I think about those who have fought and beat breast cancer as well as those we’ve lost.
Even though we all start out on the bike path together, everyone ends up spreading out and going at their own pace. The times when I’m alone and taking in the forest and pushing along the shoreline of the glimmering blue lake when I get overwhelmingly emotional, thinking about how lucky I am to be alive, surrounded by wonderful people, and being a part of something bigger than myself.
Vogt feels the same way. “It’s such a spiritual experience for me. I zone out on it. It’s hard to explain, but it’s like I reach enlightenment. I believe there’s an energy you give off into the stratosphere; and I think this event is all about giving back and it reflects on who you are as a person.”
“Breast cancer is the only cancer you can find and stop and still live a full life, and Skate the Lake has become such a big part of our community and our lives. It’s cool to see it bring people together and how people drop everything to come to this event. There’s a lot of comradery, and it’s so awesome to see everyone coming together with love,” Vogt says.
“There are so many different elements to Skate the Lake, and it’s a fun way to stimulate the local economy. People come to rely on this, it’s their reason to come to Tahoe for their once-a-year vacation,” Sterner adds.
“Breast cancer is not going away, and our mission is early detection and living an active lifestyle, and this falls within those lines.”
The 18th Annual Skate the Lake is taking place July 23-24.
For more information about how to sign up or get involved, visit https://b4bc.org/.
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