The Dallas-Launched Skate Straight Recovery Program — Geared Toward Skaters, Artists And The LGBTQ Community — Now Boasts Four Chapters Across The Globe.
For better or worse, skaters are fairly widely known to be a pretty hard-partying lot.
They’re by no means alone in this reputation, of course: Music and art scenes too, in some cases deservedly, have earned similar notoriety as worlds heavily pervaded by the self-destructive culture of drug and/or alcohol abuse.
A handful of notable exceptions aside, though, very few mental health or recovery programs are specifically aimed at these sets — or even at the members within these community that aren’t battling these demons, but who would simply prefer to partake in these scenes without being inundated by the often-negative effects brought on by drugs and alcohol abuse.
Far too often, members of these community who want to give clean and sober living a go are forced to fall in line with everyone else at Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous — groups that, while they serve a necessary and much appreciated purpose, aren’t necessarily welcoming to secular types with some edge on their personalities and interests.
But Curt Eichelberger is working hard to change all this. As part of the culmination to his own journey toward recovery, the lifelong skateboarder launched Skate Straight Dallas — a science-backed group that uses the SMART Recovery system common to rehab facilities and further tweaks its principles to specifically gear its efforts toward skaters, artists, members of the LGBTQ community and anyone else who feels unseen, or viewed as outcast, by other programs.
Already, the real beauty of Skate Straight is seen in how Eichelberger and his cohorts — including Skate Straight Skate Team manager Eric Wilson, the program’s self-described “first success story” — are so well-suited, as members of the skateboarding and larger alternative culture community themselves, to have such a positive impact on these scenes.
That’s just some of what we learned upon recently catching up with Eichelberger and Wilson to hear more about how Skate Straight came to be — and what else we can expect from their efforts in the near future.
OK, let’s start at the very beginning: What is Skate Straight?
Curt Eichelberger: Skate Straight was something that I came up with when I was in rehab. I went to A.A. meetings. The rehab I went too was out in West Texas, and the A.A. groups were part of these rural towns. I just didn’t feel like I fit in there. I hadn’t been in recovery before, so I wasn’t familiar with a lot of it. I felt like an outcast. I wished then that there was something geared more towards skateboarding, art and being creative.
I’m an artist and graphic designer by trade, so I just started sketching ideas and came up with some plans. I thought for sure there was something like this out there — because of how many skaters were either in recovery or had gone sober. But, once I left rehab, I couldn’t find anything like what we are doing now. Skateboarders, artists, and musicians in recovery were all just going to their own little home groups and blending with people there.
I just thought we were missing a great opportunity. I’ve seen people new to recovery and especially younger kids walk into these places and not fit in. I wanted a place for everyone to go — Skaters, artists, oddballs, the LGBTQ and trans communities — so they could go and see people that they can identify with and not be the odd one out.
I was going to use an A.A. platform, but I also didn’t want to leave out people who weren’t interested in a higher power. We are secular as well. I relate really well to the SMART Recovery program. It’s cognitive-based and focuses on behavioral training. I got a facilitator to help me because I was right out of recovery — Stev. I got trained to be a facilitator as well, and started doing it. Then Eric showed up and helped as well.
Mike Crum is a good friend of mine, and he owns 4DWN skatepark. We had another friend die before I got out of rehab. And that was really fresh for us. When that happened, I had asked [Mike] about doing something recovery-based at the skatepark, and he said, “Anything you want to do.” And he handed me the keys. That’s how Skate Straight was born. He gave me freedom to do something, as long as it was positive, and 4DWN became our initial home.
How has it grown in the meantime?
Eichelberger: Expansion this year has been crazy! We’re getting a lot of interest from people in other states and countries as well. People are asking how they can do something similar in their area. So I’ve been giving them the formula we use. It has to be all-inclusive, and it has to be open to every form of recovery. It has to be a support group where people really support each other and, because of how we do our meetings, it should be at a skatepark. Right now Orange County, Arlington, Dallas and the U.K. are all running official chapters. There are more in the works too that haven’t gotten off the ground just yet.
So this is all under the umbrella that you guys started?
Eichelberger: Yeah! We’d like to do it the same way as A.A. and have registered chapters using the same formula we use across the world, each being of service to each other however best they can.
So, as you mentioned before, this has a somewhat broader approach than the A.A. program with which so many people are already familiar. You mentioned SMART recovery — what is that?
Eichelberger: SMART Recovery stands for Self-Managed And Recovery Training. So, the group itself is a support group, but the actual SMART Recovery thing is done on your own without a sponsor. You can have mentors but, for the most part, it’s all managed by you. It empowers you to manage your own recovery. It’s a common program in rehabilitation and outpatient facilities. They also use SMART Recovery in jail. Before I started my own group, the meetings I went to were held at a therapist’s office, and they were always really nice. I do think that having it at a skatepark already sets a different tone. For one thing it’s outside, which is also kind of cool. Then we all hang out and skate afterwards.
That definitely sounds different than a traditional A.A. group — and it’s so cool that you guys came up with the concept all your own.
Eichelberger: There are a lot of people that want to do it, and I try to help any way I can. I usually design logos for whatever city they want to do it in, and then I provide content. I do skateboard-related affirmations on our social media page. A lot of places have affirmations like that — they post that are positive messages about recovery or life in general. I just make it more skateboard- or alternative-friendly. I hate using the word “alternative,” but that’s what it is. It’s not butterflies, hummingbirds and flowers; it’s skateboard tricks! It’s black and white. I want to keep the theme of skateboarding and alternative music and lifestyles close to home.
Eric, what’s your part in all this? How does a skate team fit in?
Eric Wilson: So, this is a totally new concept. Curt and I talked about the idea for a while now, but a few weeks ago, we were on the phone and I pulled the trigger. Right now, we only have two riders, but we want to expand. Of course, with any sponsorship there’s stipulations: They have to promote Skate Straight, and if they are out skating any events or competitions, we want them to wear our shirts. Anytime they post footage, [we want them to] tag us.
Of course, the biggest stipulation is they have to be sober, and have a presence within the Skate Straight meetings. In return, we provide them with merch and, hopefully one day eventually, we can make [our own] boards. That’s in the future, though. I want a team of skateboarders that will go out and not only promote Skate Straight, but also promote sobriety in skateboarding and let people know that we exist. It’s not all about the party culture. There is a group of skaters coming up that are completely sober. We are pretty stoked about it all, though!
Eichelberger: I’d like to piggyback on that a bit. If you take skateboarding seriously, and you want to be your best within that medium, then you need to train just like an athlete would. Clean living is a part of that. For so long, people have made the assumption that, if you skateboard, then you party. But you can still party and have fun with your friends and still live a healthy life.
I want to be there for the people that have lived the lifestyle for a long time, and show them that there is a way out. But I also want to be there for the kids coming up, so they can see there is a different way. A lot of people think they are running at 100 percent, drinking and smoking every day. But the reality is they are probably running at about 30 percent.
On that note, would you mind telling me about your own personal experiences in recovery?
Eichelberger: I’ll give you the hyphenated version. I’m about to be 50 years old. I’ve been skating since the early ’80s, and it was definitely a party culture back then. The kids were always the ruffians, and all of our idols — especially in Texas — were big party guys. I got into the party culture real fast, like from seventh and eight grade. If you were good, then you got to travel too — so I was travelling with a lot of kids that were better than me, but I was hanging out with them and we were raging at a very young age.
I had been drinking and doing drugs pretty heavily from middle school all the way into my late 20s. I worked at bars where skaters and punk rockers hung out, and I still partied and raged. As I got older, drugs faded out for me, but the alcohol really took a hold and became an everyday thing. I was drinking every day, and hiding it from my family and friends. Lying to people about it. With me and my friends, we peaked as the cool guys right out of high school, and then after that the skating faded but the partying still went on.
We weren’t going to shows anymore, we were just going to the bar. Drinking didn’t necessarily affect my financial situation negatively, but I was in poor health and deteriorating rapidly. So my wife gave me an ultimatum: Either go to rehab or she was kicking me out. I didn’t want to be homeless, and I didn’t want to lose my wife and kids and car and bank account and all the stuff I had. So I went to rehab.
My moment of clarity was when I reverted back to the things I truly loved: music and skateboarding and art. I’m by no means good [at any of this]. I just cruise around nowadays, and I occasionally eat shit pretty hard. But it feels great to really get back to the sport that I loved as a kid.
Wilson: I’ll be 44 next month. I began skating in ’89. I went hardcore in the early ’90s and skated throughout high school. I never really did drugs aside from experimenting with marijuana and LSD. In the late ’90s, I peaked and got really good. I got sponsored by a shop — and I think Curt was actually sponsored by that same shop. Anyway, they sent me out to Hawaii for some comps and demos in 1999/2000. In Hawaii, I started drinking more and experimenting with coke.
I came back around 2001 and started managing a team at another shop when I got hurt real bad. I split a disk in my back, and I pulled all the muscles in my back, and I was out for a long time. I had to go through physical therapy, and that put an end to my skateboarding for a while. I started drinking more and pretty much gave up on skating. Then life happened and I gave it up.
Fast forward to a couple years ago, I started playing in some bands and started partying more, and some difficulties in my personal life led me to start drinking more heavily. I was in a downward spiral, and I started drinking hardcore. Then I had a heart attack. I was supposed to be doing rehab and recovering from my heart attack, but during the time off I had from work, I used that time to drink even more. You’d think it would have been my wake up call. But I was drinking more and more, and I would neglect my friends and everyone and just stay by myself and get drunk all the time. I disappeared from everyone for a year or two. If I wasn’t working, I was drunk by myself in my apartment.
Then, going into 2020, I knew I was getting bad. I felt like shit all the time. I had tried A.A., and it didn’t click with me. Then I saw Curt posting about Skate Straight, and I thought it was awesome! I was still drinking for the first meeting. The following week, I quit and had a week of sobriety — so I went to the second skate straight meeting. I kept coming back, and I’ve been sober since.
I’ve also started taking my own skateboarding more seriously. My body is pretty messed up, though, so I have to learn all over again. My claim to fame is that I’m Skate Straight’s first success story. I’ve stuck with it, and I think that, if it wasn’t for Curt and Stev and Skate Straight, I would still be drunk. They really aided in my road to recovery.
So, what does the Skate Straight schedule look like? What kinds of meetings and events are you offering people?
Eichelberger: We have Arlington Skate Straight at Vandergriff Skatepark on Mondays. On Tuesdays, we have Dallas Skate Straight at night at 4DWN Skatepark starting at 7 p.m., and then there’s a free skate after that. On Thursdays, we have meditations and a meeting coming up. We have everything in place. Some of it just hasn’t been confirmed. It will all start to happen this month, though. Thursdays will be meditation. On Saturdays, we’ll do yoga from 10 to 11 a.m. and then, from 11 a.m. to noon, we’ll have a meeting, and then there’s a free skate. There are kids that come who just want to skate in an environment that is sober, too. They don’t attend meetings; they just skate the whole time, and that’s OK too. We have full access to the skatepark [when we’re there]. There’s more stuff in the works.
We’ve already talked some about the positive effects of clean and sober living — but how about the mental effects? Does being around skateboarding help you trade off your addiction for skateboarding?
Eichelberger: A lot of it has to do with PMA [or “Positive Mental Attitude”]. A lot of straight-edge kids and punk rockers follow that: clean living, clean eating, PMA. Seeing the positive in stuff instead of focusing on the negative, as people often do. If you’re living a negative life and everything around you is negative, then all you are going to attract is more negativity.
The best thing about our group is the support. The success of Skate Straight is the people in it. It has nothing to do with skateboarding. Skateboarding brings us all together, but the group itself is where the power lies. It’s been so positive for me and Eric as well, and our group is full of really good people. Many work in the recovery industry or mental health fields, themselves. I work at a rehab facility. That’s all been very helpful. We are expressing what works for us. We aren’t telling you what you need to do; you share what worked for you.
How about the meditation and yoga aspects. How do those come into play?
Eichelberger: I don’t do yoga myself — because yoga is hard and it hurts since I hurt myself skating last year. But a lot of people do yoga there. All the yoga people tell me that’s why I need to do yoga. Eric does it, though!
Wilson: I started doing it at home. There are a bunch of YouTube videos geared towards skateboarders that specifically work those muscles that are used for skateboarding. I do those yoga videos at home because I am still a little embarrassed to do it in public. [Laughs.] I haven’t participated in the Skate Straight’s yoga yet, but I will soon! As far as meditation goes, I just recently started diving in — and I love it. I started out with guided sleep meditation to help me go to sleep. Then I expanded more on it, and I meditate daily now. It seems to help with focus and clarity, and my mood as well. I feel like my brain is more clear. It’s a great stress-reliever.
Eichelberger: I thought [meditation] was hokey when they offered it in rehab — but I had the free time, so I took them up on it. I started doing it there, and I really felt a difference in mental clarity by being able to take all the random thoughts that are flying at you, push them away and breathe. It has been life-changing. Two years ago, if you had talked to me about meditation I would have said you were a hippie!
There are a lot of skeptics to what you’re preaching, though! What would you say to someone who came to you right now and said they needed help quitting drinking or using drugs?
Eichelberger: People say it to me everyday; I work in the field, so I deal with it a lot. If all you are looking for is change, you just have to do it. That’s the weird thing about addiction: You have to want the change.
A lot of people who come into the facility are doing it for their girlfriend or mom or someone other than themselves, but if you aren’t doing it for you then it just isn’t going to happen. It won’t stick. If the person doesn’t want to change, then they won’t care what anyone has to say. That person will just be another dude talking down to them.
Always reach out to your friends, though. The hardest thing about being in addiction is: 1) admitting the truth to yourself, and 2) asking for help. If you can reach out and admit that your life is unmanageable, then you are already on your way. Honesty is a big key. One of the hardest things you’ll ever do is be honest with yourself.
Cover photo via by Evan Luecke courtesy of Skate Straight Dallas.