Veteran performs an 'ollie' in life after returning from war
By JERRY DAVICH | The Post-Tribune (Tribune News Service) | Published: March 17, 2017
Josh Seabrook went to war with an unusual weapon of distraction packed deep inside his Army duffle bag.
Some combat soldiers serving overseas may bring a guitar or harmonica or lucky charm or family keepsake when they go overseas. Not Seabrook, who served in the U.S. Army for two tours of duty, one in Iraq, the other in Afghanistan.
"I brought my skateboard to war," said Seabrook, who also built skateboard ramps at his military bases to practice stunts and tricks during his off hours.
Seabrook began skateboarding at 13, later working at Warped Sportz, a skateboard and paintball shop, when it was located in Merrillville. The shop's owner, Laurie Brands, sponsored Seabrook and his friends for skateboarding events and competitions.
He never forgot her gesture, even years after quitting that job to serve our country.
Seabrook, who's now 33 and lives in Winfield, served Uncle Sam from 2002 to 2010 in both the U.S. Army and Army National Guard. He joined to travel the world, earn education benefits and learn new career-minded skills.
The Army lists Seabrook's military skills as a combat soldier and laboratory technician. However, he also possesses mad skills as a skateboard enthusiast, which served him well to relieve stress while earning a paycheck in enemy territory.
After his tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, he graduated from Indiana University Northwest with a master's degree in business, eventually returning to the skateboarding community in this area.
Unlike many skateboard enthusiasts who picked up the sport as a kid, Seabrook kept riding it into adulthood. He suffered his only broken bone just recently during a fall off his skateboard. He fractured a bone, but not his zeal for the sport. Or for the business.
Last month, he again returned to Warped Sportz, this time as co-owner and business partner with Brands. Seabrook also continues to operate All Around Limousine Service after taking over the business for his grandfather.
It's refreshing to write about a local veteran who has returned home to pick up where he (or she) had left off in life. As we know, too many vets struggle to return to normalcy – or a new normalcy – after going through the rigors of military service or the horrors of war.
Seabrook has been married for four years and was a foster parent to a young boy who, of course, learned how to skateboard under Seabrook's guidance. This also is refreshing to see, the generational appeal of skateboarding over the past few decades.
I remember as a kid in the 1970s, skateboarding wasn't the most popular sport. Heck, it wasn't even considered a sport in my neighborhood. It was strictly a mode of transportation.
The skateboards from my youth seem primitive compared to today's high-tech versions.
In my teenage years, skateboarding was mostly for the cool kids who embodied the punk rock movement, complete with counter-culture attire – ripped clothes and snarled grins worn as a badge of honor. And of acceptance.
It was an identity on wheels.
Seabrook also landed an identity while skateboarding, and he's noticing a new generation of kids finding theirs, too, on a skateboard. He's also noticing many of Warped Sportz' earliest teenage customers returning with kids of their own to pass along the torch.
"Parents also want their kids to be more active these days, so skateboarding is helping with that," Seabrook said.
His shop has started a program collecting gently used skateboard items for foster children and needy kids.
"We test everything we carry in the store to ensure in meets our customers' needs and expectations," said George Longfellow, Seabrook's colleague who handles the paintball side of things. "When we get something new, we test it. Actually we try to destroy it."
When I visited Warped Sportz at its new location (103 N. Main St. in Crown Point), I couldn't believe all the styles and models of skateboards. They're hanging on a wall, appearing like Andy Warhol-esque pieces of art. In fact, on the day I visited a customer bought a stylish skateboard (without the wheels) to give as a gift for his sister.
"It's to hang on her wall," he told me.
I had no idea that skateboards could be adorned as artwork, but I wasn't surprised after seeing all the boards displayed on a wall. They are perfect for "man caves," I learned.
I gravitated toward one featuring the images of Cheech and Chong, from my adolescence.
Skateboarding is making a resurgence with multiple skateboard parks located throughout Northwest Indiana (though many of them need upgrades), the upcoming Olympics in 2020, routine ESPN coverage, and year-round competitions across the country.
"Skateboarding is definitely more accepted now than it was in the '90s when I first started out," Seabrook said.
So much so that even my teenage daughter is trying to learn to ride one. She's taking it slow, practicing behind a church near our home. I'm not sure if I want her to ramp up her efforts, quite literally, like so many daring boys her age.
Seabrook got started by watching his cousin perform an "ollie," a challenging trick where a rider leaps into the air with the board but without using his or her hands.
"For every board we sell to a 16-year-old kid, we're also selling a board to someone in their 30s or older," said Seabrook, who now sponsors teenage kids in the community, just like Brands did for him.
Full circle, just like with Seabrook's life as a skateboarder.
©2017 the Post-Tribune (Merrillville, Ind.)
Visit the Post-Tribune (Merrillville, Ind.) at www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/post-tribune
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.