At the 180 Teen Center, music to a skater's ears isn't just the Christian punk music blaring through speakers above the Internet terminals and pool tables.
It's outside, through a rear door of the rehabbed warehouse, on the concrete foundation of an old loading dock, where a group of teens are creating their own skateboarding rhythm.
Under a gray sky on a recent afternoon, about a dozen skaters sweep by on wooden ramps. The scraping sounds of wood on metal and the popping of wheels landing hard on pavement drowns out the noise of traffic on Lockeford Street.
Some of the teens have become members of what's called skate ministry.
"The whole idea is to give skaters, and especially skaters uninvolved in other things, an opportunity to skate, and at the same time, learn about life skills through the moral compass of the Bible," said teen center director Jake McGregor.
Any middle and high school-aged youth can use the Splinter Skatepark, while the skate ministry is involved with weekly Bible classes and fellowship. Of course, all are welcome to sit in on a meeting if they're interested. Skate ministry members also form a skateboarding team, which may go on out-of-town skate trips and competitions.
McGregor says the skate ministry movement was sparked in Portland, Ore. in 1987, when two childhood friends from San Luis Obispo founded skatechurch.
And, a couple of pastors from Fresno recently came to check out the 180 Teen Center's skatepark operations.
Lodi's Splinter skatepark has been open since November, and hosts at least a dozen teens on a typical afternoon. The 8,000-square-foot-park has ramps and runs for all skill levels.
At small skate shop has also opened at the center, and teens are talking about holding contests at the park.
Beau Baty, a 14-year-old Millswood Middle School student, said he likes the snack bar (stocked with candy, microwaveable foods, coffees and energy drinks).
"All the people here are all my friends," said Lodi High student Kelly Journagan, also 14.
McGregor said building a skate park has been his vision since accepting his position four years ago. There have always been 10 to 20 kids skating outside, on ramps McGregor built and repaired every six months or so.
In August, he traveled to Lubbock, Texas to give a grant proposal to the Betenbough Company, a home developer that also funds Christian ministries. It also awards grants to build parks through Splinter Skateboarding, a Joplin, Mo.-based Christian nonprofit that is trying to create a nationwide network of skate ministries.
McGregor received a phone call the morning after he gave the proposal - the teen center would receive $54,000.
Three months later, professional Christian skaters and volunteers worked for two weeks to install ramps - these should last 10 years.
With the grant, 180 also purchased a digital video camera and editing software, and opened a small skate shop.
Skate park director Travis Waugh says he and McGregor are focused on mentoring teens, many of whom are considered "at-risk."
"It's coaching them on being successful in skating and as well as spiritually," Waugh said.
Waugh said he'd like to plan some out-of-town trips as well as contests at both Splinter and Kofu skateparks. An impromptu contest in early December drew 15 entrants and 50 spectators.
A friendly "Lodi vs. Redwood City" exhibition is set for Jan. 27, where teen videographers will be gathering footage for highlight tapes.
Splinter Skateboarding director Mark Jannetta said skate ministries are growing in popularity since pastors discovered skateparks could be used as a tool to reach out to youth.
"I think a lot of people are tired of 'church,' and you'll find a lot of para-Christian organizations and ministries," Jannetta said. "Any state you go to you'll find skate ministries."
Clutching his JVC video camera, Brent Hemphill, 16, a Tokay student, rested his blue and red DC shoes on his skateboard. Hemphill is gathering footage for a video featuring the skaters who frequent Splinter Skatepark. He climbed to the top of one ramp, his camera lens carefully following a skater as he glides up and down ramps and his eventual mid-air maneuver.
McGregor says he loves seeing the teens' camaraderie, how they build friendships and creativity with each other.
"It's not just skating," he said.
Splinter SkateparkLocation: At the 180 Teen Center,17. W. Lockeford St.
Ramps: About 8,000 square feet. Includes a series of wooden ramps, runs and "street features" for all skill levels.
• Skate team exhibition. Saturday, Jan. 27 after 11 a.m. Signups open now. Skaters must be in junior high at the youngest, and under 18.
• WinterFest concert. Saturday, Jan. 13, 1 to 8 p.m. Ten bands, $10 admission.
Teen center hours: Tuesday-Thursday 2:30-5:30 p.m., Friday 2:30-5:30 and 7-11 p.m.
Information: Call 339-2308 or visit http://www.180Lodi.org or http://www.splinterskatepark.com.
Source: 180 Teen Center.
First published: Thursday, January 11, 2007