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In Brazil, this skateboard is famous. Here, it's locked up in a Denver Police Department evidence room.
The board is chipped and dented and scuffed. On its underside is a hand-painted fire ant struggling beneath the weight of a pink rose petal twenty times its size, plus Bible verse Matthew 17:20 written in Portuguese.
In English, it reads: If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.
But no amount of faith was moving a Denver police officer last month. On July 5, the board's owner, 23-year-old Mark Spencer, got busted for skating in Cheesman Park, where it's illegal to ride a board. The cop wrote Spencer a ticket for destruction of public property and -- even worse -- confiscated his board.
"I tried to tell him the importance of this board to all these people in Brazil. I don't know if he believed me or not, but he just didn't seem that impressed," says Spencer. "He told me it was evidence and he was seizing it."
Spencer had been inspired to customize the board in June when he was on a missionary trip to Belo Horizonte, Brazil, with Denver-based Advocate Skateboards, a fellowship of Christian skateboarders. "I was checking out the ground one day, and I saw this crazy Brazilian ant carrying this flower petal, and I was just like, 'Man, that's awesome. I gotta put that on my board,'" he says.
While Spencer and his team were in Belo Horizonte proselytizing, performing skateboarding demonstrations and building a skatepark for the city's poor children, they were invited to appear on an evangelical television show on a cable channel owned by Lagoinha Baptist Church. The massive stadium-style church has 30,000 worshipers in a city of 2.5 million residents, and more than six million viewers across South America. So when the TV evangelist who hosted the show held Spencer's board aloft and showed the Bible verse the American skateboarding missionary had scripted in Brazil's native tongue, the board became an icon.
Now it's Exhibit A.
Spencer plans to fight the ticket at his court date next month since, he says, "I didn't destroy anything. I was just skating." Until then, he will be landing flip kicks on a less revered board while spreading the gospel to any young person who cares to listen. "Basically, we believe that everyone should have the chance to make an informed choice whether to believe in Christ or not," Spencer says. "We just try to make sure every kid has that chance."
The seed for Advocate was sown in 2000, when Longmont skateboarder Eddie Gann founded a skating team and Bible study group he called Caleb Skateboards. It was for clean-living Christian skateboarders in their late teens and early twenties. "The idea was to organize as positive Christian role models for younger skaters and to reach out to them with the good news," says Uriel Luebcke, 26, who skated for Caleb and is now the senior member of the nine-person Advocate team.
In the summer of 2002, Gann grew tired of running Caleb, and Mark Spencer took over leadership of the team. At the time, Gann and Luebcke were counseling Spencer, a troubled, semi-homeless young skater, and helping him to serve the Lord through missionary skateboarding. Spencer quickly changed the group's name to Advocate Skateboarding and introduced a business element by launching a line of skateboards and clothing. He also began recruiting skilled Christian skateboarders from out of state, most notably Josh Crigger from Las Vegas and Monico Candelaria from New Mexico, who, at seventeen, is the youngest team member.
Today, Advocate skateboards, hats, T-shirts and hooded sweatshirts are a common sight in Denver skate parks.
"They're a good team with a good product," says Sam Schuman, owner of 303 Boards, one of seven local skate shops that carries Advocate boards and clothing. "Most local start-ups fold in six months or a year because they don't get it when it comes to marketing. To be successful you need a solid team of skaters out their representing your product, and you need to do good demos. Advocate's the real deal on all fronts."
But many of the skaters who buy Advocate products have no idea the company is Christian- based. "We don't market ourselves as a Christian product for the same reason we don't try to push our beliefs on people," says Advocate rider Shad Spencer, who is no relation to Mark. "We prefer a more subtle approach. There are a lot of young minds out there that can be molded in a positive way, but we don't force them into conversations they don't want to have. This is going to sound really hippie-ish, but we're just out there trying to love people."
The Advocate team is finishing up filming the raw footage for its first full-length skateboarding video, which it hopes to have out in time for Christmas. Unlike a lot of skateboarding videos, the Advocate reel will not show any drinking, drug use, profanity or nudity. "We decided to make a video that skaters could watch with their parents," says Kathi Pell, Shad's wife. "It's not that the skating is any less awesome without that other stuff."