Los Angeles

Malibu festival celebrates skate culture and the Johnny Strange Legacy Program

An annual Los Angeles skate jam brings the skate community together in memory of a USC alumnus.

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The Malibu Chili Cook-Off returned Labor Day weekend with carnival rides, good eats, live music and a six-foot tall skateboard ramp to commemorate Johnny Strange — a USC alumnus and activist from Malibu who died in 2015.

The Malibu Boys and Girls Club partnered with the Boardr, an organization that organizes skateboard and BMX contests, to showcase the second annual Johnny Strange Legacy Mini-Ramp. On Sept. 5, over 40 skaters, from seven-year-old locals to world-class professionals, skated the mini-ramp provided by Skatelite to compete for cash prizes and spread the stoke.

Strange, who studied international relations at USC, died after a wingsuit accident in the Swiss Alps. He was involved in the University’s Structured Curriculum Program and was a member of Sigma Chi fraternity. Though he was only 23 at the time, friends and family say he left an impact on both people within his local community and across borders.

“I think something that he cared a lot about was fostering connection and letting people feel welcome,” said Brianna Strange, Johnny’s sister. “If someone looked like the underdog in the room, Johnny would go straight to them.”

In 2018, Brian Strange, Johnny’s father, started the Johnny Strange Legacy Inspire Program at the Malibu Boys and Girls Club. The after-school program offers skateboarding classes to local youth, helping kids gain confidence and chase after adventure.

Kasey Earnest, a friend of the Strange family and executive director of the Malibu Boys and Girls Club, helps run the program, which also provides academic support for public school students.

“We have awesome skate instructors, but we do more than that,” Earnest said. “We take it a step further, we incorporate art and wellness. We work on establishing friendships, ethics on the ramp, and all kinds of stuff.”

In 2011, Strange was denied permission to climb a nearly 25,000-foot-tall sacred mountain in Bhutan. Instead of climbing, Strange used his time in the country to bring skateboarding to Bhutanese communities and let local children borrow his longboard.

A few years after his death, the Strange family carried on Johnny’s legacy nearly 8,000 miles away by building Bhutan’s first skatepark, named after their son and sibling. With funds from the family, skateboards and other equipment were donated to youth in Thimphu, Bhutan’s capital city.

Salad Days of Skateboarding, a nonprofit organization focusing on bringing skateboarding to underserved communities, donated 20 skateboards to youth to the newly-opened Johnny Strange Skatepark.

“I just hope that people see how much joy skateboarding can bring to youth or to anyone at all,” said Keegan Guizard, executive director of the College Skateboarding Educational Foundation and co-founder of Salad Days. “We have to kind of get an accurate representation of how diverse and fulfilling the skateboarding community is.”

Guizard and other seasoned skaters founded CSEF in 2016 to inspire skateboarders to pursue education and establish career paths. At the jam, he announced how the program offers financial support for rippers who decide to pursue education.

Emcees Chris Pastras and Jason Rothmeyer announced the winners of the intermediate jam session, and later, the advanced winners. After an eggplant revert off the extension and a big backside ollie noseblunt, pro skater Roman Pabich took first place.

“I think the relationship between Johnny and skateboarding is that people have to overcome their fears, they have to drop in,” said Brian Strange. “And it can be any kind of kid from any walk of life who just wants to try to be fearless and make a difference.”