Skating for Christ

Couple combines skateboarding with life lessons


— Tara Chavarria's toes are painted metallic blue. Her short blonde bob is tipped an electrifying pink. She has five tattoos, dresses mostly in black and is looking to revolutionize how Steamboat Springs youths view their relationship with God.

Chavarria, 29, and her equally trendy and punkish husband, Buck Chavarria, 30, run the Christ for Life Sk8 Church, a local nonprofit organization dedicated to reaching out to Steamboat skateboarders and providing them an opportunity to combine their passion for skating with a relationship with Christ.

The Chavarrias began Sk8 Church nearly a year ago, after they took some extra food from a going-away party to the Howelsen Skate Park to feed some local skaters. The one-time meal became a once-a-week meeting during which the Chavarrias feed whoever is at the skatepark, do a little skating and sometimes talk about God.

Although the Thursday night event is not structured, the Chavarrias alternate skating at the skatepark with hosting a dinner at their West End Village home. The dinners often include watching a skating video and talking about religion.

"It was in our heart to connect with Steamboat's skateboarders. I grew up in that scene and in that culture," Buck Chavarria said. "We wanted to be role models for these kids because the skatepark isn't always the most positive place to hang out. There's a lot of bad language and drug and alcohol use."

Buck said he knew skaters would respond better to someone who looked like them -- from his Dickies pants and worn-out Converse shoes to his slicked-back hair.

"It's one thing for a parent to tell a kid not to curse from the sidelines than if it's coming from another skater," he said.

Looking back

Buck and Tara Chavarria met as students at a Southern California high school. They admit to having been caught up in the alternative, punk and skater lifestyles, which included troubled home lives, substance abuse and poor grades in school.

"We were thrashers, for sure," Buck said.

After the couple separated and Buck move to Colorado to become a ski bum, he said his life began to change.

"I came out here to be a ski bum, but I (got a girl pregnant). That's the reality of it," he said.

Shortly after the birth of his son, Hunter, God entered his life, Buck said.

"I've always known God in my heart, but usually I only knew him as 'Oh, God, please don't let me get hurt,' 'God, please don't let this person die,' or 'God, help me get out of this,'" he said. "When Hunter came into my life and I really started to pray, that's when I came to know Him a real way."

Tara and Buck had kept in touch over the years, and they reunited after Tara moved to Denver for a job.

A former atheist, Tara said it was Buck who sucked her into Christianity. From there, the self-proclaimed "anti-Church, anti-religion, anti-establishment" couple began attending the Euzoa Bible Church. Nevertheless, the Chavarrias still claim to have issues with organized religion and its dogma.

"I still have a problem with church. Sometimes I'll leave and think, 'Whoa, I wasn't ready for that message,'" Buck said.

"The biggest thing we try to teach our kids is that Jesus Christ wasn't in the church, in that Christian bubble. He was out on the streets hanging with the most undesirable people of the time," Tara said.

For that reason, the Cha--varrias refuse to "dress up" for church. To them, Jesus Christ doesn't care what you look like or wear.

"We're kind of known at the (Euzoa Bible Church) now, but when we first started going I purposefully showed up in my (tank top) and flip flops," Buck said. "There's nothing in the Bible that says you have to dress up like someone you're not on Sundays."

The Chavarrias hope their progressive take on religion helps influence the next generations of churchgoers.

"We're not the typical Christ--ians. We're trying to show these kids that you don't have to change who you are to know God and have a relationship with Him," Buck said.

For Tara, coming to terms with the paradigm of what a Christian is was difficult.

"I struggled with being a church lady. I didn't want to have all one-colored hair and wear frumpy clothes," she said. "We have used who we are to make a difference in these kids' lives."

An atypical youth group

When starting Sk8 Church, the Chavarrias agreed that pushing their religious ideals, values and morals on the children they are trying to reach was not the best approach. Instead, they try to teach youths that by making daily changes in their lives, they can remove the negative aspects and build a stronger relationship with God.

"We're not there to preach and tell people, 'You're going to hell if you don't know Jesus,'" Buck said. "Our ministry is not the typical youth group."

The Chavarrias say they have been warmly received by many in the community, but some parents were a bit harder to convince when the Chavarrias explained what they were doing.

"When my son first started telling me that people were coming to the skatepark to feed them, I didn't know what to think," said Alison Chillemi, the mother of 15-year-old skater Dominick Chillemi. "As any mother would be, I was skeptical.

"After I met (the Chavarrias), I saw they were just big kids themselves. They're unique, and the youth in our town really respond to them. I know kids who won't smoke or drink or curse around them when they would be doing those things around anyone else," she said.

Chillemi said many Steamboat residents have negative perceptions of skaters, which is why Sk8 Church is so important.

The skaters "are not received in a very positive way by average adults because of the way they act and look. That's not the case with Tara and Buck. They see through what everyone else sees," she said. "What they've given these kids is a place to fit in -- their own comfort zone."

Clint Galorath, 16, said he has attended Sk8 Church since it began last July.

"It's all about skateboarding and sharing the gospel," he said. "It's friendly, and it's a good place to be. It's all sweet."

The Chavarrias said that during the past year, Sk8 Church has attracted skaters between the ages of 9 and 35. On average, 10 to 20 people show up each Thursday.

To 35-year-old Sean Ober--lander, Sk8 Church was a godsend.

"It's Christ-centered, but it's a relaxed form of Christianity. It's a positive thing for the purpose of skateboarding and personal growth," he said.

Oberlander said he often gripes that there wasn't Sk8 Church and people like the Chavarrias when he was growing up.

"Buck and Tara are very generous. They're a great example of giving. Their example is what brings me back," he said.

"This is the best example of Christ. He hung out with everybody; they hang out with everybody. It's a place of total acceptance, where you're accepted for who you are, where you're not judged or made to feel guilty about anything," he said. "I think Christ would have liked Sk8 Church."


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