Eau Claire business owner advocates for skateboarding

By Christopher Anema

Christopher Johnson owns Passion Board Shop, the local skate shop in Eau Claire. © 2018 Christopher Anema

Painted leaves cover the ceiling. Knickknacks line the shelves. Clothes hang from a few racks. Skateboards cover the back wall. People filter in and out carrying their own battered and scuffed skateboards greeting each other with a wave and a laugh. Some sit on the couch that’s seen too many years as clips of skateboarders play on the TV in front of it. Welcome to Passion Board Shop.

Owner and founder, Christopher Johnson, serves the customers in his shop and mingles with them, talking about skateboarding and other passions.

“It’s not even a clientele, it’s more of a community,” Johnson said.

Johnson has been tending and fostering the skateboarding community in Eau Claire with Passion Board Shop for almost five years. His business was born in Eau Claire shortly after the Lakeshore skatepark was built in 2013. Johnson, who organized a competition at the park after it opened, saw how much of a skate scene there was in Eau Claire. He took initiative and decided to start a community hub for skateboarders.

“I talked with other people about opening a shop and nobody else wanted to do it, so I ended up following through and doing it,” Johnson said.

Johnson embraced the grass-roots style that Passion Board Shop finds itself in with both the décor of the shop and the logo of the business. The logo of the company, which is a skateboard with roots growing out of it, mirrors the leaves hanging from the ceiling in the shop and green and black color scheme of the company.

“I want my shop to look like an overgrown city…it’s very rooted in the community, and it’s just growing,” Johnson said.

Although opening the shop, Johnson says, wasn’t easy by any means. His life at the time was a whirlwind of ups and downs. Shortly after Johnson got married and he had his first child, his parents had a divorce and his father had a major heart attack. Johnson was living in Minneapolis, but after this, he returned to Eau Claire to take care of his father, moving in with him.

Johnson bounced around a myriad of retail jobs in Eau Claire while supporting his wife, father, and newborn child. Still, Johnson found his passion of skateboarding beckoning him.  With little more than the money in his own pocket, he decided to found Passion Board Shop.

“Going the traditional route, working for other people and trying to earn a status…wasn’t necessarily important anymore,” Johnson said.

Alongside the challenges of starting a business from the ground up, the City of Eau Claire made it harder for his business to grow because of its laws against skateboarding. In Eau Claire, it is illegal to skateboard anywhere in Eau Claire except for the Lakeshore skatepark –which is smaller than a tennis court.

“Business would be booming if we didn’t treat skateboarders so poorly in this town,” Johnson said. “Skateboarding is considered a crime in Eau Claire, which is wrong.”

Even with the odds and laws stacked against his business, Johnson still put everything into Passion. His hard work didn’t go to waste, as Passion Board Shop now is a staple of the Eau Claire community.

Gabe Brummett, a local skateboarder and member of the Eau Claire Skaters Association said that the community has felt extremely supportive and vibrant.

“I could say skateboarding saved my life, but it was actually the community that did that,” Brummett said.

Johnson puts all his energy and work into Passion working at the shop every weekday from noon until 8 p.m. He is one of two employees at the shop, though the other only works one day per week. Johnson’s passion for Passion is what keeps the company going. Though, he doesn’t let it consume his life outside of work; he cares for his two children as well.

“When I’m not working, I’m with them,” Johnson said.

He wants the skate scene to grow in Eau Claire and intends to grow it in a positive way. Though with the small skatepark that only allows one skateboarder at a time, newcomers to the sport can easily be intimidated.

“I can’t grow a skate scene if we don’t have a place for them to skate in the first place,” Johnson said.

Johnson took this matter into his own hands. He and the skateboarding community in Eau Claire began plans to open another skatepark when the Lakeshore park was built in 2013. Johnson has raised over $50,000 for the proposed $75,000 park which would be built in Boyd Park. He hopes to have the park built by sometime next year.

The current Community Services Director, Jeff Pippenger, says that he is supportive of the skateboarding community saying, “I view the skateboarding community in the City of Eau Claire as very energetic and determined to work with the City of Eau Claire to cooperatively develop another skateboard plaza at Boyd Park.”

In 2017, Pippenger signed a memorandum of understanding with the Eau Claire Skater’s Association outlining that the Boyd Park skate plaza would be entirely funded by the Skater’s Association. The city will not start construction on the new park until all the funds are raised.

With the skateboard community continuing to grow stronger in Eau Claire and the existence of a larger more adequate skatepark on the horizon, Johnson hopes for Passion to grow while still maintaining its grass-roots beginnings.

“[I want to] keep doing what I’m doing, and let it grow organically as it needs to,” Johnson said.

His love for skateboarding and the community that surrounds it fuel his passion for fostering this positive and supportive space. Johnson wants to be a good role model for kids who come into his shop looking to get into skateboarding for the first time, like he had when he was 10.

“I want kids to be able to grow up and have fond memories of this place,” Johnson said.