“Skateboarding is not a crime.” The mantra that was popularized in an era when skaters faced the brunt of society’s misguided disdain, and bogus legislation, is becoming somewhat of a relic. From underground pastime to Olympic sport, the perception of skateboarding has experienced a radical shift. Parents and authority figures who used to discourage or prohibit skating have finally recognized its positive impact and are now actively encouraging kids to get involved in the sport via different initiatives and programs.
In Essex County, two new manifestations of the sport’s mainstream evolution can be found at Rand Park in Montclair and Shred.Co’s new facility in Fairfield. The former: repurposed tennis/basketball courts that now house a bisected skate park with an evolving layout of ramps/obstacles and a newly completed skatable course designed by an Olympic skater and architect. The latter: a commercial unit that has been transformed into an indoor skatepark and headquarters for a skateboard instructional program.
Shred.Co founder/operator Evan J Dittig has been involved in the North Jersey skate scene for over a decade. Quickly disillusioned by the 9-to-5 life after graduating college, he struck out on his own, founding a skateboard instruction business in 2017, Shred.Co [formerly Skate Now], which has grown incrementally since. Over the years, he has helped countless people of all ages, skill levels and abilities pursue skateboarding, while simultaneously supporting the local and global skate communities. I recently sat down with Dittig to discuss the new indoor space, Shred.Co’s mission and his vision for the company.
Your history with skating?
I started skateboarding when I was 11, and I’m 28 now, so I’ve been skating the majority of my life. As a kid, I never liked team sports and I didn’t really have anything. I tried playing guitar once and was like, “Eh, this is too hard, this isn’t for me.” So skateboarding became my thing and my parents were really supportive of that. They would take me to drop in at different skateparks, and I built a ton of stuff like boxes in my driveway with my dad. So that’s kind of how I started skating and how I was able to get better, because we didn’t really have skateparks where I grew up in Wayne. There were no local places to skate so I would just skate in my driveway and all my friends would come over.
As I grew older, we would take NJ Transit to the city and skate downtown, and then we’d meet new people and film [our skating]. Then I started doing the whole sponsorship thing where I’d get boxes of shoes and boards and stuff. Underground (Skate Shop) was really helpful with that; connecting with them helped me meet new people and travel and film. Mark Matthews (Underground Skate Shop) helped introduce me to the right people and he even inspired me to start the skateboard lesson business—huge shout out and thank you to him for all of that.
When did you have the realization that you wanted to develop these skate programs/initiatives and start your own business?
I was always passionate about skating. When I was younger I was thinking, “I wanna keep skateboarding in my life forever.” I may not be a pro skater, which I never really thought I would be or wanted to be, but I was riding for companies and skating and filming, so I had that real grind in me. My first job was actually teaching skateboard lessons when I was in high school over at a place called Specialty Sports in Pompton Plains. So from a young age I was always teaching skateboard lessons and working with children, whether or not it was my choice—it was just kind of what I knew.
When I was in college, I was looking for jobs and then Mark at Underground Skate Shop [suggested], “Why don’t you just start teaching skateboard lessons and have a mini brand out of it?” So, I started teaching lessons as a side hustle to pay bills—using skateboarding as a way to kind of support myself. I went to college for business in Queens at St. John’s University. The whole time I was there, I thought, “I’m gonna graduate, work at a business firm, work in marketing.” But I didn’t really know what I was gonna do, I just figured I’d get a job after college. Around my last semester I did a lot of entrepreneurship courses and one was about “creativity and innovation.” We came up with business plans and prototypes for starting our own businesses. I wrote a little business plan, nothing really official, I just mapped out an idea of what it would look like to run a skateboard school.
When I graduated, I was temping here and there, working in the city, doing the nine-to-five in a suit. I was like, “Dude, this kind of sucks.” I was trying to figure my life out and one day I was talking with my cousin and he told me, “You can work hard for someone else and make a lot of money, or you could work for yourself. … It’s gonna be hard work either way, but you could do big things for yourself.” That made a lot of sense to me, so I started my own business in 2017. “Skate Now, LLC” was the name of the company, and basically anything skateboard related that gave me income, I would just put in this bank account. I was going to skateparks every weekend, teaching private lessons, one-on-one things, doing small group classes, stuff like that to kind of just make money and put it back in that account.
As time progressed, I started expanding [my services] from just private lessons and classes to birthday parties, etc. Then, the township of Pequannock was trying to build a skatepark and they reached out to me saying, “We’re trying to build a skate park. We want to gauge interest in our community. Would you be interested in running a municipal program for skateboarding?” So, rather than soccer or baseball, it would be a youth skateboard program. I had never really done big programs like that in the past but I was like, “Yeah, I’m down.” It ended up being me and one of my friends in a parking lot with like 17 kids and I was just like, “I have no idea what to do, but I want to make sure all the kids have a really good time.” That was kind of my first step into [programming] like that.
When did “Skate Now” become Shred.Co?
Initially the brand was Skate Now, LLC., and I had all the merchandise, a website and everything. Then, about a year and a half into the business I applied to get a trademark, but I couldn’t get it because there was another company called Skate Now Shop in Utah. So, rather than throwing in the towel and being like, “Oh, I’ll only operate in New Jersey,” or whatever, I had to pivot and rename the brand and kind of restructure.
Initially it really sucked to have to change everything and restructure, but now no one even knows what “Skate Now” was. When we unveiled Shred.Co, it was different, it wasn’t just skate lessons: we’re doing after school programs, community outreach, learn-to-skate clinics. We packaged it as a new brand that offers all these things, so it was kind of cohesive and made sense. We do a little acronym for “S.H.R.E.D.”: Set goals, Help others, Respect each other, Self-expression and Determination. We use that in our classes so the kids can learn to grow on and off the skateboard. They’re just takeaways.
Why did you pick Fairfield for the Shred.Co indoor park?
Pretty much just because the space was available, but also it’s a pretty centralized location to all of the areas that we work with. It’s about a 20- to 30-minute drive from just about everywhere. We have Morris County right there, we’ve got Bergen County right down Route 80. Of course we’re in Essex County near Montclair, Maplewood, Bloomfield, all of those towns. It’s not too far for everybody to get here.
[The place] has a good little charm to it, it’s exactly what we want. The rent is really decent, it’s not too big where we’re paying an exorbitant amount in rent and trying to fill it with kids. It’s a good place to start and see, like, “Can we grow from this?”
Who else is part of Shred.Co?
I’m the founder and executive director; it’s kind of my baby in a sense. And then I’ve had immense help from Jordan Galliano. He’s been there since day one with the Pequannock programming, and he’s been helping with building ramps, taking photos and giving back to the community with the brand. Then we currently have Phill Pezo, he holds it down at the shop and he’s been kind of our skatepark manager. Then we have about eight to 10 support staff throughout the year; these are usually high school seniors, college kids that are home for the summer or just people looking for extra work.
The support staff helps with teaching skateboard lessons and assisting with programming. Some of them have been working with us for the past few years: we have Guthrie, who’s been helping out for the last three years and he’s been part of the Montclair scene. Then there’s Lucas, who’s been helping out for the last two years. I’m always training new people, it’s kind of transitional but we usually have around eight to 10 solid assistant instructors.
Have you ever had any people come work for Shred.Co that you originally taught how to skate back in one of your early outdoor programs?
Yeah, I’ve had that multiple times. So one of my students, Tommy, who was literally at day one, I remember teaching him before I had even made Skate Now or Shred.Co or anything like that. Now he’s super good at skating, super talented. He comes out, he helps, he volunteers at different after-school programs in Boonton and Pequannock, and he’s come here a few times to help out and even just to skate and hang out. It’s super sick to see him come full circle from teaching him how to drop in to now he’s actually being able to do all of these intense technical tricks that I can’t even do.
How is business going thus far?
Business has been steady each month, which is great. We’ve got a devout group of skaters that are coming every week, which is awesome and it’s been amazing to see how they’re progressing, too. I’m hopeful in the next year or two, maybe three years, we can expand and either get a bigger location or an additional location—that would be a dream of mine. If everything works out here, and we continue to do our outdoor programming, I feel like we can definitely make it happen.
Apart from open skate sessions or individual lessons, what sort of programs are you running?
Well, one of the things we just started doing here is an all-ability skate session, which is working with kids with developmental disabilities, autism, ADHD. We started that program outdoors in Montclair, actually. We have a really good partner with Cornerstone, which is a youth group in Montclair. They bring the kids to have a free opportunity to skate: learning how to push, how to ride, how to drop in. We do some skateboard games and stuff like that. [The kids] are so receptive to skateboarding and have such a good time… all of our all-abilities clinics have been met with such an overwhelming response of kids coming and skating. We had a therapy dog come in and the kids loved it. We were anticipating 15 to 20 kids and we had like 40 kids come out.
There must be a litany of the usual issues/tasks that you’re constantly attending to, but have there been any surprise challenges you’ve encountered since opening the space?
The noise was initially the biggest challenge. Once there were like 10 people skating, it was so loud in here and we did not anticipate that. So I had to go through a few different companies to see what [solutions] would be right for us; we ended up getting a good deal on all these… they’re almost like recycled blue jean panels. [The company we consulted with] told us to hang up a certain amount of square feet of these panels that are attached to the ceiling…it’s helped so much.
Another growing pain, too, has been maintenance. Initially, when you build all these ramps, you’re like, “Oh, this is good, the ramps are done.” And then a couple months later you got a hole in one of the ramps or [our concrete floor] in certain areas kind of chips up and gets dusty… little things like that.
What has been one of the most fulfilling moments for you since founding shred.co?
I would say the most fulfilling thing we did was we sent out about 150 pairs of shoes and 10 complete skateboards to rural Africa—Zambia. One of my friends Johnny, who runs a skateboard program out there, I met him in South Africa, at a global skate summit. He’s essentially just a really dedicated skater and he was teaching his community how to skate, but they were using wooden boards with roller skates … and they had about three boards for 50 kids. So we heard his story in South Africa and we’re like, “We want to help these guys out.”
Our friend Steve, from Solid Foundation (a non-profit organization in Paterson) had a connection to one of the Vans stores in Garden State Plaza; so they got all the returns and stuff (shoes and boards) that they couldn’t sell or didn’t need anymore and donated them to us. Then I had a random phone call with a guy that works at DHL who had also heard about Johnny’s story, and we partnered up with DHL and they shipped everything out for free.
Every winter-ish we do a little campaign to “spread the shred” where we are able to get used boards, new boards and donated parts to ship out to organizations in different countries. We’ve sent boards to Angola, Mozambique, Zambia, Bangladesh and Ethiopia.
You do a lot of programming that’s geared towards the youth, do you also have adult programs?
Yes, we do. We’re here to serve anyone who wants to learn how to skateboard, whether it’s a kid or adult. We typically have more kids that wanna learn, or I guess maybe because their parents want them to learn, and also it’s a little bit more challenging for adults to pick it up, being 30- or 40-plus years old. It’s a little bit more risky and coordination-wise, it’s a little bit more challenging; but, we do have adult classes on Friday nights. I’ve done countless adult private lessons, one-on-ones where, whether they’re parents that used to skate back in the day and wanna learn with their kids, or they’re just adults that have always wanted to learn.
I’ve never really turned down anyone that wants to learn. I’ve gotten a ton of requests from people all over New Jersey, and it was challenging back when I didn’t have a physical space. It’s like, “Hey, can you come to Morristown? Hey, can you come to Ramsey? Hey, can you come to New Brunswick?” And I’m just one person driving to all these different places. That was a little bit chaotic at times, but now that we kind of have a home base, I can just tell people, “Come visit us.”
How has the reception been for Shred.Co in the skate community?
So there’s always gonna be the punk skaters, right? They see someone with a bunch of little kids skating around and those skaters are gonna be like, “Shred.Co is wack, you’re snaking us,” and all of that stuff. So, we do get hate every now and then, but definitely the positive feedback outweighs it. And that’s what motivates me to keep going because, at times, when business gets stressful and the calendar is really full and you’re like, “Why am I doing this?” I think about all these kids and the all-abilities clinics—if I were to just stop, who would be their teacher? Who would help or guide them? Even just working with the schools and giving all these kids such delight and joy—watching them come outside and run outta school with their skateboards—that would just be missing. I would be disappointing all these kids.
We recently went to check out the “Courts” skatepark at Rand Park in Montclair. Do you and Shred.Co have a relationship with the park?
I actually moved to Montclair in 2022, coincidentally right around the time that they were going to build the skatepark. I’m super close , walking distance [from the park]. I walk my dog around that block every day and I see the skaters.
In the pre-skate park days (when the skatepark was just tennis/basketball courts), the initial push wasn’t from me, it came from the community of skaters and high schoolers and the skate club. They had that initial push [to build the park] that was approved by the town and then Jordan and I started to help build it. We built a bunch of ramps and brought in a bunch of ramps and stuff that we had from teaching lessons in the basement of Underground Skate Shop in Newark.
I started teaching skateboard lessons at Courts… and then we started growing more and more and we ended up having to go through permits with the town, which was a little bit tricky, but we worked it all out and started running lessons, classes and clinics.
Montclair became like our home base, so we’ve been a part of all the fundraising for the new park. We were consulted about ideas for obstacles, and what goes where, and helped build out that huge new concrete ledge that’s there.
“Candy Courts,” a new section of the park, is set to have a grand opening in late March. It looks amazing, can you tell us a little bit about it?
Alexis Sablone, she’s an Olympic skater from Connecticut, designed the whole park (Candy Courts). She’s an architect but also an Olympic athlete, too, which is amazing. She designed [the park] so that it would look like art that you can skate on so that the town would be like, “Oh, this is cool. We’ve got all these new sculptures, but it’s also a skate park.” It’s completely different from any other skate park that’s around the United States, honestly; we’ve seen people and pros from all over coming there. It’s been really cool to see it grow from just a tennis court with a flat bar and maybe a box that people would drag onto it, into a huge skate park created by an Olympian.
So is the Montclair Skatepark in its final form now?
I would say that it’s definitely not in its final form. It’s just going to change in phases. So, we’ve got the DIY “Courts” side and we’ve got the Alexis Sablone-designed “Candy Courts” side. Now we’re fundraising to do more on the DIY side: more concrete, quarter pipes, ledges, a spine, stuff like that. In the past we’d have to rebuild ramps—they get holes in it, the weather would just eat ’em up. Having something concrete, having something permanent that doesn’t need maintenance every six months is going to be huge. There have been so many phases of the courts and the ramps and obstacles that are there… it’s constantly evolving.
What do you believe is your mission with respect to skateboarding and your business?
I would say just improving wellbeing through skateboarding. Whether it’s mental wellbeing, physical wellbeing or developing socially—skateboarding is beneficial in all of these aspects. Regardless of who you are, or your skill-level, skateboarding is going to give you fulfillment and happiness. You’re gonna make friends, you’re not gonna be sitting on the couch on your phone, doing nothing. If you’re struggling in life, or if you just have a rough day at school, you can come out and skate and not think about any of that; you can be fully present in this skateboarding activity.
For more info on Shred.Co, go here.