COLUMBIA — In 2004, Justin Brown turned 18, meaning he had gained independence from his parents. But without health insurance, it also meant he was at risk every time he got on a skateboard.
A few months after his 18th birthday, Brown, a Columbia resident, broke both bones in his left forearm after failing to land a front-side 5-0, a skateboarding trick that requires both metal trucks that hold the wheels in place to grind on a rail.
Intermediate best trick winner: Jonathan Jolley (Columbia) Boneless Transfer
High Ollie winner: Lance Rothenberger (Columbia) 33 inches
King of the Mountain winner: Scotty Englund (Columbia) Fakie-Bomb drop
"I hit the rail too early and had too much weight on my back foot," Brown said. "It forced me to fall forward and land about 7 feet down at the bottom of the ramp."
Brown's father rushed him to the hospital. The next day, Brown was $8,000 in debt.
Six years later and still in debt, Brown, now 24, brought his skills to the Summer Shredfest skateboarding event Saturday night at Cosmopolitan's Park's skate area.
Brown and other adult skateboarders who competed face financial hardships every day, but the lifestyle keeps them coming back.
"The people and the traveling keep me going in the sport," Brown said. "I have thought about quitting quite a few times. The bills come in, and I wonder if it's all worth it."
Three years ago, Brown began receiving health insurance as a sous-chef at Sophia's restaurant, allowing him to continue skateboarding, but before that, he struggled to stay afloat financially.
"I used to make just over the poverty level to get help financially from the government," Brown said. "I don't try as many crazy tricks anymore, and I don't go out as much so I can afford skateboarding."
Kino Kaiser, another competitor in Summer Shredfest, says he experiences the same difficulties. He works night shifts at a gym in his hometown of St. Charles. This allows him to skateboard during the day.
Last October, Kaiser knocked his right wrist out of its socket after failing to land a trick. Although no bones were broken, the skateboarder still needed several screws to put his wrist back in place.
"I have no health insurance. I'm $10,000 in debt right now," Kaiser said. "I have the hospital and radiologists calling me all the time asking for cash."
Ten months after the injury, Kaiser still cannot move his wrist properly. This did not stop him from competing in the High Ollie contest at Summer Shredfest, though. The competition required skateboarders to pop their board in the air over a pole that began at 24 inches high and went up to 33, which was cleared by last year's winner Lance Rothenberger of Columbia, who defended his title Saturday.
Failing to clear 33 inches did not disappoint Kaiser, though. Breaking his board did.
"I drove out here from St. Charles just to have fun," Kaiser said. "The only bummer is my board broke so I couldn't compete in the King of the Mountain competition."
Breaking skateboards is not uncommon for Kaiser. He usually goes through a new skateboard every week, which does not help him financially.
"My mom used to buy me boards. Shane (Stander) at Parkside Skateshop here in Columbia sometimes hooks me up with boards when I'm in town because he knows I struggle financially," Kaiser said.
To Stander and Chris Bailey, co-owners at Parkside Skateshop, helping out skateboarders is a priority.
"If they got a job, they'll miss work for long periods of time," Stander said. "It's up to us as skate shop owners to support them to keep skateboarding alive."
Kaiser was not able to participate in the King of the Mountain contest, but Brown did. In the two minute session for the advanced competition, Brown failed to land an Ollie over a six-foot gap on the "mountain," a 12-foot ramp with about a 75-degree slope. An Ollie requires skateboarders to pop their boards 2 to 3 feet into the air.
"It comes down to landing at least one trick, but I couldn't do that," Brown said. "It happens sometimes."
Despite ongoing financial struggles, Brown plans to continue following his love of skateboarding.
"I'm doing what makes me happy," Brown said. "I'm going to keep skateboarding until my body doesn't let me."