Skateboarding turns passion into purpose
It’s a carpet trod by Prime Ministers and lots of other politicos and power brokers - the red carpet tracking through the corridors of parliament.
But not many, perhaps no-one, has ever ridden it. Until now, that is. Until Blair Benefield – Tauranga’s skateboarding mental health awareness crusader – dared to.
“Todd Muller’s assistant sort of suggested it, and I was keen,” says Blair. So he did it – 20 to 30 metres on his skateboard down the carpeted hallways of parliament. A bit of a stunt. “And everyone got a laugh,” says Blair.
They also got a video – it was recorded on his phone and is now up on SunLive. It was a frivolous aside to some serious business about depression, youth suicide and mental health awareness.
“Todd wanted to know what I had learned on my journey up the South Island.”
The journey – to date a 1000 kilometre-plus, month-long odyssey on a skateboard, hoofing it the length of New Zealand, living out of a backpack and talking to everyone and anyone about the issues that took Blair himself down a dark and dangerous path.
As a professional soldier he was railroaded out of the army – medically discharged for severe depression and PTSD which led to the abuse of synthetic drugs.
“I had to find myself a goal, a challenge, something that would assist the understanding of mental illness and help others struggling with it.”
So he went to Stewart Island and began his journey – skateboarding from town-to-town talking to schools, groups, community gatherings – talking about his problems and listening to those of others.
He managed 70 kilometres on his skateboard one day – from Lake Paringa to Fox Glacier. “It’s something I thought I could never do, I was really quite chuffed.” That’s how he operates these days – setting challenges and meeting them.
He got to Fox Glacier, tumbled into his tent in the bush and went to sleep.
When The Weekend Sun spoke to Blair he was in Woodville in the Manawatu, heading towards Napier and Hastings.
How do people react when a long haired, 32-year-old skateboarder rolls into town to chat about one of the great perplexing issues of our time? “Really, really positively. Only positively, I have to say. They understand I am trying to make things better, to help people. And they support me.”
A month ago he was Blair “Joe Blow” Benefield. “But I have now had a lot of media exposure –newspapers, radio and TV – so I have quite a profile. When people see me on the road skating into town they stop me and say what a great thing we are doing.
“It just highlights the cause, that mental health can touch everyone. No-one is immune.”
The Mount Maunganui landscape gardener has been especially humbled by his experience in schools. “It must be hard for kids to open up about such sensitive issues, but they seem happy to have a one-on-one chat with me.”
Blair Benefield feels a huge personal responsibility. “Just the fact they feel they can trust me enough to tell me these things – through me showing my vulnerability, telling them what I have been through, they feel comfortable.
“They’re young people struggling and they want to unload a bit with someone they feel they can trust.”
Like a 14-year-old in Masterton, who approached him about her depression. “She was in a very dark place. She was very accomplished and passionate about music, about singing, and I encouraged her to use this creative skill.
“She lit up at the idea of using her music to put her in a positive place – to turn her passion into her purpose.”
The long haired skateboarder with a perpetual grin was a novelty in the Golden Shears capital. Even the Mayor Lyn Patterson and councillors wanted to meet Blair – they turned out to hear him talk.
“And the RATS riders – another suicide prevention team, Riders Against Teen Suicide – all people passionate about change and other trying to gain some insight. “
Two other friends were worried about a friend suffering depression, having suicidal thoughts and taking drugs to mask those feelings and pain. “I gave them the best advice I could and directed them to the right agencies.”
Blair Benefield’s skateboard, the one he made, is just fine after 1000 kilometres of his odyssey. “It should see me out.” But he’s worn out one pair of shoes, and the second pair is nearly knackered.
The body’s getting a bit niggly as well. “My muscles get a bit stretched at times, and I’ve some niggles in my heel, but nothing will stop me.”
The mental health awareness skateboard crusade probably still has another couple of months to run. “Because I keep getting invitations and I will try to meet them all,” he says. “I will try to make as big an impact as possible.
To get assistance:
Lifeline: 0800 543 354.
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1737, Need to talk? Free call or text 1737.
Samaritans: 0800 726 666
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