Josh 'JB' Balogh and Grace Zheng during a skating lesson at Sunnyvale’s Fair Oaks Skate Park. (Joy Zheng)
Josh "JB" Balogh’s YouTube channel is impressive: there’s footage of him grinding on stair rails and doing 360-degree flips in the air, as if a thin piece of wood and four wheels give him gravity-defying powers. But when I meet him at Sunnyvale’s Fair Oaks Skate Park, the 36-year-old South Bay skateboarder is coaching a 6-year-old girl in a skirt, pink helmet and matching elbow and knee pads.
That 6-year-old is Grace Zheng, a student of Balogh’s. The Zheng family discovered Balogh through his YouTube channel, Skate Park Lessons. His videos are all about skating—tutorials on the basics, explanations on complex tricks and more. Although Balogh has competed nationally, he’s gained most of his popularity through teaching. He started Skate Park Lessons in 2020 and, in the two years since, he’s amassed 66,000 YouTube subscribers. Balogh has also been holding in-person lessons—under the name Pro Skate Lessons—at Fair Oaks Park for nearly 20 years, making him a beloved figure in the Bay Area skate scene.
Balogh started skating at 9 years old in his Pennsylvania hometown and became a pro skater at 23 in the Bay Area. In 2008, he competed in the local division of the 10th Annual Tim Brauch Memorial Contest and went on to place fifth in the professional category.
His experience with teaching started years before he began competing. In his teens, Balogh frequented the now-closed Vans Park at Milpitas’ Great Mall. At the age of 14, he caught the attention of the park’s seasoned skaters, performing tricks that were uncommon to see someone do at his age.
“People would come up to me and say, ‘You skate really well, how’d you learn so fast and so young? Can you help me?’” says Balogh. “They kept coming back and asking for more. Sometimes people would tip me, and eventually, it turned into a job.”
It only seemed natural that Balogh would pursue teaching full time. In 2008, he took a job at California’s largest skate park, San Jose’s Lake Cunningham Action Sports Park, where he ran lessons, camps and contests for kids and adults of all skill levels. Balogh has also taught for the YMCA and worked as a professional mentor through nonprofits in East San Jose. Throughout these different roles, Balogh continued to run Pro Skate Lessons.
“It’s awesome to watch people grow and go through life,” Balogh says. “A lot of guys that come here have troubles and they’re struggling. They spend a lot of time skating, and then they kinda find something else that they love, and then they start investing time into that. Hopefully, it builds good habits that allow them to succeed and do better.”
In the South Bay, skaters of all demographics, both experienced and new, can be seen dropping into bowls at local skate parks. Veteran pro skaters such as Circle-A Skateboards owner Bob Schmelzer and the world-renowned Steve “Cab” Caballero—once named “skater of the century” by Thrasher magazine—helped shape the culture in San Jose and surrounding towns.
Meanwhile, new skaters are livening up the scene and forming female-, queer- and trans-friendly organizations, like Skate Like a Girl SF Bay Area. Meetups are happening at suburban skate parks, schools, parking lots and just about any place with smooth asphalt. The skating scene is more alive than ever.
“Skating’s kinda changing and it’s starting to include a lot more people,” Balogh says. “It’s cool to see more people trying it here. A lot more people are falling in love with it.”
The clients that Balogh takes on reflect the diversity of the community. He teaches everybody ages 5 and up. A memorable recent student was a 70-year-old retired P.E. teacher: “He told his wife, ‘I need to learn how to [ride a] motorcycle or skateboard,’ and she was immediately like, ‘skateboard,’” recalls Balogh. “So he showed up for a lesson, I taught him how to skate, and he kind of ‘X’d’ it off his bucket list.”
In her pink skating ensemble, 6-year-old Grace defies the stereotypes of a female skater. “With skateboarding, you can also be pretty,” says Joy Zheng, Grace’s mom. “The ‘pretty’ and the sport are not opposite to each other.”
Watching Balogh’s lesson with Grace reminded me of my own experience with skating. Growing up, I had tried skateboarding a number of times, but hadn’t truly gotten into it until the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Even now, in my twenties, the skating scene can seem just as intimidating as it was when I was a kid. I’d always felt that I had to know what I was doing.
Luckily for me, that changed when I came across Balogh’s YouTube channel. It was a one-stop shop for all skaters, including a beginner such as myself. Balogh and Skate Park Lessons’ teachings made skating, as well as skate parks, feel welcoming and accessible to all. That ethos is apparent in his teachings—both in his videos and even more so after I witnessed his in-person lesson with Grace.
Balogh has a unique, step-by-step way of teaching that any student can understand. “There are many skateboarding tutorials online—how to do this, how to do that,” Joy says. “But it seems like many of them are missing the key point. Why am I following your steps but can’t do your tricks? But [Balogh], he knows the key points, and he points them out. Like, ‘Oh! This is the part that I missed.’”
Most importantly, Balogh is driven by a higher purpose to help others, teaching the habits that have helped him in his life in addition to skating fundamentals. His purpose, combined with his talent and patience, ensure a new generation of skaters can take off.
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