Burnsville's Shawn Solem has helped skateboarders and snowboarders find a growing niche in the city.
If you're landing most of your tricks, it's called ripping. Some call it shredding.
Shawn Solem, who started skateboarding at age 12, calls it addictive.
"It's too fun not to do it," explained Solem. "It's one of the most addictive things I've ever done."
It's now a lifelong habit for the Burnsville skater-turned-business-owner, who is hooking a new generation of skaters and snowboarders and earning praise for his efforts.
Solem, who owns Zombie Boardshop, won one of Burnsville's three 2012 Community Builder awards.
He organizes regular skate and snowboard events for kids and teens -- friendly, casual competitions, usually with lots of swag as prizes.
"Kids get nervous, but it's not about going to the Olympics.
"It's about having fun," Solem said. "We are trying to avoid that win-at-all-cost atmosphere."
Each year, his shop holds the "Shred Til You're Dead" snowboarding event at Buck Hill. Solem is also involved with fundraising and rallying support for the city's skate park. The first phase is built and now the skate community is raising money for a proposed phase two.
Zombie Boardshop will donate $2,000 to the second phase of the skate park and has helped raise additional funds. Solem also helped parks officials understand what makes a skate park appealing to skaters.
"I've never won anything like this before. It was humbling," Solem said. "It makes you feel good having helped out in some way."
Future Burnsville Police Chief Eric Gieseke, who is replacing departing chief Bob Hawkins at the end of the month, nominated Solem. Gieseke's sons attended Solem's weekly snowboarding events at Buck Hill. Solem said he didn't even know Gieseke was a policeman for the longest time.
"Shawn stuck out in a positive way -- his willingness and ability to provide an opportunity for kids who are not always in the mainstream," explained Gieseke, referring to the kids who don't suit up for hockey or other school sports. "His Thursday night rail jams really stuck out and allowed kids to get involved basically at no cost."
Gieseke, now a Burnsville police captain, said he and his wife were impressed with Solem.
"He had a great reputation with kids. He is professional and treats the kids well," Gieseke said. "There is a lot of trust to have your kids out there snowboarding with him and staff."
So how did a skater kid turn community role model?
Awesome parents, for starters, explained Solem, 33.
Solem grew up in Afton, and his parents encouraged him and his siblings to pursue their passions. Solem started skateboarding first and picked up snowboarding a few years later. Skateboarding was a bit more on the fringe at that time.
Cities weren't building skateboard parks yet, and he and his friends in search of a ledge or park bench often got shooed off by security or police.
"We were kicked out of places all the time," Solem said. "That was standard, but it was too much fun to give it up."
And there were a few rough landings over the years, but two broken wrists and a mashed-up elbow didn't deter him.
"You've landed that trick you've been trying all day ... it's pretty rad," Solem explained. "Once you get it, that's the best feeling in the world. You're hyped."
After graduating high school, Solem and his now-wife Ashley traveled, chasing snow and working at ski and snowboard shops out west.
He returned to Minnesota around 2002 and landed a job at the snowboard shop he'd eventually buy, just feet from Buck Hill.
Solem said he's forged close connections with local skaters and snowboarders. He still tries to go two or three times a week. "It's inspiring to see young kids and two years later, they are totally ripping," Solem said.
"He's done well for himself in light of the fact he's in direct competition with a lot of mall chains," said his friend and former boss, Christopher Cross. "He's out there all the time skating and snowboarding. He is the real thing."
Solem appeals to everyone from the outlaw snowboarder to the chief of police, Cross said.
He dresses like his younger customers, with baseball caps and baggy clothing, but offers high-end customer service that impresses parents.
"He is very authentic. He personable and genuine," Cross said. "He's been able to bridge the gap between teens and their parents."
Solem does a good job of nurturing relationships, agrees Jessica Stone, Buck Hill's marketing director. "He's always excited and ready to do stuff for the kids... He's a really good role model."
Dean Mulso, Burnsville recreation facilities manager, works with Solem on the informal skate park committee.
"He's definitely a great guy," Mulso said. "He does by action versus words. Shawn will go out and get the work done."
Shannon Prather is a Twin Cities freelance writer.