Elkhorn teenager garnering national attention in snowskating
That's a luxury not all of Oakes' friends can brag about because their wheeled skateboards won't go in the snow.
Oakes doesn't have that problem. His board is a snowskate, a no-wheels version of a skateboard especially designed for snow.
"When there is snow, I just grab the snowskate and go out," said Oakes, a junior at Elkhorn High School.
In theory, the sport sounds a lot like snowboarding—mostly young athletes performing seemingly impossible tricks while riding a wooden board on snow. But in practice, snowskating is quite different.
"You're not attached to the board," Oakes explained. "You can jump and do all kinds of stuff. In snowboarding, you can't because the board is stuck to your feet."
Snowskaters can do flips, grind on railings and jump over obstacles. Oakes said skateboarding tends to be freer because it's easier to just cruise around.
But the winter sport has a big advantage.
"Snowskating doesn't hurt as bad," he said.
At 17, Oakes is making a name for himself in the realm of snowskating. He took second place among seasoned snowskaters during his first competition last year. In February, he took first place in two categories and overall best at the Midwest Open of Snowskating in Elkhorn. About a month later, he took first place at the Icon Classic competition in Massachusetts.
It was at the end of that competition that Icon Snowskates decided to sponsor Oakes as a professional rider. As a result of the sponsorship, he will begin designing his own board this summer. Icon will produce and sell the boards, passing down a percentage of the revenue to Oakes.
"He's such a talented kid," said Stephen Plays, president of Massachusetts-based Icon Snowskates. "This sponsorship is not lucrative for him yet, but obviously very exciting."
The sport has been around since about 1998, the year the first snowskates were commercially produced, Plays said. From there, snowskating has slowly gained recognition, mostly from skateboarders who wanted to continue practicing the sport during winter.
That's what happened with Oakes. An avid skateboarder, the Elkhorn boy had his first contact with a snowskate about three years ago. Now, he likes the winter sport better than skateboarding.
"I try to compete in skateboarding too," said Oakes. "But in snowskating, the company really helps me out with going to competitions and stuff."
Being a professional snowskater means going on competitions, and those take up lots of time. Oakes has missed quite a few days of school, prompting his mother, Sue Oakes, to think about home schooling.
That wasn't necessary, she said, because staff at Elkhorn High School have been understanding and supportive of her son's talent and dedication to the sport.
"They were willing to let him make up a lot of the work," she said.
Looking forward, Oakes hopes to the sport grows in popularity. Most snowskaters hail from the northeast, but the Elkhorn native is confident snowskating will become more recognized with time.
"It's not nearly as big as skateboarding or snowboarding," he said. "But it's kind of cool seeing the younger people getting into it."