Okete-raised Ben Wallis really is a young man on a mission.
The 20 year old has been relishing the warmth and familiarity of Raglan after flying home from a “freezing” Canada last month.
But it’s only a relatively short visit home.
Ben will be heading Canada’s way again next month for another northern hemisphere summer and a job that gives him a real sense of purpose. His mission is to help give other young people from around the world a life-changing experience at Muskoka Woods in Ontario, which he describes as “one of the most beautiful places in the world”.
It’s there he’s been teaching skateboarding skills at a Christian camp set in 1000-odd acres of woodland on the shores of Lake Rosseau.
This time around he’ll be in more of a leadership role. “I’ll be the skateboarding area head, which means I get to oversee the skate, scooter and BMX instructors,” he explains. “I’m so pumped.”
In all there are more than 50 adventure activities for youngsters through to teens at Muskoka Woods which specialises in school trips, church retreats and leadership development experiences.
Watersports on offer for instance include paddleboarding, sailing, tubing and kayaking, says Ben. Then there’s high ropes and gymnastics, golfing, volleyball, even droning. “Kids go there to fly drones,” he says somewhat incredulously.
And all of it for fun. “We just want the kids to have the hell time.”
Ben spent three months all up at Muskoka Woods last year. The gun skateboarder, who’s done comps here in Raglan and around the country, says he’s always “stoked” when kids who couldn’t stand on a board can finally push their way around a whole skate park at camp.
The camp has two functioning skate parks, one indoors and an outdoor facility that is getting rebuilt.
Ben – a descendant of early Raglan missionary the Rev James Wallis – says he was always keen to get involved in the Muskoka Woods bible camp programme once he’d finished school locally at the surfing academy. “But I got really lazy,” he admits.
He worked at Backdoor surf/skate shop in Hamilton meantime, and also for a while downtown at Raglan Surf Co.
Then last May he went to South Korea with a missionary team called Global Expression which is part of Youth With A Mission (YWAM), one of the largest Christian mission organisations in the world.
He loved being one of five skaters on the 15-strong skateboarding/hip-hop dance tour around South Korean schools. “We got to speak about our beliefs, our struggles (in life),” he says. The whole idea was one of being positive role models while demonstrating particular skills.
The Muskoka Woods experience followed on from that, then it was off in September to San Francisco – a city rich in skateboarding history – where Ben was committed for another three months as a bible student of Calling All Skaters, a YWAM training school “to build on my faith as a Christian”.
It’s about representing skateboarders in a positive way, he explains, and being able to minister within the skateboarding community. “We don’t need the party life, drugs and alcohol (to have a good time).”
After the course Ben went with a group of about 10 on an outreach to Chile for another couple of months, skateboarding and “sharing our faith”.
They travelled all over Chile, got to surf in Pichilemu – a black-sand coastal resort with a left-hander “just like Raglan” – and in December visited the “super-cool”, sparsely populated region of Patagonia at the southern end of South America.
“But I couldn’t come back to the southern hemisphere without seeing my girlfriend (in Toronto),” Ben explains of how he ended up flying home last month from Canada.
Now he’s working with his dad Ross on the family farm at Okete, and enjoying reconnecting with people he hasn’t seen for nine months. When the Chronicle caught up with Ben there was a chance he’d also get to do some skateboard instructing with local skater Jason Beaudry of Wrong Skate Shop downtown.