Skateboarding and school might seem like disparate endeavors—but that's not the case in Malmö, Sweden. Bryggeriets Gymnasium is an innovative nonprofit high school that uses skating as a teaching tool. Traditional coursework is still required, but the school's roughly 150 students—many from Norway, Denmark, or the far reaches of Sweden—are also given the opportunity to pursue a skate-centric education that includes ancillary activities like photography, film, and the fine arts.
Each year, vice principal and veteran skate-scene local John Dahlquist builds out a curriculum that morphs according to the students' interests. The courses "change all the time depending on what the different groups want to get into," says Dahlquist. "Pro skating is just one part of skateboarding; filming, photography, organizing contests, art, and running companies are just as relevant." Other areas of study include rehab and nutrition, individual goal setting, and industry studies.
Now a skate mecca, the city of Malmö was once an unlikely candidate to host an alternative high school. The city suffered a collapse of industry in the late ’80s that resulted in high unemployment and decrepit infrastructure. "Malmö was bad for skating," says Dahlquist. "When the shipyard went under, the city died. But then the harbor became this hub for new architecture."
In the early 2000s, Dahlquist’s colleague John Magnusson, a skater and ex-professional hockey player who was unemployed at the time, saw an opportunity. Sweden requires civic participation to earn unemployment, so Magnusson collected an allowance by taking a course in project leadership. His focus? A brand new waterfront skate park designed by skater Stefan Hauser. When Stapelbäddsparken was built, it turned heads across Europe.
Bryggeriets skate park regular Pontus Alv then unknowingly gave the city another nudge, pushing it into the international spotlight. In 2005 Alv's skate film "The Strongest of The Strange" exposed a thriving DIY skate scene in Malmö that rivaled that of California and Portland, Oregon—and Malmö suddenly became a compelling destination for skate contests and tourism.
City governments have rarely allied with skateboarders—some whom notoriously champion an antiestablishment ethos. But in the midst of a new zeitgeist, Malmö’s officials embraced the activity as part of the city's new identity. The city revamped public spaces by installing cement ledges for grinding, hosted more contests, and turned popular spots—like the Train Banks (known as TBS among locals)—into cultural landmarks. One such contest, Skate Malmö Street, is a yearly event that operates citywide. The city still invites landscape architects to design temporary and permanent skateboarding features around town.
Though the stage was set in Malmö for a school of its kind, Bryggeriets Gymnasium's 2006 pilot program garnered skepticism from parents. They worried about sending their 16-year-olds away from home to get a nontraditional education in a city known for having rough edges.
But it turns out skateboarding does offer many teaching opportunities. According to Dahlquist, it promotes stick-to-itiveness and confidence. After skaters learn a new trick, they naturally set goals to do it bigger and better. Bryggeriets Gymnasium seeks to apply that tenacity to all of its coursework. "We teach on the principals of education, recreation, and engagement," says Dahlquist. "We hope that the drive, passion, and attitude generated by skateboarding will pour over into every aspect of [the students'] lives."
Bryggeriets Gymnasium accommodates a small number of applicants, and it has an even smaller number of dorms available to its student body—but all with a keen interest in skateboarding or the arts are encouraged to apply. The only prerequisites are passing grades, fluency in Swedish (or the language of a neighboring country), and a passion for grinding out an education in the skate park and the classroom.