A Skateboarding Mogul On Why Skateboarders Need To Give Back

Etnies founder Pierre André Senizergues has given nearly $3 million in shoes to the homeless

If skateboarding is going to live in the streets, then the sport needs to respect the people who live alongside it: the homeless. That’s how Pierre André Senizergues, the former pro skateboarder and mogul behind the massively successful Etnies brand, explains his mission to provide shoes to Los Angeles’ homeless citizens. Every Good Friday for the past 20 years, Senizergues has hauled thousands of pairs of Etnies shoes to give away to the homeless on downtown LA’s skid row. By his estimation, the company has given away 45,500 pairs of shoes valued at over $2.7 million.

Pierre André Senizergues at the Los Angeles Mission.

Senizergues’ cause has roots in his own homeless, a period following his arrival in the United States from Paris. At the Good Friday event, Senizergues ran around the LA Mission serving food, giving away shoes, stopping for photos with former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, and joking with Etnies team members Matt Berger, Aidan Campbell, and Julian Davidson.

GOOD spoke with Senizergues about 20 years of helping LA’s homeless.

Etnies team members and employees give away shoes and socks.

How did the Share the Streets program begin?

I grew up in Paris in the suburbs. When I was a teenager and I was skating, I would give to the homeless and even try to teach them a little skateboarding. There is a need to since you’re interacting with them all the time. We share the streets with them. In 1985, I took a plane and landed in Venice Beach and had no more money. I lived in the streets of Venice, showered on the beach. But I was living a dream. I loved it. It was exciting. But at night when I was living in the streets and, later, in a car, it was not easy. I didn’t speak much English. It was hard. But I would meet people during the day, other skaters, who would lift up my spirits. They recognized me as a peer and that meant a lot. Later, I got sponsored and traveled and won the world championship twice. But when I made shoes, I knew we needed to do something with Etnies to help others. I was lucky enough. Twenty years ago we decided to give shoes to the homeless in LA because the homeless population here is one of the biggest in the U.S. Now it’s been 20 years.

You work with the Mission Foundation on this program. Were they receptive to the idea?

I was blown away by the Mission Foundation. They get funds from real people who give just a little bit. Giving makes a big difference. The Mission provides 375,000 meals a year and provides 450 beds every night. They have a program to train homeless for job interviews. For me, it was amazing. I talked with them, and they do something special for Easter to help people get back on your feet. So my team started giving shoes every year. We’ve given away about 45,000 pairs total. The homeless see that we are there helping them, giving some dignity back, helping them get back on their feet. They need durable shoes that can last, and skateboarding shoes do that.

I also want to teach my team that it is important to give back. I want our pros to see this and interact with these people and give back. It is part of our culture, especially in skate culture. Skateboarding can be a humble culture, but these are creatives who want new experiences and want to connect and give back.

Senizergues with former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

Having done this for 20 years, do you see some of the same people? Have you made connections?

We see a lot of new people. The last few years we’ve seen more kids. It’s really heartbreaking to see an entire family with kids show up. We also have some success stories where people got a job and got off the streets. We see familiar faces and it can be good, but frustrating because you want to help them. But no matter what you always leave there feeling good. That action of giving is what humans should be doing. The cost of living in LA is pushing more people to the streets. We need to keep pushing back.

You could make a cash donation instead of running this program. But is it important for you to be there?

It’s important for me to be there. I couldn’t imagine doing it differently. I want to feel that I am supporting them directly. I want my team to feel the same. That time with the homeless is so I don’t forget. It’s a reminder to me that it can happen. I want to reinforce my conviction for helping them.

Center for American Progress Action Fund

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