FLC Skateshop leads lasting legacy

Danielle Ferguson

Georgie Tsushima spent 12 to 16-hour days renovating a 950-square foot space full of holes in the walls, missing floor tiles, water leakages, eight useless mirrors and an old sink to weave a dream he’d never see come to fruition.

Tsushima, a 2007 Ames High graduate, founded FLC Skateshop, located at 2522 Lincoln Way in Ames, to fashion a safe place for anybody curious about the skateboarding industry. The name came from his high school skateboarding group Flat Land Crew. He and his team of friends, family and people who heard about his efforts had a week to paint the walls, remove eight mirrors, nail in new floorboards, install a new lock and find equipment to sell to a hungry customer base.

“He actually made rent for his shop about a week after he got the keys,” said Tsushima’s mother, Teresa Downing-Matibag, lecturer in sociology at Iowa State. “People were coming in and buying things out of boxes from him. He was selling things from the shop at the same time that all these people from the skateboard and families from the communities were just coming in and helping him to renovate that shop.”

But the day of Tsushima’s grand opening was also the day he lost his life.

His mother can recall — to the minute — the events leading up to his death.

8:39 p.m., July 18, 2015 – Downing-Matibag, who was visiting her mother in Ohio, gets off the phone with Tsushima, who had said he was exhausted from a long day’s work in opening the shop.

8:43 p.m. – Tsushima texts his mother a link to a Humans of Ames post about his story and the skateshop.

8:52 p.m. – Tsushima does not respond to his friend’s text.

9:20 p.m. – Tsushima does not respond to his mother’s text: “Is everything OK?”

“It looks like he died within minutes after sending me that text at 8:43 p.m.,” Downing-Matibag said. “I figure it was somewhere in that nine minutes where he texted me and his friend texted him.”

Tsushima was found dead in his home that night. Downing-Matibag said doctors weren’t sure if his death was a result of his injury. 

Tsushima, who for a time attended but didn’t graduate from Iowa State, was a well-known face in the Ames skateboarding community. He spent hours every day at the Ames Skate Park helping young, new skateboarders learn basic tricks. He would also help his mentees with their math homework if they needed it, often posing as an older brother-type.

Tsushima had left Iowa State for California to make a name for himself in the professional skateboarding world. He became a professional skateboard videographer for Vox Footwear and social media wizard and later had been invited by Stereo Sound Company to go to ammateur level skateboarding, meaning he would’ve traveled with a team and could make a career of skateboarding. He had even started a campaign with Vox Footwear to do a country-wide effort to feature non-professional skateboarders in a series of videos showing off the local talent. While working for Vox Footwear, Tsushima attended a community college full time to study arts and improve his technological and video-creating skills.

“He called me Aug. 14, 2014, and said, ‘Mom, I’m so excited I’m living my dream now,’” Downing-Matibag said. “That night, I got a call at 11:30 p.m. from a police officer saying, ‘Your son has been in a very serious accident. We don’t know if he is going to live.’”

Tsushima had flown 15 feet into the air in a bowl without a helmet, lost his balance and fell, hitting his head and causing his brain to swell.

Surgeons had to perform a craniectomy, where a portion of Tsushima’s skull was removed to allow the brain to swell outward instead of inward. Tsushima was in intensive care in California for about two months, after which he came back to Ames, still without that portion of his skull.

The injury didn’t affect his long term memory, but Tsushima lost all of his short-term memory.

“He was in the bottom 1 percent of people with memory,” Downing-Matibag said. “He had no short term memory whatsoever. If I would say to him: earplugs, tablet, phone, what did I just say? We would be lucky if he would remember one word.”

Tsushima had to relearn the English language. His mother said he treated learning how to speak again as a full-time job. He would spend eight hours a day watching basic DVDs trying to relearn a skill he learned at the age of 3.

Tsushima eventually worked his way back to being able to speak and regained his short-term memory through the exercises.

“He eventually got his life back,” Downing-Matibag said. “He was so motivated to … recover and get his life back and move on and do all the things he had always dreamed of that nothing was going to stop him. I had never seen anybody make such a comeback from such a devastating injury in my entire life.”

The return of his memory brought the return of a long-term dream of opening his own skate shop back in Ames. Tsushima had opened a skateshop in high school, which was located near Battles Barbecue on Welch Avenue, and had closed it when he moved to California to pursue his skating dreams.

He wanted to be productive and give back again. And FLC Skateshop was how he was going to do it.

“I opened FLC Skateshop for it to be a community center, especially for artists and skateboarders,” Tsushima said in a Humans of Ames Facebook post the day he opened his shop. “I want to break down the stereotypes that people have when they see some skateboarders. Skateboarding is an art, every skater expresses himself/herself differently. From the design and size of their board, to the way they skate on it. It’s a positive escape, you forget about your problems and you focus on learning new things.”

The shop was closed for the week and opened up again the next Saturday, July 25, a day, Downing-Matibag said, was a day of record sales.

“As soon as people heard it was open, they were lining up to come in,” Downing-Matibag said. “We have never made that much [in one day] since.”

After Tsushima died, his friends weren’t so sure how the shop would perform.

Bryan Jones, along with other friends of Tsushima, helped Tsushima fix those holes in the walls, missing floor tiles, water leakages and get rid of those eight mirrors and old sink.

“We had our doubts,” said Jones, senior in kinesiology and health. We closed it down it happened because [George] was the guy who was going to do everything and then we were like ‘What do we do?’ We had friends who came together and said we were going to do our best. Nobody is as good as Georgie at doing this, but we did what we could.”

Jones, who had met Tsushima at the Ames skate park about 11 years ago, helps manage FLC Skateshop, spending hours in the shop helping any customer who comes along.

“That’s honestly one of the main reasons Georgie wanted the shop,” Jones said. “He wanted a spot for more than just us skaters who are doing it all the time. He wanted a place where people who were just interested could come in and hang out and learn more. We accept anybody.”

Jones said the fall remained steadily busy, but the winter months were tougher, simply for the fact the weather made it difficult to skateboard. The spring, however, is a time when business starts to pick up again.

As for the future of the shop, Jones said the goal is just to keep it around for the local community. Just like Georgie wanted.

“We’re not trying to make it big,” Jones said. “We’re just trying to stay here for the community and keep it here as long as we can for George. It may not be in this exact location but we would like to remain FLC Skateshop in Ames. That would just be awesome.”