FIVE YEARS AGO, as Johno Austin lay on a hospital bed in the United States, a video about skateboarding served to deflect his focus from the pain and discomfort he was enduring.

Then age 11, he was suffering with gastroparesis (a chronic condition in which the stomach is unable to empty in the normal way), causing him to lose much time away from school because of repeated hospitalisations.

The gastric stimulator implanted into his stomach to force food directly into his intestines was his only means of getting the vital nutrition necessary for his growth and development. Being fed a diet of milk, he endured the misery of watching others savour many a mouth-watering meal and was forced to forego the pleasure of chewing on the fast foods popular with so many boys and girls his age.

“It was tortuous not being able to eat. Even though I was being fed, it went straight to my intestines and I used to feel very hungry. It was hard when you could not eat or drink water,” Johno confessed.

Skateboarding proved to be the ray of light bursting through a door of hope.

“Skateboarding helped me with my illness. When I was in the hospital overseas, one night I was on YouTube because there was nothing much to do in the hospital. There was a man doing skateboard tricks and it really lit something in my soul. As soon as I saw it, it was so intriguing and interesting to me and from that day on I was obsessed. It gave me an opportunity to mentally block out everything that was happening to me and just enjoy myself. I built a strong passion through it.”


Having persuaded his dad Stephen Austin to buy him a skateboard when he got out of hospital, it was to a Walmart store that the two headed on the day he was discharged, and they bought a Penny board, a type of plastic skateboard.

“From there skateboard was my life, my whole world,” Johno said last week, three




weeks after opening Johno’s Skate Shop, an online shop offering skateboards and related merchandise.

Through adversity, this young man has seized an opportunity. Lying there watching his first skateboarding video back then awakened his latent entrepreneurial spirit.

“I thought it would be a great idea to open a skate shop. I told my dad and he told me to write up a business plan, so I wrote up my business plan and from there Johno’s Skate Shop was in development.”

Now in his second year at the Barbados Community College studying management, Johno said: “I thought since I am studying marketing and management, it would be a practical way to learn about business. Some things in the world you cannot learn until you actually do it. I thought starting out my own business would help me to learn about business.”

Only last year did he manage to have the gastric device implanted in his stomach removed after living with it for about five years. He was experiencing pain and suspected something was wrong with the device when on the advice of his doctor overseas, he returned to the hospital there for investigation. The initial thinking by the experts was to change the battery in the gastric pacemaker, but Johno had another thought.

“I told them to leave it (the device) out and I tried eating without it. I was able to manage eating and digesting my food on my own, so that was a great accomplishment for me.” That development also gave him the impetus to forge ahead with his business plans, taking his father fully on board.

Dad invested

“At first we tried to get money from the Barbados Unit Trust Fund, and that took a while, but we got through that, and my dad also invested in the company.”

Johno built the website pretty much on his own – “a great experience formatting and getting exactly what I want”, according to the teen.

“One thing that identified and defined Johno was his brand and I

Continued on next page.
FLYING HIGH, Johno Austin executing a skateboard manouvre in Bridgetown. (GPs)

Teenager determined to help needy

From Page 10.

saw this when I read the business plan,” the proud father said about his son’s venture.

Johno said his business, launched on September 14, has been going “exceptionally well”, with a demand from a wide range of ages. He pointed out both the logo and the website represent the bright colours which are characteristic of his style of dress “which people would know me for”.

Beyond the skateboard which he had intended to be the main feature of Johno’s Skate Shop, there is now a demand for roller skates and roller blades.

Skateboarding is now an Olympic sport and Johno has made it a pastime. He has competed twice in the One Movement Festival,

an invitational regional competition supported by the Skateboard Association of Barbados, with competitors from Jamaica, Trinidad, St Lucia and Barbados. He placed fifth out of about 12 contestants in the competition in 2017 and was second in 2018.

Breaking a leg while indulging in the sport for his own pleasure kept him out of competition in 2019, but he said gleefully: “I am back skating now and enjoying myself again.”

The Kaitif Skate Park built by the Maria Holder Memorial Trust at the Garfield Sobers Sports Complex in Wildey, St Michael, has provided an opportunity for many more children to learn and practise the sport. In his small way, Johno is also giving a chance to children for whom participation in skateboarding is unaffordable. Through Johno Cares 2, a charitable offshoot of Johno’s Skate Shop, he is setting aside a portion of his sales income for this purpose.

“It is basically my way of giving back. Five per cent of sales go towards kids who cannot afford to skateboard and also kids who are struggling with medical bills,” he said. “I always wanted to give back. I know how hard it is when you are in the hospital. I know how hard it was on my family to pay the bills and also they had to pay for the milk I was feeding off of. It was very expensive. It was very humbling and through this I know that I want to give back.”

Supporting this, his father shared about being in “a charity house many times in Gainesville and Orlando because we could not afford a hotel at the time. We waited on

food that was donated to be delivered so we could have dinner. It was an experience that brought us as a family closer together”.

Summing it all up, Johno offered this advice: “I would say to any young person who finds themselves in a position like mine, never give up. Try to find something that you can occupy your time with just like how I found skateboarding. Try to find something that you are passionate about and develop it.”

JOHNO AUSTIN displaying some of the goods to be found in his online Johno’s Skate Shop.


© Nationnes Powered by TECNAVIA

Back to blog


You are inspirational and idol that young people will look up to you are a very strong young man keep up the good work buddy and I hope we meet one day you never know I could be at your shop you are literally saving people’s lives with your words and your heart.

Shontae Barnett

Hail up blessings positive energies and respect I meet you in Columbia brother you are a strong positive young man with a great soul I love you

Treburn Adon Rodgers

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.