The Great Outdoors

The Great Outdoors

Growing up in Brooklyn, New York, Brian Paupaw always wanted to escape city life. Today, the designer for films and television broadcasts helps urban teens get away with his Hoods to Woods Foundation ( The organization, which is awaiting 501(c)(3) nonprofit status, teaches young people the joys of nature and adventure sports such as rock climbing and snowboarding. “When you get outside of an urban environment your mentality changes,” Paupaw insists. “When you’re in nature, surrounded by trees and clean air, you tend to put down your defenses.”

Paupaw discovered snowboarding in 1998 while attending Parsons School of Design in New York City. When classmates invited him to try it, he was apprehensive. “That wasn’t something black people did,” he says he erroneously thought. But after giving it a chance, “I got hooked and never looked back.” He’s traveled as far as Argentina to snowboard in the Andes Mountains.

After detailing his journey from a housing project to snowboarding slopes in a 2009 documentary titled Hoods to Woods, Paupaw was inspired to recreate the experience for other city teens. With equipment donated by Burton Snowboards ( and volunteers providing transportation, 10 teens ages 13—19 hit the slopes in Mountain Creek, New Jersey, last year. (About 20 participate in indoor rock-climbing.) And this month, 15 to 20 young people will make the snowboarding trip. Those same boys and girls will be in the indoor rock-climbing and camping programs in the summer. The teens are mostly from Paupaw’s neighborhood, and others are referred from other nonprofit programs.

Before every session “we talk about certain words like courage, fear, and respect,” Paupaw says. The teens learn about the inner and outer strength needed to excel in athletics, as well as academics; Paupaw invites professionals to speak about college and careers. “Already, a couple of kids told me, ‘We want to go to college in Colorado because we want to snowboard,’” says the 36-year-old, who relishes in his students’ newfound interest and where it could take them. “They want to go outside of their neighborhoods and get an education, yet still be involved with the sport.”