The story of skateboarding is, to the bone, an American one. Political persistence, cultural shifts and a bottomless well of freedom of expression have all contributed to the evolution of this lyrical blend of sport and art which began, simply enough, with an outsider’s perspective on the possibilities of reinventing a flight of stairs. It created a revolution in movement, though one that would not be officially recognized for many years.
If rock ‘n’ roll and jazz were born from the blues movement of the early-20th century, then skateboarding’s genesis is the coastal California surfers of the 1950s and 1960s.
In 1970s Southern California, when winter waters were too cold to surf, surfers took to the streets of Venice Beach, where “land surfing,” as it was known, began. When a mid-decade drought left Southern California short of water, skateboarders saw possibilities, most famously in the form of empty suburban swimming pools.
It was in these pools that skateboarders first developed reputations as “outlaws.” A guerilla movement (skate anything!) sprung up, and skateboarders were targeted as trespassing miscreants and nuisances. Sometimes they were punished with fines. But their style inspired imitators all over the country who soon saw surfaces the same way. Swells, stairs, ramps and rails were riddles—the idea being to hurtle oneself recklessly toward an end, before punctuating it, like a comic or a gymnast, smoothly, swiftly, fearlessly and flawlessly.
In the three decades since, skateboarding has evolved, and while it ebbs and flows in legitimacy, modern skateboarding is riding a swell of popularity.
Technological advances in gear, as well as in skatepark design and construction, have provided communities with gathering places for all ages and skills. Yet, the sport’s popularity has much to do with the shift in cultural perspective. It wasn’t too long ago that snowboarders (skateboarding’s snowy cousin) were either segregated from skiers, or banned from mountains altogether. Now, mountain managers are investing in infrastructure to specifically lure snowboarders to their resorts.
It’s not surprising then that a snowboarder-friendly ski resort like Sun Valley boasts two state-of-the-art parks in the area.
Jim Slanetz, owner of Ketchum’s Board Bin, helped spearhead Ketchum’s community-based skateboarding movement. Skate
boarders were becoming thorns in the sides of adults and business owners because they often took to the stairs and handrails of Ketchum’s private and public properties, he said. “After a while, a curb just doesn’t look that good to a kid anymore. There was no place to skate.”
Slanetz, along with Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation coach Andy Gilbert, began to gather funds (most memorably with street parties, with live bands and raffles that grossed $4,000 to $6,000 each go) to create a permanent place to skate.
Likewise a grassroots effort was gaining momentum in Hailey, under more sobering circumstances. Hailey resident Andy Andrews, who served as Hailey’s Skatepark Committee chairman, says the motivating factor was the sudden and tragic death of his son, T.C., a gifted snowboarder and skateboarding enthusiast.
Andy Andrews explains: “T.C. was only 17 years old when he decided to cut his life short. He tragically took his own life without any signs or explanation.
“It’s hard to believe,” he says soberly, “but the leading cause of death in this country among teenagers is suicide.”
Then he added, “If you ever feel down enough to consider checking out, please reach out, because life problems are like snowstorms: they never last forever.”
Not long after T.C.’s death, classmates, friends and family decided the best way to honor his memory was to skate Hailey on Wednesday nights. Before long, the skateboarders of Hailey were bent on bringing a world-class skatepark to their community, and it wouldn’t be long before they had one. With bowl roll-ins of 16 feet, and a 16-foot-diameter, full-radius concrete pipe, the Hailey Skatepark was soon attracting national attention.
In the summer of 2003, professional skateboarding’s most visible personality, Tony Hawk, made an impromptu visit to the park, and his presence generated a quick word-of-mouth buzz. Even Hawk himself couldn’t tame the park’s amenities—after dazzling appreciative crowds, he took a spill that sent him to the hospital for stitches in his gashed ankle.
“He lost a little blood on the rails,” Andrews laughs, reminiscing about that summer day. “But (attracting talent like Hawk) says a lot for our park.”
Two years later, the Hailey Skatepark would host the first-ever annual skateboarding summit for Skaters for Public Skateparks, an organized collective of skateboarders advocating boarders’ needs for public spaces. That same year, Ketchum’s Guy Coles Memorial Skatepark would re-open to the public with a flourishing grand concrete redesign that updated and modernized the park’s bowls, handrails and pipes.
Both parks were built by Dreamland Skateparks, from Lincoln City, Oregon. In addition to offering stellar design and vision, the company employs a very powerful selling point: the people who build their parks are themselves skateboarders, intent on building parks that they themselves would love to skate.
“Skateboarders, designing and constructing the parks, make the parks flawless,” says Dreamland’s co-owner, Danyel Scott. “They truly understand the transitions and the flow of the park. They create something only a skateboarder would understand.” >>>
Twenty-year-old Jens Peterson, who grew up in the Valley, said the parks here are among the best he’s ever skated, a testament to the craftsmanship of Dreamland. “Dreamland was great, because their employees would build a section, skate it and see how it feels, then build another section and see how it feels,” Peterson says.
Having skated parks all over the Pacific Northwest, as well as parks in Europe (Amsterdam and London), Peterson says the Valley’s parks are among the best. “The transitions (from flat surfaces to the coping of bowls and pipes) are pretty much perfect,” he says. “There are no waves or bumps (that could send a skater off-balance). The quality of our parks is top-rate compared with others parks.”
Quinn Baser, a 17-year-old Community School senior, has skated parks all over the Northwest, as well as in California, and says the parks in Ketchum and Hailey “are among the best [he’s] ever skated, if not the best.”
Yet, perhaps the most ringing endorsements a skatepark can have are those of the community at large, and by local governments, in particular.
At this moment, skateboarding occupies a place in American history that it never has before: the kids love it and the adults support it.
“Kids of all walks of life should have the opportunity to have somewhere they can go and just have fun in a safe way,” Scott says. “A skatepark is nothing but a positive thing for a community. I have not yet seen where a community has been disappointed.”
“We wanted to build a park that would challenge kids forever, one they wouldn’t ever get tired of using,” Andrews says. And, as a bonus, Andrews says, the kids in his community got a hands-on civics lesson in how government works (they gave presentations to the Hailey City Council, where they learned the art of bureaucratic gymnastics through small successes and disappointments), and they also learned the lesson that with enough perseverance, one can effect change. And Slanetz and Andrews both agree that not only has each city provided a place to be, but that they stay out of the way. Helmets and pads are not required (though Slanetz says that everyone should always use them), allowing people to use the parks for what they’re made for in the first place: play.
After all, everyone who’s ever skated has suffered injuries. Besides a series of cuts, scrapes, mashings, gashes and bruises, Peterson has broken a foot (left), but it never stopped him from competing or from just playing around. Baser has broken both wrists three times each, while 18-year-old Wood River High School senior Scott Pike, whom Baser calls “one the best boarders in the Valley,” and who has built his own mini-ramps at his house has never suffered a broken bone—just three concussions, one lost tooth, one chipped tooth, a gnarly split lip and numerous rolled ankles and sprained wrists.
While all three enjoy skating immensely, neither wants to compete on a professional level.
“I like skating just because it’s really fun,” Pike says. “It’s a good way to just hang out with your friends.”
While Baser doesn’t want to compete, he still sees some form of skateboarding culture in his future. Currently applying to art school, Baser says he can see himself one day becoming a graphics designer for a company that manufactures skateboards or skateboarding products. And he’s currently pining to spend his senior project capital overseas in Shanghai, home to the world’s largest skatepark (180,000 square feet), where he wants to teach skateboarding.
Skating since the age of 10, Peterson, while having successfully competed locally in many competitions, says he no longer really cares to compete. He’s in school now, studying visual arts. He says he’ll skate, but because it’s something he simply enjoys doing.
“The lifestyle of skateboarding appeals to me,” says Peterson. “I think skateboarding culture is interesting.” And by culture, he says, he’s not celebrating the guerilla ethos of older generations. He’s got a more meditative meaning.
“It’s simplicity and freedom,” he explains. “If you play football, you need pads and helmets and teammates; if you ski or snowboard, you need the gear, lift tickets and transportation. All you need to skateboard is a skateboard and an area to skate. I like how simple it is in its best form.”
Baser agrees. “It’s just a piece of wood with wheels on it. You can progress as an individual at your own pace, and you can do it anyplace, anywhere,
Chad Walsh – Chad Walsh is a freelance writer living in Idaho who learned while writing this story that you can, in fact, take it with you