Concrete and Abstract
Skateboarding grows up without growing old
Photography: Mark Oliver
Left: Ryan Roemer tempting the tube. Right: Ben Parker skating, while Chace Josey, Tanner Josey and Ryan Roemer watch encouragingly.
(page 1 of 2)
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.” >>>