Skate boom in the mountains
The first muted rumbles of skateboarding come with the dawn most days at the Vail Recreation District’s skate park atop the Lionshead parking structure. More than 150 faces appear and disappear before light dies out, and even more show up during peak weekends.In Vail, as in the rest of the country, skateboarding has grown ever-more popular. According to the National Sporting Goods Association, 9.6 million people skate nationwide, as opposed to 7.7 million skiers and 6.3 million mountain bikers. But as the sport has grown, it has also grown up. And the sport that was once reserved for rebels and renegades is now something that even a mother can love."I love it, and he really loves it," says Ellen Housman of Kansas City, who brought her 10-year-old son Evan to Vail’s skate park before heading out to shop in Lionshead. "He plays baseball and soccer, and in the summertime he just loves to go to the skate park."Once a passing fad in the ’50s and ’60s, skateboarding went through a resurgence during the ’80s, when street skating caught on among teenagers. The sport developed a negative image during that era, but Housman says she doesn’t worry that skateboarding will lead her son into any trouble. In fact, she says skateboarding is good for him (as long as he wears his helmet). The image of violence-prone packs of street skaters seems to be a myth left over from the past, when skateboarding built a reputation for being rough-and-tumble.Skateboarding may not be as renegade as it was in its early days, but it still requires toughness on the part of the skater. The art of balancing on a skateboard stalling, grinding, dropping in requires comfort in precarious positions. Hovering over hard concrete, metal beams, and unforgiving edges, droopy teenagers in cargo pants aim to attain balance on a pinpoint fulcrum. Any one of them will tell you there’s something addictive about skateboarding, something that encourages them to try the same move over and over again (sometimes for years) until they get it then they try to do it better.Watching the youths who skate, and listening to their charged epithets after they tumble off their boards, it seems the sport is an earnest allegory to teenage life. Trial and error, effort and consequence, the teens infuse their activity with the frustrations of a difficult age. Crouched at the top of a ramp, friends rest elbows on upturned boards and talk shop, then school, then girls, then shop again, working through internal puzzles before puzzling out the next sleek maneuver.Unlike baseball, football, or other school-sponsored sports, skaters wear no uniform in fact, part of the appeal seems to be the individual style that each rider expresses in his choice of T-shirt, shoes, deck and wheels.But there is the sense that, on another level, the skaters share quite a bit with their uniformed counterparts on the ball field. They are, in the end, all athletes, struggling with moments of failure and accomplishment, working to improve technique and timing, and reaping all the benefit of experience that makes sport so valuable in young lives."As a teacher I can say that it’s really positive for the kids," says Matt McGough of Avon Elementary School, who learned to skate during the ’80s. "It’s a really creative sport; you can do whatever you want, and it’s also dynamic."McGough remembers a time when skating the streets was his only option. Property owners unlucky enough to own skate-friendly staircases, walls, or planters were engaged in a constant battle to keep skaters off their property. The abandoned parking lots and empty inner-city warehouses left behind by urban decay became the only places skaters could hang without harassment. Sketchy characters, drugs, and fights perforated the skating scene.Eventually, buying a board and joining the skate culture was like raising a middle finger to the status quo. Everything about the culture the music, the clothes, the language was anti-establishment.But the youths who rode out the early days of skating have now matured. Legendary skater Tony Hawk, who was 14 when he began skating professionally 20 years ago, has helped bring his sport into the public eye. His efforts, and the efforts of those like him, have helped skating gain credibility and respect."It used to be just for hoodlums," McGough says. "Now you see jocks doing it there’s all kinds of people doing it."Parks and projectsThe Lionshead park sees plenty of use, yet members of the skateboard community are still wanting for a top-of-the line skate park. Summit County has two cement parks, and Salida, Aspen, and Glenwood have also come through with cement parks that draw skaters from around the state."People drive from Denver to go to Aspen’s skate park, and people from here drive to Durango, Telluride, Montrose, Grand Junction you don’t want to skate on your own park all the time; it gets boring," says Paul’s Boutique shop owner Mick Woodward, who has been skating for 22 years. Woodward thinks that the burgeoning skating population deserves some permanent cement parks that rival those of other mountain communities.The temporary parks in Lionshead, Eagle-Vail, and the cement park in Gypsum are inadequate, says Woodward. But he and his fellow skaters are having a hard time finding a place to build their dream park."I don’t think we get respect from the people in the hierarchy of the town council," he says. "Look at the volleyball courts they have and the number of people that use them; (skaters) outnumber them like 30 to one. They’re telling us there’s no place to put it, but they’re just giving us a little lip service."Other options include creating a concrete park in Edwards near the fire station, or improving the existing Gypsum park. But no definite plans are in place to create more parks to accommodate growing skater needs."The problem with (building) the skate parks here is that the town doesn’t care about it," Woodward says. "They’ve got their winter sports and they’re happy with it. They’d rather spend thousands of dollars on a brass horse than a skate park."The parks that exist now are ideal for young skaters who want to learn basic moves. The Vail Recreation District offers lessons and instruction. For information call 479-2294 or surf to http://www.vailrec.com.
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Are we seeing more bears because there are more bears on the valley floor, or because we’re all spending more time at home? It could be a bit of both.