Warren Miller: World’s greatest skatepark
Vail, CO, Colorado
In the early 1960s in Southern California, the lifeguards were pulling the surfers out of the water at 11 o’clock in the morning to protect the swimmers, even if there were no swimmers.
The few surfers who were also skateboarders were cruising around town on the sidewalks on metal wheels and bravado.
It was easy for them to terrorize the shoppers at the mall and the people heading home with a bag of groceries.
The police started hassling the skateboarders, and a guerrilla war began.
Up until that time, the surf-skateboarders could only hate the lifeguards for throwing them out of the water, but then they began to hate the police for taking away their sidewalk freedom.
When the plastic skateboard wheel was invented, maneuverability began to be part of the freedom a surfer could get back. About that same time, David Adams, of Pyramid Films, produced a short film called “Skater Dater” and won an Academy Award for the best short of the year.
Skateboarding was growing.
Even with the growth in skateboarding, skateboarders were still being hassled by the local police; “No Skateboarding” signs began to appear everywhere.
South of Oceanside, someone built a skateboard park that charged by the hour. It lasted a couple of years but was done in by the high cost of its insurance.
Hobie Alter sold more than 200,000 skateboards that were financed by the Sunkist Orange Juice Co., but skateboarders still had no place to ride except illegally on sidewalks and in parking lots.
That has all changed today.
Here in the state of Washington, there seems to be a skateboard park within an hour’s drive of almost anywhere you live.
Five years ago, we built one here on our small island, population only 4,200 people, and it is ranked as the No. 1 skateboard park in Washington and one of the three best parks in the world.
Here is how it all happened: A couple of movers and shakers on the island got behind it, and the local superintendent of schools gave us half an acre of surplus land at the high school.
The only caveats were that everyone must wear a helmet when riding, and the behavior would be limited by what was allowed in a classroom – no loud music, smoking or drinking, and they must behave with respect the way people used to a generation or two ago.
When we had slowly raised about $65,000, we started interviewing potential builders of our park. When Mark “Monk” Hubbard showed up for his interview, he was still covered in concrete from troweling cement all day.
When I asked him where he slept when he was building a park, he said, “In my car, of course. After work, I hustle to the local YMCA and take a shower, go for a swim and then have a Big Mac or two and a chocolate shake at the local hamburger joint.”
We hired him on the spot. He was my kind of guy!
As we sat at the site for the park the next day, we agreed that maybe if we started digging the hole, the rest of the money we needed would show up.
Well, it did. We started digging, and the money began to immediately show up. In three months, we raised more than $250,000 on our island to build this world-class park.
We gave Mark Hubbard strict instructions: “We don’t know a single thing about what a skateboard park should look like when finished. We are too old to know how to ride a skateboard, but there is 22,000 square feet of level land, and we want you build the best park that you can build at this point in your career.”
Along with the money came a lot of volunteer help and free construction equipment.
At times, there were as many as 35 people working on the park and only four of them on the payroll. Some of them would drive from as far away as Bellingham and pay to ride the 6 a.m. ferry and trowel concrete all day long and then go home, bone tired at night.
We got a lot of assistance and lots of free materials from Paul Garwood, owner of the Island Hardware store.
As the park was nearing completion, we had a bronze plaque made for the entrance. The plaque quotes Tom Watson, who invented IBM: “There is no limit to the amount of good a person can do if he doesn’t care who gets the credit.”
There is one slight problem with the park. Some riders consider themselves professionals and think that they don’t have to wear helmets, even though they are required by our deed of gift from the superintendent of schools. I don’t want my own tax dollars to go to raise a brain injured 14-year-old kid who just didn’t bother to follow one simple rule – wear a helmet.
Partway through our park’s construction, a toddler wandered into a skateboard park in Australia and was killed when he fell into the bowl. That is why we have a 4-foot fence around the park.
The fire department is most cooperative, and when you arrive at the park, you can buy a helmet at the fire station, which is across from the airport, for only $5.
You can camp in nearby Moran State Park for $5 a night, so load up your van with camping gear and come on up and ride the best park in the state of Washington. Oh yes, bring your helmet, and the sunshine is free. The park only cost $250,000, but we lend it to you for free.
Filmmaker Warren Miller lived in Vail for 12 years, and his column began in the Vail Daily before being syndicated to more than 50 publications. For more of Miller’s stories and stuff, log on to WarrenMiller.net. For information about his foundation, The Warren Miller Freedom Foundation, go to http://www.warrenmiller.org.