As Gypsum skatepark opens, skateboard community has plenty to be stoked about
The growth of Mountain Rec's summer camps, coupled with Sk8 Gypsum's role in building the park, have fostered a healthy skate culture
In a 1998 Vail Trail story, Dan Thomas wrote that terrain parks exist solely for sportswriters “to use the word ‘stoked’ once a year.”
Well, now is the time.
“I would say the skate community is super healthy,” said Jason Schetrompf when asked about the state of the Eagle County skateboard union ahead of Friday’s grand opening of Gypsum’s new skatepark.
A theme emerges when tracing the sport’s regional evolution from more than two decades ago when a $4,500 grant from the Vail/Eagle Valley Rotary Club “helped the (Lionshead) park replace the Masonite ramps and obstacles with more durable sheet metal”
As the mountain towns’ bourgeoning, inclusive skateboard culture fuses with a community eager to nurture its growth, the outcomes are — to use another worn-out, old-school board-sport phrase — totally rad.
“There are amazing people in this community that love board sports, love being outside, and love what skateboarding does for somebody,” said Kendall Vanvalkenburg, the teacher whose project-based learning course at Red Canyon initiated the new skatepark — and, through Sk8 Gypsum — saw it come to fruition.
“It’s intrinsically driven and individually taught. It is such a good representation of life.”
Changing the vibe
“Skateboarding has never really had a great rep, and I think over the last decade it’s definitely changed for the good,” said Tawnya Godinez, who received the Mountain Rec skateboarding camp director baton from Schetrompf in 2013. Both individuals remember skateboarding’s counter-cultural reputation growing up. Parks were more for hiding out than hanging out.
“It’s actually a very fair observation and it’s super true,” said Schetrompf, who bought his first board at 3 and learned the park pecking order competing up and down the Mid-Atlantic.
“When I first moved out here (in 2006), one of the things I really appreciated about skating in the mountains was the scene was definitely a little more laid back,” he said. “It was definitely a lot more inclusive.”
The robust, community-centered skateboarding scene was alive even back in the mid-70s.
In August of 1976, the Vail Trail reported 150 people watched 39 skateboarders participate in a town of Vail summer recreation program contest, with a Hobie competition skateboard donated by Gorsuch’s going to the winner.
“Skateboarders did handstands, went over jumps and performed a variety of other tricks to loud Beach Boys music, which emanated from a Nomad Chevy station wagon,” the article stated regarding the contest, which took place at the town’s transportation center.
On June 25 1977, a summer clinic at the Vail ice rink offered technique and maintenance education as well as two timed runs on a slalom course. Two weeks later, the Vail Merchants’ Pro-Am contests brought “the top pros from the United States” for a ‘freestyle’ and a downhill dual slalom and giant slalom race.
There’s a few skeletons in the closet, too.
The original Gypsum park was threatened by vandals in 2006 and the bowls in Edwards were covered in graffiti in 2007. Differentiating “bad skate culture” from “good skate culture” — and fostering the latter — was exactly what Vanvalkenburg’s class set out to do in 2022.
“We intentionally sat down as a group together and said, ‘How can we positively influence our skate culture in our community — Gypsum specifically,” Vanvalkenburg said.
“I think the main (goal) was bringing our community closer together,” said Justice Suarez, a 15-year-old student.
Vanvalkenburg’s class researched why skaters in the community preferred Edwards, Vail and Frisco to Gypsum and analyzed how design elements — like visibility from nearby roads, lack of seating, “poor flow” and “unskatable” features — contributed to Gypsum’s reputation as being a place “where kids weren’t necessarily going to just to skate” as Vanvalkenburg put it.
“What I found at other skate parks is that there were all different levels of skaters, all interacting with each other. There’s this, I call it ‘skatepark magic,'” she said. “It doesn’t matter how good or bad you are at skateboarding — or any part of your identity — because everybody is just stoked for each other to be there and enjoy the sport.”
When it comes to stoking the flames of positive skate culture, design matters.
While Thomas’ story indicates the Vail skateboard park was “taking on a permanent look” in his 1998 story, the Gypsum park completed in 2001 was the first permanent park built in Eagle County, which made it “revolutionary” according to local skateboarder Seth Levy. The 35-year-old D.C.-native vacationed in the valley as a kid in the early 2000s, though he wasn’t drawn to the new venue.
“People had backyard ramps,” Levy recalled. “The Oakley rep for the region had a place in Edwards and he had an insane backyard ramp, and that’s where we would hang out.”
Levy once worked as “a go-between for skatepark companies and municipal governments trying to build parks,” crafting requests for proposals and quotes. His interests enabled him to speak both sides’ languages and his background has kept him attuned to the valley’s venues and projects. He said the 2009 Freedom Park expansion‘s overly advanced features are an example where such cross-cultural communication was lacking.
“(It) wasn’t what the locals wanted,” he said. “You won’t see anybody using it. No matter how busy the park is, it will be empty.”
The same company that installed those features, Grindline Skateparks Inc., built the new Gypsum Park as well. But Levy and Schetrompf said the latter process was more inclusive.
“They’ve gotten better at doing it right,” Levy said.
“The major skatepark builders have worked really hard on their planning processes and I think one of the things I’ve seen evolve is how they engage the community in the design process,” Schetrompf added. “I think what you end up with is a better representation of the wants and desires of the skate community as a whole.”
Vanvalkenburg’s students, who will present an $80,000 check from their fundraising efforts to the town at Friday’s opening, played a significant role in that regard.
“Just allowing everyone to have a say in what the park physically looks like and other more intimate aspects is really important for getting everyone on board,” Saurez stated.
Vanvalkenburg said her class was intentional in picking diverse features for all types and abilities.
“If someone went in on a wheelchair, or uses rollerskates — (it’s about) making sure fun can be had at all different types of levels,” she said.
Schetrompf said today’s builders are more apt to consider transition and street skaters’ needs and feature-size progressions. From what he’s seen in the Gypsum design, he said the region’s venues are now complementary and display different build companies’ unique styles.
“It’s kind of like their artistic touch. They have their own areas of specialization,” he said in describing the differences between Grindline, the California Skate Park-built Zeke M. Pierce park in the Lionshead garage, the free-flowing Frisco venue, and Team Pain’s park in Breckenridge.
“Arguably the four biggest skatepark builders are all right in both of these two counties.”
In addition to having harmonious parks, skateboarding itself supports the focal winter activity of the region.
“I see a lot of Alpine and freestyle skiers in the club or in VSSA at the skatepark,” Godinez stated.
“We’ve seen so many kids who skate very consistently in this valley, who came through the skate camp program, that have gone onto being part of the U.S. snowboard team or (become a) big freeride athlete,” Schetrompf said. “That’s kind of one of the untold stories — how much those individuals have cross-trained in those parks.”
Kick-flipping the kids into the future
If Gypsum’s new park is a product of skaters collaborating with the municipal government to create a better environment for the sport, Godinez’s youth camps are about preparing the next wave for enjoying it.
“I’ve been doing this since I was 9, so I never thought I’d make a career out of it and be able to help others,” she said. Ever since witnessing a man ollie over a manhole from the steps of her grandparents’ house in Bangor, Maine, the sport has been Godinez’s means — refuge — for developing confidence.
“I have Asperger’s, so I never was really great in social settings; it’s helped me focus,” she said. “It’s been really great to be able to use those things that helped me boost my own confidence (and) to provide that to other kids that may be struggling with who knows what in their lives.”
When Schetrompf, who co-managed the program alongside Pat O’Toole for a couple of summers before holding down the post himself from 2009-2013, was looking for his replacement, he knew he wanted to find a woman.
“At the time, (that) wasn’t especially traditional,” he said. “It’s changed a lot since then. One of the biggest changes is the percentage of females that are skateboarding.”
Both Schetrompf and Godinez pointed to Duchess Rides’ positive impact on the growth of local female board sports participation.
“Totally. There’s more,” said Godinez, who added, “I definitely grew up in the generation where I had boys tease me, grab my skateboard and break it in front of me. Over the years, seeing the support, even from the young men and boys at the skatepark, and it’s all ages and races, is really awesome.”
When a fresh flock of wide-eyed kids arrive each Monday for one of her four-day camps — some having never stepped on a skateboard — some “aren’t confident in a whole lot in their lives,” according to Godinez.
“We really instill, ‘Hey let’s try not to use vocabulary like, ‘I can’t do this,” she said, hearkening back to her own childhood experiences. “I do have an old soul from being raised by my grandparents and I feel I get a lot of my coaching skills from the way I was raised. (Skateboarding) really teaches you perseverance, dedication and loyalty to yourself and honesty to yourself.”
Kids’ visible first-day-of-school fears are wiped away by Godinez’s reassuring voice.
“The parents are like, ‘Wow, we don’t know what you guys do in the four hours you have our kids, but this is amazing,'” she said.
The 6-10-year-old schedule includes learning terminology, parts of the board, basic skills and etiquette. The afternoon groups work on advanced techniques.
“They want to learn their kick flips, trey flips, hard flips,” Godinez said of the older kids, adding that sometimes the younger ones return to watch. “We want to create that community base.”
Sitting on the skateboard coaching sidelines for the last decade, Schetrompf is proud of where Godinez’s has taken the Mountain Rec program.
“I’ve seen growth in participation and growth in skill as well,” he said. That trend will likely continue with the opening of the Gypsum park, he said, as well as keep downvalley skaters who used to commute to Edwards at home. During the shoulder seasons, he and Levy think it could have the opposite pull, which means no shoveling out Freedom Park in March anymore.
“I think we’re going to see our skateboard season extended,” Levy said.
Vanvalkenburg said the new Gypsum skateboard park is “a manifestation” of the area’s positive skate culture. She has a story to prove it.
Recently, she spotted a young teenage student at the Edwards skatepark wearing a polo shirt, holding a laptop, and donning virtual reality goggles. Her educator alarm bells went off.
“I’m like, ‘this is not going to end well,'” she said.
It turned out the kid had hooked up the GPS of his drone to skaters so he could get unique footage.
“They were all sitting together, collaborating, laughing, and talking,” Vanvalkenburg recalled. “There was no adult or teacher intervention.”
Only skatepark magic.
If Godinez was tasked with giving the state of the skateboard union address, what would she say?
“I’m happy to see where our skateboarding community is heading,” she answered.
“Which is nothing but positive.”
Support Local Journalism
Support Local Journalism
Readers around Glenwood Springs and Garfield County make the Post Independent’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.
Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.
Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.