INTERVIEW WITH JAIME STAPULA
INTERVIEW WITH TERRI NORDSTROM
INTERVIEWS BY JIM MURPHY
The ECRW army has been in training for generations and now it’s time to get the real deal of what the crew is all about. Jaime Stapula is one man that has served this unit well, building killer skate structures and fishing ponds for those militant fisherman to drop a line in. General Jaime has waged many a battle and taken shrapnel for the team on numerous occasions. Attention. Fall in. General Jaime is here.
“I THINK IT’S EVERYONE’S DUTY TO BUILD PARKS FOR THEIR OWN COMMUNITY.”
State your name, rank and serial number.
My name is Jaime Stapula. I’m a backyard soldier. My serial number is 777, because I want to go to skateboard heaven.
Tell us when you were born and where you grew up.
I was born in 1972. I grew up in Lorton, Virginia.
When did you start skating?
I started skating in 1984.
What was going on in your scene in 1984?
I was a soccer kid. Then, one day, a bunch of our friends were building a skateboard ramp, so we skipped soccer practice and went over there. I had some money saved up from doing chores around the house, so I went to the thrift shop and bought my first skateboard. After that, I started skating and couldn’t put it down.
Who was your crew?
One of my best friends John Geddes was a surfer. He took me to the beach and taught me how to surf. We’d go to Trashmore and then skate around his grandparent’s neighborhood. The only one still skating with me now is Denny Guenther. I went to Denny’s house once. I walked in the backyard and saw him poppin’ big fakie ollies chest high. I thought that was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. After that experience, John and I decided to build our first halpipe in my backyard.
Was that the first ramp that you’d ever built?
Yeah, it was the sketchiest ramp I’d ever seen. It was like 7 or 8-feet tall with real tight trannies with what seemed like 4-feet of vert. I hand drew the templates without string. Denny came over and laughed at us, so we chopped the bottom of the ramp off and slanted it backwards and made it a big old ditch ramp. Then we started building other ramps. Building our own ramps made us really appreciate them.
Did you hang out with the Toke Team guys?
Yeah. I met some of them in ’87, when I started going to the Crest. Dave Tobin, Bob Blair, John Aires and those guys were a funny bunch of dudes. Others that I skated with were Sam Boo, Dan Heyman, Micro and Wiggy. Denny was like my older brother. He took me there in his muscle car. Denny, Allen Chaney, Steve and his older brother Joe Revord took me to all these other places like Chicken Butt, HeeHaw Ramp, Rabid Ranch Ramp and Chico’s. I was addicted. I skated ditches and ramps. All of a sudden, I was skating steel ramps.
Describe the scene at Cedar Crest.
It was epic. It was a metal ramp at a country club in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. It wasn’t too far away from my house. The biggest sessions went down there. People would come from all over the place. Skaters from North Carolina, Florida, New England and Maryland showed up. It was just incredible.
Did you get the feeling of what it is to be an East Coast skater?
Totally. It meant being down with everybody no matter where they were from. There are different crews from wherever. We’re all skating. It’s really intense. Everyone wants their run, but everyone’s having a raging good time. Everyone is enduring the elements and skating, cold or hot, rain and snow, through all the seasons. It’s tough, but it’s rad.
What were you doing in the early ’90s when the ramps started coming down?
After we graduated high school, we traveled a lot. We heard about all these parks like Kona and Stone Edge down in Florida. We would go skate all those places. We were also still building shit in our backyards. The backyard scene, along with traveling and meeting core people in different areas, really made a difference.
Didn’t you buy a house in the late ’90s?
Yeah. We had a public park in Woodbridge. Then we went down and tore apart this bowl that Jim Rees had in Wilmington. We brought that back up and set it up at the park. That exposed me to skating round wall and building round wall out of wood. After a few years of having it up, they threw it in the trash. We were in the middle of repairing it and the Park Authority thought that it was just rotting wood. I got a phone call from a friend of mine that it was in the dumpster and it was about to get towed away. That was our wooden bowl that we had salvaged. They just took it away from us. The vert ramp and concrete ditch remains, but the place will never be the same. That was what got me into traveling, searching and building my own thing. Instead of moving away from the area, I was on a mission to find a house, so that I could build my own stuff. I got a job at Starbucks and worked really hard for about five years and managed several stores. Eventually, I could afford to buy a house. Then we built our first backyard bowl.
What was the infamous ECRW bowl like?
We put Skatelite on it that we had gotten from Ramptech’s Vans Triple Crown events. It had pool coping on it. My roommates Eric, Bud and Matt, were working for RampTech and building decks. I learned a lot from them. They were carpenters. Then Devin came along. We were all inexperienced with building roundwall, but we made it work. It was trial and error. Eventually, we just got ‘er done.
Is that where the ECRW was born?
Yeah. We were like, “We have to make some money to build this bowl.” Denny drew up one of his Otto cartoon characters and we made it into an ECRW shirt. We started selling those on our East Coast Road trips. I kept telling people we were building something. Everyone pitched in.
How did you come up with the term ECRW?
I was working at the coffee shop with my old road trip skate pal Darren. We were coming up with funny names like the “Backyard Pool Alliance”. We were just being goofy, drinking beers and trying to think of something funny. Eventually, I came up with ECRW. I wanted it to be legit one day, so we just started calling ourselves the East Coast Roundwall Foundation. People started calling us the ECRW (E-crew).
Who was in the original ECRW?
ECRW was everyone in the area who had built something or c ontributed to getting something built at a skatepark or in a backyard. It was Ben Ashworth, Bud Poe, Paul Hawkins, Steve “Nomad” Grahm, Matt Ostrom, Eric Wolf, Denny Guenther, Devin Poppins, Psycho, Kelly, Perri, Bulldog, Aaron and many others. The list goes on and on. We recruited anyone who would come over. It was killer.
Did you ever have issues about having a skate bowl on your property?
Yeah. We walked into Vans at Potomac Mills one day and I saw Andy Kessler with a shovel in his hand and dirt on his shirt. I was like “Damn, we’re getting a skatepark.” All these skaters were working on the park, so I invited them over to skate the bowl. After a few raging sessions, one of the neighbors complained. Then I got a letter from the city that said I had to tear the bowl down. They said that our bowl was an accessory structure. It was too big for the amount of property we had. Luckily, we found another parks and recreation department down in Fredericksburg to purchase it. They were stoked. They hired Mary Poppins and Crap to help them put it back together. I took that money from the old bowl to build the new fishing hole.
Tell me about the fishing hole?
We actually do a lot of fishing in it. It’s a big old koi pond. It’s about 11 1/2-feet deep in the deep end, 6-feet deep in the shallow and 8-feet deep in the middle. We put koi in it. When the koi get the right size, we can sell them, empty the pond out and skate it.
Who built that fishpond for you?
Omer Windham III did most of the finish work by himself with a few other people. He really impressed me. The first park he built was that Badlands pool in Orlando. That pool made me want him for this project.
Were you involved with the Green Skate Lab Project?
Explain what that project was and how it started.
We had a bunch of different people getting together who didn’t know each other except from the Vans Skatepark. We would go there all the time. We met this teacher, Terri Nostrand, who was doing projects using recycling. She wanted to build a skate park in D.C., so it all came together. We spent a day in my living room with friends molding our ideas with Play-Doh. Luke Jouppi took our ideas and put them together into 3-D drawings. We had design assistance from Omer Windham III of American Skateparks and from Airspeed. Terri started writing grants. She got $14,000 from the Tony Hawk Foundation and another grant from the Project Learning Tree for using recycled materials. We were like, “That’s all we do when we build is use recycled material!” Terri can tell you the story. For seven months, we were taking off from our jobs, just trying to get it done. We got it going and then we called our friends Mark Gwaltney (PPS), Mike Rowe and Andy Duck from the Outer Banks and asked for their help. They came up and helped us frame it out and shoot it.
Were any of the people in the neighborhood stoked?
Yeah. Some people were really getting positive about it. Most of the local kids had no exposure to skateboarding. They were stoked on the park. They would help us build. They were hooked from there on out.
That must have made you feel good.
It was incredible. These kids wouldn’t have been exposed to skateboarding if we hadn’t gone into their neighborhood and built a skatepark. I feel good that we gave them something different. I think it’s everyone’s duty to build parks for their own community. They did it at FDR, Burnside and San Diego. They’re doing it all over the place. The more people that get involved, the better it is for everybody.
What’s your duty now for the future?
My duty now for the future is to keep on going with it. We went from doing it underground in the backyards. We came from the days when they threw our bowl in the trash. Now we are striving to get more public parks so everyone can enjoy them.
What’s the ECRW mission statement?
Our mission statement says, “Dedicated to the creation, preservation and promotion of skateboard terrain and recreation for all people through artistic planning, conservation, activism research and education.” We’re doing it through art, recycling, educating kids and preservation. If there’s an old shitty park, we want to tell them that they can make it better. Let’s build something better. You can see some pictures of the Green Skate Lab at www.greenskatelab.org.
Rad. Any shout outs?
I’d like to thank everyone from the DC Metropolitan area and the locals that we skate with everyday like Devin, Beau, Hector, Brett, Eric, Ron, Dan, Beer Man, Matt, Ben, Psycho, Scott, Chelsea, Bulldog, John, Denny, Anthony, Blaise, Paul, Andy, Kelly and Perri, Chris and Terri. Pat Boder and TZ for coming down from Philly to help when we needed it the most. Thanks to Luke Jouppi, Omer from American Skateparks, and Airspeed for the design assistance. ForkCrew and PPS, Mark Gwaltney, Trey Winslow and those guys for building a rad scene in VB and helping with ours. Thanks to the guys from OBX, Andy Duck, Mark Corbett, Mike Rowe, Bart, Bernie, and all the Eastcoastaholics. Larry Neal from Montgomery Sanitation for all the fill dirt and tires. The Chaumpas and the Baltimorons especially DK for building ECFW Alliance. The East Coast Flatwall Crew is building some killer vert ramp action. Thanks to all the roommates of El Casa ECRW. Aaron, Mike Tyler and anyone else from Ocean City for keeping things real. Bartenders and owners of Fighclub, Club Five, DC 9, Black Cat, Dr. Dremos, and the Blueroom for all the fundraising help. Bands such as City Goats, Monorail, Gist, and Nag Chaumpa. Thanks to everyone that helped the scene grow. Thanks to everyone else that I forgot.
Jaime, it’s an honor to know you and skate with you. Congratulations on the Green Skate Lab and your incredible koi fishing hole. I’m proud of you. You’re stoking out inner city kids. You’re doing a great thing.
You’ve got a fan club, too, Murf. I’m proud to be a friend of yours. Before I got injured, I learned rail slides in your honor and I’ll be doing them again soon.
Terri Nostrand is the kind of person this world needs more of. With her caring and unselfish approach to her teaching career and skateboarding, she has been able to introduce inner city kids to a new way of channeling their energies through learning and skateboarding. After coming back East and keying into the DC skate scene, she’s been able to use her talents in grant writing to secure funding through the Hawk Foundation for the Green Skate Lab project in D.C. But it wasn’t easy. Local neighborhood adults couldn’t understand why these white people were trying to build a skatepark in their ‘hood. The kids don’t normally skateboard in their eyes. Basketball is their ticket out of poverty, not skateboarding. How did Terri and her students deal with this? How did this Pennsylvania girl end up in D.C. skating with the ECRW and teaching inner city youth? Read on. This is Terri Nostrand’s story.
Tell us your name, rank and serial number?
I’m Terri Nostrand. I’m a part of the ECRW Army. I’m a member, like everyone else, in a club with no membership. I’m a private first class. It’s a non-profit organization and I’m the president.
When were you born and where did you grow up?
I was born in 1971. I grew up in Pennsylvania in a little town outside of Bloomsburg.
What was going on there?
There was one vert ramp, but I didn’t skate then. I actually didn’t start skating ’til I was thirty.
Did you go to college?
Yeah. I went to college all over the place. I went to art school in Europe for year and then took a couple years off. I studied outdoor education in Arizona, then took a few more years off. I got my Bachelor’s of Science degree from Evergreen State College in Washington state. I went to school in Alaska for while. Then I went to school in Mexico.
“My husband kept bugging me about building a ramp in the backyard. At that point, we had a yard and, well, I’ve seen bigger closets. I was like, “No. You’re not building a ramp in the backyard. How about I get some money and we build something somewhere besides our backyard?” So I did. I got some grants from the Tony Hawk Foundation and got some money from Project Learning Tree.”
How was that?
It was awesome. I went to Mexico to do marine biology research. I lived in a research house right on the beach. In Alaska, I lived in a one-room cabin with no running water in the middle of the tundra.
Through all that, was skateboarding in your life at all?
Actually, it really wasn’t, until I married a skateboarder.
What were you thinking?
I wasn’t thinking a whole lot. We only knew each other for three and a half weeks before we got married.
Where was this?
This was in Arizona.
Who was the lucky guy?
Chris Nostrand, you met Chris. He’s a crazy man, extraordinaire.
Did you start skating after you met Chris?
I only started skating three or four years ago, so it was well after that. There was a long time that nobody was really skating.
Yeah, skateboarding was way underground.
Yeah, all the parks were gone. There was no support to put more parks together. Skaters were riding on really tiny wheels. They were getting all technical and going really slow over curbs.
Were you exposed to the backyard pool scene in Arizona?
Yeah. Chris got back into skating right before we left Arizona. We lived in the hills, so there was really no backyard pool scene there. There was actually a little skate park that got built that got him back into it.
What brought you to DC?
I did a program called Teach for America. It’s where you take people who do really well in school and stick them in a really bad schools around the country. You stick them in there for two years to see if they can help the kids out. This is where I got sent.
How gnarly was it?
It’s weird. Kids go missing for a couple weeks and then they come back to school and say, “I’m sorry I couldn’t come to school. I had to watch my brothers and sisters because my mom was out on another crack binge.” It’s almost like being in another country. It’s not the place where you grew up. It’s not the reality that you knew.
Were you ever exposed to anything like that in your life?
No. I never lived in the inner city, ghetto-type places. I hate using the word “ghetto” because the kids aren’t ghetto. The situation is ghetto. I think a lot of people outside of the situation get that confused.
While you were teaching you were getting into the DC skate scene?
Yeah. I met Jaime and the gusy down at Vans. We started hanging out with them. One of the things about learning how to skate when you’re thirty instead of thirteen is that you don’t have to try and be cool. It’s just not possible. The other good thing is that you can just start right away on round wall. You don’t have to throw yourself down any stairs.
What was it like for you carving round wall?
It’s great. I started skating at the Vans Park. I just started carving up and down in the little reservoir areas. Then I learned how to pump around in the peanut bowl.
Did you ever think it was going to be that fun?
No. It was just a new thing to do. I never knew I was going to be bitten by it like I was. I had no idea that I would devote the next couple of years of my life to building a bowl and all that craziness.
When did the Green Skate Lab thing start up?
It was around 2003.
Whose idea was it?
It was my idea. My husband kept bugging me about building a ramp in the backyard. At that point, we had a yard and, well, I’ve seen bigger closets. I was like, “No. You’re not building a ramp in the backyard. How about I get some money and we build something somewhere besides our backyard?” So I did. I got some grants from the Tony Hawk Foundation and got some money from Project Learning Tree.
Explain to us how you knew how to write a grant.
Well, writing grants is actually a lot easier than people think. You just have to figure out what people want. You look and see what they are asking for. You might have to tweak your grant request a little bit to fit a particular grant. The Project Learning Tree Grant is for recycling. That was the first grant that I got. I went up to FDR Skatepark and said to the guys, “Look, these are tires. Can we build a skate park out of this?” They were like, “Yeah. We can build something out of anything.”
Did you have a background in using recycled things for other purposes?
A couple of the colleges that I went to were real hippie schools. In Mexico, one of our research buildings was made out of tires using this technique. They pack the tires full of dirt and stack them like gigantic round bricks and build a building. It’s cheap and energy efficient.
So the foundation gives you a grant if you meet certain standards and then they give you X amount of money?
No. They’ll say, “We’ve got grants up to a certain amount. We support environmental and education initiatives.” They’ll give you examples of things that they fund. I told them this was a big recycling project we were doing. I told them about how my students were going to be involved with the physics and environmental science of it.
Were your students skaters before this?
There may have been one or two that had skated a few times. I also got them involved with snowboarding. I was just trying out other stuff for them to do besides basketball. There was a lot of pressure for the kids to play basketball or do nothing. Skateboarding and snowboarding gave them another alternative.
When I was talking to Jaime, he was telling me how he went to a skatepark meeting and there was an old lady who stood up in the audience and said, “These little black kids want a basketball court.” Then one of the kids stood up and said, “No. We want a skate park.” Do you think that there’s a difference in generations where the new generation is less into organized sports and more into skateboarding?
I think that it happened a while ago in the suburban world. Skateboarding has been decriminalized. Now it’s getting support. White suburban areas are all trying to get skate parks now. In the urban areas, it’s still seen as a threat to their way of life. The woman who stood up and spoke out in the meeting also staged a sit-down in the middle of a soccer field. She said, “Black kids do not play soccer.”
What is that all about?
Oh, my God. Let’s not tell the Africans. Clearly they have not gotten the memo on this. She stood up and said, “Our black kids should be learning how to handle basketballs. That’s what’s going to prepare them for life.” Thank God some of my kids were there, because they stood up and tore her a new asshole.
Did she have any reaction? Was she surprised?
You have to understand that this woman is 80 years old. She probably fought a long, hard battle growing up. However, she fought that battle and won. It’s time to move on. She’s just limiting the opportunities for kids. She’s doing the exact thing that she fought against.
To be met with that much adversity must have been weird to you. Did that just empower you to get the park done?
Well, the good thing was that when that happened we were only a few weeks away from being finished. As opposed to the two years we fought to get to that point, it didn’t really faze me.
Let’s backtrack a little bit. It’s 2003 and you’re writing grants. You write this grant and then it comes through?
Here’s where it gets fun. The grant came through, but we still didn’t have enough money. So we wrote another grant to the Hawk Foundation and it came through.
Describe working with the Tony Hawk Foundation.
It was great. They’re wonderful people. Tony Hawk came to the park, too. He thought it was great. He said, “I just write the checks, but you do all of the work. We appreciate all the work that you do.” We were one of the worst special cases that they ever had. Our grants were embezzled by the DC public school system.
It was because we didn’t have non-profit status at that time. I applied for the grants as a teacher. We were going to build it and then donate it to the school. We were one day away from having the trucks come in. We already had the tires delivered. We were ready to go. Then they told us that we were going to have to self-insure. We were dead in the water right there. Then we went to the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation. They told us they would find a spot for us and they did. Then we tried to get the grant money out, but the money had just disappeared out of the bank account at my school. No one could find it. It took close to a year to get that money liberated.
Did they ever find out who snagged it?
They actually never found it. They had to go to the city and get special money sent to the school to reimburse them. This was after I had to file a formal investigation with the D.C. Inspector General’s office. I had to get a lawyer and everything. It’s a wonder that it worked out. We went through four different principals in two years.
After all of my efforts, they recommended that I get written up for it.
Who recommended that?
They did an internal audit and the DC Public School system recommended that I get written up. Apparently, the principal never filled out the paper work for me to get the grants.
Why would they write you up?
I don’t know. Why would they even suggest that? It’s inane. It’s just another aspect of the Green Skate Lab story.
These people really didn’t want you to succeed.
Yeah. The city doesn’t like it when people try to do something different or better. It’s just something that they don’t like. They make it really hard. Eventually, it’ll wear you out. Most of the teachers with a lot of energy end up leaving the school system. They get tired of fighting.
Did your students know about it?
Yeah. I kept them updated. They’e lived here their entire lives, so their reaction was, “That sucks.” It was just a normal part of things.
Did any of the parents try and help you out?
Yea, I had a few. They would help with email campaigns and making connections with the media. That really helped a lot.
Was there any kind of media attention to what you were trying to do for these kids?
There was some. The “City Paper” came out and told what happened about the money missing. There was a great reporter getting the word out about it. It wasn’t really a news story, because I never knew where the money went. It was stuck in limbo.
Were you the only person dealing with this bureaucracy?
I was the only one involved in the school system who was working on this project. There wasn’t anyone else who could help with it.
At what point did things start to turn around?
It all got going once we got the land from Parks and Recreation. They gave us this old, broken piece of asphalt behind the Recreation Center. We just started working. We still didn’t even have the money. This one guy named Andy Neal, who is part of the ECRW Army, hooked us up with dirt and tires. Everything just came into place. The money finally came in about a week before the concrete came in. We would have been in trouble if it hadn’t come in right then. Everything just fell into place. Hundreds of volunteers came out and worked to build it. It was the most inspirational thing.
Were there any changes in your students?
Yeah. I worked with them a lot. They’re not the best students academically. They’re the kids that get overlooked.
Do they skate now?
Yeah. They skate and snowboard. One of them got chosen to go snowboarding with Jake Burton. One of them got chosen for a free trip to a camp out in Vancouver. We have a bunch of ECRW people that help out. They do a lot of work with the kids.
Do you tell your incoming kids about the skatepark?
Absolutely. Now we’re trying to get a learning center built at the park. We want to use skateboarding to help them with their schoolwork. Parks and Recreation is going to help us out with that. We just put in for another grant for all that.
Are they partnering with you as a teacher at the school or as the ECRW Foundation?
We’re working with them as the ECRW Foundation. It will be set up for after school hours and during the summer. A lot of kids don’t have family or anywhere else to go. These kids used to spend hours throwing rocks at buildings. That’s how they entertained themselves. They didn’t have anything to do. Now they have something to do. It’s hard to get people to work at the Recreation Center though. There are only four or five adults that work there. We’re working on getting more parent involvement right now.
At your learning center, you would have people on site trying to teach kids and do positive things for them?
Yeah. Kids need to know how to read. Reading scores in this city are awful. I don’t even have enough textbooks for all my kids. How can they learn to read if they don’t have books to read from? The kids need more than what they’re getting.
Do you think the learning center is close to happening?
We’re starting with a small group this year to pilot some ideas and work out some plans on how it will be modeled. Hopefully, we’ll be fully functional by next year. We are lucky to have our seed fund for the center that was raised by a guy named Adam Colton and his friends who skateboarded across the country from Oregon to Virginia. They picked up enough donations along the way to float us for this year.
Are other teachers at your school helping you out?
No. There aren’t any from my school. There are teachers at other schools though. Colin Bane was helping out writing grants. Andy Neal and his brother supplied us with all the tires. He’s a teacher out in Fairfax. We have John Bulldog, who is a social worker helping us out. All of us are working on it. The original idea for the learning center pre-dates me. Bulldog and Colin were working on it a long time ago.
If this works out, are you going to try and get this thing running in different urban cities around the country?
Yes. It’s promoting learning through skateboarding. Kids need something to do. There’s not always a football team around. You can’t just play football in the streets, but you can skateboard anywhere. It can get you from point ‘a’ to point ‘b’ both mentally and physically.
Right on. What you’re doing is incredible. It sounds like the community really needs it.
The kids know that. Now some of the parents are starting to learn that.
Have you thought about trying to get corporate funding for what you’re doing?
We’ve got different organizations that are going to help us out and work with us on our after school programs. There’s a really good model called The Chill Program, which is a snowboarding program. That’s a really good model for us to follow.
This seems like this project is something that takes up a lot of your life. You have a family right?
Yeah. I have a two year old and just had another baby.
What would you say is your duty now for the future?
I think we’ve got something going good for the future. I think we just have to keep going and build the energy. We just have to keep going.
Is there anyone you’d like to thank?
Well, I’ve already mentioned my husband, Chris. I also want to thank Ben Ashworth, Jaime Stapula and Andy Neal.
Well, Terri, it’s an honor talking to you. On behalf of Juice Magazine, I want to thank you for everything you’re doing. A lot of people talk a lot of shit, but not a lot of people actually go out and make something happen. You’re doing a great thing.
Right on. Thanks a lot.