DUTY NOW FOR THE FUTURE
INTERVIEWS WITH THE BEST SKATEPARK BUILDERS IN THE WORLD
DUTY NOW FOR THE FUTURE: RCMC
INTERVIEW WITH RICK CARJE
INTERVIEW BY JIM MURPHY
They know what you want. They know what you need. Carje and Duncan have been skating since the ’70s, and have ridden and built a lot of concrete and wood creations along the way. Duncan established his ramp construction mastery over the years from working with the World Cup Series, ESPN’s X Games and the Gravity Games, while Carje’s concrete skills put his name on the map with his involvement with So Cal’s Chicken’s, Bellmar’s and Basic pools. So, it makes sense for Vans to tap the experience of the R.C.M.C. crew and Duncan Designs in order to develop the right combination of pools, pipes and street courses to make those parks successful. Both are living a dream, getting paid to what they love, all the while keeping their pride and integrity intact. Both have paid their dues and earned the respect of all those who have skated and worked with them. Thanks to Rick and Dave for their hard work and their ability to help the dreams come true for those of us who thought we would never see concrete skateparks again in our lifetime. We’ll never take them for granted again.
Tell me where you grew up.
I grew up in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio and lived there until I graduated high school. Then I moved to Jersey and started my way to becoming a mason. I started at the bottom as a concrete mixer and block carrier and worked my way up. Then I did a six year spurt in California doing custom pools, spas, fountains, waterfalls and stuff. Then I came home to Jersey and started my own company and it’s been great ever since.
Did you get to skate Cherry Hill in NJ?
Yeah, every time I visited my Grandma, my brother Ky would skate. And I grew up skating Skateboard Paradise and Hi Rollers in Cleveland back in ’74. Then they built Apple Skatepark and then The Turf in Milwaukee, so we skated there a lot.
“A LOT OF PARKS GET BUILT BY UNQUALIFIED PEOPLE. YOU HAVE TO EDUCATE PEOPLE THAT THEY NEED PEOPLE WITH EXPERIENCE TO BUILD THESE PARKS.”
Did you ever skate Groholski’s ramp?
Yeah, and the Blue Ramp. I lived in Chester and skated the Pennsylvania Ramp, the Slug Ramp and all those.
Did you learn masonry because you wanted to build pools to skate?
Well, when I grew up, the parks had disappeared, so I was skating at the Barn Ramp a lot with you guys. The pool skating thing had died so hard in those years, we were lucky to have the vert ramps. This was before street skating emerged. We’d still search out pools, but we never thought about building skateparks because we didn’t think they were ever coming back again.
You must be blown away now?
Definitely. Once I moved to Jersey, my friend Lurch (from Cleveland) moved to Cali and he met Chuck Hults, Chicken, Kelly, Ricky Barnes, John Lucero, Mike Lohrman, Jeff Grosso and all the other O.C. guys. So I used to come out in the winter when I couldn’t work back East. I met all those guys and everyone started talking about pools.
Who built the first one?
Belmar’s was the first one, then Chicken’s. Chicken’s has been around for about nine years and Belmar’s is a few years older.
Who did the work on Kellys?
He brought in Blue Haven pools to do it, but a lot of people helped dig. And I did the block walls and poured some concrete patio decks. When Kelly and I first cleared the backyard to dig his bowl, we had to cut down a bunch of big trees. Being the tree experts that we aren’t, we managed to tear down most of the electrical wires in his backyard. Since I was familiar with custom concrete work, when it came time to do Chicken’s bowl we just did it mostly on our own, with the help of lots of friends. We worked on the digging, the block work and the concrete decks and we assisted some of the sub-contractors Chicken hired when it came time to blow the gunite. The Basic Bowl was done the most neanderthal style with wheelbarrows. It took a long time. But there were a lot of people who helped and we finally got it finished. Unfortunately, it got drained during the worst winter we ever had in So Cal. It rained so much that the water got under the pool and popped it 4′ out of the ground. Someone forgot to uncap the drain valve, which caused it to pop out of the ground. But eventually it sunk back down and is still a fun bowl to ride.
Who was behind this pool building and designing?
Kelly and Chicken. I was living with Chicken so we were always in his backyard helping out. Chicken’s backyard was a hill, so it was a lot of work making it into a multilevel yard so that we could build the pool.
That was back when street skating was the dominant thing?
Yeah, the last of the parks like Upland had closed and we were out of pools, except for the occasional backyard pool. Luckily I was in So Cal during that period so I got in on a lot of the good ones like the San Juan pool.
In the early ’90s what happened to the vert skaters like Grosso and those guys?
We used to skate pools but Salba had a big vert ramp we used to ride. I was skating with Chicken, Kelly, Hults, Salba, Ricky Barnes, Lohrman, Lucero, Grosso and Cholo and the Anaheim gang. We used to skate the Flower Ditch and anything else we could find.
How do you feel about all the pools now?
I’m stoked. There’s a handful of places within 20 minutes of us with all sorts of terrain to skate. I remember when you took what you could get. Now we have so many possibilities we almost take it for granted.
How did you get the job with Vans?
Well, I had taken a job after Kelly’s, Chicken’s and the Basic Pool. The first park building call I got was from Andy Kessler about the Green Port Park. And I had been working with Dave Duncan over the years and he called me up and told me about this skatepark thing he was doing. He would do the wood and we would do the concrete.
How was the first meeting with Vans?
It was a little overwhelming and hard to believe. But it became a reality and it’s great. They talked about a couple at the beginning with plans for more if it went well. And for two and half years I’ve been doing nothing but Vans Parks.
Give us a quick list of the Vans Park.
We started out in Orange, CA, then Bakersfield, CA, Ontario, CA, Woodbridge, VA, Milpitas, CA, and Houston, TX that opened Sept 22nd and we are currently building one in Colorado. Then NJ, AZ, MI, GA, FL and possibly San Diego. They’re talking about a lot more and some overseas locations. We’ve been working hard and hopefully that will all keep going.
Where in Jersey is that park going to be?
Moorestown, I think it’s down by Cherry Hill. We’ll probably build something from Cherry Hill in there. If we have enough room, but I think it’s kind of small.
What international spots are they considering?
U.K. and Germany. They want to build a few more in the U.S. and then go international.
Who has the final say in the park design?
It comes down to the guys in the head office, and their pro riders, but they allow us to have a lot of input on the design. I do a lot of the design, but I’m assisted by other people. Chad Vogt and Aaron Devine do a lot of drawing for us. We just did this ditch in Texas that Matt Dyke and Tim Trudell drew up. Chicken and Ben Schroeder have done some designs. Some stuff we change until we come up with something that works. Unfortunately, since these go up inside of malls, we have to go through a lot of blueprinting and structural designing. Which doesn’t give us the freedom to make a lot of changes during the construction phases due to the tight schedules we’re on.
Now with skateboarding being 99% street, how are you convincing them to build pools?
I think for them it’s a big attraction. If you get that 10-20% of the guys that do skate the pools showing up to ride, it’s quite a show. You see little kids, just waiting for the big kids to get out of the bowls, so they can try. We try to do more versatile stuff and make it usable by a variety of skaters.
How do they decide where to put the parks?
I think they’re targeting the larger retail areas where their stores do well. The retail outlets are really the ones behind the parks.
Financially, are the parks doing well?
They’re talking about another six or seven parks in the next year, so, it must be doing pretty good.
Are you happy with the schedule you’re on?
It’s had it’s ups and downs. These are big constructions with big issues, but it’s worked out well. I’m in control of all the concrete, so I deal directly with the general contractors, who are doing the buildings. There’s a learning curve, but we’ve got it down now.
What’s the reaction when you come to town?
Everyone is really shocked. They have no clue what we’re building. They come in, ask questions; it’s all positive. I haven’t had any negative reaction at all.
What about the skate moms?
They’re definitely involved, they even skate themselves. Lots of moms skate. They talk about their old boards, it’s pretty cool. I’m excited about it. It’s good to seem them be so involved with their kids.
How do you organize the crew?
Well, everyone does everything, but certain guys are in charge of certain things. I try to teach them everything and we’re getting much better at it. My brother Ky is one of the project managers and without him it would be a little rough to handle everything.
Do you have any parks going besides Vans?
Yes, we’re working on it and we’ve built the crew for it. We’ve mastered the machinery to make it faster and better. We’re always looking to do more.
Do you think it’s getting overblown?
I’m excited the cities are getting involved and building all these parks. It’s really tough with cities sometimes with the bidding process and paperwork. There’s so much red tape involved. A lot of parks get built by unqualified people. You have to educate people that they need people with experience to build these parks. I think they’re rushing some stuff too much and they need to slow down and make sure we have quality stuff to skate.
I’ve heard that a lot of towns are building parks so they can outlaw skating in the rest of the city.
Yeah, that’s their way of getting it off the streets, but that’s not what you want to be confined too, so it’s a shame. But at least they are building them.
I heard Vans donates money to the local parks when they build a park in that town.
I know they’ve donated in the past to some of the local parks. When you go in as a big corporation you want to work with the community.
They don’t have to do it, they just do it.
Yes, just to show they’re a good company not trying to take advantage of the sport, but rather promote it.
That’s amazing. Some would argue, that Vans charges too and that the city parks take away from their business.
Yeah, but Vans is building large scale parks, they’re big attractions. The city parks are smaller and they’re fun to go to but that’s how they look at it instead of like losing business.
How is it working for those guys?
Actually my wife and I just got back from Las Vegas. Vans flew us out there and gave my company a big award for Vendor of the Year for Vans, Inc. It was really nice and it gave a lot of recognition to how hard my guys work. It all pays off, it’s incredible.
Are you still skating?
Yeah, I just don’t have time to skate like I used to. I try not to skate when it’s concrete time, ’cause all the guys working with me bust themselves all up. I wish I could skate more backyard pools but I travel so much. We skate what we can when we travel.
Are you living your dream now?
Yes, definitely. I remember as a kid thinking how rad it would be to build a skatepark.
How difficult is it to build a park?
Concrete doesn’t play around, you only get one shot, but I think we’ve got it down.
Do you ever get to go on vacation?
Not as often as I’d like to or as much as my lady would like to. But we’ve hired more people so hopefully I’ll get to enjoy a little more time.
Do you want to thank anyone?
I want to thank my crew. I’ve got an extensive list of guys that work for me so it’d be cool if you could list them all. They’ve been amazing. I’ve taken a lot of guys who’ve been building ramps and stuff and turned them into great skatepark builders. Most of them had never finished concrete prior to two years ago. They probably don’t even realize the skills they have to get other jobs. A lot has happened in the last few years.
Do you think the park rush is going to continue?
Yes, at least for a few more years. There are so many cities just now getting involved in starting parks, city park building will continue for a while.
Tell me about the digging out of Milpitas.
Well, that was quite a job. we opened up the floors to dig out the holes for the pools and we found that underneath it was the old Ford Motor Plant complete with an assembly line with concrete walls and pits and tanks and big drainage tunnels. So it took us over six weeks to tear out all that concrete, drainage and plumbing and then pack dirt back in. We had to finish out the clam pool at 10 feet because of all the demolition we did. We had to overexcavate the holes because of the contaminated soil in the ground and then we hit ground water. The pool was going to be another half foot deeper but it ended up being a 9 foot trannie with a foot of vert instead of a 9 with a foot and a half. It’s a really good pool, because it has a really playful shallow end. It’s kind of like Belmar’s deep end with not so much vert but it’s got the shallow end. And the other pools connect on either side.
You can transfer out of them?
Oh yeah. And we built the Winchester Washboard, and it’s multilevel. The deep end is halfway in and halfway out of the ground. Then you’ve got the clamshell and that goes 6-10 feet deep and then on the other side is the Mickey-Mouse pool for the intermediates. It’s like 3 pools in one, a round lipped reservoir rectangle into another cement halfpipe area that funnels out into a bigger cement halfpipe area that rounds out to two deep ends like two Mickey Mouse ears.
And that’s all metal coping?
All metal pipe coping except for the first part of the rectangular reservoir part that’s shallow. It goes 3 to 4 to 5 feet deep. The washboard starts at 2 1/2 deep through the first bump and finishes with the 8 foot face wall. It’s really cool. That park turned out really good. The one in Texas we’re doing, the pro pool, we call it the Triple Bubble, is three round pools, 5, 7 and 10 feet. All connected. It’s super fun. I rode it before we set the pool coping and it felt amazing.
Are the hips rounded on that?
Yes, all the hips are rounded. It’s nice. And we re-created a multilevel L-shaped ditch. There’s a raised section in the shallow end and the deep end has raised sections with round grindable lips and parking blocks. It’s a Texas-style ditch. Then there’s the outdoor street course and ramps. After that, we’re off to Westminster, CO and then we’ll be in Jersey by the end of the year. We’ll just keep it rolling.
How do people get in touch with you for skatepark design, consulting or building?
Email me at: mailto:[email protected] or write to R.C.M.C. LLC at 48 Jefferson Rd Princeton, NJ 08540- or 9282 Nautilus Dr Huntington Beach, CA 92646