DUTY NOW FOR THE FUTURE INTERVIEW WITH BILLY COULON OF EVERGREEN SKATEPARKS INTERVIEW by JIM MURPHY with PHOTOS by BRYCE KANIGHTS
As skatepark building evolves, many builders have looked to the ‘70s skatepark building explosion to find design inspiration and evolving forms of endless waves. Those crazy snake runs and lunar landscapes have inspired Billy and his crew at Evergreen to build formations with endless lines that are only limited to each skater’s imagination. It’s an organic approach to design that teaches you to pump, carve and roll on undulating concrete, humps and bumps. Once you dial it in, you can skate the entire park without putting your foot down to kick for speed. Billy learned concrete building with the Northwest OG park builders and then decided to go off on his own to see what he could contribute to the scene. Here is Billy Coulon, the skateboarder behind the designs of Evergreen.
Hey Billy. Are you ready to get this interview going?
Where were you born and raised?
I was born in Chicago, Illinois, in 1979 and I lived with my parents there until I was ten years old. Then I moved with my aunt and uncle to the northern suburbs of Chicago and I lived there until I was 18.
Did you skateboard in Chicago?
Oh yeah. I started skating in 1989. It was pretty much my life and it’s still my life.
“Skateparks are here to stay, so we don’t have anything to worry about.”
What was your first skateboard?
My first board was a Tony Hawk. My grandma got it for me at a garage sale. It was the pink one with the skull on it from the mid ‘80s. I barely rode it and then this kid offered to trade me for an Atari, so I did, but I regretted it right after. Then I talked my parents into getting me a board and they got me a Madrid with some clocks on it. My birthday actually just passed and Tavita re-bought me my first board, the Tony Hawk.
Nice. Were you skating ramps then?
I started skating curbs. We were building launch ramps and we built a mini ramp at one point. I was into BMX then too, so I was in the woods building jumps.
Were you aware of the skate scene going on in Chicago with Jesse Neuhaus and Stevie Dread?
Oh yeah. Those guys were legends, but we were just groms from the suburbs. On the weekends, we’d go skate downtown at night and we might see some of those guys. We didn’t want to get vibed or anything, so we were just cruising in the shadows. Then the parks started popping up in the late ‘90s and some of those rippers from downtown would come and skate. There was Deerfield Skatepark in the northern suburbs and we localized that one pretty heavy.
What did the Deerfield park have?
It had some tranny, but it was pretty weak. At the time, we thought it was super sick. It had a clamshell with elliptical trannies and a pump bump sorta snake run area, but it was not defined and it was small. It may have been one of the first concrete parks in Illinois so people were coming from all over.
Was that the first concrete park you skated?
Yeah. When they were building it, I saw the coping up in the air and I couldn’t believe it. It was weird to see the coping is first. When you build a wood ramp, the coping is last. At this park, the coping was first, so I was tripping on it. I was 17 and flunking out of school and, after seeing that site, I started having ideas like, “I should be doing that.” I didn’t really think of skaters building skateparks back then though. At that point, I had a summer job painting houses and then I got on the board for getting a skatepark in one of the suburbs. I was going to the meetings and trying to align myself in skateparks in some way, but it wasn’t like, “This is going to be my career.” It was just what I was interested in.
You just wanted more parks built.
Yeah. I was pretty scattered, at that point, and I wasn’t following rules and then I got kicked out of my house. I was still in high school and I was living in my car and driving without insurance and getting caught. I was just being a kid and trying to figure out a way to skate more. That’s why I never excelled in school. I just wanted to skate.
“My duty now for the future is to keep the skatepark industry design/build. I’m fighting for that 100%.”
How long were you in Chicago?
I was out of Chicago in ’98. My friend was going to Western State College in Gunnison, Colorado and he was like, “My roommate moved out. You should come and live in the dorms with me.” A few days later, I went to Colorado with him. On the drive out, we skated some crust parks in Indiana and there were some parks in Colorado at that time. I remember going to the Silverthorne park and I was completely mind-blown. There were hot chicks there skating and I couldn’t believe it. I was like, “I couldn’t have made a better choice.” So I lived in the dorm in Gunnison and there was a little on-campus skatepark, so I skated a lot and worked a little. That’s when all of the parks started popping up in Colorado, so we started hitting all of the concrete parks and I was loving it.
Were you thinking of getting into the concrete skatepark trade then?
No. I was just partying really hard and skating and washing dishes. I was in my own little world. I hung out in Gunnison for two years and then I met my wife and she started skating too. She wanted to go to Hawaii to go to college, so we ended up going out there in 2001.
Did you go to Oahu?
No. We went to the Big Island. I remember seeing Natural Koncept ads with dudes skating concrete parks and I related to that. When we got to the Big Island, I was like, “Where is this park?” They said, “That’s in Oregon, bro.” I was like, “What? There are no concrete parks here?” They were like, “No.” We were getting ready to go skate one day and my buddy popped the Northwest video in and it was just all grainy Super 8 and talking and stuff. We were like, “Wait a minute. This isn’t what we’re trying to watch to get hyped up.” We had short attention spans, so we were like, “We’ll check this out later.” A week later we decided to watch it, knowing it was more like a movie and less like a skate video. Once we watched it, I was mind-blown. I was like, “That’s it. I gotta go to Oregon and try to work with those guys.”
Did you know Monk or Red then?
No. I just saw the video and was inspired. I was like, “These are my people. I need to go there.” I couldn’t hold a job doing anything else and all I wanted to do was be surrounded by skating. I had other ideas like becoming a shoe rep or getting a skate shop going, but I was never passionate about that. Once I saw that video, I was like, “That’s the real way to get involved.” We went to Oregon and saw all of the parks and skated Lincoln City and Newberg. I was like, “This is the best ever. Now is the time to get a job with these dudes.” I called Grindline and they were like, “Nah. We’re good.” Then I called Mark Scott. It was in November when I called and he was like, “Meet me down at Burnside on March 22nd.” I was like, “That’s random.” Then I called Geth Noble from Airspeed. I’d heard through the grapevine, that if you wanted a job, you had to volunteer first, so I was saying I wanted to volunteer. I called Geth and he was like, “Okay. Come to Toledo, Oregon.” So I left the next day.
Where were they in the build then?
It was pretty early in the build. They built it off an old foundation of a warehouse, so it had a basement under the skatepark. They built some retaining walls around it and they used sandbags and then they would shoot shotcrete on it. There were decorative rocks carved into it and it was the craziest park. It looks like a castle. I showed up there and Geth had me filling sandbags all day for the retaining walls. I volunteered for two months and I loved every day of it. I was just hyped because I got my foot in the door. I wasn’t getting paid, but I was soaking it all in and trying to be useful in whatever way I could.
When you were the new guy on the job, did those guys heckle you?
There was some heckling, but I hit it off with Geth and we were just laughing about stuff from the beginning. I don’t think he has that relationship with everybody and I think that upset some other people on the crew. I don’t know if you’ve ever met Geth, but he’s gnarly. I was definitely trying to get my spot, so I was probably jocking a little bit because I wanted to start getting paid. That was part of the reason that people were vibing me too. At that time, skatepark work was scarce so, if there’s some new guy in there chomping at the bit to get a job, you’re like, “Who’s this guy?”
What was the deciding factor for you to start getting paid on that job?
I never got paid for that project. There was another job in Montrose, Colorado, and I volunteered on that job for about a month. There was no work after that Colorado job and, you’d think I’d be feeling burned by now, not getting paid, but I wasn’t. I was on top of the world and had two jobs under my belt.
On that second job, did they bump you up to tying rebar? What was the next skill you learned?
I was running some machines. I had worked for an excavating company before, so I had a bit of experience. I was also tying rebar and grading and picking up trash.
You weren’t working with concrete yet?
No. I was mostly mucking and shoveling. I did a tiny bit of finishing on that job, but they were pretty heavy on the, “No! Don’t touch that!” I made another round of calls and I called Mark and he was like, “It’s getting into winter soon and I’m not bringing anybody else on.” I called Grindline and they said, “If you want to get on the crew, you’ve got to come out to this DIY project and show us what you got and then maybe you’ll have a chance.” Then a weird turn happened. A friend of ours was working at Russ Chevrolet car dealership and I was telling him what was happening and how we were so broke. He was like “I can get you a job tomorrow selling cars.” So I got a suit and went in and took to that right away. I was top salesman over and over again and I was making good money. The guys were like, “We don’t know what you’re doing, but keep doing it.” They didn’t micromanage me at all. I was my own boss and I was selling cars the way I did it and I was feeling it. I’d never made money like that either. They were saying, “You’re going to go far in this.” I’d never had respect like that at a job ever. It was amazing.
It was good for your ego.
Yeah. It was good for my confidence. That lasted about six months and I made about $50,000 and I was on top of the world and I was still skating a bunch. Then I got a call from Geth and he said, “I’ve got a job out in Ireland. Are you in?” I said, “I’m making really good money right now.” He said, “What are you making?” I told him and he said, “I’ll match that.” I was like, “What?”
I can’t wait to hear what your wife said when you told her you were quitting your car salesman job to build a skatepark in Ireland.
[Laughs] She said, “How much are you getting paid and will Russ take you back when you’re done?” Geth said he would match my pay and Russ said they would take me back, so it seemed like a foolproof plan. I finally had this good job, but my passion was to build parks. Then I went to talk to one of my mentors at the car dealership who had been selling cars for 30 years. I said, “What do I do?” He was like, “You need to follow your heart. You can always come back to this. You can sell cars in any city anywhere. Go build skateparks while you can.” So I called Geth and said, “I’m coming.” He got me a plane ticket and gave me the address for where I could send my tools.
Does Geth still have Airspeed?
Is he working for you?
He moonlights for us. Then I got home from Ireland and I was going to go back to Russ Chevrolet, but I wanted to keep building parks. At that time, Dreamland was working on Pier Park, so I went to that job site. Sage came up to the fence and I told him that I just came back from working on a park in Ireland and I wanted to work. He was like, “Oh, yeah. We’re really busy. Call the big boss.” So I called Mark and Mark was like, “Okay, go to Pier Park at 7AM tomorrow.” I was completely ecstatic.
“Keep skaters building skateparks.”
That meant you were going to get paid?
Yeah. I was going right to work. From what I knew, at that time, Dreamland had a good amount of work and I was finally working.
What was that first day like?
It wasn’t too bad. I was at Pier Park working with Sage and he put me on tying rebar right away. I tied a lot of rebar in Ireland and I was pretty fast, so I was able to not get picked on too much because I was just in rebar world. I was only at Pier Park for a few days and then they transferred me out to Woodland, Washington. I didn’t care what jobs they put me on because I was excited to work. That job was just starting out, so it was just Mark and I there on the first day. He was a man of few words and he gave me a few tasks to paint some coping and organize a few things. Then he was like, “Can you weld?” I was like, “Yeah. I took welding classes in high school.” He was like, “Oh, formal training.” There was a mellow pocket with a 20-foot radius piece of steel and a seven-foot radius piece of steel and a straight wall for this pocket thing. All of these pieces were separate on the ground and he was like, “Put that wood underneath that stuff and put that stuff up in the air and make it look really good and then come and get me when you’re done. I’ll be on the excavator and I will approve it before you weld it.” I was like, “Oh man, I better nail this.”
So you knew what you were doing?
[Laughs] I knew a lot less than I wanted to portray, but I tweaked on it and got it all up. I was analyzing it though like, “This guy has the most laser eye ever and he’s going to be able to detect some crazy discrepancy that I’d never be able to see.” I got it to a point that I felt like it looked pretty good and then he came and looked at it for two seconds and was like, “It’s good. Weld it.” I was like, “All right! I passed the test.”
What year are we talking?
That was 2006. Pretty soon I was back to getting laid off again and I hated it because I was in pursuit of getting better at building parks and I wasn’t working and I wasn’t making money.
Did you try to call Grindine or Geth again and try to get work with other people?
No. I was in pretty good communication with Mark and I had figured out that the next jobs were coming. There was a roofing contractor that I knew, so I’d go work for him in between. I would keep as busy as I could, but I just wanted to build parks.
So a Dreamland job comes along and you’re in there?
At this point, it seems like you’re on the Dreamland crew, so did you get work after that? How was it looking?
Yeah. It was summer and there was a bunch of work in Montana and Oregon. That was a pretty busy year, but I still only worked about six months of the year, which wasn’t enough for me. I wanted to be part of a project all the time.
What year was this?
It was 2008. That’s when I first went up to work at Windells and I fell in love with that place. When I was working for Dreamland, I was one of the younger guys, so if I had design ideas, it was like, “Shut up, kid. Go tie rebar.” When I started working for Dreamland, it was after the super sick parks like Aumsville, Newberg and Lincoln City. I had heard about the heydays of working on those parks where they were designing and building as they go. It wasn’t city guys telling them what to do and there were no plans that you had to follow. I loved hearing the stories of those super sick parks and the way certain obstacles got figured out. It was definitely a more holistic approach, but, when I started working for Dreamland, it was like, “We have this design and we have to stick to it.” The older guys were reminiscing about how they used to be able to make the parks better and they weren’t so stuck with a plan and they didn’t have to please all these people by making all of these obstacles available in the park. When I went up to Windells camp, I was like, “This is a place I could do that. This is a place where you can build shit without having a bunch of people involved.” I was helping at that camp when I was laid off from Dreamland, and it was a really good spot because there weren’t a lot of people around.
Being a skatepark builder, it’s not like a regular job where you’re working 40 hours a week. You’re off half the time, so you have to juggle, right?
Yeah. That wasn’t going to be my destiny. I didn’t care that people told me that’s the way it’s going to be. Building skateparks is just way too awesome. I just needed to figure out a way that I could do it all the time. I saw Windells camp as a way that I could get my foot in the door to municipal jobs, so I just did whatever I could to stay working there. I did stuff with the excavator and put in culverts and did grading and helped some of the kids build BMX jumps. I was trying to not go back to working just half of the year and begging Mark for work, so I was staying focused on camp as much as I could. To make a long story short, this dude in Colorado saw pictures of the stuff we were doing up at Windells and he went to the city guy in Carbondale, Colorado, and said, “There’s a new crew of guys that are doing some stuff and they would be good to do the addition on the Carbondale skatepark.” The city guy said, “If you are interested in this job, you will need a contractor’s license and insurance and you’ll need to submit a proposal with a 3D rendering.” At that time, I didn’t know how to make a 3D rendering or a proposal and I didn’t have a contractor’s license or insurance. I started talking with Catherine about it and I said, “It seems like this city guy wants this to happen for us. We should go for this.” So I started studying for my contractor’s license and I got my license and insurance. I was on the computer trying to figure out how to draw 3D renderings and I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to throw the computer through the window. I told Catherine, “I’m not going to do this. I’m over it.” I had just done a long day of concrete and I was working on that 3D rendering and I was like, “I don’t have it. I’m tired and want to go to bed.” She was like, “No. You need to do it.” She pushed me and I figured it out and we submitted our proposal. I remember getting home that night and I opened the computer and I saw, “You have been awarded the contract for the Carbondale Skatepark expansion.” I was like, “Oh my god!” I couldn’t believe it. I remember saying to Catherine, “Our world is about to totally change.” And it really did.
“I just want more opportunity, more space, more dirt, more gravel and bigger machines. I just want to get out there and sculpt it. I want to figure out the concrete better so we can do bigger pours.”
Did you have a crew lined up?
Yeah. It was Jasper, Peter Gunn and Tavita. I went out to Carbondale for the first week by myself and then it was just me and Jasper for a few weeks. Then those other guys came out and the four of us did that whole job.
What was the layout?
They wanted a street expansion for the kids, so it was all small shit. It was nothing too crazy, but I was stressing the whole time. I knew the budget was really tight and it wasn’t like working for someone else, or even being a foreman where, if stuff goes wrong, you don’t have to pay for it. Out there, everything that went wrong, I was gonna have to pay for it. This was my one chance to get my municipal job, so everything that went wrong, I was stressing. I made a good amount of mistakes and it was definitely an awakening. I was thinking, “I fucked this shit up and I’m failing right now. I’m not going to come out of this with a skatepark building company.” I thought it was going to be hideous, but I worked my ass off. I worked 60-70 hour weeks and everything that went wrong, I was adding it up in my head. We hit a water line underneath the park and the city guy was like, “You’re going to have to reroute that mainline around the whole skatepark.” I was like, “What?” There was a lot of expensive and high pressure plumbing.” I was like, “That doesn’t seem like it’s in my scope.” He was like, “It’s in your job site, so it’s in your scope!” I remember being like, “Oh my god. This is going to take us four or five days and this excavator is $300 a day.” We were doing it later in the year, so it was getting cold too. There was all of this other shit that happened and it freaked me out. Once we finished that park and crunched the numbers I just wanted to break even, but we did better than that and I couldn’t believe it. When we finished that job, I have never felt so good in my entire life. We made enough money that I was able to focus on getting our next job, so that’s what I did. I was like, “We are going to do this now. This is going to work!” We drove back to Oregon from Colorado in November and it was cold and snowy and that was the best drive ever. Catherine and I were on top of the world. I was like, “When we get back to Oregon, I am going to pound the pavement so hard. The next job that comes up is ours. We are going to figure out how to get any job that comes our way.” I was wrong.
After that job, we were on the phone constantly cold calling and emailing cities that had old parks or modular parks. I was like, “We can come fix your park or add on to your park or build you a new park. I’ll send you a free 3D design that shows you what you can get. Even if you’re not ready, you can use it to raise funds. You don’t owe me anything for it.” Some cities said, “We’ll take a 3D design.” So I would do one for them. I learned how to draw in 3D and it manifested into four jobs over the next five years.
What was your first job after Carbondale?
Well, that little nest egg that I thought we could live off of while I was pounding the pavement, ended up getting pretty slim. We bid on a bunch of jobs, but we didn’t get them. Just having one municipal job under your belt isn’t that great when you’re up against people that have hundreds. It wasn’t going the way I thought it would go, but I was still hustling. Then I got a call from a guy in Israel about a project that California Skateparks was working on. They had gotten in a fight with the general contractor who was the main guy supplying everything, so this general contractor was without a skatepark contractor. We were desperate, so we negotiated with him.
Did he pay you in full?
No. It was a wonderful job though and it kicked my ass. It was so hard to pull anything off with that contractor. We did the job and I learned how shitty it can really be. It definitely made me understand when I’ve got good jobs. I didn’t completely lose my ass, but we didn’t really make out.
He owed you money and didn’t pay you?
Yeah. He paid us some money up front, because I knew he was sketchy. He was paying us in weekly increments because that’s the contract we set up. At first, they were a week ahead and then they missed a payment, so then they were paying on time and then they missed another week and then they were a week behind. Then they paid a little bit and then missed another week, so I was stressing because when you miss a whole week of payroll, that’s a lot of money. When they missed a couple weeks, that was a whole lot more, so the vice was tightening pretty hard, but we made it through.
After Israel, what happened with Evergreen?
We did a little backyard in Portland and a backyard in Northern California, but they were not moneymakers. Then there was a job in the Chicago area that came up. It was a Grindline design, so it was just bidding on the construction. That was actually one of the places that I had cold called. They were doing the design with Grindline already and it was down to a competitive bid and we ended up getting the job. The job was in Villa Park, Illinois, where my mom grew up, so I knew the town well. I had done a lot of skateboarding there in ’89, so it was an important job for me to get. We got it, but we ended up bidding it way lower than we should have being inexperienced, and there was a giant spread between us and the next lowest bidder. It was like an $80,000-$100,000 spread.
Did you lowball it just to get the job or did you not realize what all had to go into it?
It was a little bit of both. I was desperate. We needed jobs and I was trying to keep the company together. There was a large spread on the bids, so the bonding company, being that we were a pretty new company, said, “You guys have to come up with some cash for us to hold.” They wanted to hold on to $40,000, so we had to take out lines of credit and loans. The job started on November 10th in Chicago. I guess there were grants that would have fallen through if they didn’t get it started then.
Wow. In Chicago, in winter, you’ve got like three weeks before really bad weather.
We showed up November 1st and tried to get it going, but they were being pencil pushers on insurance and getting signatures on this and that, so that held us up even more. We ended up starting on November 10th and I was stressing so hard, and then the union showed up and sat outside the job site every single day for the rest of the project. They blew up a giant rat and they had a big sign that said, “Evergreen Construction is cheating.” They were blocking dump trucks from coming in and they were there every day. I came back to that park a month after it was done to go skate it a little bit and they were still out there. Some days there would be a dozen of them out there, but there were never less than two of them. One day they were like, “Hey, buddy, come here.” So I walked up to the fence and they said, “It’s really good to see a young guy like you out here working and being a young entrepreneur. You have a dream. It’s just sad to see that this is going to be your last job.”
Oh man. What did you say to that?
I just stormed off. I was so pissed. I got a light tower and worked seven days a week from six in the morning until seven at night. I only worked those hours because that’s what the city told me I could do because the union complained about me working later than that. I rolled out everything for everybody and cleaned up everything because it’s prevailing wage. They tried to pull all sorts of shit about me being the owner and saying I couldn’t work all of those hours and I was stealing from my workers by taking work away from them, but it was turning into winter and I had to get that job done.
How big of a park was it?
It was an 8,000 square foot park and we got it done in five weeks.
The weather never got bad? You didn’t have to set up a tarp tent to heat shit up?
No. Something came over me because I was so nervous about losing everything and I worked like a maniac. I wanted to work as much as I could so that the second I’d go to bed, I’d pass out, so I wouldn’t think about what was going on. My wife and business partner, Catherine, was working on the site, day and night as well, running equipment, helping me fabricate, tying rebar and doing whatever needed to get done. During my waking hours, I only wanted to see forward movement. It worked out though. We got that park done and ended up making money on it. I learned some lessons and I think about that job all of the time.
It sounds gnarly. When you got back to Oregon did you get more work going?
In 2013, we got a job in Oregon and everybody was stoked. It was right next to Portland. The park was not super sick, but it was nice to work in Oregon. Then we did someone else’s design again. It was a New Line Design in Buffalo, NY. We stayed busy and did some design/build stuff, but it was all super small. I was just happy to have jobs that weren’t killing me like that Chicago park. I felt thankful for any work. We did the job with the New Line design and that one was a bit hard because we had this designer that worked for New Line that would come and check out the work. There was a certain feature in the park that I had redrawn and submitted to him. I said, “We should do it like this. It will work much better and I won’t charge you anymore money.” He said, “No. You can’t just change the design or it will disrupt the flow of the park.” I was like, “What? Come on. This thing I’m offering to do is not changing the intent by any means. It’s just a refinement. Give me a break. We’re just doing it in the name of skateboarding to make this park better.” I was thinking, “We have got to get some design/build jobs.”
When did you hook up with Jeff Ament?
In 2013, when it was colder outside, we were in Oregon and Catherine said, “There’s a Pearl Jam show tonight and Bryce (Kanights) is going. Do you want to go?” I was working on a 3D drawing at the time, so I said, “No. I’m just going to stay here.” She said, “Come on. You should go to the concert.” Bryce hyped me up too because he said, “Jeff went and skated the Goat Bowl in Sonoma.” Jeff told Bryce that it was super sick and Bryce said, “I know the guys that built it. We should link you guys up.” Catherine was like, “We should go to the show and meet Jeff. You guys can talk about skateparks.” So we went to the show and it was sick and then we went backstage and everybody was super cool. There was a ton of people talking to Jeff, so I didn’t get to talk to him that much. On my way out, I was like, “Hey, ya know, we have a skatepark thing too.” He was like, “Yeah. I skated the Goat Bowl that you built and that was fun.” I said, “I do 3D drawings and, if you need help with any of your projects, just let me know.” He was like, “Yeah. I’m thinking about some stuff.” A month or two later, Jeff called me and said, “I’m thinking about doing something up on the Blackfeet Reservation in Browning. Do you want to go check it out?” I was in Colorado working on a project and I was like, “Yeah!” So I flew out to Kalispell and we drove out to Browning and talked about skatepark stuff. We get there and he had set up this meeting with the tribal council and we were in this room and people just keep pouring in there. Jeff was telling them how good a skatepark would be there, and I was chiming in too. They were like, “Do you want to go and check out the potential site?” We go out to this big park and Jeff said, “Billy, where do you think it would look good? Do you think this is a good site?” I said, “Over there where it’s higher, we could poke the drains out of the hill. That seems like a good spot.” We gabbed a bit more and then everyone said goodbye. Jeff and I were driving back to Kalispell and Jeff was like, “I think that went really good.” I was thinking, “We work for years to lobby for jobs and get into bidding wars. What do you mean? What’s happening here?” I didn’t want to be too frank, so I was trying to choose my words wisely. Then he was like, “What’s the soonest you could get started?” I was like, “Oh! Yeah! We can get started next month.” I was jaw-dropped. I was like, “This is a big job that we’re going to do.” I didn’t even know how to explain it to Catherine. She said, “What do you mean? We’re just going to go there and do it?” I said, “Yeah.” I still can’t believe it.
When did the discussion about the actual skatepark design go down?
That’s a good question. Jeff was super hyped on the Big O and I was gathering all of the info from him of Brandon’s dad’s drawings from back in the day. I drew that first and got that dialed in to what Jeff was thinking and then I drew something similar to what we were going to do. He was like, “You can do whatever you want around the bowl, like street course stuff.” That was when I was like, “This is our chance. We can do a pump bump park.” That is something that’s been talked about in the skatepark world since I started doing it. It’s like this mythological thing that people want and wish that they could do, but it never seemed to happen.
“I want the park to skate less like an intersection and more like a roundabout with on and off ramps.”
Well, it’s probably never going to come up in a city design where they want street courses or specific other obstacles.
Exactly. It falls into this weird gray area. It isn’t easily describable or relatable. People don’t have another park to compare it to, so people are going to want a park where it has obstacles similar to what they’ve ridden so they can do their tricks.
Had you seen photos of the ‘70s parks that inspired you to do that?
Yeah. I’d been to Kona and Romford and Pocatello and I’m always so excited to go check out any park, especially the really old ones. I’m inspired by that. I’m also inspired by the blends in pools and bowls where the hip turns into a waterfall and turns into the long wall. Now I want every pour to be the hip and the waterfall. That is what the Evergreen parks are. It’s about expanding on those shapes.
The Blackfeet park is killer. It reminds me of the old mogul parks. From then on, when Jeff had you build parks, could you just go in with a design and he’d give you the green light to do it?
It’s getting more like that and it’s because of that Browning park. Before we did that park, we didn’t even know we could do it. Now people want that.
What happens when you get the kids who say, “Where’s the handrail?”
I’m obsessed with making things make sense, so I figured out a way to make linear skating in our parks. We started doing a Sprack Track, which is a loop that goes outside of the park that has more linear obstacles. It could even be a path leading into the park or a track that goes outside of the park, so that’s how we integrate those obstacles. People are asking for other stuff too, like the lunar landscape. I remember Jeff and a bunch of his friends came out there and they were chomping at the bit to see the Big O. They walked up to the park and they’re like, “Where’s the Big O?” Then they detoured when they saw all of those bumps with all of the forms on them everywhere. They were soaking it in like, “What is this? I can’t believe this.” Basically, it was like a ‘70s park with modern tweaks. They went over and looked at the Big O, but they took a long gander in between getting over there.
It’s just endless lines. You can just roll in and pump and go through the whole park and it’s just pure fun.
Totally. When we first started skating it, we were like, “Oh my god!” Building it and pulling off some of those pours was some tech shit, so we were hyped. We were like, “We have to figure out how to keep making parks like this.” We finally got a chance to build a park and nobody was telling us what to do and we were going for it. This was our chance to do what we’re capable of doing. We went for it on that one and it wasn’t a moneymaker but, in the long run, it put us in the direction towards doing something different. We just keep working on making our shapes better and doing bigger pours and expanding on that style.
“This is our chance. We can do a pump bump park.” That is something that’s been talked about in the skatepark world since I started doing it. It’s like this mythological thing that people want and wish that they could do, but it never seemed to happen.”
What is your building philosophy? The designs look so organic.
At Browning, we were sculpting aggregate for a while, so we put in some really good aggregate. It’s like a Zen garden, so it looked super sick. The philosophy is that I want to make new terrain that really is out of this world. I’m gonna keep pushing that. I don’t want to make anything that looks like a sidewalk or something you’d find anywhere else. Maybe the closest thing you’d find to it would be the last project we did. We keep refining from our last project and discovering new things and blends.
Is there anything that you haven’t built yet that you want to build?
I just want more opportunity, more space, more dirt, more gravel and bigger machines. I just want to get out there and sculpt it. I want to figure out the concrete better so we can do bigger pours. It’s its own beast and we’re just going with it. I don’t think of specific obstacles really. I more think of the whole park and whatever fits with the next thing. I’m trying to morph the parks more like that.
What kind of feedback do you get after building a park with moguls and snake runs?
What I notice is that there are kids ripping. I could go off about the kids at Browning. I notice kids skating good and being on their boards for a long time and looking comfortable on their skateboards and going super fast. I definitely see the parks are crowded. Of course, you can do tricks too. Tricks are going to come easier because you can pump around the whole park and get that special meter up and you’re not even really trying tricks. They’re just happening because you’ve been able to pump around the whole park enough to get super warmed up. When I go to our parks, I walk around the whole park and study where people are grinding and power sliding and ollieing. You can see the marks in the parks where that is happening. I have other philosophies in building parks too. I want them to be open, but I’m thinking about traffic in them too, like how can you get out of people’s way. I try not to make crazy blind spots and I try to figure out multiple directions where everybody doesn’t get bottlenecked in one area. Around the perimeters of the park, I like that to have its own little track. Almost any skill level can stay on the outside of the park without knowing how to migrate to the middle. You can stay on the outside until you progressively move your way in as your skills build more. I also try to break up the coping so it’s not a constant amount of coping everywhere because I feel like that keeps people really in or really out. I want the park to skate less like an intersection and more like a roundabout with on and off ramps.
It’s a certain style of park. Some people may say that there’s not a lot of vert and pools, but the mogul areas are fun. For me, it’s a flashback to the ‘70s and I like that fact that you can surf your parks and do lines. Those things are just a blast.
Yeah. I can’t wait for you to go to some of the newer ones. You went to Box Elder, right?
Yeah. I was there opening day. Every time I go out there, I don’t have enough time. We go to Big Sandy and a few others, but I need a few weeks to ride all those parks.
The one that we did in Frisco, Colorado, is giant. You’d be hyped on that one. It’s almost 30,000 square feet. It’s all crazy rolling snake runs and it has an over vert pocket and another vert pocket. There is a good amount of hand poured in that park and it’s got all sorts of shit. That one is crazy. It’s got an old slab from an old park, so we added a bunch of shit to the old slab. That one is sick. The one in Hamilton is going to blow your mind too. It’s the craziest looking park.
What are some of the upcoming build plans looking like for Evergreen?
Jeff has a few projects in Montana that he is thinking about. We’ve got one in Alberton, Montana. I don’t want to let the cat out of the bag. Jeff has a few others that he wants to do and then we have a few jobs in Texas and Michigan.
How many crews do you have now?
Two. I’ve got Lance Spiker and Richie Conklin as managers. We’ve got Jordan, Ben, Cole, Taylor and Tavita, currently. We’ve got Sean Kelly, Brian Sizer and Lance Spiker. Lance is a mega veteran. He’s been building parks since ’97 or ’98. He is the sickest. We have a lot of dudes.
We’re pretty busy and we’re bidding on a ton of jobs now, so we’ll see which ones hit. Most of my guys are kids and I run a pretty good training program. When the kids want to come work, they start out as a butler. They think they’re going to learn how to trowel concrete right away and then go back to their DIY spot and kill it, but no. They’re on the pressure washer for a few months and they’re greasing machines and going to the store and picking up trash and cleaning the work trucks and the job site, but they’re able to succeed at these things right away. That’s better than throwing them in there right away and then saying to them, “You suck at concrete.” [Laughs]
No tough love approach? [Laughs]
Not exactly. We get them in and we want them to be successful right away at pressure washing and picking up trash. If they’re not good at those things, it would probably be good for them to move on to another job somewhere else. We’ve been doing it that way for a few years now and it helps us stay organized as a crew too, just having a few different positions that people start at and work up. It keeps the infrastructure of the company and it helps us make sure that the machines have fuel and the maintenance is done. Eventually, they become so good at pressure washing and organizing the box truck and cleaning the job site, they’re freed up to go pound stakes for the guy setting up. Then it’s like, “Go get some nail bags.” Pretty soon you’re pounding stakes with the nail bag on. Next thing you know, you’re the guy setting the forms. It’s the same with concrete. You get all of your other tasks done and then maybe you’re the guy over there tossing concrete in the hole for the guys floating. Soon enough you’ll start floating too. There you go. You’re on the concrete.
They’ll just be waiting to get that trowel in hand and, if they’re patient and hungry, they’ll get there.
Exactly. There’s a lot to learn. If you’re thrown in the coals too early, you’ll probably get burned out and the people above you will get burned out yelling at you. The more experienced guys are going to get burned out too if, every time they go to set up a saw and there’s no gas, they have to go the store. They’re the guys getting paid $40 an hour, but now they’re driving to the store for gas. Then you’ve got people that aren’t trained yet sitting there waiting for a $40 an hour guy to get back with the gas. We’re definitely working on having a real solid program where it’s consistent for everyone and everyone feels accomplished at the end of the day. That’s what we’re striving for.
That’s a good work philosophy. Tell me your Duty Now For The Future.
My duty now for the future is to keep the skatepark industry design/build. I’m fighting for that 100%.
Do you think there’s more skatepark building to come or is it leveling off?
I don’t see skateparks leveling off at all. If you take a look at the baseball fields and basketball courts, there’s nobody out there, but there are 30 dudes and five chicks at the skatepark every day. City people are noticing that. Skateparks are here to stay, so we don’t have anything to worry about. The cities are trying to keep up with the other cities. When one city gets a skatepark, the next city sees that and says, “Oh, we’ve gotta get one too and we’ve gotta get a bigger one.” That’s why I’m trying super hard to not just run one crew and I’m trying to grow the business more. The cities need it and we should be doing it because we’re going to care about it. All of the people on our team really care, every single one of them. That’s our Duty Now For the Future. Keep skaters building skateparks.
Yeah. Keep it going.
Thanks. I appreciate the interview. It’s been fun.
Is there anyone you’d like to thank?
I’d like to thank my wife Catherine who runs our company. Without her, I could never and would never have been able to do this. I also want to thank our project managers, Richie and Lance, and the rest of our amazing crew. Also, thanks to Jeff Ament for believing in us and giving us creative freedom and the opportunity to truly do our best work.
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