INTERVIEW WITH GETH NOBLE
INTERVIEW AND INTRODUCTION BY JIM MURPHY
Geth Noble believes in building skateparks for the people, by the people. A skateboarder of 27 years, Noble started out skating at Skatepark Soquel, one of the first concrete parks ever built by skaters. Today, Noble works with partner Stephanie Mohler and the AirSpeed Skateparks crew to design and build some of the sickest skateparks in the world. Recent AirSpeed parks include Pescadero (biggest bowl in Mexico), Waldport, Oregon (home of the16 ft Paraboloid), and Reedsport, Oregon (home of the Sphinctor, the first loopable concrete funnel).
When did you start skating?
In 1976, in Santa Cruz, California, when I was 11 years old.
What was going on in Santa Cruz?
The first skate park I ever rode was Soquel, designed and built in 1978 by Ed “Da Fish” Da Rosa.
“PEOPLE ARE ALWAYS GOING TO WANT TO GO FASTER AND PEOPLE ARE ALWAYS GOING TO WANT TO GET AIR.”
Who is “Da Fish”?
He is a skater/surfer from Eastside Santa Cruz who was also one of the very first skatepark design builders.
Was it good concrete?
It was sick, for the day. Nowadays we would say it was pretty rough and lumpy, but no one was whining about it then.
What did it have in the park?
There was a humungous vert snake run with a rounded lip and no coping, a tight snake, and a huge half pipe, which was wicked rough. There was a little freestyle bowl with a hip and launchers, and a reservoir bowl.
Before that, were you skating any backyard ramps and ditches?
Yeah, there were ditches and hills. There was this little downhill ditch made out of asphalt that was pretty sick.
Who were you riding with at the parks?
All sorts of fools and a couple of dudes who are dead now… Chris Heinenn, who rips. Tony Roberts, who makes videos now. This one dude, Ferro, who died. And Kevin Reed was a ripper.
Who’d he ride for, House?
Yeah, House. He was the full sicko. He was going for front-side disasters and ollies and 360 ollies way back.
Did you get to travel and skate any other parks in California?
I was riding Campbell Skatepark and Winchester, when I could get a ride over there. I was just a little grom. Ed would take us to the Valley to skate contests and I’d see Caballero rippin’.
He would kill that Winchester pool.
Yeah, he’d roll in and do front-side handplants.
What did you think of that Winchester park?
Pretty sick. I recently met the guy whose crew poured that park. He just happened to cruise by our job site at Reedsport. The guy didn’t even realize that he’s a legend! He said they built up the trannies in the huge half pipe with sand bags. I gotta try that trick.
Did you ever get down south?
When I went to college, in ’83 at UCSD in San Diego, I skated Del Mar and Upland.
What happened in the early ’80s when the parks started dying away? Did you keep skating?
Yeah, we had a skateboard club at UCSD. The president was a good friend, Steve Villarreal, from Pennsylvania. We built vert ramps and mini ramps on campus.
Did you skate with anybody down there? Any miracle sessions?
I skated with everyone at McGill’s Skatepark, Linda Vista Boy’s Club, and the UCSD ramps. Gator was ripping before he killed that girl.
As things started blowing up again, did you keep building ramps?
Yeah, I built a ramp down in Argentina with this friend of mine, Rodrigo Barros.
How’d you get down to Argentina?
I was down in Brazil skating because they had all those concrete parks down there. I met Rodrigo in Brazil. He was always in San Diego skating, and he said, “Hey, come down and skate in Argentina. We’ll build a ramp.”
When did you start getting paid to build stuff?
I didn’t get paid until I worked on the Ashland, Oregon park in 1997.
When did you move to Oregon?
I lived there pretty much since 1969, but I was born in New York. I’m from the East Coast. I was talking to Sloppy Sam and he told me that you were one of the first to start building concrete parks in Oregon. Besides the Burnsiders.
Can you give me some history of what was going on in Oregon?
In the ’90s, the Portland crew was building Burnside. I skated there a bunch of times while they were building the stuff, so I was pretty inspired by that. Then in ’97, I went down to Southern Oregon and Eric Dawkins was working on Talent. Some crappy parks had already been built in Oregon at Salem and Eugene. That was when I thought, “This shit’s gonna blow up and somebody has to get it right.” It was like, “Skaters need to take control of this or we’re gonna get shafted, and the whole nation’s going to get screwed with bad parks.” So I started working on Talent, then Mike Swim showed up and the three of us built Jacksonville. We did the formwork and assisted the finishing crew from Southern Oregon Concrete to actually pour the park.
How did Ashland happen? Were you working for people?
Pretty much like Jacksonville; Dawkins, Swim, Timmy Dunlava, Mike Tirsel and I were employees of the city of Ashland. We did everything up to the concrete then assisted the same finishing crew, whose headquarters is right across the street from the park. I started learning how to shape and finish.
How was it dealing with the city?
Well, you’d be surprised. Every city is totally different. Even in Oregon, there are some cities that are totally fucked. A good example is Eugene; we had to give them a $13,000 deposit just to bid on the job. Then, once we got the bid, we had to get a payment/performance bond for 100% of the budget cost. It’s super gnarly. Most small companies can’t get bonded for that much, but we had to get it or else we were going to lose our $13,000 deposit and the job. My partner, Stephanie, and I were scrambling. We were desperate, so we mortgaged my grandfather’s house. It was crazy, but finally we got the bond. Once we broke ground, we had inspectors breathing down our necks everyday; but finally, it came out pretty good.
Is the park building going to slow down?
It seems like every town has a skate park now. Yeah, there are a lot of parks but a lot more skaters, too. There is so much demand. In Eugene, they’ve got acres and acres of baseball, soccer and football fields, and nobody uses them. Right next to those fields, there’s our park at Bethel, an 8,000 square-foot skate park and it’s always packed with kids. Tonight, it was a full moon and kids were there, crowding it. There’s huge demand and it’s like that all over the country. There are still so few skate parks that it’s not saturated yet; not by a long shot.
The stuff that’s getting built in Oregon right now is gnarly and even stuff you built in Newburyport, Massachusetts…
Oh, you skated that?
Yeah, it was fun. Do you find kids getting into the roundwall or do you think that they’re just sticking with the street stuff?
The first day a park opens, they stick with the street course and, little by little, they venture out and they start skating the tranny. After a couple of months, the street course doesn’t get any action. We built a boatload of ledges in Eugene and I’ve only seen one kid hit one ledge once. If the tranny’s there, what’s the point of skating ledges?
Kids just start off sticking to ledges because they know how to do it?
Yeah, that’s part of it. I think it’s because they’ve seen the magazines with the pros doing rails and ledges down 25 stairs, and that looks so sick but then they try it in real life and they realize, “Holy shit, this is hard.” It’s not like the Tony Hawk video game. So they drop into the tranny and immediately they’re having fun.
It seems like building concrete is an art form.
Parks that are fun to ride always look cool, because the demands of functionality result in a coherent aesthetic scheme that is subconsciously apparent. Of course, many designers make shapes that look cool but are not driven by functionality. That’s how most swimming pool designs came about. Luckily, almost anything is skateable.
If you had an endless supply of money and land, what kind of skatepark would you build for yourself?
There would be a real pool for Stephanie because she is always raving about Fresno, and I would give each member of our crew and each member of the other design/build crews 100,000 square feet to build whatever they want, then there would be a snake run as long as the entire universe that connects everything, then there would be a section where you can alter the force of gravity, or maybe just build skateparks in domes on the Moon and Mars. Then there would be the virtual reality skatepark where you can choose whatever abilities you want and never have to worry about getting sore, then the Einstein skatepark with a worm hole full pipe where if you ride fast enough you can travel in time!
When it comes to the design aspect of the park, have you ever been in a situation where the city gives you some kind of plan and you just scrap it and do something that you want to do?
A good example of scrapping a plan was Newberg. When we started the project, the crew was Steve Carlson, Stefan Hauser, Stephanie, and I. We were confronted with a plan drawn up by architect Bart Bennet, who was not a skater. He had studied classic parks of the past, like Winchester, but without skating you just can’t design a good park, so of course there were a lot of problems. The corner radii were mostly either too tight or too mellow, so Stefan and I just bent all the coping to reasonable radii and started putting it in. After a few weeks Red joined the crew, and of course he had all kinds of ideas he wanted to build, so the plan got scrapped a little more. Then Monk, Sage, and Tavita joined us, and everyone was over the plan, anarchy ensued, and we all just built whatever we felt like on any given day.
Will you and Red work together again in the future?
It’s very possible, probably not on a public project though. He has some land, I told him that when he wants to pour something at home Stephanie and I will bring our pump so we can have a pump off!
What is the deal with the insurance in Oregon?
It seems like it’s so easy to build a park. Most projects require us to carry at least two million dollars worth of general liability insurance. Once the park is built, the City’s policy covers it as if it was a playground, usually. In the case of Reedsport, however, the City refuses to take responsibility for the park. Instead, Sue Ann Goorhuis, who raised all the money to build it, has been forced to agree to insure and maintain the park as long as she lives. She is a saint. In Waldport, the Mayor was dead set against the skatepark, so the president of the Skatepark Committee, Scott Beckstead, ran for Mayor himself. Scott won the election and the park finally got approved by the City Council. Even in Oregon, it still takes superhuman dedication to build a park.
Is there a lot of competition?
The Northwest is probably the most highly competitive skatepark building region in the world. This is the home turf of Grindline, Dreamland, and Airspeed. There are even several non-skater contractor outfits that are trying to build parks, they build the Purkiss-Rose and Site Design parks that nobody else will touch. We’ve had to scratch and claw to get our jobs here.
Are you running into a lot of cities trying to build skate parks that don’t have skateboarders giving any kind of guidance?
Occasionally, but not lately. Definitely not on the projects we do.
What parks has Airspeed done?
Before we started Airspeed, Stephanie and I worked together on Newport, Newberg and Aspen, CO. Since we started Airspeed we’ve built Newburyport, MA, Jackson Hole, WY, Bethel, OR, Pescadero, MEX, Waldport, OR and Reedsport, OR.
What does Jackson Hole have?
Hexagonal/square bowl combo with spine, hips, and snowboard transfers and flyouts. The fastest speed lines are all focused on the hips, transfers and vert for maximum air. Someone who doesn’t like to do airs would probably not like it. Around the bowls are a bunch of deck features arranged in a circulating speed line.
When they get new skateparks, are these cities outlawing skating in other areas?
Usually the prohibitions against skating precede the skatepark, that’s part of the motivation for kids to organize.
Don’t you think it’s pretty lame that skateparks have become the quick-fix solution? You really can’t skate anywhere else but in those skate parks?
Skating would be outlawed whether we had parks or not. I think the biggest problem is all the crappy parks that get built by people who don’t skate and couldn’t build a good park if their life depended on it. This includes all the pre-fab modular McSkateparks, especially the Scituate parks in the Northeast. There are two prominent pro skaters, Andy Mac and Tony Hawk, endorsing pre fab skatepark manufacturers. I think that they’re betraying all skaters by their actions. They should endorse actual skaters who work their asses off to build the best parks they possibly can, not some soulless corporate parasites.
Mass production parks. That’s lame. Is that hurting your business?
Not too much. The people who want that shit aren’t the people we want to work with anyway.
Do you ever get into plastering?
Whenever possible, we try to put the final finish on the layer that envelops the rebar. It’s stronger that way.
Did you have any problems building Newburyport?
Yeah. It was hard to build. That was before we bought our own shotcrete pump, nobody in the region knew how to pump shot-crete. We got this one guy who had a grout pump but he didn’t know how to pump it, so that was kind of a disaster. Most of the time, we just ended up shoveling mud. Stephanie and I had to train a new crew that had zero experience with concrete, but near the middle of the project people started to get it dialed. Then I contracted a heinous East Coast virus, Stephanie had to take over as foreman for a week. The neighbors hated us, they would call the cops when we worked late or on Sunday. When we skated after work hordes of little kids would come and heckle us. On the other hand, the local volunteers were outstanding! David Hall, Scott Hall, Bill Bixby, Eastie, Arthur, and at least a hundred other people worked like demons to make it happen. The Cause was very alive on this project.
Were you happy with the finished product?
Oh, yeah. Very fast, and lots of people can ride at once. That was the first park that I built on the computer before we broke ground.
Do you use CAD?
No, I use Rhino, it’s super sick for modeling skateparks. It helps a lot to build something on the computer in 3-D and scope out the lines in advance, that way you can focus the speed where it’s needed. Of course, we still change everything once we break ground.
What do you think is your ‘duty now for the future’?
My personal duty is the same as any skater—to build a skatepark in my hometown, which is Florence, OR. That’s why I started building parks in the first place, that’s why Stephanie and I started Airspeed. We’ve built parks to the east, to the north, and to the south of Florence, victory is at hand.
Do you ever think of building snake runs with full pipes? Is something like that part of the future?
I have lots of plans for very weird over vert structures. The Paraboloid and the Sphinctor are the beginning. Each park will have a new monstrosity. Everything will be loopable.
Why build a full pipe that can’t be looped, or for that matter a full pipe whose outside can’t be ridden? Do you ever feel that, a couple of years after you build a park, people might get burnt out on it and want something new?
Yeah, but skateboarding is complex enough that people will never get burnt out because people will keep progressing and riding parks differently.
Do you have anything going on now for park building?
Pescadero Phase Two this winter and Florence next spring.
When you travel, do you basically pick up local workers?
Yeah, it’s like a crew on a fishing boat. There are the hard cores, Mike Dahl has been working with us since Newport, before we even started Airspeed. Chris (Stranger) Berry and Melissa Ballantyne have stuck with us for the last four projects. Others work a few jobs then leave. Sloppy Sam worked on Newburyport and Jackson, then he started his own company. Lenny Earnshaw worked with us on three parks, now he works with Sam. It’s the way of the world.
Do you ever use pool coping?
Yeah, not pool blocks though, we pour seamless concrete coping. We also make our own tile. Stephanie has been insisting on tile for years, luckily Mike Dahl has developed a super kill tek for doing it efficiently.
How come you haven’t used it in the past?
In Oregon, there are so many BMX bikers. We’ve got to guarantee our product for a year and, if we do something like pool coping, then we have to replace it every month or so.
Do you see skateboarding growing or do you see it mellowing out?
I think it will keep growing along with the population. When I was a kid there were only three billion people in the world, now there are six billion, and people are still screwing.
How did the skatepark in Pescadero come about?
Serendipity. I went down there to surf last November. I ran out of propane, so I gave my tank to a guy in a propane truck. He said to meet him the next day at the surf camp in Pescadero. He wasn’t there, but instead I met Anita, who mentioned that her friend Justin Armour, former NFL superstar, was trying to get a park built. So I met Justin, he was hyped and we started buying coping, he already had rebar at the site. Stephanie showed up after returning from Italy, we then bent the coping with the aid of Justin, two very large friends, and a mango tree. Mike Dahl, Chris Berry and Mellissa Ballantyne showed up, Justin rented an excavator and a skid steer and we dug that hole. A local swimming pool builder named Don Cacahuate pumped our mud, his crew of Guerrero Indians helped us shape and finish. For more on the story see the movie.
How was the experience of working in Mexico?
Mexico rules. The Mexicans were amazed to see female concrete workers, that’s definitely something you don’t see down there. Come to think of it, I don’t think any of the other U.S. skatepark crews hire chicks either! We got some sick tech from the Mexicans, they can do amazing things with the most primitive tools. Those guys will literally grab a piece of trash out of the garbage can and start shaping with it.
What are the technical difficulties of building something over vert like the cradles?
First of all, a true cradle is a half sphere with a half pipe leading into it, like the original Cradle in Austria or the one at Lincoln City II. Lately people are calling any over vert pocket a cradle, just like kids refer to any tranny as “vert,” even if it’s just a 3 foot mini ramp. I’ve even heard people call the Paraboloid a cradle, that’s ridiculous! It looks nothing like a cradle that a baby would sleep in, if anything it looks like a giant satellite dish. Our half sphere in Mexico is wide open, no half pipe leading in, so it’s not a cradle, it’s a Hoodie. But to answer your question, it’s hard to pour mud upside down, because it tends to fall. The drier the mud the better it sticks, but it becomes impossible to pump. There are several teks for making wetter mud stick, and several teks for making drier mud pump. If there is existing concrete underneath where you’re shooting over vert, it gets covered with mud real quick, so there can be a lot of cleanup. It’s helpful to have somewhere close to utilize all the mud that falls off the ceiling. The rebar endoskeleton needs to be stout enough that it won’t flex under the weight of the mud. For the Sphinctor we built a wooden form and poured the mud on top, but the problem there is air pockets and voids that form. Gotta vibrate that ass, but not so much that it slumps, cuz a slump will cause a heinous void, and it can even yank the rebar to the surface. It’s important to make the form strong enough that it won’t implode. There is a lot of progress to be made in the construction of freestyle over vert.
What did you build at Reedsport?
The first funnel full pipe, AKA the Sphinctor! It runs from the shallow end to the deep end of a performance oriented bowl that has healthy vert with tiles, several semi-sharp hips, one round vert hip, and a pool pocket. The whole deal spines into the street area, which has a tite pool deep end, a pyramid and a kink to vert that people whine about, I guess they never skated Cambridge. Also a bunch of hips and banks. We also made wheelchair access ramps for our good friend Skipper.
How long did it take to build Waldport?
What do you think about the whole Dogtown thing going on? Do you think that’s helped?
Yeah, hopefully more people will be into tranny because of it. It’s funny because, when I was a little grom, Alva and those dudes were in the magazines just like Tony Hawk is today. Now, the Z-Boys are all in magazines again.
Do you think the tranny trend will hold?
Oh yeah, because now, it’s come full circle. Street has been king for 10 years, it’s more profitable for the skate industry because kids break their equipment more in the street. But every trend reverses itself eventually and things get back to their roots. The constants are always speed and velocity. People are always going to want to go faster and people are always going to want to get air.
Who has the best private concrete bowl?
Anything else you want to add?
I want to thank the crew: Stephanie Mohler, Mellissa Ballantyne,Chris Berry, Mike Dahl, Adrian Bender and Burke Morris. I think everyone should try to use a lot less gasoline and petroleum products so that we can regain our independence. Right now our government is completely bought and paid for by the Saudis, Halliburton, Bechtel and the Carlyle group. All of the above profit from war and oil. We finance our own oppression with every tank of gas we buy. See www.moveon.org for info on the resistance movement.