TONY HAWK FOUNDATION: MIKI VUCKOVICH
INTERVIEW by JIM MURPHY
PHOTOS BY JIM GOODRICH AND MIKI VUCKOVICH
Miki Vuckovich…. Just the name tells you that he is gnarly and someone you don’t want to mess with! How many skaters do you know that went to military school in high school just because they wanted the discipline? Yeah, that’s right. This is the guy you want as the gatekeeper to the Tony Hawk Foundation! Miki has a very hard work ethic and a great love for skateboarding, so when Tony Hawk came up with his vision to help underprivileged youth by building great concrete skateparks, Tony’s skate bro, Miki, was tapped to help make the foundation run efficiently and meet Tony’s expectations. Through his hard work and dedication, Miki has helped tons of skateparks gain seed money in order to make a concrete skatepark dream a reality!! Here is the man with the concrete skatepark plan, Miki V!!!!
Okay, Miki, name, rank and serial number.
Miki Vuckovich. 34296720. Private First Class.
Where were you born? What year?
1968. Santa Clara, California. Kaiser Hospital. I like to say that I was born despite Kaiser Hospital, but here I am. [Laughs]
[Laughs] That hospital is that good, huh?
You know health care these days.
You were born and raised in California?
Yeah. I lived all over the Silicon Valley growing up.
When did you start skating?
In the mid ‘70s, we had a two-story suburban home and our parents put a pool in the backyard. Before it was filled, I remember watching my brother carve around the bottom of the deep end on his Super Surfer. I remember grabbing that board and going out to the driveway and rolling down it on my knees. I was about six. It was just one of those things that the older kids did. They were the ones getting gnarly. It took a few years for that to sink in and then I was like, “I can do that, too.” By then, skateboarding was on its way out.
What year are we talking, early ‘80s?
In 1979, I started going to garage sales and finding parts and putting a board together. I had one pair of wheels on the front and a mismatched pair on the back. It was whatever I could scrape together with my allowance. By 1980, when I saved up to get my first Jammer, which was my first real complete, I realized that only me and one or two of my friends skated, and that was about it.
You weren’t riding any of those concrete parks back in the day?
No. I saw a couple of them, driving by, but the next thing I knew they were gone. By the time I got serious about it, all we had left were Derby and Winchester. I made my way over to Winchester and got to skate there for a little more than a year before it closed, which was plenty of time to get hooked. It didn’t matter that skateboarding wasn’t cool because once you know, you know.
Were you getting up on the coping and stuff?
We were doing edgers on the washboard and I skated the Keyhole a little bit, but that was gnarly. To me, it was a big pool. My very first day at Winchester, it was a Saturday morning and it was pretty empty. Steve Hirsch had rolled through town and he was in the back skating the keyhole. I rolled over there and watched him fly around and do inverts and stuff. That was the first time I’d ever seen good pool skating live, literally, right in front of me. It was just me and Steve Hirsch.
When he was done, I remember talking to him and he was super cool. That freaked me out because he was a professional athlete. The fact that he even gave me the time of day meant everything to me as a kid. I soon learned that that’s just skateboarding. Every step I took and every session I went to and every backyard pool I found just got me deeper into it. The pros were supposed to be untouchable, but it just wasn’t the case. I remember having a 30-minute conversation with Caballero on his front lawn at his house when he was on his way to Sweden. He took the time to stop and talk to me for a while, until he had to go to the airport. It was just stuff like that. Growing up in those early days around Winchester, I got to be witness to a lot of the guys, from Cab to Meekster to Scott Foss and a lot of the Nor Cal guys, flying all over the place. That was the epicenter for me. Every weekend I was like, “Get me to the park.” I was there first thing in the morning, until it closed, every Saturday. When it closed, needless to say, that was heart-wrenching. Milpitas was still there for two or three years after it closed, so people would jump the fence and skate it, so I figured once Winchester closed, we’d just come back and skate it for free. About a week after it closed, I talked my mom into driving me over there, and I was like, “Hey, I think we passed it.” We turned around and drove back past this big empty dirt lot with a backhoe parked there. I was like, “Whoa. It’s really gone.” It’s one thing to have a park and, suddenly, it’s literally gone and it becomes something else, but to see it when it’s half-torn out, it’s like seeing the corpse, so that was really tough. That’s when I realized that was it. That was the last of the parks, and it was back to the streets, which was fine in its own way, but I remember thinking, “What’s wrong with our society that we can’t maintain or salvage these magical places?” We had our ramps and our backyard pools, but those parks like Winchester—the good ones, there was that stoke you got when you walked in the front door. That first whiff of the sweaty pad stench from the pro shop and you knew that you were about to roll out to the smooth concrete in the washboard and the snake run, and the pool and all the stuff you knew you were going to be riding. It just seemed like a crime to me that they would change something like that into a strip mall.
We didn’t even see it coming on the East Coast when Cherry Hill closed. Was it something that you couldn’t believe was happening or were there rumblings of it slowing down?
Well, there was talk about the park closing, and about a month before it actually happened, they put a sign up in the pro shop that said, “We will be closed on July 31, 1981.” I had just broken my arm and I was like, “Oh, man, am I even going to get to skate it again before it’s gone?” I got my cast off two days before that and I talked my brother into taking me there. My parents would have never let me go after just getting a cast off my arm, so my brother drove me over there and I got to skate for a couple of hours on the last day and there was a big session. I remember seeing Cab and Corey O’Brien and everybody ripping. There was huge posse in the washboard and I watched that for a little bit and then I’d go skate the snake run and they would all move over to the keyhole. I’d go watch them over there for a minute and then I’d go skate the washboard. In one sense, it was rad to see 200 people skating the park all at once, and then it became super sad when you realized it was over. At that point, skateboarding was it. We knew we were going to find pools and build ramps. I was living over in Cupertino at the time, in the foothills, and our house had a huge basement. So, I had already been building some small quarter pipes down there and I ended up building a bigger one, over the next year. That became the neighborhood ramp, particularly when it rained. All the locals would come and skate there, so that served its purpose. The Los Altos pool was around. There was that 1982 Thrasher cover of Duane Peters going off the slide, so that was a good time, until the owner would show up and chase you out with an axe.
[Laughs] Were you caught up with Thrasher up in S.F. and that scene too?
No, I was a kid and that was a bit north, in the City. In my town, Valley Joe and his son, Tom Norton, ran our local skate shop, California Surfer. That was the shop for Cupertino. We’d go hang out there after school and then skate all around town, and they were super supportive. Tom would take us out to skate hills and stuff. He was an old school surfer guy that skated an old Hutson downhill board with Henry Hester Road Rider wheels and Bennetts. We’d be on our big wide pool boards and he’d be zipping down these steep hills. We’d be like, “What is he doing?” He’d slalom down them, sliding, and we’d never seen that before. It was cool to have that experience and to see skateboarding in all these different ways and be forced to go out and find spots and adapt. Street skating evolved, but it was kids that were just trying to skate something, trying to do pool tricks on a curb, basically. Corey O’Brien and those guys on the south side of San Jose really pushed that envelope in terms of developing street skating in our area. Skateboarders all over the country were doing the same thing in their own way.
Did you have a legit vert ramp up there yet? Didn’t Cab have a vert ramp going?
Yeah, Cab’s ramp was going. That was over in San Jose East Side and that was pretty far, in my mind as a 12-year-old, and it’s not like everybody could just show up at Cab’s house. We’d pick up ‘zines at local shops like Gremic in Los Gatos. They would carry Skate Punk and Skate Scene and we’d go grab that stuff just to see what other kids in other parts of town were doing. It was evolving and you’d just go out and have adventures finding stuff and building stuff. The great thing is that you’d see other skaters, which was so rare, and someone would say, “Check out this bank I found over here.” We ended up taking the bus all around the county just to skate some little thing. I remember getting on the bus for an hour and half to get to Los Gatos, then getting on another bus to Santa Cruz for another hour, and then skating two or three miles up the hill to Derby for a session there. Derby was awesome. Even though it was little and somewhat limited in the older version (it’s been recently redone), it was the one place that was for you. It was the one place where you were welcome as a skateboarder because it was a skatepark. Everywhere else you skated, you knew you weren’t welcome, even if you weren’t kicked out right away. You knew you had to evade eyeballs, so you had to pick the right time to go. If you were going to skate a ditch or a pool, you were going there undercover. You couldn’t just show up and be like, “I’m here!”
Right. You couldn’t just relax.
Yeah. We’d skate and then go back down the hill and get on the bus again and go through the process of getting back home. It was a whole day affair, but it was totally worth it. It was a great time for adventure. It was like what Animal Chin touched on. You’re looking for a place to skate, but you’re doing so much more in terms of just expanding yourself and trying new things and going new places. You learned a lot about your own limitations and abilities as a person. For me, that was super important, besides finding a place to skate.
Yes. What happened next?
About a year later, in ’82, I was living with my mom up there and she was in between jobs and I was like, “Hey, why don’t we move to So Cal?” I knew they had skateparks down there. She said, “Well, why don’t we take a trip down there and check it out and see some of our relatives in San Diego?” I said, “Sounds good to me.” So we went down there and, on the way down, I skated the Big O and Del Mar and, on the way back, I said, “Why don’t we move down here?” She said, “That sounds like a good idea.” So we packed and moved and we were living in Cardiff, about two miles from Del Mar. We rolled into town just in time for the Rusty Harris Pro/Am Series, and I got to watch that contest go down. It was the Billy Ruff/Tony Hawk show. I met a bunch of the locals there. Grant Brittain was managing the skatepark and Tony Hawk had just turned pro. He was my age, and it turned out that he’d just moved to Cardiff, too, so we were going to be going to the same school. That was cool to be there to see his first contest as a pro. I was pretty stoked, living in an apartment with my mom three blocks from the beach, and I had a bus stop right behind my house that went straight to the skatepark.
Who were the crew of guys you were hanging with then? Were you hanging with Tony and Reese Simpson?
I saw Tony at school, and we’d see each other at the skatepark. Owen Nieder, Tod Swank, Dave Swift, Ken Park, Dave Duncan, Gator, Billy Ruff, and Adrian Demain were there. Grant Brittain was the manager, so he was there all the time. Any given day, it was some selection of that crew, plus the random German or English people who would just show up to visit. The Texans were out a lot. Craig Johnson, John Gibson, and Dan Wilkes would come out—those guys were great. Del Mar was this crossroads of skateboarding. At the time, Del Mar, Whittier, and Upland were still open on the West Coast. You had Kona on the East Coast, and I think the Turf was still open in Wisconsin. The contests that went on every year were at Upland, Whittier and Del Mar. There may have been some one-offs on a ramp somewhere, but everyone that came to Cali would come to skate Del Mar because it was a cool place to hang out. They had trampolines at that park, and all the visiting kids would sleep on them at night.
Was anyone thinking it was going to close down, like what you had experienced up North?
No one was talking about that, so that was a good sign. It was part of this larger recreation park, so there was a driving range, mini golf, and R.C. cars, so there was a lot of other stuff supporting the business as well. The skatepark wasn’t making the money. Even scrubs like me could pick up trash around the area and Grant would let me skate, so I didn’t have to pay to skate every day, so it was cool. If the skatepark was losing money, it was sort of folded into the business that was much broader, so I think that helped it survive. The other parks like Upland and Winchester were just skateparks. When the insurance rates went up, the skateparks were just unsustainable. To the credit of the guys that managed Winchester, they took it over from the previous owner and scraped to keep it open until the insurance policy literally disappeared and they had to close it. With the remaining skateparks, the owners and managers were just trying their best to keep them open. I think Stan and Jeanne Hoffman at Upland epitomized that. They were running the skatepark without any insurance just to keep it open. They really took a great personal risk in doing that. Eventually, Del Mar closed in ’86. I think they had ideas about what they wanted to do with the property, but ultimately, they did nothing. You can still drive by on the freeway and see it. It’s still just a dirt strip.
Were you in school at that point?
I was just going into high school when I moved down there. That first year, Tony and I went to the same school and I studied photography and we skated. We were the only two kids in our school that skated. Reese Simpson went to our school, too, but it seemed like he had a broken leg most of the year. He was hobbling around on crutches and he would say, “As soon as I get this cast off, I’m going to start skating again!” Of course, he did. After that year, Tony and I went to different schools. I actually ended up in a military school.
How did that happen?
It’s a weird thing. That first year I was down there, Tod Swank and I were driving to a ramp and he had this officer’s hat and a sword and a uniform in the back seat of the car. I was like, “What is this?” He said, “It’s for my school. I go to military school.” I was like, “What?” He started talking about it and it sounded a lot different from the school I was in, where everyone had their own clique and the gangbangers were over there and the pot heads were over here, and everyone was harassing you because you were a skateboarder. Military school seemed to be a place where everyone looked the same, and that seemed appealing. You have to prove yourself by what you can do, and not by what you wear or what kind of car you drive. I wasn’t having a good time academically at my other school, so I looked into it. I told my mom about it and she freaked out. She was like, “Are you serious?” I was like, “Yeah.” All my friends were punk rockers, so she couldn’t believe it, but what could be more punk rock than choosing to go to military school? I think I outdid even Owen Nieder’s two-foot mohawk when I did that. It was the kind of place that you figure out, and you fly under the radar, and use it for what it can do for you.
What did it do for you?
It allowed me to focus on school and eliminate all the social bullshit that public school, at least the one that I was at, was so thick with. Military school stripped it down. You’re in school to learn, and that’s it. There were some weird things like marching around and shooting guns or whatever.
What kind of guns did they let you shoot?
We shot .22 range rifles for ROTC marksmanship class, and once a year they’d take us to Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base and train us to shoot M-16s and we’d play army for a week.
Was there any part of it that made you think about joining the Army?
No. There was the opportunity to go to a service academy. I could’ve applied to Annapolis and places like that. We had some people in the family who had connections in politics and could get the right letters written and that sort of thing. Ultimately, I was like, “No. That’s enough. I’m going to go to public college.” I wanted to skate more and do the things that I liked to do.
That’s hardcore. Was Swank in that school with you?
No. He finished the year before I started. My last year there, Matt Hensley was a freshman there.
No way. Wait. Was Duane Peters there with the flattop? Was he in your class?
No. He was the drill sergeant! [Laughs] No. It worked out. It’s what you make of it and I made it work for me. It’s not for everybody, obviously, but it was good. It got me back on track academically, and I actually got interested in certain things and went on to college.
What college did you go to?
I went to U.C. Santa Barbara in the mid to late ‘80s. It was great. There was a lot going on up there.
What did you study there?
I studied Political Science. For the first two years, I was studying different stuff trying to figure out what I really liked to do. It was great skating up there. Frankie Hill was just coming up on Dogtown, and Kit Erickson, Rob Washburn, John Lytle, and Fred Conrad skating up there. It was great skating around the campus with those guys, and we skated up in the hills—the ditches and pools. It was a really fun time. By that time, Grant had helped to start TransWorld and I started doing a lot of work for the magazine. I was covering the central coast and I would go up north a lot and shoot up in San Jose. When I wasn’t in school and during the summers, I got to travel a little bit and do magazine work.
What was your position at TransWorld?
I was a photographer, writer, editor, and a little bit of everything. Eventually, I was editing the business magazine, SKATEboarding Business, which was the trade journal for the skateboarding industry. That was later on in the ‘90s.
Do you have any commentary on the Thrasher/TransWorld wars?
[Laughs] That was fun.
[Laughs] Explain the difference between Thrasher and TransWorld and why people butted heads over it.
Thrasher came out in January of 1981. TransWorld came out in March of 1983. Thrasher had already established itself and, by that time, Skateboarder magazine had disappeared. Action Now had come and gone, so there was nothing except Thrasher, and Thrasher was like the bible. It was the one thing that kept us connected with skaters in other parts of the country. There was no Internet. There were no other ways to keep in touch except through letters that we wrote to each other. We had our local skate ‘zines, and we traded those, and that was about it. When I was in Del Mar, Grant left the job at the skatepark to help start TransWorld and I remember seeing these postcards on the counter at the skatepark that said “TransWorld Skateboarding magazine.” I got super excited about it because it was a positive direction for skateboarding to now have two magazines. I loved Thrasher, but I wanted more. I wanted as much as we could get. I wanted five or ten different magazine titles. I got my allowance together and spent my $12 on a subscription. A couple months later, I came home from school, and, on my doorstep, there’s an envelope, with a note from Larry Balma that said, “Here’s your mags.” He dropped off a couple of copies of the first issue on my doorstep, which happened to be only two blocks from their P.O. Box in Cardiff. Later, I found out that I was their very first subscriber. That was interesting.
[Laughs] That’s funny.
The first issue had a Cab photo on it from the Palmdale contest. I had gone to that contest with my stepbrother. It was one of those days where it was raining so hard that you thought it was going to be called off for sure, but we got there and it stopped raining and dried up just long enough to have the contest, and then it started raining again. There were a couple carloads of people there watching. A lot of skaters had already left town, but that was the weekend of the first backyard ramp contest, so that was fun to see. There was coverage of that in there and there were some good gems of Blender, Garry Davis, and a lot of the early guys. There were, of course, Grant’s photos. A lot of the early content was pretty awesome. There was a little bit of color in there, which Thrasher didn’t have. To me, it was exciting. I was looking at the bigger picture, like, “Wow, we’ve got another magazine now. That’s killer.” I was working with Grant, and I’d travel up north and I’d come back with photos. Obviously, I got to shoot with a lot of great skaters. I shot a lot with Cab and Corey O’Brien, so I spent time in that area, and I’d come back with photos and they’d run some of my stuff, and then I got more involved with the magazine. To me, it wasn’t like I was picking sides. I was just doing this magazine with the guys I skated with. In fact, my first published photo was in Thrasher, in 1985. As it all evolved, Thrasher was characterized as the hardcore NorCal mag and TransWorld became known as the glossy color SoCal mag. I guess the TransWorld guys were the arty crowd and the Thrasher crowd were the hardcore guys. I don’t know. It was funny because that was the characterization, but we’d go to events and see Kevin Thatcher and MoFo and it was mellow. I knew those guys from being up north, and there was never any overt animosity. Fausto and Larry Balma might have had some things going on, but to me, as a skateboarder, it was never an issue. I do remember there was a perception of this rift though and there were certain ways that we would cover stuff versus Thrasher. I think that’s important because there’s nothing as diverse as skateboarding, and you need to see things from all different ways. I just thought it was more for skaters. You can get the Thrasher version of stuff or the TransWorld version of stuff. You can pick and choose, or get both. The more the better.
TransWorld became your full time job, right?
Yeah. I was psyched to get out of college and be working full time in 1991.
Skateboarding went through a huge change at that point. What was your opinion when the vert thing started dying and street skating started taking over?
Well, street skating had always been around, in my experience, and being up north and having a park and then not having a park, you always had the streets. That adaptation was in the DNA of kids all over the place. During the Del Mar heydays, we’d all load up in the car and drive over to a parking lot and have a curb session for a few hours and then go find ditches to skate. Even though you had the park, you wanted different stuff. It was a fun and adventurous time. You could jump in the car and go down to Tijuana, where there was an old ‘70s park there, which you could skate. It was rough and terrible but, what the hell, we were in Mexico.
Yeah. Good times.
As a kid, you add up all these trips and adventures, and the things that are new to you, and you don’t realize it at the time, but you learn and grow from that and it informs you. Later, with the magazine, I was going to Europe to cover contests and do interviews. I’d write the stories and shoot photos and sleep on people’s floors and take trains. It was all part of that long adventure that started when I went to that first garage sale and put together my first board. In hindsight, it’s just terrific that I had that opportunity. I’ll be forever grateful. Not a lot of 18- or 19-year-olds can get a magazine to pay for a plane ticket and travel around the world and shoot a bunch of photos. At the same time, a 19-year-old with a backpack and a skateboard can travel pretty cheap, so it ends up being a good deal for everyone. It was a good trade-off.
How long were you with TransWorld? You worked there through the ‘90s?
At some point, Time Warner bought TransWorld out?
In 1997, the magazine was sold to Times Mirror, which owns the L.A. Times and some other Madison Avenue magazines in New York, and it was fine at first. Then things started to change and the budget started tightening and it became harder to get the editing done and get decisions made. Then it got sold to Time Warner and then the Chicago Tribune Company bought it. It went through three or four sales and it just started to get murky and weird.
What was the vibe at work with you guys?
It was pretty negative. We weren’t really in control of our own ship at that point. In the past, you could just go into another room and talk to somebody who could make a decision and hash things out and figure out what you needed to do and then go do it. After it got sold, they had to send a memo to New York and wait for somebody to read it and respond and it just got old. At the same time, I had been talking to Steve Douglas from 411 and he had started a video series called ON Video Skateboarding. It was a documentary series of videos and the first few issues were pretty awesome. It was a look back at certain moments in skateboarding history and the individuals that had paved the way in skateboarding. They were doing a moderately-paced documentary style and, to me, it was just great to see that kind of storytelling. I hadn’t done a lot of video work, but it’s just a different way to tell a story, so I joined them. I left TransWorld and worked with ON Video for a couple of years. We did some cool stuff with Natas, and we did a big Love Park retrospective, and some other really interesting pieces. Of course, this was at a time when videos at the $25 price were a tough sell. Fuel TV had just started, and a lot of stuff was going on television. YouTube was starting to get more skate videos, so it was a tough market. Tony started the Tony Hawk Foundation in 2002, and I joined the Board of Directors. In 2004, they hired me as Executive Director. That’s when I left ON Video. So I’ve been here in that position since then, but I’ve been involved since the beginning.
Were you around when Tony came up with the idea?
Yeah. Through the early ‘90s, skateboarding was pretty dead, but by ’95, you had the X Games and, a few years after that, everything really began to grow. By the late ‘90s, Tony had developed his video game and, in 1999, his first video game came out and he landed the 900. He had done a bunch of stuff that he wanted to do, so he retired from competition and he wanted to do something significant. He realized that he had a nice check from Activision that was big enough to start something real, so he started the Tony Hawk Foundation. Having grown up at Del Mar, he not only developed his skill, but that sense of community, getting to know who he is, and learning a lot about himself. Having that opportunity to be mentored by older skaters, and then to mentor younger skaters, and provide that environment that the skatepark engendered was something he wanted to help promote. There were just a few cities around the country that had toyed with the idea of a public skatepark, so he wanted to dedicate his efforts to encouraging that. He called me since he knew that through my work at TransWorld, I had worked with a few of these cities. At the magazine, I ended up getting those calls a lot. The receptionist figured I was the one to talk to about that stuff, so I ended up talking to these people and we compiled some really good information about the process and what different cities were trying to accomplish, and how they were going about it—what was working and what wasn’t. With my experience and all the parks that I’d skated and shot photos of throughout the years, I had the same idea that Tony had of what a skatepark should be, in terms of that feeling of community and the experience that skaters have when they go there and have a good session, and they’re skating stuff they want to skate versus the city just building what they wanted to build and skaters being told about it afterwards.
Your mission from the beginning was to help out in low-income areas, right?
So if a high-income city came to you, you could give them advice, but you couldn’t necessarily give them money because your resources are allocated to neighborhoods that were poor, right?
Who came up with that concept? Was that something that was close to Tony’s heart to want to help out the poor?
At that point, in the late ‘90s, he had been to a few skatepark grand openings and he’d show up and skate these things and they’d usually be pretty terrible. They were usually in more affluent suburban areas, and it’s great that they could build parks, but Tony was like, “What about the kids that have nothing to skate?” Tony grew up in a community where there were a lot of military kids with limited access to stuff. I think it was just something that spoke to him. He was like, “If we’re going to build a skatepark, let’s make sure we build them were they need to be. Let’s bring attention to the fact that skateparks are a great solution for kids who are looking for something positive and active that helps them in the community.” From the beginning, we were promoting skateparks in challenged communities. If anyone called and wanted our advice on what to do, we were happy to share that, but the focus has always been on the underprivileged communities and we weren’t going to stray from that.
From the beginning, it sounds like Tony was getting good money from Activision and he was putting some of those profits towards his foundation, but was there some sort of game plan for how you were going to raise funds outside of Tony’s income? Were you looking for corporate funding? You began as a 501c3, right?
We began as a family foundation, so it was a little bit different. A family foundation is something that wealthy individuals set up to disperse funds that they have. That’s how it started. Pretty quickly, we realized that what we were trying to achieve was way beyond the scope of one organization and certainly beyond just one person’s efforts. In 2003, we re-registered as a 501c3, which is a public charity. That allows you to fund raise externally and raise money for a certain cause and then carry out that mission. In our case, it was to help promote public skateparks. That was a quick realization and, in the last 13 years, we’ve learned a whole lot about skatepark development and managing a non-profit. Like any company, you learn as you go. You have people on staff and on your board who are competent. You can always improve, and we’ve certainly striven to do that. I think we’ve done a lot of that over the last several years. If you look at our board and our staff, you’ll see that everybody is at the top of their game. Peter Whitely is our Programs Director and Kim Novick is our Development Director. Jamie Thomas, Ben Harper and Tony are on our Board, and they’re all outstanding individuals. From where I sit as the Executive Director, it’s pretty awesome to be at a Board meeting and to dig into some of the subject matter that we have to get through and the decisions we have to make, particularly when it comes to funding the projects we support. It’s just awesome. At the end of those sessions, I can look at this list and say, “Yes. We are getting behind these 12 communities. This is great!” And we start making the calls.
Does the explosion of skatepark building, even in this economy, blow you away? We just went through this crazy recession, but more skateparks are being built. Will the skatepark craze level off or do you see it growing?
I see it growing and growing. There are a couple of reasons for that. Before the recession, there were funds allocated for skateparks that hadn’t yet been built, so through the recession, a number of parks were built because the funds had already been allocated. During the recession, everyone was cutting their budgets, but there were also federal funds available suddenly. Most cities were scrambling to find ways to use those and, in a few cases, cities were able to put those funds into skateparks. I’m sure the skatepark industry will tell you how tough it’s been for a few years, but we’ve seen a pretty consistent level of projects. There may have been a little bit of a dip a few years ago, but it seems to be coming back in a bigger way now. Fourteen years ago, when I would talk to a mayor or someone in the city, the conversation was strictly about what skateboarding is, how many skateparks there are, how popular they are, where they are and why they are better than a private skatepark for the kids. Over the last few years, I don’t remember having any of those conversations. Now they want to know how to get a skatepark. They call and say, “We need a skatepark. How do we do it?” It’s never like, “These kids came to us and we’re not sure if we want to do this.” We’re way beyond that conversation now. The whole mood has changed. Now you have mayors and city council members that were skaters themselves or they have kids that skate. They’re a lot closer to it than previous generations of politicians, so now it’s a much easier sell. They just want to know how to do it. Our conversations have shifted from “Here’s why you should build a skatepark,” to “Here is how to do it.” The skatepark is the most efficient way you can spend your Parks and Recreation dollars. The immediate value of a skatepark will far exceed anything else you could possibly invest in, based on not just the number of kids that will use it but the long-term cost of operating it, which is virtually nothing.
Is there a downturn in kid’s involvement in organized sports to where tennis courts and basketball courts are being under-utilized, so the cities want to build a skatepark to keep the kids active?
I don’t know if it’s that conscious. If you want to get technical, you can look at the numbers over the last decade and there was a downward trend in organized team sports in terms of participation.
How big of a downward trend?
It was a subtle downturn, but that follows decades and decades of growth. It’s interesting because, over that same period of time, individual sports like skateboarding and snowboarding were booming, in terms of their growth. It’s growing in the tens of percent, not just a few percent a year. In the last couple of years, there’s been a slight downward trend in skateboarding, but it’s holding steady at 6.3-million nationally, and that’s pretty strong.
Why do you think there’s been a downward trend?
It’s demographics and the economy. There’s been less participation across the board. Demographically, there was a bit of a bulge in terms of young people. You can look at birth rates and anytime you see a growth in birth rates, in the next ten years, you’re going to see a bump up in the number of skateboarders. That’s just a fact. You can look back at it through history and every time you see a bump in the birth rate, you see a comparable increase about 8-10 years later in the number of skateboarders. The industry has become really good at figuring out when to ramp up or when to be more careful. We all had to learn the hard way after the crash of the late ‘70s and late ‘80s. It’s partly that the demographics have flattened out a little bit, so there’s that effect on the number of skateboarders, and that affects everything. There’s a changing of the guard that you’re seeing. There are more progressive individuals in positions of local governments, in the city councils and the mayors. They either were skaters or they have kids who skate. In their communities, they’re looking around and they’re seeing empty ball fields and empty tennis courts and kids all over the streets on skateboards, so the need has become more apparent to them. I think this current wave of politicians is much more open than previous generations, so it’s a much easier sell to promote the need for skateparks. The issue of funding is always the big one. Most cities that don’t have skateparks, the number one reason that they don’t is basically funding. They don’t know where the money can come from or they don’t have the staff to go and apply for grant funding. Our grants help, but we’re not building entire skateparks. We’re getting behind projects and we’re teaching them the process and showing them where they can find money and showing them where they need to find support. We’re streamlining the process for them and helping them get through it quicker and more efficiently. We help them organize and explain to their entire community what they’re doing. It’s super important stuff, and in many cases it’s saving them months or years of spinning their wheels, and helping them avoid mistakes that can cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars. That’s the kind of thing that’s most critical. It’s much more important than any check we can write. We issue grants and some are more significant than others, but the point of it is to show real tangible support financially. When they turn around and say that they have a grant from the Tony Hawk Foundation, other funders are that much more motivated. It means a whole lot, especially to other funders and state agencies and granting organizations, to know that the Tony Hawk Foundation has vetted this project and looked at what they’re doing. It’s investigated how they are organizing and promoting the project and the kids are involved and they’re looking to build a professional concrete permanent skatepark that the kids have a hand in designing. Our support translates into support from a whole lot of other organizations. They know we get involved in real tangible ways with dollars and other resources. We realize that our role is multi-faceted and we understand that a lot of people can write checks, but not everyone can provide guidance, wisdom, education and the technical assistance that we do. We’ve worked with thousands of projects and we’ve learned from every single one of them. We learn what they’ve done right and what they’ve done wrong. We share that information and revise our materials based on what we learn every day.
Let’s say there’s a town that you helped build a skatepark five years ago. Is there a story you can tell people about how skateboarding has evolved in that skatepark?
It’s interesting. One of the examples is Pine Ridge, and I think you can tell that story better than anybody. I think it was three months after that park opened, and there were kids from Pine Ridge going down to the contests in Denver and other parts of the region and placing well. They had been skating their own park for less than a few months. It’s just one stark example of a place where there was literally nothing and then a skatepark appeared, and, suddenly, they’re exporting talent to other regions.
Yeah. It’s incredible.
I think another great example is the skatepark in Compton that we helped build. Obviously, that city has its reputation and its history, and it’s a really cool park right in the heart of Compton. The Wilson Gym in Compton is famous for producing pretty much all the NBA stars who came from Compton—they all came through that gym. Now there’s a skatepark right in front of that gym that’s producing some great skaters. Every time I go there, there are the local kids, and there are kids from all over the L.A. region. The last time I was there, there was a couple there, a husband and wife, visiting from Michigan, and they wanted to visit the Compton Skatepark. I think with a lot of the parks, particularly the inner-city ones, you’re talking about areas where the kids don’t leave their communities. Whether there are gang boundaries or whatever, they stay within a certain geography. They literally don’t go outside their city limits. We had an event in Beverly Hills and we brought a bunch of the kids from Compton to enjoy it for the day, and when I asked them if they were having a good time, they were like, “Oh, this is great. I’ve never been to a different city.” They’d never been out of Compton. I’m like, “What are you talking about? L.A. is huge. You’ve never explored Hollywood or Santa Monica?” They said, “No, we’ve never been outside of Compton.” I was blown away. After talking to kids in all kinds of areas, I get a sense that there are certain lines that they just don’t cross. With the skatepark in Compton, the skatepark is attracting people from all over the place and the vibe there is awesome. There’s a street course that surrounds a kidney pool, so the kids are skating street stuff and tranny. There are kids there of every color and age. There are girls in there. In other parts of these inner cities, you don’t see places with that kind of mix. Once you walk through that gate, everybody is a skateboarder. That’s it, first and foremost. I think that’s the magic of skateparks today. Anyone is welcome and everyone can come as long as you’re there to skate. It’s like the skatepark in Long Beach that we helped open recently. It’s in a part of Long Beach that even people from Long Beach don’t go to, but now there are people traveling from outside the country to skate that park. The kids are freaking out when some kid from Australia shows up there to skate.
So there haven’t been any problems at these parks with fights or violence?
No. In fact, the skateparks in Long Beach are the crown jewel in the local police department’s fight against youth crime, gangs, drugs and bullying. On a city map, they have these green dots and they’re green because there is a lack of youth crime, violent crime and episodes of bullying of young kids in those areas. Every time, you see a green spot, there’s a skatepark.
Has the Tony Hawk Foundation had these conversations with local law enforcement about that fact? Is there any camaraderie between your organization and the police organizations?
How does that work?
Well, we encourage all the skatepark advocates that we work with to make the Police Department part of their coalition. If you explain to them what you’re doing, it’s going to resonate with them way quicker than with any politician because they’d rather see the place occupied by people doing something positive than doing other things. To them, that’s awesome. They can get behind that. They would much rather go watch kids skating at a skatepark than have to get a call to go chase them out of the parking lot at their local Wal-Mart. They know, more than anybody that these kids need a place to go. Even though the cops are often the ones chasing the kids around, they are probably your best allies in trying to get a skatepark built. What upstanding citizen in the community is not going to respect what a police officer has to say? These are people that are out on the streets, and they see the reality of what real crime is like and they understand where skateboarding fits in that spectrum, which it doesn’t really fit at all. People freak out because kids are skating in some parking lot, but the cops realize that they’re just skating. They’re not breaking into anything, so they’re annoyed at having to respond to that. For them, the skatepark is a super solution. That’s almost the easiest call you can make is to get cops on board. We talk to a lot of police officers. We were in Long Beach to help open that park, and Tony got out of his car and walked to the skatepark. There were six or seven cops, the top brass from the Chief of Police on down through the ranks, all lined up to greet him and thank him for his support for what he and the Hawk Foundation had done to assist to get this high profile skatepark. They understood the importance of that park in that location in central Long Beach. I was joking with Tony afterwards. I was like, “I’ve never ever seen so many cops thanking a skater.”
What was Tony’s perspective on that?
He was amazed. He was tripping on it, too, but that’s the reality today. Skateparks are a solution. They are something that does so much more than just give kids a place to go. It’s also a project they can work on to help create. In that process, they learn so much about how their city works, and the people who have been chasing them around for years. They see that they are real people looking for positive solutions too. They just didn’t understand skateboarders and what they’re capable of. They never saw skateboarding as an art or a sport. They always saw it as a nuisance. If you talk to them and make your case, you can convince them, so kids are learning that. They’re learning to come out of their shells and step up and say, “Hey, this is what we need. This is a good solution for our community to keep kids safe.” You have 50 or 60 kids a year killed skating in the streets and automobiles kill most of those kids. Well, that’s something we don’t have in skateparks—automobiles.
You’re saving lives. With the statistics that you have, with the cops putting the green dot on the very safe skatepark areas, you can show that to any town, and it’s a no-brainer, right?
Right. The interesting thing about skateparks is that your most likely allies are the people who are the biggest thorn in your side as a skater in your town without a skatepark, because you’re skating their businesses, and they’re calling the cops, and the cops are showing up and giving you tickets and taking your board and screaming at you. So, these are the people that represent the most oppressive individuals in your life. Once you step up and go to a city council meeting and fill out your little card and you have three minutes to speak, you can go up there and say that you’re a skateboarder. We have an algorithm that you can use to calculate roughly how many skaters there are in your town, so you can tell them, “There are ‘x’ number of us, and we have just as much right to have a safe place to skate as the kids that play basketball or Little League. We want to work with you and find a solution and a site and help raise the money. We want a safe place to go and enjoy what we do, just like other kids have.” Once you do that, suddenly, these police officers and local business people go, “Wow. This kid is showing good character.” They respect individuals in the community that step up and say, “Here’s a problem and here’s a solution.” Skateparks are a cost-effective and relatively cheap solution. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on them and, long-term, it doesn’t significantly impact the ongoing budget. With a good quality concrete skatepark, the current law is that you can build a skatepark and it can be unattended. Just follow the path that all the great skatepark advocates that have come before you have walked along and find the right location and get the right people involved, and make sure it’s among some other activities. You don’t have to have it staffed or have supervision. You can build them to be durable and safe and the kids get what they want and it’s awesome.
Isn’t the elephant in the room the liability insurance? It’s amazing that you can build these parks and the cities aren’t freaking out about lawsuits.
Explain to people how liability insurance works with the cities and why there are not a bunch of lawyers frothing at the mouth with lawsuits if a kid breaks his arm at a public skatepark.
In the last ten years, in the state of California, there have been zero lawsuits against public skateparks, and there are over 150 skateparks in the state. The numbers across the country are similar. The reality is that it’s the job of the government agencies, cities and counties to provide recreational facilities for the public to use. There is case law that shows that if the city provides access to something, there is a reasonable assumption of risk on the part of the person that uses it. For a long time, that wasn’t clear enough for a lot of City Risk Managers to say “Okay, let’s build a skatepark. Skate at your own risk.” They didn’t assume that because it wasn’t written in the law blatantly in clear language. In 1998, there was a law passed that put skateboarding on a list of other activities that were deemed “known hazardous recreation activities.” What that did was put the responsibility for safety on the participant. That allowed cities to build skateparks, post the ordinance, and leave it unattended. If anyone walks up to that facility, they will be entering at their own risk according to the law. It’s there in black and white. Clear as day. At first, a few cities tiptoed into it. By 2001, we started to see the flood start and everybody wanted to get a skatepark.
So helmet or not, it’s written in the law that you are skating at your own risk. The helmet laws don’t really come up at these city skateparks in the U.S.?
It does, as a matter of choice. By law, the city is responsible for posting the rule. It’s up to the participant to follow the rules. They have to post that you have to wear a helmet and elbow pads or kneepads. If you don’t and you get hurt, you didn’t follow the rule. If you’d had your helmet on, you probably wouldn’t have gotten hurt.
The cops in California aren’t really writing tickets to kids if they roll by and see kids in the skatepark with no helmets and pads, right?
Well, sometimes they are, and that’s an issue. In different cities, there are different attitudes towards enforcement. Some cities understand that if they post the rule, they are covered as long as they show some reasonable amount of oversight and enforcement. Some cities choose to enforce it much more strictly than others. In our estimation, that’s counterproductive. There’s this idea that if you don’t wear a helmet, you don’t deserve to use the skatepark. Our opinion is that you should build a skatepark that is professionally designed and safe, and you should want the kids to skate there. The next step is to convince them to wear helmets. Convince them that they will be safer if they do that.
How would you convince a kid to wear a helmet?
The answer is, “Dude, your friends aren’t wearing them, so stand out. Be punk rock. Wear a helmet.” Make it feel like a rebellion. Tell them they can wear a helmet and go to military school. [Laughs] Kids are smart. They’ll figure it out. There’s a fashion thing where you have to look like the guy on the cover of a magazine grinding the rail at the high school. I think you should just skate and do your own thing. Just be smart about it. At Winchester, back in the day, you couldn’t step foot outside the pro shop without your gear on. They just drilled it in you. If you cracked the door open without your helmet on, you were out of the park. There was a whole generation of us where that was engrained. I don’t ride anything higher than knee-high without a helmet on. If I’m the only guy out there with a helmet on, that’s fine, but there’s an evolution happening. I think a lot of younger kids are going through skate clinics or skate camps and they’re wearing helmets within the skateboarding programing that’s going on. They’re getting used to it at a young age, so I think there’s a generation coming up that might be more willing to wear helmets. Today, I see more kids in helmets skating in the streets than I ever saw before. You used to never see that. It’s a personal choice. I’m not going to push that on anyone on a personal level. As an organization, we promote it and it makes sense. The message we send to cities is this: The first priority is to build a good quality skatepark, and give them somewhere safe to skate. It’s inherently safer than them skating in the streets with cars.
Right. You have statistics to back that up.
Yes. The biggest killer of skateboarders is a car. It’s not jumping off roofs or grinding down handrails. It’s cars. So let’s get skateboarders away from cars and build them a skatepark. Once you have the skatepark, you can start to promote helmet use. We provide helmets to the cities, as part of our programming, and Tony obviously promotes helmet use. A lot of cities that have skateparks have this sense of, “Well, we provided this skatepark for the skaters, so now they have to follow our rules, And if they don’t follow our rules, we will restrict their access to it.” What that does is it flip-flops the priorities. We need to make their safety our main concern, which is certainly our position, or you can make enforcement your priority and make sure everyone follows every rule to the “T”. In that case, they should also be sitting on the side of the road with a radar gun and pulling over everyone that’s going over 55 MPH, but they don’t. There’s a certain amount of interpretation and latitude in enforcement and you have to approach it rationally. Unfortunately, they’ll end up going to the skatepark, see everybody skating, and maybe a handful of kids won’t have helmets. So they shut down the park for a week. They say, “That’s your punishment for not wearing helmets. Now everyone else doesn’t get to skate for a week.” So you’re taking them from a safe place where they’re not wearing helmets and you’re putting them out on the streets, and they’re not going to wear helmets in the street, either. Do you think they’re going to go home and twiddle their thumbs for a week? No. They’re going to be out finding a place to skate. So, we have these public parks that lots of people donated money to, and now the kids are out skating in the streets again and in front of the businesses. It’s just a really backwards way to approach it. A lot of our job is to educate the cities and work with the citizen groups, and help with programming and ways to promote safety in the park and to explain all this to the local leaders: Don’t close the parks because that’s just counterproductive and puts the kids at greater risk. I’ve had this discussion with city managers and I’m like, “What’s your priority? You’ve shut down the park as a punitive measure when these kids worked for three years or more to get it built. You don’t have other kids doing that for their basketball court or baseball diamond. These kids stepped up and did this work. Sure, the city put money into it, but the kids did too. That’s something that is an extraordinary effort from kids that young in your community. They show a huge amount of civic engagement and responsibility and participation that you aren’t getting from other youth groups. Now you’re going to turn around and penalize them for something relatively trivial?”
What do they say in response to that?
They say, “Well, the kids need to follow the rules.” I’m like, “Sure. You can be a law enforcer and you can say that, but why don’t you really look at what’s good for the kids? Look at the bigger picture.” Sometimes they will think about it, but most of the time they’re pretty locked into their ideas. A lot of times you’re talking to someone, but you’re not really talking to that person. They’re carrying out someone else’s agenda and you’re not going to convince them. You can only present the information. They have their marching orders and that’s that. It’s definitely an arena that evolves and we try to adapt and improve. Every day we learn new things and we improvise and adapt with it.
I think the whole concept of the Tony Hawk Foundation and what Tony does is so admirable. It’s a lot of work to do and he didn’t have to do that. For you guys to have the character and ability to develop a program like that is mind-blowing. A lot of people need to thank you for putting your knowledge out there for people. It’s not like you’re doing this for money. You’re doing this to educate cities about skateboarding, which they need. Out of no fault of their own, most people just don’t know about skateboarding. What you guys are doing is incredible.
For me, it’s a dream job. When I was a kid, I was standing at the fence at Winchester watching the backhoe rip it to shreds. In the last 13 years, of the 560 skateparks that we have helped to fund, over 80% are complete. It’s been a lot better feeling to see that.
Isn’t it amazing, Miki? In the ‘70s, all those epic skateparks got dozed and we never thought they’d come back. Now that all of these skateparks are here, I can’t really see them getting dozed unless it’s to build a better skatepark. I don’t see where the downfall is going to be. In the ’70s, you could see it because it was all privatized. Now they’re all public.
They have no reason to remove them now because they’re going to be as popular as ever in 10 years or 20 years. In 20 or 30 years, you might want to fix it up a little bit. Two years ago, there was a big furor when Derby Skatepark closed suddenly because they were doing repairs. The city hired a contractor to come in and resurface it. When you talked to the locals, all they saw was a bunch of rebar and stuff. They thought somebody was changing Derby. Okay, it was built in 1977, so it wasn’t perfect, but still, it was Derby. It was what everyone knew it to be. It was cracked and had some flaws and kinks, but it had this character. So, there was this huge uproar and finally they had a meeting and it turns out that the contractor is actually a skater. He was working with Zach Wormhoudt, the skatepark designer, whose dad had built Derby originally, and so everyone calmed down and figured they knew what they were doing. They weren’t really changing it. They were going to make some subtle improvements and keep the essence of it. Now it has a great new surface. That was 34 years after it was built, so that small investment lasted that long and hosted that many generations of skaters. There must have been countless thousands of skaters that came through there, myself included, and enjoyed it. The reason it survived was because there was no upkeep. It was in the back of a public park where it didn’t interfere with anything. It probably went under the radar for several years, and then it got more popular, until it was actually falling apart. It turns out it was actually built without any rebar, so it was just cracking all over as the soil was sinking. It still lasted a long time. It just shows you that if you invest in a public skatepark, it’s going to last that long, at least—if you build it and design it right. You can go to any public skatepark and see that it’s always getting used. There’s no other recreation facility in any town that has that constant amount of use. It’s just a huge value proposition for the cities, and some of them just need to be turned on to that. We want them to be aware that it’s not going to cost that much to build. It’s generally a lot cheaper than any indoor facility they have to build and the ongoing costs are going to be minimal. For all the use it gets, it’s going to be, dollar for dollar, the wisest expense they can make.
Do you see any hot spots in the country where there’s going to be an explosion in skatepark expansion?
I can’t predict any particular regions. In the South there’s been a lag, in terms of more substantial quality concrete projects. We know a lot of the pockets of poverty in this country are down in that region, so we are actively trying to seek out skatepark groups and incubate some others there. We awarded a grant to New Orleans for their new park, and we need to do more work in other parts of the South. It’s happening there, but I don’t necessarily see an explosion, though I really hope to see one.
Texas seems like it’s exploding right now. Houston got its second park that’s twice as big as Arvada that Grindline built. That’s just Houston. It keeps blowing my mind. Every time I go back to Denver, Team Pain is building something else. Part of me gets nervous because it seems too good to be true. How is all this happening? I just wonder when it will fall?
Well, as long as those parks are crowded, it won’t fall. One of the things we look for when we look at an application is the area. We look at the communities that are trying to get a skatepark that don’t have one for 100 miles in any direction. Those kids are isolated, so if we can help educate the group in that town, and get a park going, we can do it right and get it built and show that it’s going to be successful. Then that park is going to draw kids from the whole region and, suddenly, the communities around that town see what’s going on and they’ll want one. If you empower one group, they will turn around and spread that education to other communities, and they will see their success with creating a skatepark and what it can do. That’s what I call the mushrooming effect, where you find that magical location and help get that one done right, and then that one becomes the model and it can spread to the whole region. Suddenly, you see five or six skateparks in that county.
Are you guys restricted to North America or are you looking overseas at any point?
Our grants are restricted to the USA. We have to be able to legally track and make sure that the money is used as we intended, which is for the construction of a public skatepark. If you write checks to organizations abroad, two things happen. First, you have a lot less control and recourse in terms of making sure the money is being used properly. The second thing is that Homeland Security is all over you, so you want to make sure these groups you’re writing checks to aren’t foreign terrorists or some organization looking for a national security loophole. So there are a few things working against us on funding projects abroad. Ultimately, there’s so much need and demand for skateparks within just our country. In terms of our grant dollars, we are committed and focused on the U.S. for those reasons and others. Our technical assistance goes anywhere, though. We focus on America, but we get inquiries from all over the world and we’re happy to share information and tell them what we know.
Do you get any calls from Afghanistan or Iraq or any of the countries that are really embattled right now?
There are military bases all over the world that have skateparks or are looking to create them. It’s super for the people on the base and the kids that live there. That’s exciting because it gives the kids in those communities the opportunity to skate something good. There are a lot of projects in Africa and the Middle East. You mentioned Afghanistan and we have a great relationship with Skateistan (www.skateistan.org) in Kabul. That’s an amazing organization. It shows the power of skateboarding and what one person can do in taking skateboarding to a community in need. The kids there are in a really bad situation, but skateboarding can really be such a positive force in kids’ lives anywhere in the world and in any situation. Skateistan is a great organization that we work with and try to help any way we can. Again, they’re great at what they do. There’s also a park in Uganda (www.ugandaskateboardunion.org) that we helped out a few years back. That’s a great story, too.
Is that Camp Indigo?
No, that’s in South Africa. That’s another skateboarding project that Tony was involved in. The Uganda Skateboard Union was started by this Canadian guy. He and a bunch of the locals went out into the cornfield and built this little concrete halfpipe and it started expanding from there. These kids just started showing up, and it was magic. There are people in Siberia and Australia and all over Europe that we’ve talked to in terms of giving them advice or guidance. We have the Public Skatepark Development Guide (www.publicskateparkguide.org) that we publish and distribute in association with the International Association of Skateboard Companies and Skaters For Public Skateparks. It’s been adapted in French for people in Europe, and in Mandarin for people in China. There is a group in Australia that is adapting the content for government organizations there, so we’re trying to export those resources as well. I think the educational part of what we do is the critical aspect. As long as people know what to do and how to do it, there are so many parents and skaters and supporters that are motivated enough to do it and get other supporters. They’re willing to get out there and do the hard work and get it done. They just need direction, and we give them that. The grants we write are helpful, too. When we started in 2002, the goal was to help get some skateparks built. Then we started seeing what kids were experiencing in the skatepark-building process. Those kids went from getting ticketed and arrested to standing beside the mayor at the grand opening, helping to cut the ribbon on a very significant city project that they’ve helped to create. That’s a very different kid. A few years in, we realized that’s really been the most important part. It’s almost like the skatepark is secondary.
It’s not like you’re just building a skatepark. You’re trying to change the mindset of kids too and give them a place to be themselves and express themselves. You’re creating a work ethic too and teaching them to work with society and the government, which is brilliant.
The lesson we’ve learned is that 16- or 18- or 20-year-olds carry this on through their lives. Once they get the skatepark done, some of these groups remain together as a committee and work on other youth-oriented projects. Because it was successful, they’ve really created a great work ethic and work environment and relationship with the city leaders. It’s awesome to see them empowered like that. There are plenty of them that begin working on a skatepark project and end up going off to college or leaving town before it’s finished. We’ve spoken to some of them and most of them are like, “I appreciate that I was able to help get it created even though I won’t be here to skate it. I know that other generations of skaters will get to enjoy it.” They’re happy just to have been able to be part of the process to make something happen and, ultimately, prove to themselves that they stood up for something they believed and they were correct, and the community did come around and agree and help create a skatepark. It’s the best thing to see the change in those individual lives, plus you get the skateparks, which is awesome too.
You must get an incredible reaction from those kids’ parents? Do you ever have conversations with those kids’ parents where they are thanking you?
Yeah. When we can make it to a grand opening event, people are stoked. When Tony shows up, people are really appreciative. If you look at the list of these projects we’ve supported, some are places that we’d never been or even knew existed before we got involved. It’s not New York City or L.A. or Chicago. It’s Corning, Iowa or Oxford, Mississippi or Athens, Ohio. We certainly learn a lot about those communities throughout the process and we know the need is everywhere. A lot of times these kids just have to go to the city council and say, “The Tony Hawk Foundation is supporting us morally and financially.” It really opens doors. Suddenly, this local ragtag group of advocates has the backing of a national organization in a tangible way, and people start to take them seriously and start writing checks and really get behind it. Hearing stories like that has been really encouraging. It just shows that our model of helping with a lot of projects a little bit versus just showing up and building one or two skateparks a year is working. The way we approach it is that we try to spread out our resources and time and dollars around the country to help other groups that are willing to do the work themselves. We can assist them in the ways they need it and empower them to get it done. Once it is finished, they really have that sense of ownership and the skaters themselves take care of the skatepark. They’re the eyes and ears. They put a halt to the shenanigans, so it doesn’t create problems later on, because they worked so hard for it. We’ve helped fund 560 parks that receive over 4-million visits each year. The numbers wouldn’t be half that if we had decided to just go build a couple skateparks in places where we decided we wanted to do it. I think the model has been successful.
I think it’s 100% successful. You want to help more people, not just a few people. This way you’re teaching more people and in turn those people are teaching more people. It’s brilliant. I just want to thank you for all your hard work, Miki. You’re a skateboarder. You get it. You know we need skateparks built by skateboarders and that’s important too. Thank you and Tony and everyone that works with you for such a great and noble endeavor. It blows me away every time I go out to Pine Ridge. I’m so appreciative that you guys helped those kids out. A skatepark can change a kid’s life. It is just mind-blowing. If you’re not a skater, you could never understand it the way we do.
Each community is different. They all have their idiosyncrasies and local politics. For us, it’s fascinating to learn what they’re each about. We learn about the heart and soul of that community. I think Pine Ridge is a great example of a place that we knew little about, but then we got involved and you really get a much broader sense of who these people are and what their lives are like. For me, it’s so fascinating and enriching, and, at the end of it, there’s a great skatepark.
You went from working with a magazine and taking photos and writing stories and now you’re directly affecting people’s lives with your efforts. You should write a book. I’d read it.
[Laughs] You wonder how a kid with a skateboard and a camera ends up running a non-profit organization. To me, it makes sense. I went from loving skateboarding and having a desire to share it and tell people about it to spending years writing about skateboarding to skateboarders, which is like preaching to the choir. Then I went on to work with ON Video, which was a broader audience, but a different type of storytelling, and basically bragging about how good skateboarding is. In this job, we’re sharing skateboarding with the world, and explaining to non-skateboarders how awesome it is. We’re trying to explain to everyone how important it is and how great it is for a kid to choose skateboarding. To me, it’s fulfilling to see people come to that realization. When we are able to get out to a grand opening, it’s the most amazing thing to just to see those kids’ eyes. It’s like the first time I walked up to Winchester. You see the halfpipe and the mogul run and the washboard and you’re like, “Oh my god.” You’re half terrified and half amazed at what you see in front of you. The big difference is that with the old skateparks, it was just a bad model. It was high overhead and a lot of expense. They were really overburdened unnecessarily. With a public skatepark model, no one owns it. No one is paying rent or insurance. The cities have these huge blanket insurance policies that cover things that are way more dangerous than skateboarding. The insurance policies that the cities have already aren’t even affected by adding on a skatepark. The model we have is so rock solid and airtight that it basically costs nothing to maintain a properly-built skatepark.
Think about it. They’re building 12-foot deep bowls with pool coping and vert and full pipes. That’s gnarly. I still can’t believe it. If you’re not a skateboarder and you look at that stuff, you’re like, “What are they going to do with that?” And the kids are just ripping it.
You know what the great thing is, Jim? You and I have that perspective like, “Wow. Is this really happening?” Kids today have grown up with it, so it’s normal to them. They’re like, “This is my skatepark. I’m going to learn to skate every corner of it. I’m going to skate the street course and all the pools. I’m going to enjoy all of it. When I get sick of it, I’m going to get my mom to drive me to the next town and I’ll skate their park, which is totally different. They just love skateboarding. No one is telling them not to do it. They’re seeing these big massive public facilities known as skateparks that, in my mind, say, “Skateboarders Welcome.” We didn’t have that before, so it’s a different world. That’s encouraging. It’s a world that I get to live in everyday and I am so grateful for it.
[Laughs] I just have to say that I’m super grateful for all that you and Tony are doing. It’s an honor to work with you. Is there anybody that you’d like to thank?
Well, the list is endless. Thanks to mom and dad for supporting my skateboarding all these years. Thanks to John Gould for taking me to Winchester the first time, and Tom Norton for taking care of me at the skate shop, and thanks to Grant Brittain for letting me skate at Del Mar and for being my best man. Thanks to Tony for being an example of the ultimate skateboarder. He’s taken his responsibility by the neck in so many ways and he’s been such a leader in what we can do—not just on a skateboard, but also off it. I’m just proud and happy to work with him in this capacity.
And he’s riding Indy trucks now.
[Laughs] Yeah. Again. He was on the team in ’79, so he’s back on Indy. It’s cool, so now when I need them, I can ask for a pair when I wear mine down, which never happens.
Everything that you guys are doing is such an underlay for so much that’s happening in skateboarding right now. Kids need to know who you are and where you came from and that you skated concrete parks back in the day when they weren’t free. I just think it’s good for kids to get that perspective. Kids are so used to having a skatepark now. They have no idea what it was like back in the day.
That’s awesome because that’s the world we wished we had and wished we lived in. We had a vision in mind and here we are. We’ve reached the mountain.
Now that we’re 50 years old, they’ve finally built everything we want, now that we’re falling apart. [Laughs]
It’s like so many skatepark advocates, once the construction of the parks actually begin, some of the kids that started them are packed up and gone off to college, and they’re not around to enjoy the fruits of their labor. Everyone that works in or around skateboarding is laying a foundation and building for the future. In our case, we’re still skating.
Yeah. It’s just a beautiful world today in skateboarding and we have to thank you guys. A lot of these parks wouldn’t be built without you guys. Great job.
Everybody is doing their part. Thank you guys for your voice. In the past, there have been lots of magazines that have come and gone, and not all of them really contributed much, but Juice is certainly a unique voice and all of us really appreciate that.
Heck yeah, man. I’m a vert skater. We have to cover vert and pool coping.
[Laughs] Yeah. That’s good.
That’s what we’re doing, man. We’re going to get Steve Olson to go get some interviews.
Yes. I love Olson’s stuff. I read every interview he does. He’s so awesome.
Oh yeah. He’s so punk. It’s rad. Mr. Lucky.
Here’s one thing that stokes me out so much: All the heroes that I grew up with, and the guys I looked up to, are still ripping. Ripping!
Who are your heroes? Who did you look up to?
The Bones Brigade, which was Lance, McGill, Cab, Rodney, Tony, and Tommy. All the Santa Cruz guys like Olson, Duane, and Salba… Blender. All those guys are still skating and skating hard. Tony, I don’t think he’s ever skated better than he does now. He just keeps on progressing. He’s still doing it. To see all those guys, when I do see them skate, they do it with such zeal and passion. The style and the stoke is there, and that’s so encouraging to me because I’m younger than all of them—as long as they’re out there doing it, I know I’m in good shape. It’s inspiring. I think the generation before them, a few of them are still skating, like Stacy and Alva.
It’s impressive. What about Chris Miller? He’s still on fire.
Right. For me, it’s inspiring to see those guys and be around them. At this point, a lot of them are friends of mine, so it’s great. It’s a trip. I’m blessed to be where I am and to be able to do what I do on a daily basis, and work with the people I work with. It’s awesome.
You’re living the dream, bro.
Yep. Don’t take it for granted.
You’re killing it.
You guys too. We really appreciate everything you’re doing. You’ll be typing away like a madman. Typing is like my version of hell.
The unsung hero on that one is Terri. She does all of that. She types it all in.
Well, God bless her. Express my thanks because I’ve been there. I know how it works. It’s not glamorous, but it needs to be done.
Yeah. God bless her. I have one last question. Did you have to ride Trackers because you were working at TransWorld?
[Laughs] No, I didn’t. I rode Trackers when I lived in San Jose and everyone else rode Indys. Cab and I were the only two riding Trackers in San Jose. Then I moved to Del Mar and everyone was riding Trackers, so I started riding Gullwings because I got a pair from Jim Goodrich. I rode those for a while and then I started hitting up NHS and getting Indys in the mid to late ‘80s. I was like, “Oh, this is what turning is about.” I’ve been loosey goosey every since.
I’m proud of you. Keep it going, Miki.
Yeah. You have to do your own thing, whatever it is.
You’re a punker. You went to military school. You can do anything you want.
[Laughs] That’s right.
Thank you, Miki.
Thank you, Murf. Take care.
Find out more about the Tony Hawk Foundation at http://tonyhawkfoundation.org/