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A new Greeley park showcases skateboarding’s latest trick: community involvement

Taking a cue from skaters across the country, a local skating club convinces Greeley, a previous holdout, to build three skate parks that rival the best in the state.

Shadows begin to stretch across the Centennial Skate Park, 2201 23rd Ave, in Greeley as Tyler Lundstrom, 13, rides through the afternoon. (Josh Polson, Special to The Colorado Sun)
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GREELEY — As soon as the fences went up, Tyler Lundstrom begged his mother, Jessica, to drive by Centennial Park every day so he could check on the progress of a new skate park being built there.

 “I was super excited,” Tyler said. “I still am super excited. It’s just really, really fun, and I can skate to it. I may skate to it every day.”

Since before Tyler was born 13 years ago, Centennial in Greeley had embarrassed itself with two metal ramps that skaters treated with contempt. If skaters did try them, they’d get less than a second of fun before rolling off to the side or landing on the hot surface, which on a sunny day felt like a pancake griddle.

And then, a year ago, Jeff Neal heard the city was putting together a new plan for its parks. 

Neal ran The Refuge, an indoor skate park in downtown Greeley, where he gave kids a place to hang out, skate and maybe learn a little about God. 

He was proud of the wooden palace he’d built, but Neal didn’t like that it was basically the only place to go, save for Peak View, a decent park in far west Greeley. In fact, nearly every week he took a group of kids in buses to other cities around Colorado just so they could experience what it was like to skate outdoors at a good park.

Attitude toward skaters has done a 180

A skater himself, Neal, 45, remembered a time when cities treated skaters like a nuisance, shooing them away with harassment and tickets. Skaters responded with mohawk haircuts, skull stickers and an anti-establishment attitude.

Neal knew times had changed. Many cities, particularly those in Colorado, built elaborate concrete parks because skaters became advocates. 

Tyler Lundstrom, 13, jumps his board over a ramp at Centennial Skate Park in Greeley. (Josh Polson, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Instead of rejecting The Man, they did a 180 and worked with cities. Now Colorado’s nearly 70 parks, such as Arvada Skate Park, with more than 40,000-square-feet of runs and bowls and boulders, are considered some of the best in the country.

Neal liked to gather his skaters in a circle every Friday night for a quick talk about Christ, but the night he heard about Greeley’s park planning session, he talked about public meetings. 

“We have to go,” Neal told them.

“I wanted to show them that this is how you interact with government,” he said. “But I also really wanted a skate park.”

The plan worked. Skaters made up more than 75% of the crowd that gathered to make suggestions about what Greeley should put in its parks.

Andy McRoberts, who runs Greeley’s parks and recreation department, knew the city’s skate parks were, as an official like him would put it, “inadequate.” 

He’d proposed a new park back in 2014. Two years later, a consultant suggested the city build smaller, neighborhood skate parks, rather than a Disneyland, because skaters don’t like regional parks as much as they like individual parks tailored to their needs. 

After seeing that crowd show up, McRoberts knew it was time. 

“We are serving a diverse population in Greeley, and there are kids and adults alike,” McRoberts said. “There are people who don’t want to do the traditional sports. This was a big component of our population that we were missing out on.”

Read more Colorado Sun stories about inspiring Coloradans.

Greeley spent $1.5 million to build three skate parks. Greeley Centennial Skatepark is large enough to be a regional park. Both Peak View Skatepark, near Aims Community College, and 3rd Street Skatepark, in downtown Greeley near The Refuge at 11th Avenue and Third Street, have features, including bowls, stair sets with handrails and ramps, that make them unique and weren’t available in town before.

McRoberts learned at that first meeting that skaters were more than a group of kids who wanted a public place to play. They were a community. 

So as the skaters kept attending meetings to ensure the park would get built, he asked Neal a question: Do you want to help us interview the design firms?

That’s how Tyler got involved.

All Tyler wanted was a skateboard. At age 2.

Tyler had the energy of a puppy, and not just any puppy, but one of those working dogs, like a border collie. His mom, Jessica, and his father, Ben, tried to keep up. 

When he was only 2, Tyler asked if he could have a skateboard. He’d just gotten stitches as the result of one of his shenanigans outdoors, so Jessica said no. She held out until he was 6 and then got him a Shawn White board from Target for Christmas. She figured he would skate for a bit and forget about it. 

Tyler didn’t forget about it. 

Now, seven years later, his room is decorated with about a dozen boards, most won doing tricks or winning races in competitions. He gets free equipment from his sponsor, Mountainside Skate Shop in Manitou Springs. (He sent the store a video of himself skating after he learned about the place from a group of park skaters.) 

Maybe Jessica should have let him skate earlier. “I just didn’t want him to get a concussion,” she said. 

“But I did,” Tyler answered. 

A skate board shows some of the wear and tear put on it over the past months as Tyler Lundstrom, 13, sits for a moment at the Centennial Skatepark. (Josh Polson, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Actually, more than one, even with the helmet he wears, but the sport’s also given him a way to expend all that energy. He was a good basketball player, Jessica said, but she’s never seen him so passionate about anything else but skateboarding. He’s made a lot of friends at The Refuge, and he’s even gone on a few mission trips supervised by Neal. He’s found faith, friends and fun, and, after Neal asked if he wanted to help pick a designer, some sense of community involvement. 

“I mean, why wouldn’t I want to be involved?” Tyler said. 

Different but determined

Convincing a bunch of supposedly anti-social skaters to become community advocates wasn’t as difficult as you might think. Neal said they’re bred for that sort of thing. 

“There’s a lot of pain in this sport,” said Neal, who is still willing to suffer it, even though it hurts more now. “You don’t land a trick the first time. There’s lots and lots of tries, and it hurts when you miss. Skaters are resilient.”

Skating is most often compared to snowboarding, and there are similarities, even in the way both sports became much more accepted after the mainstream initially sneered at them. Like snowboarding, skateboarding has become an Olympic sport. It will make its debut this summer at the Summer Games in Tokyo.

Brett Berardinis, the creator of coskate.com, a site devoted to listing and reviewing all the skate parks in Colorado and a few other states, says snowboarding is easier to learn than skating. And if you disagree, try falling a couple times. 

“You’re falling on concrete,” Berardinis said. “It really takes a lot of courage. It’s really more of a discipline than a sport. It’s so difficult to get good at it. You have to admire the kids who have gotten good at it. When you watch the NFL, you see that same passion, but those are pro athletes making millions. When you go to a skate park, you see kids slamming to the ground, and they’re not getting paid anything.”

There are pro skaters who have made money from the sport. But Berardinis’ point is that there are millions of kids (and adults) who skate because they love it. 

Berardinis started his website because more and more small towns in Colorado were adding skate parks. 

The sun lights Tyler Lundstrom, 13, from behind as he stands over one of sections that often fills with snow at Centennial Skate Park, 2201 23rd Ave, in Greeley. (Josh Polson, Special to The Colorado Sun)

“I think a lot of the little towns realized that people would come if they got a skate park,” Berardinis said. “Now it’s actually something to brag about. It’s become this competitive thing between towns.”

Greeley may have been late to the game, but now the city seems to be more than making up for it.

“We went from having the worst skate park in Colorado,” Neal said, “to arguably the best.”

McRoberts said city staff toured at least five other parks, but credited success of the project to Neal and the kids who went to the meetings and interviewed three design companies to find the right one. 

They picked New Line Skateparks, Tyler said, because it seemed as if the company really wanted their input. It’s almost as if the designer of Greeley’s park could relate to them. 

As it turns out, he could. 

From the board to the breakroom 

Kanten Russell grew up in Southern California, the birthplace of skating as we know it today, but on his way to a pro career he had to deal with many doubts, naysayers and, yes, haters. The first real doubts came from his parents, who didn’t exactly think it was a good idea to quit basketball, a nice, normal sport that he was good enough at to think about playing for a college team. 

“My mother said, ‘The sport that’s illegal everywhere?’” Russell said in a phone interview. 

Tyler Lundstrom, 13, looks up as he rides along the rim of the bowl at Centennial Skate Park. (Josh Polson, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Russell, 45, grew up inspired by surfing the ocean, and by watching skateboarders, including skating pioneer and icon Tony Hawk, swarm over Southern California. But by the time he turned pro, in the early ‘90s, skate parks were closed, neighbors complained until backyard ramps were torn down and his mother was tired of paying tickets he collected skating in forbidden areas such as downtown San Diego.

He turned those tickets into permission slips to hound city officials to give him and his buddies a place to go. 

It took a while, but San Diego’s first public park, Robb Field Skate Park at Ocean Beach, opened, and more followed. 

Those concrete parks helped the sport grow once again but there were other factors, like ESPN’s X-Games and a law that made skaters legally responsible for their own physical safety. And, of course, there was Hawk’s steady reinvention of the image of skateboarding. 

Russell had a hand in that as well, as much for his high-flying jumps and tricks as his ability to fight for his right to skate. 

“I had to advocate for Ocean Beach,” Russell said. “So I get what these kids today are feeling.” 

The guy who designed Ocean Beach, the skate park pioneer Mike McIntyre, was the one who suggested to Russell that he had a career designing skate parks once he was through dominating them. 

Russell took it to heart: He has now worked as a designer for more than 15 years, most recently at New Line. Russell’s name helped seal the deal with Greeley — Tyler and others knew who he was before he interviewed with them. But ultimately, as Tyler said, they favored New Line because Russell wanted to hear from them. 

“That’s imperative,” Russell said. “I’ve had agencies tell me they don’t need to meet with the community skaters, but I get messages from skaters telling me what they want before I even show up in their town to start work. I know what works and doesn’t work, but I have to have that dialogue with them.”

Icy snow makes shoveling difficult for Tyler Lundstrom, 13, as he tries to clear a little more from the Centennial Skatepark in Greeley. (Josh Polson, Special to The Colorado Sun)

A rebellious group tends to chill out when its members believe they are being heard, and that’s the main reason Neal built The Refuge. When a city listens to you and builds a park for you, and then the designer, a former skater, gives you what you want, what have you got to rebel against?

“They would fight you,” Neal said, “but now they don’t have to fight as much anymore. They’re not hearing ‘We don’t want you.’”

That’s why when it snows, you’ll see skaters out at Centennial shoveling the park and cleaning up trash.

That’s perhaps why Neal’s seen more skaters at The Refuge, not fewer, and why he wants to host competitions at Centennial and also clinics for those who want to learn how to skate (and, yes, that includes adults). 

That’s why you’ve got a kid such as Tyler, who was so super excited about the park that he begged his mother to drive by it every day, but chose not to sneak in to try it out ahead of time. 

When the park did open in October, Tyler was one of the first to test it (after Russell skated it), and he was excited about the swimming-pool-like bowls and the lights that shine on the park at night. 

But then, when he saw the larger staircase with a handrail, he shouted for his mother’s attention. 

“Mom!” Tyler yelled. “I asked for that!”