Skate Nation

Colorado's becoming a mecca for skateboarders. But for the best parks, you'd better head for the hills.

Rolingher says that while he holds skater-owned companies in high esteem, "cities pretty much have their hands tied." The Louisville skatepark should be finished this November.

Smaller towns often spend much less than their larger counterparts on skateparks that are just as good, if not better, than those in big cities. In part, this is because land is cheaper in rural areas, but it's also because the towns are able to streamline the process and reduce the number of players involved. "If you're contracting out both an architect and a builder, you're paying for both of them to manage each other and deal with each other," Hildebrand says. By doing both the design and the construction, Grindline is not only able to build a project faster, but the company can also absorb many of the administrative costs that suck up a city's resources.

Cost was one reason Trinidad chose Grindline over two local landscape-architecture firms, even though the skater-owned company still seemed like a gamble. "In a small, economically depressed town, $250,000 is not an easy number," says Karl Gabrielson, Trinidad's planning director. "Whereas in metro Denver, $250,000 is a drop in the bucket."

Designs on Denver: Architerra Group principals Dean 
Pearson (right) and Mike Taylor involve 
skateboarders in the planning process .
Tony Gallagher
Designs on Denver: Architerra Group principals Dean Pearson (right) and Mike Taylor involve skateboarders in the planning process .
In Elizabeth today, the skateboarders are only griping.
In Elizabeth today, the skateboarders are only griping.

Breaking into the Colorado market was important for Hubbard, and it was crucial that Grindline make a big splash with its first job in the state. As in many of the small towns where Hubbard builds, Trinidad was able to get materials like concrete and rebar donated by community businesses. Hubbard took those savings and put them back into the skatepark, adding numerous features. By the time the facility was completed in early 2003, it had expanded to 14,000 square feet, twice its originally planned size. "Every single park we've ever done has been bigger than the plans," Hubbard says.

Up in Carbondale, parks-and-rec director Jeff Jackel knew he was going to have to come up with something good when local skaters successfully lobbied for a new skatepark. After all, nearby Aspen's Team Pain-built skatepark was considered one of the best in the state. Then Jackel saw a thank-you letter that Joseph Reorda, the mayor of Trinidad, had sent to Grindline, in which he noted that the southern Colorado city -- whose primary claim to fame in recent years has been as the "Sex Change Capitol of the World" -- had suddenly become a destination for skaters from as far away as Maine and Florida. "For a city with a population of 10,000, we are impressed with the results," Reorda wrote.

"We recognized real fast that this is technical, specialized work, and you don't want to go with general concrete contractors that think they can do this," Jackel says of his decision to choose Grindline. Hubbard held a workshop with local skaters and within two weeks had completed the design for the 7,500-square-foot park. Jackel managed to get the excavation equipment donated, and then Hubbard's crew -- intentionally or not -- yanked up 5,500 square feet past what was planned, pushing Carbondale over its $150,000 budget. Instead of filling in the hole, however, Jackel rounded up another $60,000 from the town trustees, allowing Grindline to bust out a 13,000-square-foot park and the epic concrete capsule.

"I think this has been one of the best things to happen to this town," says Jackel, who's already working with Grindline on a 7,500-square-foot expansion.

Creating Carbondale's curved transitions called for a sculptor as much as it did a construction worker. After the dirt walls were repacked into a general outline and painstakingly blanketed with a web of rebar, the six-person crew employed the shotcrete system -- a highly specialized technique most often seen in swimming-pool construction -- to spray an extremely dense mix from a pressurized hose onto the vertical walls. Then, using trowels attached to long poles, the crew quickly cut and smoothed the fast-drying concrete with perfect accuracy: no lumps, no bulges, no seams.

One advantage to being the designers, the builders and the actual skateboarders is that they're able to make quick changes in the field. "You just can't design a perfect park on paper," Hubbard says. And there's no test or template that a normal concrete contractor can use to tell if a section has been poured the right way. Instead, with each scrape of the trowel, the skater/crew members think of their wheels rolling through a corner, their tails popping up an embankment -- or their faces skidding down it if a pyramid is designed too steeply.

Hubbard knows that Grindline skateparks are difficult. That's by design. Rather than building for the beginner kid still trying to ride down the driveway, he keeps the highest common denominator in mind: older, expert skaters. Like manifest destiny for skateboarders, he sees concrete monuments like Carbondale's studding the great bulge of America, a rolling network of gnarliness. He envisions skaters traveling from city to city, paying homage to the distinctive twists and turns of each skatepark. A "skate nation," built by skateboarders, for skateboarders.

But even Grindline has its detractors. Sean Robinson, co-owner of Denver's Emage Skateshop, has two primary criticisms of its skateparks: They're too extreme for the average skater and they don't include enough street elements.

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