Secret Skatepark Tour

Words And Photography By Jody Morris

To announce the release of his new game Tony Hawk’s American Wasteland, Tony decided to enlist some of the game’s skaters to descend upon skateparks that were off the beaten path of your average, always-in-the-mags skate spots. The idea was to go to towns that normally don’t get pros dropping by their local park and do just that—roll in unannounced, uninvited, unexpected, and see exactly what happens.The parks chosen for our route were all recipients of grants from the Tony Hawk Foundation. Set up to help build and promote skateparks in low-income areas, the foundation has awarded over one-million dollars for skatepark projects across America.

The tour started in Grant’s Pass, Oregon, which was home to a decent-sized, well-rounded park. Tony, Steve Nesser, and Shawn Stoltz arrived late in the afternoon and were able to skate for an hour or two before sunset. Daewon Song and Mike Vallely fell victim to flight delays and arrived just as dusk settled in. The original plan had been to make our way north first thing in the morning, but Mike and Daewon wanted a chance to skate the Grant’s Pass park. The skaters who had been there the night before had returned with anyone who had believed them. For the next few hours, the surprised locals got to see not only a demo, but also an everyday session at their local park by the biggest names in skateboarding—people they would have never expected to drop by.

A few hours up the I-5 found us in Springfield, Oregon, where it had just rained. Luckily, the sun soon reappeared and made quick work of the wet ground, allowing everyone to do what they’d come for: barge the park. About six kids were hanging out when we arrived, none of whom had cell phones. The locals slowly trickled in and seemed content with getting to skate the park with the guys, apparently not feeling the need to call anyone to brag about their being in the proximity of their skateboarding heroes. Being on the I-5, Springfield has gotten to see a number of pros drop in on their way to Portland and other points north. People were excited to see them roll through, but it was nothing compared to the absolute shock waiting around the bend.

EXERCISING THE RIGHT TO BE AN A-HOLE

We flew out of Portland first thing the next morning, had a layover in Salt Lake City where we picked up Ryan Sheckler, and headed on to Helena, Montana. From there, we made the hour or so drive to Great Falls. Great Falls is a town that recognized the need for a local skatepark and made it happen with great results. The park there seemed as though it was built in Oregon and shipped over. They created a beautiful spot where kids can stay out of trouble, learn at their own pace, and enjoy life in their hometown. For the area’s law enforcement, this should be a dream come true. But since their crime rate appears that since crime is already low, the PD instead spends its time ticketing kids for not wearing helmets. While the practice is commonplace in most locales that require it, the overzealousness of the local police was made readily apparent after about 45 minutes of skating the park. A police car arrived, and the officer immediately grabbed two kids and put them in the car for not wearing helmets. Three more cars, which judging by the size of the town must have been the entire force, arrived to aid in rounding up the criminals. Parents, skaters, and the local newspaper were all shocked to hear the officers threaten to mace ten- and twelve-year-old kids, who up until then, were having what was probably the highlight of their year. What was a great surprise and some of the most astounding excitement the town has ever seen was quickly ground to a halt and extinguished by a few guys with chips on their shoulders and badges on their chests.

TONY PLAYS PRINCIPAL

The next day was the first day of school in Helena, and to do things a little differently, Tony set up a surprise with the principal of the local high scchool. For the last hour of school, they were subjected to safety videos that were all made long before most of us were born. This incredible dose of boredom was followed by a five-minute speech on the importance of wearing a helmet—all done over the intercom for the whole school to hear. When the speech ended with “and my name is Tony Hawk, the school erupted in screams of shock—this was amplified many times over when the school doors opened and a few hundred people flooded the nearby park to witness the talents of those they had never before seen in real life, much less expected to end up on their doorstep unannounced.

PHIL’S GOT US!

Our next stop was Fort Wayne, Indiana, but first we picked up Bam on a layover stop. While Bam sounds like an incredibly valuable piece to this puzzle, before we picked him up, we picked up something even more valuable. While walking to grab a seat in the waiting lounge, Mike V stepped on a credit card that turned out to be Bam’s—his dad’s, actually. They still have no clue, but the second half of the tour was paid for by that roly-poly gentleman we all love and adore, Phil Margera. Thank you, Phil.

We boarded our final connection to Fort Wayne, where we were joined by Bob Burnquist. On our way to dinner that night, someone must have alerted the paparazzi, because at the next spot the following day, there were about 50 people awaiting our arrival. That 50 used the now-proven cell-phone alert system to grow to in excess of 1,000 people by the time it was said and done. Skating the park was reduced to navigating a sea of people who only kept crowding closer in an effort to see.

Through Mike V’s travels, he meets all kinds of people—one of those people was John Cougar Mellencamp. With his two kids being skaters themselves, he decided to hop on a helicopter and pay us a visit. For all the kids who were psyched to get to meet Bam or Tony, there were as many of their parents reduced to children by the appearance of the man who now goes by, simply, John Mellencamp.

One of the parks we hit was an exclusion from the Hawk Foundation-related parks—it was the Black Pearl Skatepark in Grand Cayman Island. At 62-thousand square feet, the Black Pearl is one of the largest skateparks in the world, and at three in the afternoon on a Friday, entirely empty. Two days is nowhere near enough time to spend in the Cayman Islands—crystal clear water and one incredible skatepark make this a skate-vacation mecca. However, after a short but thoroughly enjoyed island retreat, we headed to the final stop of Athens, Georgia.

As a launch for the new video game, Tony made the last demo an announced one. Several thousand people were on-hand to see everyone skate the park and the vert ramp brought in for the occasion. Lincoln Ueda, Jason Ellis, and Kevin Staab joined us for the last demo as well.

It’s rare that someone can wander down to their local park and run into a pro that they had only seen in videos—not going to a demo that you knew was coming for weeks, but a regular day at the park, a regular day except that a random Jeep pulls into the parking lot and six guys you never thought you’d see at your park, let alone together, get out and skate with you.