Kevin Harris sat in his house thinking about thousands of nails, hundreds of sheets of wood, and the compound smell of seven years of stale sweat, and it almost made him cry. The professional skateboarder and owner of the successful Ultimate Skateboard Distribution felt like a failure. “I couldn’t bring myself to go to the (Richmond Skate) Ranch,” he says of that day in 1993 when he closed his infamous skatepark after seven years. Even though he’d continuously lost money by keeping the Vancouver park open, he felt he owed it to the skateboard community.
“Without the Ranch,” Colin McKay says, “I don’t think my career would have happened.” But the closing of the Ranch went with a collective shrug to most skaters in the area, even the vert dogs who had no other place to skate. Like bratty teenagers, they took the Ranch for granted. “We honestly thought Kevin was running the park to make money,” Colin says, laughing at his ignorance.
Four years later, Kevin was watching the Slam City Jam contest and bumped into Jerry McKay, Colin’s dad. A successful businessman with an easy smile, he saw past the homemade haircuts and scabs and appreciated the creativity and camaraderie of the skate world. He often drove Colin to the Ranch and was the sole skate parent who had a relationship with the locals and employees. He understood what the Ranch provided more than most of the skaters.
At Slam City, Jerry and Kevin casually discussed the vacuum left in the Vancouver skate scene after the Ranch’s closure. As two successful entrepreneurs, they began spitballing about opening a new park but realized the number of obstacles before them were staggering. Still, if either stumbled across an ideal location, they promised to call the other. “Through the years, Kevin has been good to Colin,” Jerry says, “and I couldn’t think of anybody else I’d trust (to open a park with).”
Six years later, mid 2003, they stood in an empty world-class sporting facility. An ex-NBA Vancouver Grizzlies training center, the cavernous gymnasium had ceilings that stretched 26 feet, pristine locker rooms and showers, and ample room for a street course, a vert ramp as big as Colin wanted, and mini ramps galore. But after their first meeting with the owner, Kevin thought the deal was dead. The rent, while appropriate for the area, was far too expensive. Kevin and Jerry each credit the other for finally securing the old Grizzlies facility. “It was a fortunate mix,” Jerry says, “I had the business experience and Kevin had the passion.”
Their enthusiasm even turned the 50ish landlord into a convert. “Without Brent Kerr, this would absolutely not be possible,” Colin says. Sitting on prime real estate, Brent hacked away at the lease price until everybody was happy. He even flew down to California just to see an indoor skatepark. Today he walks around in DC shoes.
Brent respected what Jerry and Kevin had accomplished. Ultimate Distribution is hugely successful, while Jerry, Colin, and Vancouver pros Rob “Sluggo” Boyce and Moses Itkonen have built their RDS brand into an international skate powerhouse as well as operating Centre Distribution. They agreed to split between the two distribution companies whatever was necessary to create the best park possible. Kevin had no idea if it would cost a hundred-thousand or a million dollars and didn’t care, because he felt like a kid who’d just won the lottery. He was going to build his dream skatepark with his friends.
They had all sessioned the new strain of private skateparks located in malls but felt they lacked that intimate feeling of the Ranch. “I wanted to create a place where kids could grow up, like a clubhouse for best friends,” Kevin says, “but we knew we had to bring it out of the industrial area and into that Starbucks mentality.”
To be honest, the Ranch always looked like a bit of a dump, but through skater’s eyes, it was Eden. Swept into the corner of the city, surrounnded by desolate industrial buildings, it was a low-rent facility that announced in appearance, smell, sound, and attitude that it was an exclusive clubhouse. Few interlopers ever wandered in. Everything looked second-hand, even the people. “Basically,” Colin says, “it was a back alley place.”
Once the ex-Grizzly’s TF deal was sealed, Sluggo, Moses, and Colin designed their dream ramps and obstacles. Even though everybody involved would be considered wealthy, they all dedicated their days to the park, trusting nobody else with their baby. “I think Moses had a cot under the ramps,” Colin jokes. “He was there every day,” Kevin says. “One day I saw him lining up transitions to make sure they were an exact match.” Sluggo and Moses painted until two in the morning one night. Old Ranch locals like John Remondo came in after work to hammer and saw for free just to be a part of the process.
With no budget in mind, the gang took the perspective of a skater walking through the door--what would he or she want to see--rather than a moneymaking angle. Every skate surface is layered with Skatelite, which can cost ten times as much as Masonite. There’s not a piece of cheap wood in the park. Even the plywood used for framing is high-grade. Moses developed a way to cut the ramps into the cement floor so there are no bumps. Colin insisted on three layers of plywood on the monster 64-foot vert ramp to prevent kinks. “It’s the most solid ramp I haven’t skated,” he says dryly. (He’s almost finished rehabbing from his seventh shoulder surgery.)
Helmets are mandatory when skating, but the vert ramp is the only place in the park where you have to wear full pads. “We don’t rent pads,” Colin says. A helmet will cost you two bucks a day, but pad rentals are complimentary. “If you want to skate vert, we’ll loan you pads. We don’t want to discourage kids from trying the ramp in any way.” Kevin recently noticed that the vert deck was the most crowded part of the park.
There are a number of ways to keep any sort of discouragement to a minimum. Tiny kid sessions are available, and helmet rental prices were halved when the owners felt that four dollars was too expensive. The price for a month of unlimited skating is the same as it was at the Ranch, a blue-light special--50 bucks.
By the time the vending machines were plugged in and an unadvertised soft opening happened, Kevin, Colin, Sluggo, Moses, and Jerry had dropped almost 700,000 dollars. “I’m not sitting here thinking I’m going to make my money back,” Colin says. They even opened an RDS shop in the building and 100 percent of the profits go into keeping the park running. But they aren’t prepared to subsidize a skater’s paradise forever. “It’s going to take the support of the entire Vancouver skate scene to keep this park open,” Colin says.
“I don’t think we’ll ever see our money back,” Kevin says, apparently happy with his purchase. “It was as if I walked right out of the old Ranch and into a new and improved one.”
“If we can create that feeling that I had at the Ranch for a group of kids,” Colin says, “that’s worth (around) half a million dollars.”
Along the way, the RDS Skatepark also gathered that Ranch intimacy. You have to skate in order to work at the RDS park, an amateur contest series is being organized, a museum display is planned, Kevin mentioned maybe a little ‘zine--ideas are constantly overflowing. They’re also preparing to bring up major pros to skate for a week at a time instead of planning formal demos.
They also discovered an unplanned mascot. Colin, Sluggo, and Moses can’t believe their almost-40-year-old partner’s enthusiasm. “Kevin opens the place up, and he closes the place,” Colin says. “He’s probably mopping the place right now. It’s an inside joke--’What did Kevin do for those ten years without a park?'”