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WARREN’S WORLD: Orcas Island Skate Park

By Beacon Staff

In the early 1960s in Southern California, the lifeguards were pulling the surfers out of the water at 11 a.m. to protect the swimmers, even if there were no swimmers. The few surfers, who were also skateboarders, were cruising around town on the sidewalks on metal wheels and bravado. It was easy for them to terrorize the shoppers at the mall and the people heading home with a bag of groceries. The police started hassling the skateboarders, and a guerilla war began. Up until that time the surf/skateboarders could only hate the lifeguards for throwing them out of the water, but then they began to hate the police for taking away their sidewalk freedom.

When the plastic skateboard wheel was invented, maneuverability began to be part of the freedom a surfer could get back. About that same time, David Adams of Pyramid Films produced a short film called “Skater Dater” and won an Academy Award for the best short of the year. Skateboarding was growing.

Even with the growth in skateboarding, skateboarders were still being hassled by the local police. “No Skateboarding” signs began to appear everywhere. South of Oceanside someone built a skate park that charged by the hour. It lasted a couple of years, but was done-in by the high cost of their insurance.

Hobie Alter sold more than 200,000 skateboards that were financed by the Sunkist Orange Juice Company, but skateboarders still had no place to ride except illegally on sidewalks and in parking lots.

That has all changed today. Here in t Washington, there seems to be a skate park within an hour’s drive of almost anywhere you live. Five years ago we built one here on our small island, population 4,200 people, and it is ranked the No. 1 skateboard park in Washington and one of the three best parks in the world.

Here is how it all happened. A couple of movers and shakers on the island got behind it and the local superintendent of schools gave us a half acre of surplus land at the high school. The only caveats were that everyone must wear a helmet when riding, and the behavior would be limited by what was allowed in a classroom – no loud music, smoking, or drinking and they must behave with respect.

When we had slowly raised about $65,000, we started interviewing potential builders of our park. When Mark (Monk) Hubbard showed up for his interview, he was still covered in concrete from trowling cement all day. When I asked him where he slept when he was building a park, he said, “In my car, of course. After work, I hustle to the local YMCA and take a shower.” We hired him on the spot. He was my kind of guy.

As we sat at the site for the park the next day, we agreed that if we started digging the hole, the rest of the money we needed would show up. Well, it did. In three months we raised more than $250,000 to build this world class park.

We gave Hubbard strict instructions. They were: “We don’t know a single thing about what a skateboard park should look like when finished. We are too old to ride a skateboard, but there is 22,000 square feet of level land, and we want you build the best park that you can build at this point in your career.”

Along with the money came a lot of volunteer help and free construction equipment. At times, there were as many as 35 people working on the park and only four of them on the payroll. Some of them would drive from as far away as Bellingham and pay to ride the 6 a.m. ferry and trowel concrete all day long. We got a lot of assistance and lots of free materials from Paul Garwood, owner of the Island Hardware store.

As the park was nearing completion, we had a bronze plaque made for the entrance. The plaque quotes Tom Watson, who founded IBM, and says, “There is no limit to the amount of good a person can do, if he doesn’t care who gets the credit.”

There is one slight problem with the park. Some riders consider themselves “professionals” and think that they don’t have to wear helmets, even though they are required by our deed of gift from the superintendant of schools. I don’t want my own tax dollars to go to cover a brain-injured kid who just didn’t bother to follow one simple rule.

Part way through our park’s construction, a toddler wandered into a skateboard park in Australia and was killed when he fell into the bowl. That is why we have a four foot fence around the park. The fire department is most cooperative. When you arrive at the park, you can buy a helmet at the fire station for only $5.

You can camp in nearby Moran State Park for $5a night. So load up your van with camping gear and come on up and ride the best park in Washington. The park only cost $250,000, but we will lend it to you for free.

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