News & Features

Skate Camp Instills Confidence in Whitefish Youth

First-year coach Leland McNamara takes reins of annual camp at Dave Olseth Memorial Skate Park

To the uninitiated, the recent scene at the Dave Olseth Memorial Skatepark in Whitefish may seem like a study in quantum chaos, with dozens of pint-sized skaters cutting concentric circles around the gleaming concrete bowls, zipping past one another in looping lines of cursive.

But to Leland McNamara, it’s just another day at skate camp.

Born and raised in Whitefish, McNamara assumed the mantle of skate camp director this year, taking the reins from longtime coach/director Michael “Spike” Blauvelt, who worked in concert with the city of Whitefish to run the summer program for more than a decade.

With competing obligations, Blauvelt began casting around in search of a successor and found an interested party in McNamara, whose 7-year-old son, Liam, has attended the camp for several years.

Like a lot of beginners, McNamara says Liam was reluctant at first, nervous about falling and lacking confidence, but by the end of his first week the skateboard was just another extremity, an extension of himself. He’s been back every year since.

A professional video producer for top publications like Snowboarder Magazine, McNamara’s spare time increases when the snow melts, so he and Liam spend a lot of time skating together.

“Liam and I were already spending nearly every day at the skate park, so when Spike reached out and asked if I’d be interested in taking over the program to keep it going, I jumped at the chance.”

The month-long camp runs through July, with campers skating every Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. until noon. The first week drew 44 campers, and newcomers can still enroll.

Skaters will learn from seasoned veterans like McNamara, who began skating when he was 12 years old before taking a hiatus in order to pursue snowboarding, riding with some of the valley’s top talent like Andrew Crawford, Travas Johns and Mike Gallo.

“I kind of quit skateboarding for a while, but when Liam’s grandma bought him a skateboard when he was 2, I decided I’d better get back into it and remember how to skate,” he said.

He’s also recruited a half-dozen other area skateboarders, most of them around 13 years old, to assist him with coaching, and campers of all levels of experience and ability can acquire the skills to take them to the next level.

“I noticed a lot of the same kids at the skate park every day, and now they’re helping to run the show,” he said. “The difference between day one and day four is amazing. A lot of these kids have never skated or don’t know how to skate, and by the end of the week I see them progress immensely.”

McNamara said developing a rapport with the parents has also been interesting, especially because it takes an additional degree of trust to drop a child off at a skate park versus a more traditional activity.

“I think it’s tough at first when you’re sending your kid to skate camp. It’s not a playground, and there’s a good chance they’re coming home bumped and bruised. But the confidence it instills is unlike anything else.”

Camp takes place at the skate park named in honor of Dave Olseth, who was an avid Whitefish skateboarder and mountain biker killed in August 2001 when he flipped over a rock wall while bicycling on Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park. He was 30, and his family donated $100,000 to build the park in 2005, a project that cost $325,000

The park has an impressive combination of features, including two pools, a burnside wall, down bars, flat bars, metal rails, down box, pyramid, cradle and stairs. It is located amidst open fields with Big Mountain in the background to the north.

For more information on how to enroll, visit https://recre8mt.campmanagement.com/enroll.

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