Feel-Good Skateboard News From a Small Ventura County Town

Skateboarding, as a rule, is a young person's sport. It requires a certain limberness, a certain fearlessness, a certain bouncy-ness that most adults do not have. When a fifteen year old diverts from his planned trajectory and hits the pavement, he gets up, brushes himself off and continues on his swooping way. When an adult hits the pavement, he lays there in an oddly twisted manner that quiets even the youngest kids. Sometimes he closes his eyes and lays there a bit longer, grateful he can wiggle his toes and remember his name.

Unless you live and skate in Ventura County, you probably haven't heard of the little town of Piru. Officially, it's an unincorporated community, but we can all learn a little something from the little town of Piru, which two months ago opened its new skate park. It is not the Piru skate park that's big news, although it is big news to the kids now flocking there. There are other public skate parks in Ventura County -- in Ojai, in Camarillo, in Ventura, to name a few. After all, this is Southern California, home and grooming ground to the likes of Jay Adams, Stacy Peralta, Tony Hawk, and Curren Caples.

What's skate news in the town of Piru are the adults.

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Let me take a moment explain. When our two sons were young, they went through a fairly serious skateboard phase. After skating about in our driveway and the street, they ventured out to our local skate parks. They asked that I accompany them, mostly because they couldn't drive. It was an interesting experience, hanging around these skate parks. At first I sat in the car pretending to read or conduct some other adult activity, stealing glances at swooping kids having all the fun. Soon I dropped the boring adult stuff on the seat, got out of the car, and stood by the edge of the park and watched. Often there were other chauffeurs -- er' parents -- standing around watching, too. More often than not, conversations went something like this.

Them: "Amazing, huh?"

Me: "Yea. I don't know how they get right back up like that."

Them: "Crazy tricks. It looks way too dangerous to me."

Me: "Uh-huh."

Them: "All the clacking and noise. I'm sure glad they didn't build it in my backyard. Hey, do you play golf? "

You can see why I went out and bought my own skateboard (and helmet and pads).

It is true, skating has a counter-culture element not averse to giving adult society the rude middle digit (skaters like Jay Adams made a career of it: Jay didn't trust society, and society didn't trust him). I wish it stopped with naughty hand gestures, but sometimes it doesn't. I have been to skate parks where graffiti and trash are everywhere and baby-faced kids waft pot smoke into the air. But I have seen more skaters throw their trash away and spend the day skating instead of crumpling beer cans and smoking dope. But as is the case with so many things, the few steal the attention from the many. So skaters are not always welcome. Honestly, they are often unwelcome.

And this, in my mind, is what makes the adults of Piru so newsworthy. Yes, Piru's skate park was some thirteen years in the making. The first group of teenagers approached Piru's neighborhood council asking for a skate park in 2000. In 2009 another group of kids appeared before the council again. In March of that year the Ventura County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved $450,000 in grants to pay for the design and construction of the park, including the designation of $200,000 in federal funds to put toward the park. Cool. Sure it took time because adults are, well, adults, prone to meetings and discussions and reams of paperwork in the pursuit of federal funds.

The skate park had to be built somewhere and so it was; you can find it near Piru's community center, close to the train station. And here's the very cool part: The neighbors not only acceded to it, they welcomed it -- even some of the neighbors whose homes back right up to the park, which incidentally has lights that often stay on until 9 p.m. One resident, a gentleman who steps through his back gate to watch the skaters skate, told a reporter, "Kids are getting in trouble or not even going outside. This is good for the community and everybody in general." A newspaper columnist dubbed these neighbors, rightly, WIMBYs.

Welcome Into My Backyard.

When I mentioned this new park and its happy welcome to an adult acquaintance, he said, "Sure it's fine now, but the skaters will trash the place. They can't be trusted. The neighbors will be sorry that park was ever built."

Only time will tell, but I don't think he's right.

One thing I do know: I won't be skating at Piru's new park. Our sons are grown and have moved on to other interests, although now and then I hear our garage door go up, followed by the clack of tricks being performed in the driveway.

The sound always makes me smile. For I will never forget my own indoctrination into skateboarding some dozen years ago, not coincidentally about the time the first group of Piru youths requested a park in their hometown. At my suggestion, my young sons and I got to the park very early (skaters are not known to be early risers). Thankfully there was no one there. Whooping, my young sons dropped immediately into the bowl. I skated around the rim again and again, trying to remember what it was like to be ten years old. Finally my sons stopped me.

"Come on Dad. You can do it."

I positioned myself and looked down. Almost straight down.

My sons watched me quietly.

"How come your legs are shaking?" one of them asked.

And so, after waiting long enough to allow the shaking to enter every inch of my body, I pushed out over the edge. I swooped to the bottom and back up to the other side before I even realized what I had done. And a childish joy buzzed through me that I hadn't felt in years. Did I skate like Jay Adams? No. Skateboarding, as a rule, is a young person's sport. Over the ensuing months, skating with my sons in the wee morning hours before anyone showed up, I spent much time on my back, wiggling my toes, happily remembering my name.

One morning we weren't alone. A boy of about 15 wordlessly joined us. Tight-lipped and stoic, with a spread of tattoos down one arm, he skated like Mikhail Baryshnikov, all limberness and grace. I did not. I might as well have been from another planet. Planet stiff and awkward. Dropping into the bowl I fell hard.

The boy skated over and picked up my board.

He looked down at me across our great divide. Ascertaining I was conscious, he held out my board.

"Here," he said.

I had to get up.

I took the board from his hand. My body hurt everywhere.

Maybe this is why he smiled, but I don't think so.

"You can do it," he said. "I know you can. I saw you do it before."

Trust is a two way street.

The adults of Piru understand.

About the Author

Ken McAlpine’s latest book “Together We Jump” was praised by Sunset Magazine as “lyrical, evocative and deeply moving…a luminous American novel.” He is based in Ventura, California.
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