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The rising costs of DIY skateparks

Scottish transplant Div Adams with a frontside air at DIY spot Washington Skatepark in San Diego, Calif. Tadashi Yamaoda

Skateboarding was born from the do-it-yourself ethos. Indeed, the very first skateboards were skates nailed to boards, allegedly by bored surfers when the waves were flat. These days, skateboarder DIY DNA is evolving at a heady pace, especially when it comes to the progression of skater-built terrain.

But it takes more than a favorable genetic disposition to brainstorm, build, and maintain a legitimate DIY skatepark. It takes money.

Ask any of the old or new-guard skaters pitching in to grow and sustain their local renegade skatepark, and they'll concur: concrete isn't cheap.

A full cement truck holds ten cubic yards of concrete mix and runs between $1,200 and $1,500, says Steve Galicia, the chief financial officer of the nonprofit overseeing the Washington Street Skatepark, located beneath an Interstate 5 overpass near downtown San Diego, Calif. About a dozen years ago, when the park first got going, a full cement truck was roughly half that price.

One truckload doesn't make a park -- not even close -- and anyway you split it, concrete costs add up. Same with other crucial materials, such as rebar and form lumber. The trick, says Galicia, is to be resourceful.

On January 7, Washington Street -- commonly referred to by its locals as WSVT -- hosted the third anniversary party of Typical Culture, a DIY online magazine, with all-day fundraisers directly feeding the park kitty. A couple hundred heads showed up to eat, drink, buy raffle tickets for a chance to win donated skate stuff, and check out a best trick contest financed by Gullwing Trucks. Standouts got cash on the spot from a $350 pot; Brandon Perelson took home $20 and a trophy for his fly-out backside boneless against the pillar.

By event's end, says Typical Culture's Zack Dowdy, the park's bank account grew by $750, which will cover a respectable chunk of its ongoing operating costs. Galicia estimates that, depending on fluctuating insurance premiums, WSVT's steady overhead runs between $2,000 and $4,000 annually, including portable toilet rental. The skaters do their own trash hauling.

Fundraisers are fun and do pull down much-need cash flow, agrees Andy Harris, an original builder/skater at Channel Street Skatepark, in San Pedro, Calif. But like Galicia, he knows that location shoots bring in the biggest bucks. It's simple: Let a fast-food chain or clothing company take over the park for a day of catalog or commercial shooting in exchange for a negotiated donation to the skatepark's general fund. It could take three or four band-and-barbecue fundraisers to match that sort of four-digit windfall, says Harris (who would still very much appreciate it if Shaun White and Target kicked down a donation for that day last summer when they took over the skatepark for an advertising shoot).

"It's hard to quantify how much it's really cost us to build and maintain [Channel Street,]" Harris adds, "because so much has come from out of our pockets."

Getting to know local contractors can be a huge help toward cutting costs, says Harris. If companies that deal in building materials know they can drop off surplus dirt, rock, block, brick, rebar, lumber -- even leftover concrete -- at that skatepark under the bridge, they'll be saving money on disposal. It's a win win. The trick, says Harris, it to be ready. "We'd start forming some new section of the park, hoping that somebody would call and say, 'Hey, we got an extra load and we're bringing it down right now!' That worked out beautifully sometimes."

1000 miles north of Channel Street, under the eastern pit of a double-leaf bascule bridge spanning the Willamette River, echoes the Big Bang of the modern-day DIY skatepark movement. Like most of the DIY parks to follow, Portland, Ore.'s Burnside Skatepark was built illicitly on neglected public property. It was only after the skaters proved that they had cleaned up the area and befriended neighboring business owners that city officials endorsed their project.

Burnside was started in 1990, received the city's blessing in 1992, and secured nonprofit status late last year. With two decades of staying power, clearly, Burnside's handlers are doing something right. But that doesn't mean they're not constantly dealing with day-to-day expenses at the 8,000-square-foot park. There's crack repair, for one. "And right now," says longtime local and nonprofit board member Sage Bolyard, "we've got a [porta-potty] problem. People keep burning down our [porta-potties], and the city's over paying for them."

On the bright side, he adds, "we're more organized than ever... with mid-range goals of [putting in] lights and expanding the park or ripping something down to remodel it... and huge goals like creating jobs with a Burnside store."

Financing those dreams comes easier with nonprofit status, says Bolyard, explaining that the board can now apply for grants, and donors can more easily write-off their monetary gifts to the park. Factor in raffles, instructional day camps for kids, maybe even some T-shirt sales, and it all adds up. Adds Jay Meer, Burnside's unofficial art director: "I've had a lot of good luck doing silent auctions, bringing together a lot of artists and photographers and getting them to donate their work."

Meer's one of a handful of Burnside originals who still calls Portland home. He also lived in Seattle, Wash., during the formative years of Marginal Way, a DIY spot started in 2004 that's now about half the size of Burnside. With any project, says Meer, "there's always a learning curve" in all respects, from forming and finishing concrete to raising funds and navigating the bureaucracy. Plus, he adds, "Skaters come and go, some people just can't afford to keep donating their time and money."

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Sometimes doing it the wrong way is the best way to learning the right way.

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--Sage Bolyard

And sometimes, says local skater/build Brice Niebuhr, things just get flat-out lame. Case in point: a few weeks back, somebody stole Marginal Way's brand new generator, an $1,100 investment that powered the park's power tools and welder, plus lit up the dark for Friday night skate sessions. As Niebuhr and crew scour Craigslist and pawn shops in hopes that their generator will surface, they're trying not to let the setback get in the way of park progression, namely that five-foot-tall quarterpipe that they recently built to one day feed lines into new park territory. "Just roll with the punches and keep building," says Niebuhr.

The trick, says Burnside's Bolyard, is not to be afraid of making mistakes. "I just say do it. Make it happen. The only way you're really gonna learn is just by doing it. And sometimes doing it the wrong way is the best way to learning the right way."