by Allison Moore
photography by Matt Wright
A sign posted at the front entrance of the Pioneer Skate Park in La Verne reads: “Skating is a Hazardous Activity. Skate at your own risk.” To La Verne’s local skateboarders and in-line skaters, this sign is an invitation to the sport that many call “extreme.”
“Skating is an art form and a sense of expression,” declares Anthony Leone, 19, from Hacienda Heights, a regular user of Pioneer Park. For skaters like Leone, Pioneer Skate Park is a safe refuge where they can skate freely. Like many cities, La Verne has an ordinance against skating in certain public areas, including streets, sidewalks, pedestrian walkways or parking areas within a shopping center or business district. Skaters may not skate in a manner that creates a “nuisance.” For local skaters, that vastly limits the challenging places in which to perform “the tricks.”
During the early ’80s, facilities such as the Pipeline in Upland existed in which skaters could enjoy challenging elements, without becoming a “nuisance.” Such places sparked the interest of skaters, but many of the original parks no longer exist. Indeed, for the last decade, skating has had a bad reputation. Like many other skaters, Ryan Miller, 20, of Ontario, and an employee of Utility Board Shop in La Verne, experienced the death and re-birth of skating. “Skating was at its peak, then died some time around 1989.” Miller explains, “It just wasn’t popular anymore.”
David Nguyen, 25, from La Mirada, a regular at Pioneer Park, attributes the disappearance of skating to a bad reputation given to the sport. “They were associated with crimes such as tagging and fighting.” He explains that the overall industry was bad. Miller says that skating is making a comeback primarily because of the impact of media events such as the Extreme Games, also known as the X-Games. Despite the exposure that the X-Games have given skating, many skaters do not appreciate their contribution. “It’s all corporation nonsense,” argues Leone. “There’s no such thing as extreme. I’ve been skating before it was extreme.” Other skaters agree. “I call it the ‘Exploitation Games.’ People see that, and they think that is what skateboarding is about, and it is not at all,” says Miller.
For local skaters, the X-Games do not embody what is real for most skaters. The ramps and jumps used during the competitions are not realistic. They feel that it shows viewers a false picture of what skating is all about. “People don’t skate because they want to make money,” adds Miller, “They skate because it is fun. The X-Games pump up the people who do not need to get pumped up,” elaborates Miller. “It loses the root of what it really is.”
In light of the fact that skaters disagree with the promotion that the X-Games have given skating, they agree that they have prompted acknowledgment among the public.
Prior to the opening of Pioneer Park, local skaters had to contend with the law if they wanted to skate within the city limits. “They would harass you for no reason,” claims Fernando Orbea, a resident of La Verne for nine years. He says that many skaters love to do tricks on rails, ledges and gaps between concrete. Unfortunately, these spots are primarily found in places where La Verne prohibits skating, like business and shopping centers. Skaters were desperate for a place in which they could enjoy their sport.
Following the lead of the city of Claremont, La Verne decided to build its own skate park. La Verne’s Youth & Family Action Committee had been encouraging a skate park in La Verne for several years. Liability was an issue that needed to be resolved before the La Verne City Council would support such a facility. The support was there already from the city leaders. “The community recognizes that skating is a legitimate sport, and it’s here to stay,” says Jeff Allred, assistant city manager.
In response to La Verne’s interest, the city of La Verne gained a $135,000 grant from the County of Los Angeles to build Pioneer Park, an 8,085 square feet facility operated in partnership with Bonita High School. Pioneer Park was virtually donated to the city of La Verne with the understanding that city officials would post and regulate the use of safety equipment. “It was an enthusiastically unanimous decision in favor of the park by the City Council, and it continues to be,” proclaims Allred, “It enhances the quality of life for kids, and that’s the objective for us.”
Thirty-eight local La Verne residents responded to flyers and news articles inviting them to help design Pioneer Park. They were given molding clay and graph paper to create what is now considered a premier skate park. “This is one of the better skate parks in the area,” confirms David Nguyen of La Mirada, who skates regularly at Pioneer Park.
Despite the parks popularity, there are some disgruntled skaters reacting to its rules. “You have to wear pads and a helmet, and that kind of sucks,” says Adam Parker, a 14 year-old La Verne resident who spends many weekdays at Pioneer Park. Helmets, elbow pads and kneepads are required for a skater to be permitted to skate at Pioneer Park. Devin Harden, special code enforcement officer, was hired specifically to monitor the skaters’ use of their safety equipment. Harden says he averages one ticket a month. “If they don’t have their equipment on, I’ll warn them,” explains Harden “If I catch them not wearing it again, I base it on attitude. If they give me an attitude about it, then I give them a ticket. The need for protection is attributed to the potentially dangerous tricks performed. While “grinding a rail,” a skater could easily fall from the 3-foot rail.
The average age of skaters ranges greatly from between 10 and 27 years old, but the park is consumed primarily by junior high and high school-aged boys, dressed in baggy pants and T-shirts, wearing skate brands such as “Etnies,” “Emerica,” and “Yes.” Despite the age differences, there is respect among skaters.
Spending late afternoons at Pioneer Park perfecting a back-side 180 degree, Marc Lopez, 24, says that he comes to Pioneer Park after work as a way to relieve stress. He says that he used to skate when he was young, then quit, but started skating again when Pioneer Park opened. “Anybody who skateboards is already a friend of another skater, throughout races and cultures,” explains Miller.
Fellow skaters will often cheer for one another when a particularly difficult trick is performed. “I think the younger kids are awesome.” says Nguyen. “If one of them asks me how to do a trick, I’ll gladly tell him.”
Extreme or not, Pioneer Park is providing skaters with rails, bowls and ramps. Crossing through age and time boundaries, skating, once the rogue sport, has been embraced and legitimized through parks like Pioneer and city councils like La Verne’s.