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From Boise

Skateboarding in Boise

Published 8 months ago • 12 min read

Earlier this month, the City of Boise held a grand opening for Molenaar Skatepark. It’s the fifth skatepark in Boise, and one of eleven skateparks in the Treasure Valley.

In the past decade, Boise built a massive regional skatepark and a new neighborhood skate spot. We hosted three X-Games qualifiers. And in the next decade, there’s plans to build more. It seems that the city and community are fully on board with skating.

But skateboarding in Boise wasn’t always like this. When skateboards first hit the streets and sidewalks of Boise in the early 1960s, people thought it was just a fad – even a nuisance.

A brief history of skateboarding in Boise

Skateboarding (or "sidewalk surfing” as it was called back then), started in California in the late 50s and by the early 60s it had made its way to Boise.Kids, teens and adults took up the activity and soon people of all ages were skateboarding in streets and parks around Boise.

In May of 1965, Boise City Council passed a skateboarding ordinance, banning skating in the majority of Ann Morrison Park. Then-Park Superintendent Gordon Bowen told the Idaho Statesman, “This area, intended primarily as a place for passive recreation, has been anything but since the invasion of the skateboarders.”

Days after news of the ban broke, about 1,000 skaters from Boise Junior and Senior High Schools and Boise Junior College gathered in the park to peacefully protest the ban. They held their skateboards and handmade signs. The protest clashed with a yearbook signing party from Borah High and cops were called. North Junior High student and skater Fred Roberts told the Statesman, “We just want to be allowed to skate when and wherever it is safe. We can’t use the school playgrounds because it is against the rules.” Then-Boise Police Captain Gus Urresti told the paper that the skate protest was “a whole lot of foolishness” and that cops showed up “to protect the kids who were behaving themselves and acting like adults.”

A series of editorials were submitted to the Statesman, making a case for and against where skateboarding should be allowed.

By the 70s, Boise skateboarders were riding at Americana Skatepark, Ramp Ranch, the “Tidy Bowl” (an abandoned pool on Boise Ave), on homemade ramps, and down parking garages. There was a local skate team sponsored by Budget Tapes and Records. (Read more about this era here, sounds epic.)

And the debate of where to skate waged on.

In 1987, City Council banned skateboarding in 5 areas of downtown Boise. The plan had been to ban skateboarding in 29 blocks of downtown Boise, but about 100 skaters showed up to the city council meeting and a compromise was made.

As the next decade rolled around, “wheels down” and "dismount" zones were being adopted in cities from Boise to LA and the media had taken a sudden interest in skate-related injuries. Skate culture evolved in the early 90s – street skating, skate videos, increasingly difficult tricks, and professional skate teams. And so was true in Boise.

Building a skate scene

Lori Wright and Lori Ambur opened Newt & Harold’s in 1985. Originally it was a new and used sporting goods store, but when Lori and Lori began snowboarding in 1990, they saw an opportunity to open a snowboard-specific store in Boise like George's had done for cycling. Newt & Harold’s quickly incorporated skateboards, as both scenes were growing in tandem locally. For the next 30 years, Newt & Harold’s supported generations of Boise skaters and snowboarders. It was the place to buy gear, hang out, watch skate videos, and be part of the local scene. Newt and Harold’s had skate and snowboard teams and employed hundreds of skaters and snowboarders over the years.

As the skate scene was growing, so was the need for places to skate.

Glenn Rhodes, a former Ada County Highway District commissioner, heard about business owners running off skateboarders from downtown areas. He consulted his 16-year-old neighbor, who took him around to local skate spots and showed him what features skateboarders liked.

In 1992, Rhodes came up with a plan for a multi-use park and persuaded the county and the city to designate a site for people to skate and recreate. A 1.28-acre park site was selected between 15th and 16th streets under the I-184 connector. For the next three years, from 1993-1995, Rhodes worked tirelessly to fundraise, organize, and build the park. He framed the site, poured concrete, installed fencing himself, and coordinated all other construction. The end result was a multi-use park with modular skate features consistent with parks of the time. Over the next 23 years, Boise skaters would use and work on the park, adding ramps, a flat bar, a fun box, a few ledges, and a beloved brick bank.

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"It was kind of a do-it-yourself skatepark," said Lucas Erlebach, a local skater who grew up in Star/Boise and is now co-owner of Push & Pour and Americana Pizza. "Growing up we would go there and just kind of skate around town."

While Rhodes worked on the multi-use park, a group of local skaters worked with the City of Boise to design Fort Boise Skatepark, which opened in 1999. It was the first park in Boise created specifically for skateboarding.

The progress was palpable, but the tension around skateboarding remained. In 1998, City Council went on to ban skateboarding in a 60-block area of downtown Boise.

Skateboarding kinda blew up in the late 90s and into the 00s. It was the debut of the X Games, Tony Hawks’ Pro Skater video game, big brands like Nike and Adidas started sponsoring skaters, and some of the most iconic skate videos dropped (Baker 3, Yeah Right, Mouse, Sorry, Video Daze, etc). In short, skateboarding was popular and becoming more visible to mainstream media.

It was an important time for skateboarding in Boise, too. By this point, conversations about where people should skate had been happening for 40+ years. There were community members and business owners on both sides of the argument, but skate supporters relentlessly worked to advocate for and legitimize skating. Plus, there was a generation of skaters that grew up through it all and were now adults that were working, living, starting families, and (still) skating in Boise.

Paul Whitworth and Greg Coulet, co-owners of Prestige Skateshop, were part of that generation who grew up skating in Boise in the late 80s. They were involved in building Fort Boise in the late 90s and worked at Newt and Harold’s for years. In 2004, Paul and Greg opened Prestige Skateshop. They were inspired by what Lori and Lori had built with Newt & Harold’s and by other local shops like Matt Allen's BBC (Boise Board Company), and wanted to have a shop of their own.

“We were seeing these smaller skate shops and knew that was something we wanted to do. We really respect the Lori's and we just wanted to do it a little different than what they were doing,” said Paul.

Prestige quickly became a pillar within the Boise skate scene.

"In the beginning we worked with this group of kids that were really just so focused and had these big goals," said Paul. "I've always said that we are just kind of like a stage, you know? We just happened to be there for people to do their thing skateboarding, and we would just help them out to do those things."

For 19 years and counting, Prestige has sponsored local skaters, put out skate videos, and created community amongst generations of Boise skateboarders, all while advocating for more skate spots around the valley. And outfitting locals and visitors with decks and gear, of course.

“They have kinda kept the scene alive for the last 19 years – they still are,” said Lucas.

Redesigning Rhodes

Perhaps the most important turning point in Boise skateboarding was the redesign of Rhodes Skatepark. First and foremost, because it became one of the biggest and best skateparks in the Northwest. Second, because it brought Boise’s skate scene and the overall culture to the forefront – and this time it was in a positive light.

In 2005, a crew of local skaters, skate-supporters, and business owners got together to give Rhodes Park a facelift. For more than ten years, the group worked to raise funds and awareness, which eventually led to a generous donation from the The J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation. The support from JKAF and the City allowed for the construction and completion of Rhodes Skatepark in 2016. The project also spawned the formation of the Boise Skateboard Association.

“We always knew that there was this potential for Rhodes to be like what it is now. Having a spot under a bridge is a really coveted thing to have for a skatepark,” said Paul.

The new Rhodes Skatepark covers the same 1.28 acres that was originally designated, but this park was designed by Grindline Skateparks out of Seattle, Washington and in collaboration with local skaters. Rhodes has over 40,000 sq ft of skateable space with all kinds of features like bowls, rails, vert walls, ledges, stairs, hubbas, and red curbs galore. There’s something for beginners to rippers. It’s a top contender for largest skatepark in the Northwest, rivaling Lincoln City's ​Kirtsis Skatepark​. The year after Rhodes was completed, Boise was selected to host the X Games park qualifiers at Rhodes and did so for three years, in 2017, 2018 and 2019.

“[Rhodes] ended up being a game changer. It was such a success. There’s always a ton of kids and people down there. It's really the project that helped us get the momentum to work on these new projects,” said Paul, referring to the new Molennar Skatepark.

Boise’s skate scene

“We have some fantastic skateboarders in Boise right now,” said Paul. He went on to express that in addition to the level of talent in Boise’s skate scene, what’s especially cool about it is that people don’t feel like they have to leave Boise to level up.

“​​For the longest time, Boise didn’t really have that much to offer for skateboarding. Once you got through high school, you had to move somewhere like San Francisco or Portland,” said Paul. “Now it’s really sick here. Everyone’s like, I’m not going anywhere, which is really a different thing. Because for so long it was just like, man, I can’t wait to get out of here.

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Things like Rhodes and Moelnaar undoubtedly help with skateboarder retention, but so do places like Push & Pour, Americana Pizza, and JD’s Bodega – to name a few. All of those businesses are owned and operated by local skaters that grew up here, they employ local skaters, and they do various things to advocate for and support our local skate community.

Skatefort during Treefort Music Fest has grown to be a massive event. In the early days, Skatefort was basically some ramps and stuff setup on Grove Street in front of The Modern. Since Rhodes was redesigned, Skatefort has transformed into a multi-day skating and live music event. DJs and punk bands perform in the middle of the park, while professional and local skateboarders, roller skaters, and scooter kids buzz around in organized chaos.

The momentum of skateboarding in Boise right now is undeniable. But as the Treasure Valley continues to grow and present more needs, challenges, and opportunities, where does skateboarding fit into the mix?

The future of skateboarding in Boise

Everyone that I talked to for this story had the same general consensus about the future of skating in Boise: skateboarding in Boise is pretty rad, and we still need more places to skate.

“If Boise’s trajectory stays on plan for skating, it will be a hub for skateparks in the nation,” said Lucas, noting that Boise's temperament weather makes it easier to maintain skateparks compared to neighboring states like Oregon and Washington that see more rain and snow.

As I mentioned, Boise just got its fifth skatepark – Molenaar. Last year, a skate spot opened in Bowler Park. And in the near future, there's plans to build a ​skate spot in Ivywild Park​ in SE Boise and an "All-Wheelsports Garden" at Expo Idaho in Garden City. Within the parks’ master plans, there’s also ideas for skate dots at Morris Hill Park on the bench and Catalpa Park over in the Collister neighborhood.

Quick vocab note: There's a few different types of skateparks these days. A skate dot is a small informal skate area, usually within a park. A skate spot is a small skatepark, usually 3,000 square feet or smaller, and typically has one or two skate features. A skatepark is bigger, usually over 8,000 square feet, and has multiple skate features. And a regional skatepark is over 20,000 square feet. Ok back to the story.

The Boise Skateboard Association (BSA) is on a mission to get more places to skate in neighborhoods around the valley. The BSA is run by Josh Davis, who owns JDs Bodega and helps organize Skatefort, amongst other things. Paul and Greg from Prestige, Lucas from Push & Pour, Lori Wright from Newt & Harold's and a handful of other cool Boiseans are on the board of directors.

“You have to remember that not everyone is a crazy skateboarder. we have to have the other skateparks for, you know, the little girl or the little boy that wants to learn to skate and not be so intimidated," said Lucas. "I think that's key – having those smaller skateparks and even these neighborhood dots. It's just such a good community builder and just all around character builder.”

Paul and Greg echoed Lucas – the next step for Boise is smaller skate spots in neighborhoods, parks, and even schools.

“I want to see all the neighborhood parks have some kind of skate feature. Even if it’s pretty small. I would love to see that. Just to maintain what’s been happening now and keep things rolling,” said Paul.

Greg brought up Camel’s Back Park as a great place to put a skate spot.

“The median user group [for skateboarding] is maybe like 11 to 17. And in a park like Camel's Back, there’s really nothing for them. It's so unfortunate – there really isn't anything in cities catered towards that age group.” added Greg.

Remember the skater protest in Ann Morrison Park in 1965? What stood out to me most when reading those articles was not the changes over the last 58 years. What caught my attention more was two things that seem to have not changed. One thing that hasnt' changed is how we, as a society, treat teenagers. So often, adults want teenagers to act like adults, when they are fundamentally not adults. The cop responding to that protest in 1965 said that police showed up to "protect the kids acting like adults." We are constantly telling teenagers what they can't do and where they can't be, yet we don't build or create any space for teenagers to just be teenagers.

The other thing that I realized hadn't changed since 1965: skateboarding is still not allowed at schools. Why not? I'm sure it's some liability blah blah, but think about it. If schools had some sort of little skate feature, neighborhood kids would be all over it. It would be where kids could learn to skate without being intimidated, where they could meet other people of different ages and backgrounds. It could be where parents could teach their kids skate. It's safe. Schools are usually smack dab in the middle of a residential area, meaning kids can get there without driving or traveling too far. And, schools are pretty much a ghost town all summer. Why not add some little skate spots to schools?

“To have something for teenage kids to do is really important," said Paul. "Skateparks are kind of like a playground for teenagers – and grown men and women," he added with a smile.

Whether you skate or not, I think it's important to know that Boise's skate community is a key part of Boise's culture, economy, and trajectory. Will Boise become a skateboard mecca? I guess we'll see.

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LOCAL SKATEPARKS

Coming soon:

Skate shops & stuff

Thanks for reading!

With love from Boise,

Marissa

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From Boise

by Marissa Lovell

A weekly newsletter & podcast about what's going on in Boise, Idaho. Every week we share stories about people, places, history, and happenings in Boise.

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