Make America skate again: Lake Tahoe has a long history of skateboarding
Special to the Sun
Lake Tahoe is a nucleus of progression. Athletes from all over the world come here to train and compete in their unique disciplines.
And with the region being home to some of the biggest names from the winter Olympics like Maddie Bowman, Shannon Bahrke, Travis Ganong, Julia Mancuso and Jamie Anderson, the inclusion of skateboarding in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics may put Tahoe athletes in the summer spotlight as well.
With so many opportunities for collaboration, snowboarding and skateboarding have been entwined in Lake Tahoe’s vibrant action sports scene from the start.
“People back in the ’70s were coming up to Tahoe and bringing their skateboards,” said Chuck Vogt, owner of Tahoe Board Company. “So, skateboarding in Tahoe really goes back to the beginning of skateboards in the ’70s. There were no ramps and parks, so all people did was carve on those little banana boards and ride them down the hills. Tahoe has been a mecca for the whole attitude of skateboarding.”
And it was not long after skateboarders started coming to Tahoe that snowboarding grew in popularity.
“It’s all standing sideways,” Vogt said. “It all came from surfing.”
Ramping up a revolution
In 1982, Michael Chantry built the Mile High Ramp in Tahoe City, which became skateboarding central for Lake Tahoe. He told Tahoe Magazine that he built the ramp because he wanted a vert structure to skate, and so his crew would have a good place to hang out.
“It became legendary after I invited Steve Caballero and some NorCal pros to come skate in August ’82,” Chantry recalls. “And Thrasher mag sent a crew to cover it. Pictures of my ramp with legendary skaters started showing up in all the skate mags.”
He hosted a skateboarding competition called “Terror in Tahoe” there in 1984 and 1985 that drew professional skateboarders from across the state. However, the ’85 contest also attracted the attention of Chantry’s neighbors, and the county shut the ramp down — Chantry dismantled it in July 1985.
“The nice thing about that was my huge ramp became part of three North Tahoe mini-ramps for many years after the demise of Mile High,” Chantry says. “The ramp at its height of popularity was known worldwide.”
Prior to the Terror in Tahoe competitions, Chantry met Tom Sims — who had won the 1975 World Skateboarding Championships, and then started the Sims Skateboards company in 1976 — with the goal of creating the world’s first surf, skate, and snowboard brand.
In 1983, Chantry took Sims and Terry Kidwell to the trash dump in Tahoe City to see a ditch that created a snow-covered quarter pipe. Sims took this idea and built the first halfpipe at that year’s World Snowboarding Championships, which was held at Soda Springs Ski Bowl near Donner Summit. Sims bested Jake Burton for the title of World Snowboarding Champion that year.
In 1985, Thrasher magazine covered the World Championships at Soda Springs, giving the skateboarders even more exposure to this new kind of sideways sliding. A short time later, one of the first terrain parks in North America was built at nearby Boreal Mountain Resort. The resort’s Jibassic Park attracted a lot of skateboarders, who were excelling in snowboarding.
“Snowboarding and skateboarding both originated in California, and with that, Boreal was kind of the epicenter of snowboarding back in the day,” Tucker Norred, communications manager for Boreal, said in an interview with Tahoe Magazine. “One of our buildings here was actually an indoor skate bowl. They held a couple skate contests here in the parking lot where they would skate one day and snowboard the next day.”
‘Tahoe had the right vibe’
While many of snowboarding’s early styles and tricks were taken from skateboarding, by the mid-1990s the progression of snowboarding was pushing skateboarders to go bigger and spin faster. As athletes who excelled in both sports gained notoriety, and cities around the country started looking at ways to safely encourage these popular sports. Tahoe was no exception.
South Lake Tahoe built the Bijou Skatepark in 1995, and it opened in August of 1996. The city partnered with a group of volunteer skateboard enthusiasts and created a task force to lead the project. No city funding was used for the construction, staffing, or maintenance and operation of the park.
“In the 1990s, skateboarding was gaining in popularity, and skaters were often using urban areas, parks, and public spaces for their sport indicating a need for a skateboard specific park,” said Lauren Thomaselli, the city of South Lake Tahoe’s recreation superintendent. “The city wanted to get the skaters off the streets and into a safe environment where they could progress in their sport. Local skateboarders approached (us) with a desire to organize an effort to bring a skate park to South Lake Tahoe, and the park became a reality.”
In the late ’90s, similar parks were also built in both Incline Village and Truckee, bringing together skateboarders and snowboarders from all across the region.
“Then the Truckee park went in, and it accumulated — everyone was riding longboards down the hills and shortboards in the skateparks,” Vogt recalled. “Tahoe really became an epicenter. Tahoe had the right vibe here with influence of snowboarding and skiing.”
While skateboard parks were opening up around Tahoe, the Strawberry Lodge in Kyburz (located near Sierra-at-Tahoe ski resort south of Lake Tahoe) became a popular bowl for skateboarding in 2000. Randy Katen and Michael Chantry found out the lodge’s pool was empty, and they, along with Heckler Magazine co-founder John Baccigaluppi, worked with property owner Rich Mitchell to turn the bowl into a legitimate skate spot.
“The owner seemed to be cool with us cleaning it out and skateboarding,” said Katen, who is part of the N-men, a group formed around skateboarding in Northern California. “After about a year of doing that, Mike and I decided to break off the rock lip they had on it, and we hired a pool skate park builder from Oregon to come down and pour more of a dowel type pool coping, and we were open to donations that summer where people paid like $5 to skate.”
The first contest was held there in 2001, and was attended by about 500 people. That first year, the pool was shredded by well-known skaters, such as Dave Reul, Jimmy the Greek, Brian Patch, Sam Cunningham, Jason Case, Bryce Kanights, Marcus Doran, Jonny Manak, Chris Senn, Sean O’Laughlin, Davoud, Ari Evan Gold, and Katen himself.
“People came from all over to skate because this was really before we had a bazillion skate parks in the state,” Katen said. “Eventually, we got involved with Don Bostick and we had some contests with Red Bull sponsoring us; we had bands, and it got to the point we actually had to hire police to police the gig because it was so big.”
In 2004, a new points system was added to World Cup Skateboarding to include Concrete Bowl Skating. Events were held at pools around the world, including the Strawberry Bowl. Unfortunately, that year the contest got a bit out of hand, and the lodge was sold to a new owner.
“The little town of Strawberry said, ‘No more skateboarders,’” Katen recalls. “A lot of things that are great and part of history aren’t permanently.”
Skating with the pros
As skateboarding and snowboarding grew together, so did the opportunities for collaboration, and Tahoe-Truckee was positioned to showcase both sports. In 2015, Mountain Dew partnered with Snow Park Technologies to create the SuperSnake at Sierra-At-Tahoe so skateboarders and snowboarders could ride alongside each other for the first time ever.
The short film “SuperSnake” chronicles the 14-day build for the course, as well as the event itself, which features professional skateboarder Sean Malto and Olympic snowboarder Danny Davis alongside nearly a dozen other notable action sports athletes, including Jeremy Jones, Scotty Lago, Trever Colden and Chris Colbourn. The 1,075-foot skate snake run included 24 combined skate and snow features, such as jibs, hips, quarter pipes, volcanoes and more.
“I never thought I’d ever be skating on a course on snow,” said Malto. “The coolest part was skating a snake run on top of snow and having the insane views of the mountains. Being able to skateboard alongside the legendary Danny Davis snowboarding was an experience I’ll never forget.”
Being able to ride alongside the pros is a dream of many. Built at Boreal in 2012, Woodward Tahoe gives young athletes that opportunity. During the summer months, Woodward hosts at least one major pro per week in each sport.
“The pros are here to not only show off but push the level of what kids are capable of by encouraging them and skateboarding with them,” Norred said. “Some of these people are going to be Olympic hopefuls.”
Woodward’s philosophy is based on progression and taking kids from level one all the way to going pro. It operates eight weeks of coed residential summer camp for youth age 7-19, plus one week specially designed for adults. Woodward also operates a full fall and winter program, giving visitors the opportunity to develop their skills year-round with their experienced coaching staff.
“Introducing new people to the sport is always important to keeping a sport growing, and also we have the top-tier Olympians training here,” Norred said. “Mostly the snowboarders at the moment, but we continue to expand our facilities because skateboarding is one of our largest camps here at Woodward and we see that skateboarders are coming here more frequently.”
The Bunker is billed as “the central hub” of the Woodward campus. It features a concrete skate park that is the brain child of legendary builder Nate Wessel, of California Skateparks. The 15,000-square-foot park, filled with transition options and plenty of street features, including three portable rails and the Red Bull wall ride.
In 2014, Woodward Tahoe debuted the outdoor Evergreen Bowl, a three-pocket combo skate bowl with super smooth walls and an 8-foot deep pocket. Two years later, Woodward further expanded with the creation of the Sierra Skatepark.
“It’s one of the most unique skate parks that I’ve ever seen built because it has a Sierra theme to it, and a lot of the rails and other features in the park are shaped like trees and rocks,” Norred said.
While the pros are encouraging the kids at Woodward to progress, the camp’s founder is shaping the progression of the sport. Gary Ream, president of Camp Woodward and the International Skateboarding Federation, was among those who pushed for skateboarding to be included in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. He is also serving as chairman of the Tokyo 2020 Skateboarding Commission, helping guide what those Olympic events will look like.
“Boreal has so much history with skateboarding and snowboarding,” Norred said. “And Woodward is playing a huge role in the future of the sport.”
Funding future expansion opportunities
Without the backing of a major company like Woodward, Vogt said it can be hard to get local approvals and funding to build or revamp a skateboard park, but there are a number of people laying the foundation at Tahoe-Truckee for just that. With the popularity and growth of the sport, the existing skate park in Truckee has become increasingly crowded.
In 2015, a group of local skateboarders spearheaded the effort to expand the park to four times its current size. The Truckee-Donner Recreation & Park District Board of Directors unanimously OK’d the Rocker Memorial Skatepark project in May of that year, and fundraising efforts continue toward the $500,000 build costs.
The new park will be named in memory of Steve “Rocker” Anderson, an avid skateboarder and snowboarder who died in an avalanche on Donner Summit Dec. 24, 2012.
Truckee nonprofit CharitySmith is processing the funds raised and helping to identify individuals and organizations from which to garner support.
The new park would be built in two phases if it gets the necessary environmental and agency approvals. The existing 7,000-square-foot skatepark will remain open after the new one is built, and will serve as a resource to help beginners get into the sport and help spread out the crowds. It’s possible the expansion could bring a World Cup Skateboarding event back to the Tahoe region.
Meanwhile, on Lake Tahoe’s South Shore, Shon Baughman has been trying to keep the skate scene rolling.
In 2011, he created Tahoe’s only indoor skateboard park at 867 Eloise Ave. in South Lake Tahoe, called Skatehouse Skate Park.
For the first three years, the park was a collection of street-inspired ramps and rails, but in 2013, Baughman saw the need to change things up.
After toiling for three months alongside fellow skateboarders and friends like Javier Sequoia, Baughman opened a new oblong bowl in January 2014. The bowl features concrete pool coping on its taller end, two hips and an offset corner. The depth of the bowl — which was inspired by San Francisco’s Potero del Sol skate park — varies from 6 to 8.5 feet deep.
To help support the Skatehouse, Baughman has held a competition called El Bowlritto the past three years, featuring hundreds of skateboarders and spectators. The contest, retail sales and entry fees only cover part of the Skatehouse’s operational costs for the year, so Mike Underwood recently started a GoFundMe campaign to keep the Skatehouse open.
“We are only asking for what small amount you can afford to help us keep this amazing skate spot open and accessible to whoever wants to skate and enjoy this incredible bowl in the mountains of the Sierra,” the page states. “Shon and his crew work daily as volunteers to give Tahoe a dry place to skate every winter.”
While the Skatehouse remains the only dry place to skateboard on the south shore in the winter, Bijou Community Park has been growing in popularity during the summer, and the city is considering updating the master plan to expand and improve all amenities in the park.
Thomaselli says there are many opportunities around the Tahoe Basin for aspiring athletes to train and pursue Olympic level competition.
“We have already seen several local athletes succeed at this level in snowboarding and skiing,” she said.
“Our snow sports environment easily crosses over to skateboarding to inspire young athletes to grow and be challenged all year-round. Having access to progressive skateboard features in South Lake Tahoe will certainly provide great opportunities for athletes to push themselves to the next level.”