Underscore News / Report for America
On the Warm Springs Indian Reservation, the loud chorus of spring birdsong is mixed with a new sound: the steady rumble of skateboard wheels on concrete.
On a recent Sunday afternoon, a young girl sat on her skateboard and prepared to drop in on the halfpipe. Then, crack! The smack of flesh on concrete as she collided with another skater. For a brief second, there was silence – quickly filled with a burst of laughter before they helped each other to their feet
“Oh look, I’m ripping it!” a young boy chirped as he glided down a ramp. He looked up at his father, who was smiling down at him.
The Warm Springs Skatepark opened March 29. It replaced a smaller skatepark that was falling apart. After decades of use, combined with the brutal winters and blistering summers of central Oregon, the plywood-covered metal ramps were crumbling. They had become a safety hazard.
Mike Collins, director of Managed Care for the tribe, says the revamped skatepark is more than just a fun place for skateboarders to practice their moves. It’s a place where the whole community can build memories, for generations to come.
“This park is a centerpiece of our community,” Collins said. “We have our family get togethers here; barbecues, picnics, birthdays and other celebrations here.”
Making it Happen
For most Indigenous youth growing up in rural reservations, access to skating facilities is hard to come by. Youth living on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation did have a skatepark, but after nearly two decades, the ramps had seen better days. Skaters were hitchhiking and walking 15 miles southeast on Highway 26 to the neighboring town of Madras, just to skate on the larger, safer concrete park.
Thankfully, those days of hitchhiking are long gone.
Scott Koerner, who until December worked to promote skateboarding and snowboarding with the Oregon company Tactics, said he first heard about the crumbling Warm Springs skate park from two young Tactics Team Riders who grew up skating there.
“We have team riders that were living in that community and they were able to kind of inform us that the park was in a bad place,” Koerner said.
Those riders were Daquan Cassaway, and his friend, Nacho Ponce. The two young men saw an opportunity to revitalize the park that had brought them so much joy.
The duo turned to the skating community and the tribe for help.
“When I first went there and saw the state of the ramps were in disrepair, I knew that we had to work with the community and make sure that they got an updated skatepark that's safe for everybody to use, but also is fun for everybody to use,” Koerner said.
He reached out to The Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, and was connected with Collins. Together, they brought the idea to create a new skate park to tribal council.
After receiving the green light, they began reaching out to concrete companies, local businesses, nonprofit organizations and the Skatepark Project (formerly the Tony Hawk Foundation) to help build and fundraise for the new skatepark.
Collins, a citizen of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, has worked for Warm Springs for over 25 years, and raised his family there. He said it was moving to see so many people, organizations and businesses coming together to help make it come to life.
“That's what's so fantastic about this project, is because it includes all parts of the community,” said Collins. “People think, ‘Oh, it's a skate park, so it's just for skaters.’ But it's more than that. It's for entire families.”
Meeting the Goal
After Collins and Koerner reached out, The Skatepark Project launched a fundraiser in collaboration with Ginew, the first Native American-owned denim collection, and Steven Paul Judd, award-winning Kiowa and Choctaw contemporary visual artist and filmmaker. Judd created a limited edition T-shirt specifically for the Warm Springs skatepark.
"When Ginew reached out to me I was stoked to be a part of the project,” Judd said in a statement. “I grew up in different small towns in Oklahoma and there were zero skate parks, so the 15-year-old me is freaking out knowing that I get to be a small part of helping to bring this skatepark to life.”
The goal was to raise $140,000. That would cover the cost of turning the original skatepark into a permanent concrete park, and adding new elements within the park to fit the community's needs and desires for the space.
In the end, they exceeded their goal with the support of community members and supporters far and wide.
Tactics provided 250 skateboards for the grand opening event, and an anonymous local nonprofit donated 50 more. The Skatepark Project also provided pads and helmets, plus 100 skateboards and 25 BMX bikes.
“I've never been a part of a project where people are so willing to open up their checkbooks and help out,” said Joey Martin, owner of Collective Concrete, the company that built the park.
Building skateparks is something that Martin knows well. In 2016, Martin helped build Ethiopia’s first skateboard park, on the grounds of a government youth center in Addis Ababa.
“I look back at those kids now and I see the motivation,” he said. “I see that that state park has tripled, quadrupled, over the last four years since I've left.”
Similarly to the Addis Skatepark in Ethiopia, Martin hopes the new park at Warm Springs will help the skating community grow.
Replanting the Seed
Now that the new park is open to the public, Martin wants to repurpose the old ramps at a new location to help spread the magic of skateboarding. Instead of dumping the old ramps and rails at the landfill, organizers decided to create a new park in the nearby Warm Springs tribal community of Simnasho.
“What we're going to do is take the [previous] footprint, which is metal fabricated ramps, and we're going to move them up to a school so the kids are going to be able to use them,” Martin said. “It's kind of awesome to be able to create a second place, as well.”
Martin says he hopes the Simnasho skatepark will help foster the same love he and his team have for skateboarding.
“We're creating opportunities for someone that may not have that ability to be a soccer star or a basketball star,” said Martin. “We're always looking for the pursuit of happiness. And now, we're talking about doing it with skateboarding. I mean, that's a magical thing.”
With the rise of skateboarding and its recognition as an official sport, he hopes that like skaters in Addis Ababa, there will be local Warm Springs skaters like Daquan and Nacho who will shoot for the stars and aim for going pro.
“I've gotten to see the world because of skating,” said Martin. “I'm the luckiest dude in the room. Not a lot of people get to say that. And it's all because of a skateboard.”
Lead photo: Mckie Suppah (left) and his friend Dwayne, both fifth graders at Warm Springs K-8 Academy, pose for their photo during their afternoon skating session on April 30, 2023. Photo by Jarrette Werk (Underscore News / Report for America)