Picking up Speed

skateboarders expect to finish plaza fundraising by end of year

Tom Giffey, photos by Andrea Paulseth

WATCHING AND WAITING. Skaters perform tricks at the Lakeshore Skate Plaza in Eau Claire during the 360 Drop-In Skateboard Competition on July 15.
WATCHING AND WAITING. Skaters perform tricks at the Lakeshore Skate Plaza in Eau Claire during the 360 Drop-In Skateboard Competition on July 15. See photos.

When Christopher Johnson was growing up the west side of Eau Claire, there was hardly anywhere for him to skate. The YMCA Skate Park (which no longer exists) was miles away on the other side of town, making it virtually inaccessible to a kid with a skateboard but not a driver’s license. Options for skateboarders were limited, and those who skated on the street or on other public property risked running afoul of the law – or at least running up against stereotypes that made skateboarding synonymous with juvenile delinquency.

“We’re selling it as a positive youth activity that can be participated in for free.”  – Christopher Johnson, Eau Claire Skateboarders Association

Fast-forward more than a decade, and the situation is at least a little better for skateboarders. The Lakeshore Skateboard Plaza is free, publicly accessible, and more centrally located than the old YMCA Skate Park. Moreover, the public attitude toward skateboarding has improved substantially, said Johnson, owner of Passion Board Shop in Eau Claire and a member of the Eau Claire Skateboarders Association. Johnson explained that while skateboarding with a group of kids recently on the Eastside Hill, he was stopped several times by middle-aged women who complimented him on encouraging kids to get exercise outside instead of staring at screens indoors.

While there are still occasional complaints to police about skateboarders, he said, “To one group of people, they’re looking at me as a great role model.”

Johnson and his fellow members of the Eau Claire Skateboarders Association are role models in another way as well: They’re spearheading an aggressive fundraising effort to build the city’s second skate plaza in the Eastside Hill’s Boyd Park, recently crossing the $40,000 threshold on the way toward their $75,000 goal.

“My hope is that we can finish fundraising by winter and try to break ground on the skate plaza by next year,” he said.

The association recently inked a memorandum of understanding with the City of Eau Claire. As part of the agreement, which was approved by the City Council on July 11, the city will solicit bids and oversee the construction of the skate plaza once the skateboarders’ group has raised the required funds.

Gabe Brummett, another active member of the Eau Claire Skateboarders Association, said about $30,000 has been raised since last fall alone, including a $5,000 competitive grant from the Eau Claire Community Foundation. Brummett said donors, city officials, and the Eastside Hill Neighborhood Association have been very supportive of the effort to build a roughly 5,000-square-foot skate plaza in Boyd Park. The concrete plaza would be similar to – but bigger than – the one built at Lakeshore Park in 2013.

Brummett said the fundraising group includes skaters, parents who want their kids to have a safe place to skate, and college students who want to continue seeing the community grow. “If Eau Claire’s going to be this hip place that young people want to move, skate parks have to be part of that equation,” he said.

Johnson, the board shop owner, said skateboard advocates have seen positive results from donors by promoting the skate park as an asset for the community’s young people. “It’s hard to say no to the kids,” he said. “We’re selling it as a positive youth activity that can be participated in for free.”

And fundraising won’t end when the Boyd Park Skate Plaza is built. “We are planning on a lot more than just this skate park,” Johnson explained. The skateboarders association envisions quickly pivoting into raising money for another skate plaza at a yet-to-be-determined location. Eventually, they’d like skate all across town, providing access to enthusiasts in every neighborhood.

Like a skater speeding through a half-pipe, skateboarding is on an upward trajectory in the Chippewa Valley.

The Eau Claire Skateboarders Association and Passion Board Shop will hold the Fifth Annual Skateboard Contest and Raffle from noon-7pm Sunday, Sept. 3, at the Lakeshore Skate Plaza. There will be beginner, intermediate, and advanced competitions; a “best trick” contest; and a product raffle.

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