The grand opening of the new Ann Arbor skatepark – at the corner of Maple and Dexter-Ann Arbor roads in Veterans Memorial Park – is scheduled for June 21, 2014 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
The organizers have announced that Tony Hawk will be there.
Other names from the world of skateboarding who’ll also attend are Andy Macdonald, Alex Sorgente and Garold Vallie.
But I want to focus on Tony Hawk.
I imagine when some Ann Arbor Chronicle readers hear the name “Hawk,” they will reflexively think of Buteo jamaicensis or perhaps of high-intensity activated cross-walk beacons. That’s because I imagine many of you are hopeless nerds of some stripe, who don’t know very much about American mainstream popular culture, and might even take pride in that kind of cultural gap. I could be wrong – about you, but I’m not wrong about me.
I remember first becoming aware of Tony Hawk’s name in the early 2000s when I worked in the frozen foods department at Busch’s on Main Street. (At that time a banner hung over the department that read: “It’s Fresh Because It’s Frozen.”)
Jeff, the frozen foods manager, explained to me that I should be ready to re-stock frozen waffles through the week because he expected them to be very popular. He’d ordered extra. Now, it might have actually been some other food, because I don’t remember it all that well, but let’s say for the sake of argument that it was waffles. Anyway, Jeff expected that week to be selling a whole bunch of fresh-because-they’re-frozen waffles because there was a Tony Hawk promotion on the packaging. Kids could get some sort of Tony Hawk prize by sending in proof of purchase for some number of waffles, the exact details of which I don’t remember.
I do remember asking: Who is this Tony Hawk? Jeff explained that Tony Hawk was kinda famous – adding that his own kid was pretty into Tony Hawk. To me, Tony Hawk was just a guy I blamed for making my fingers just a little bit colder. I then forgot about Tony Hawk for more than a decade.
Now that Tony Hawk is scheduled to make an appearance in Ann Arbor in just a little over a month, I took some time check into why it’s a big deal. Here’s what I have learned. He’s a professional skateboarder, and not just some very good professional skateboarder. If a new tennis court were being dedicated, it’d be like Roger Federer showing up to hit a few balls over the net. Or if a new public swimming pool were being christened, it’d be like Michael Phelps turning a few laps on opening day. If new chess tables were being installed at a city park, it’d be like Garry Kasparov sitting down at a board to force checkmate in three moves.
Here, watch this YouTube video that shows Tony Hawk completing a 900-degree spin. It was the first documented 900 ever landed on a skateboard: [video]
According to their press release, the nonprofit Friends of the Ann Arbor Skatepark relied heavily on a Tony Hawk Foundation publication – “The Public Skatepark Development Guide” – in their efforts to get the skatepark built.
So when Tony Hawk appears at the grand opening of Ann Arbor’s new skatepark on June 21, it will be a very big deal.
An even bigger deal is the fact that this skatepark is getting built. It’s been a long haul. The funding has drawn on sources starting with bootstrapped private donations, bake sales, punk rock benefit shows, and sponsored bricks. It eventually included a grant from the state of Michigan, matched by Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation, with additional allocations from the city of Ann Arbor.
The group is still working to raise the final $50,000 to complete the Ann Arbor Skatepark Endowment Fund, which will be administered by the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation. The endowment will help to pay for ongoing maintenance and improvements to the skatepark.
I became aware of the skatepark effort when I interviewed Trevor Staples almost seven years ago as part of a series of backyard teeter totter interviews I used to conduct. Staples is president of the Friends of the Ann Arbor Skatepark. [That's Trevor in the Photoshopped lead art for this column.] Seven years is one of those biblical spans of time. For readers unfamiliar with the Old Testament, it’s how long Jacob agreed to work to earn Rachel’s hand in marriage. That’s a long, long time.
Reviewing that conversation with Trevor, I was reminded that the start of the current effort came well before that interview. Staples talked about 2005, when the Ann Arbor Skatepark Action Committee was started by Dug Song. Some readers will more easily recognize Song as co-founder and CEO of the tech firm Duo Security than as a skatepark advocate.
By now, the funding and construction of the Ann Arbor skatepark might seem like it was inevitable – just like it was inevitable that Tony Hawk was going to land that 900. Of course he was going to land it – he’s Tony Hawk. But if you watch that video, it doesn’t seem quite so inevitable. In fact, he fails over and over to complete that 900. On the first try he doesn’t even come close. But then he finally lands it, and the proverbial crowd does go wild.
So of course a skatepark would get built in Ann Arbor – because this is Ann Arbor, after all, and why wouldn’t Ann Arbor eventually have a skatepark? But back when I interviewed Trevor, I honestly did not think a skatepark would ever get built. I just did not see how the funding could possibly come together. Trevor was talking about the hundreds of thousands of dollars that would be needed, and all I could think was: Dude, you guys are not going to land that trick with a bunch of punk rock benefits and bake sales.
Anyway, I’m going to attend the grand opening of Ann Arbor’s skatepark on June 21. And not just because Tony Hawk is going to be there. I want to look at all the beaming faces of the people who worked so hard to make it happen.
I hope to see some of you there. Because they have landed this trick. And the crowd should go wild.
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