The Laramie Skatepark has re-opened after a few weeks of closure, and local skaters are looking forward to resuming a pastime with natural social distancing enforcement now that summer has arrived.
“Social distancing is automatic (with skateboading),” said skater Josh Kaffer. “You can’t do it right next to somebody without getting hurt.”
Kaffer leads a group called Friends of Laramie Skatepark, which is preparing summer learn-to-skate lessons, continuing to fund-raise for an ongoing expansion and promoting social distance practices as skaters return to the park.
“What we’re trying to do is give kids a connection to community, so they’re not always getting told no,” he said. “There’s some rough zones in this world, and we want to build a family that supports everyone. It’s a really useful tool when stuff like this (COVID-19 pandemic) happens, and we want to try and model good, safe practices.”
Friends of Laramie Skatepark has a new Instagram page called the Wyoming Wave, which will be a hub for learn-to-skate videos and the headquarters for an upcoming contest.
For the contest, athletes of all ages and ability levels who participate in any skatepark sport are invited to submit a video of themselves learning a new trick or pushing to a new level in the sport. Videos can be filmed at the park or another local spot.
“We’re going to try to inspire riders of all levels,” he said.
The contest is open from June 1-14, with contestants able to vote for their favorites. Acquired votes will earn entries into a raffle drawing, with prizes including skate decks, a mini quarter pipe and more.
Kaffer said the name of the Wyoming Wave page is a way to be inclusive to all “flow sports,” which are sports that share the balance, body awareness, gravity and adrenaline elements of skateboarding, such as snowboarding, snowmobiling and mountain biking to name a few. He said those who develop skills as a skateboarder can translate them to other sports.
“If you have the passion enough to get past some pain, then you learn a lot of lessons through that pain and the pain avoidance, and how to use your body and to do some really cool stuff, whether it’s on a skateboard or off,” he said.
For the last six summers, Kaffer has lead Learn to Skate sessions at the park, with more than 100 different skaters attending last year. This summer, Kaffer is planning a series of dispersed lessons, with a single masked instructor, hand sanitizer and a touchless waiver system. Lesson times will be shared on the Skate Laramie Facebook page.
He’s also filming learn-to-skate videos that will be posted throughout the summer on the Wyoming Wave Instagram page.
Since the group started offering lessons six years ago, the first young participants have entered middle school and high school. With the cancellation of organized team sports, they’ve been spending more time on their boards this spring.
“They’re really starting to feel their freedom and reconnect with skateboarding, and we want to be there to support them and their journey,” he said.
The park’s ongoing expansion is part of the effort to make skateboarding more welcoming to beginners, Kaffer said.
The original elements were designed for experienced athletes but intimidating for beginners. Since then, elements for beginners and those progressing in their skills have been the focus of additions to the park.
“You can learn the basic skills on something small that doesn’t scare you, to build your confidence enough that you can go to the next step,” he said.
Kaffer also envisions spaces that can be shared by beginners and experienced skateboarders at the same time, so older athletes can mentor younger ones.
“There’s not quite enough space that somebody can come and learn while someone that’s riding fast is also riding,” he said. “It really creates a wedge in the community, and it’s a lot harder to learn when there aren’t people to show you.”
So far, Friends of Laramie Skatepark has raised about $60,000 through grants and donations. They’re hoping for additional funding from the Albany County Recreation Board and Specific Purpose Tax and plan to do a more fundraising from individual donors. With luck, construction could be completed by next summer.
“A lot of time and a lot of work that has to gone into it,” Kaffer said.