By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
While support for Coker's public park was derailing, the city built a small skatepark in East Dallas' Lakeland Hills neighborhood, a prefabricated, off-the-shelf park with movable ramps and rails. It felt like a slap in the face to Coker and other skaters who'd been pitching their own design, though Winters says the timing was pure coincidence. "Some of the kids that lived in the Lakeland Hills Park neighborhood approached us and we directed them to their council member," he recalls. Back in 2007 each council member had free rein over a discretionary fund to spend in his or her own district, and Leo Cheney, who represented District 7, put $250,000 toward improving Lakeland Hills Park, including the addition of a $100,000 skatepark.
It's not just the timing of the park the skaters objected to, but the prefab park itself—"playground equipment" they call it, when they're being generous. Carter Dennis, the skatepark advocate, is familiar with Lakeland Hills, and remains opposed to prefab parks. "We're trying to convince cities to do it the right way," Dennis says. He advocates a "permanent, poured-in-place concrete skate park," with room for custom routes around the park, and landscaping to help it fit in with the neighborhood.
In 2008, Houston opened a $3 million, 30,000-square-foot downtown skatepark, and plans to open a 50,000-foot skatepark in North Houston next year. San Antonio is opening four new parks this year, Dennis says, and Austin is breaking ground on a large downtown skatepark as well. "You're seeing all these big cities moving forward on this, but in Dallas we haven't really seen anything," Dennis says. "Dallas is notorious for being behind."
"There's a lot of poor kids, a lot of lower-middle-class kids—their parents don't have time to freakin' take them to a park," Coker says. In an urban setting, a public skatepark with easy DART access can open up the sport to kids who just need a place to ride.
Winters says Dallas' Park and Recreation Department is doing all it can just to maintain the facilities it's already got after years of budget cuts. Ideally, he says, he'd like to see Dallas build a network of small skateparks anchored by one major park near a DART station, which could be run by an outside operator. "I still think Fair Park is a good site," he says, envisioning a park within a $2-3 million extreme sports complex that could host the X Games. "We need more of these facilities around the city. I can't tell you how many times we have a conversation about a major skatepark."
Without a major urban skatepark, the old skater core has splintered out into the new suburban skate complexes and weekend trips to a select ring of backyard pools. Ronny Ripper's "Texas Pool Sharks" message board was an online clearinghouse for tips about backyard pools, but Ripper folded it earlier this year as the chatter migrated to Facebook. At Guapo, old skaters say braving a ride at public parks is like stepping into a lawless Wild West, every skater for himself—a crush of scooters, bikes and boards—with none of the behavioral norms you'd get growing up inside a skating culture.
"The thing kids aren't getting at the parks that are just open—where the parents slow down to 20 and drop 'em off—is that when we skated, when you're the grom, you learn that there's a hierarchy. You learn that you don't drop in on people. You learn that people take turns...I got tired of going to parks and bailing because there was somebody on a BMX bike," Coker says.
It was a brush with disaster one chaotic afternoon at a park in Grand Prairie that convinced Coker to open a private park of his own. After getting clocked in the side of the head by a passing bike in 2007, Coker recalls, "I said to Greg Stubbs, 'I'm done. We're gonna find someplace, we're gonna get just us, a bunch of old guys and we can skate with who we want to. No more Razors, no more diving out of the way of bikes.'" Stubbs told Coker that the Havik skatepark in Arlington was about to close down, and the owner was looking to sell its ramps, rails and bowl. "So six minutes later I bought a skatepark. And then it was like, 'Oh, crap. Where are we going to put it?"
After the roundabout search for a public skatepark site, Coker said it was refreshingly easy to land warehouse space from megadeveloper Jack Matthews. It wasn't long before he had expert skate ramp builders installing a street course with ramps and obstacles plucked from Havik and rearranged inside the low-ceilinged building. "Our landlord, Matthews Southwest, is so accommodating and nice. They view the skatepark as an asset for the Cedars."
When the park opened in late 2007, it had the rare underground cachet of the old skate spots, a legend that beat the greatest new backyard pool discovery. Videos trickling onto YouTube fueled the excitement, but it was never advertised. You had to know someone who knew someone who could see about bringing you in some night. The name Guapo was a joking reference to times down at Coker's surfing house in Mexico, where old women in the town told his wife how guapo—handsome—her husband is. "I'm the big hit with women in their 70s," Coker says.