By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Craig Johnson, of course, knew all the old skaters, but he was only clued in by a chance mention of the park one night he was out drinking. "I hadn't seen Al in years. I'm down at Lee Harvey's, and I hear there's a skate park right down here," Johnson recalls. He went immediately to the park and found Coker. "He said, 'I didn't even know you were alive.'"
Guapo became the little getaway that only insiders knew about, a private piece of heaven with admission guaranteed if you had the right skater cred and could afford the monthly fee.
"The atmosphere reminds me of hanging out at Jeff's old skatepark when I was a kid," Jon Comer says. "It's like a high school reunion every time I go out there."
What unites the brotherhood at Guapo is the devotion to the meaning they got from skating as kids. None of this is lost on Coker, who—among guys who've settled into post-skating jobs as handymen and white-collar grunts—is the most plugged-in, not just the eldest but the most adult of the old skatepunks. "I'm like Peter Pan, I don't really ever—well, I'm probably a little more like Captain Hook, because I have a lot of people that sort of follow me blithely into this mess that I create."
Guapo may only be around thanks to Coker's losing fight with the city, but he's still hopeful for an urban public skatepark that can entice the dinosaurs and challenge kids who are still learning. "If I opened that park [Guapo] to the public, it would be full every day, but I would be so paranoid of being sued," Coker says. "That's why all the parks close. It only takes one person, and it's never the skater. It's like some skater's parent thinks, 'Oh, what a good idea. It's your fault that my kid fell.'"
Coker says he hopes to parlay Guapo's success into a renewed push at City Hall for a series of pocket-sized parks in its image. "We would be able to show them Guapo and say look, this is what we've done privately, and it's been in operation for three years. We could provide the technology, the technical expertise," Coker says. "I think we're gonna be successful this time. I really do."
At the same time, Guapo's landlords just raised the rent—Coker says it costs $3,000 a month for rent, utilities and insurance. To help balance the books, Coker's asking new members to pay monthly dues up to $100 (original members pay $50), and plans on opening the park to the public two or three times a month, beginning later this year. He is looking at other novel fundraising options too. On July 24 Guapo hosted an open house, charging $20 a head. Fliers publicizing the event read: "Help keep the skill center open...and come skate with legends."
Darkness settles in around Guapo, shop lights strung above lighting the way across the expanse of the bowl.
A black Lexus wagon with a Guapo bulldog sticker on the back pulls into the parking lot, and Coker climbs out. Ascending the steps to the bowl, he finds Johnson at the top, checks out the brace on Johnson's leg and asks how he's been.
"I'm stoked, I'm stoked," Johnson says, showing off how far he can bend his knee after a month of physical therapy.
Coker dives into the bowl on his board, just crossing across the deepest spot in the pool before losing his footing, squirting the board out to the side and planting his face into the far wall.
"That was not a very good warm-up run," he says.
Coker drops back in for a second run—given a free pass from waiting his turn—skating high up the far wall and coming back around to grind across the coping past the skaters gathered around the shallow end.
"Yeah Al!" one of them shouts. "You eat your Wheaties this morning?"
Johnson turns with a conspiratorial air, hushing his voice as he gestures at two kids crossing the parking lot toward the bowl. It's Holland Austin, a 22-year-old skater who rides with a local skate crew called the JACS. "You are about to experience greatness like you have never experienced in your fucking life," Johnson says. "He's a punk-ass motherfucker. I won't ever tell him he rules. But he rules."
With him is Anthony Padilla, a long-haired kid whose retro skater looks aren't lost on Coker. "We look like we were separated at birth back in the '70s," Coker says. Padilla broke his leg on his first run inside Guapo, but not before impressing Coker so much with his skating that he earned his own key to the warehouse.
"We're all fuckin' old, we're just old guys. If all of us keep hanging out, who knows how long we'll be doing it?" Stubbs asks. Austin drops into the bowl, speeds across the shallow and pops straight up over the edge halfway to the deep end, soaring into the air before landing on the wall and speeding across the bowl. Stubbs shakes his head. "Youth is where it's at," he says.