Longform

Legendary Dallas Skateboarders, Rebuffed By The City In Their Efforts To Build A Public Skatepark, Go Underground And Build Their Own.

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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.

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.'"

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Patrick Michels
Contact: Patrick Michels