FATHER-SON SKATE TRIP: EXPLORING THE BIG SKATE STATE
By Mike Leeds
Last fall, my son Jakson, my buddy Mike Parrish and his son Dylan left our home town of Wenatchee, Wash. on an adventure to explore the skateparks of Montana. Nicknamed the Big Sky State, Montana has now been coined “The Big Skate State,” and for good reason. In less than 10 years there have been close to a dozen professionally designed and built concrete skateparks in this sparsely populated state in which I was born and spent most of my childhood. I was amazed at what has been accomplished there! Even during difficult economic times, small towns in Montana rallied around the skateboarding community and built these beautiful concrete wonderlands – impressive, to say the least!
We started our adventure getting out of town late and arriving at our first destination, Missoula, around midnight on a Wednesday. First thing Thursday morning we hit the Mobash Skatepark featured in Tony Hawk’s Secret Skatepark Tour. This park attracted around 10,000 spectators during T-Hawk’s stop, but we had it almost all to ourselves (for about 10 minutes). It was early on a Thursday morning, but skaters of all ages started showing up at a steady rate over the next few hours. We had a great starting session before heading over to the Edge of the World skate shop to pick up some supplies and shred the mini ramp. The shop employees were super nice and we picked up some new Montana steez. After an awesome day of skating with our sons in 80° September weather, we headed back to the KOA for a BBQ with a great old friend, Mike Ness (sorry, not from Social D). Full of salmon, chicken and hot dogs, we cruised around on the longboards and hit the pool before calling it a night. Having had their first dose of concrete, the boys were sleeping soundly and dreaming about more of the same.
The next day we headed for the newly expanded skatepark in the state’s capitol of Helena. This park was also featured (pre-expansion) in the THSST video series. The giant American flag at the park was at half staff honoring 9/11, and again the weather was perfect. As for the skatepark, sick! There was something for everyone: street, tranny and plenty of vert for me to fall on my wrist and get it nice and swollen. No time to ice it, just grab lunch and head for the next gargantuan park in Great Falls. As we were leaving we met some older guys around my age (late 30s). While we drove away they proceeded to kill it in the 10’ bowl, all hardcore, with no pads for the most part. Wow, these local guys ripped, and they have day jobs! Local in Montana can mean you drive a couple of hours to skate. One guy was from Bozeman and two from Great Falls – all die-hard, committed skaters for life. I swear, it gets in your blood and skating courses through your veins – whether you’re in Washington State, Montana, So Cal, Vancouver, BC or halfway around the world. Skateboarding offers a culture and bond like no other sport or activity I have experienced.
Whoa, enough of this sappy philosophical stuff...onward to Great Falls for more skating!
Friday evening we arrived in Great Falls at the house of another of my good friends, Chris. He was gracious and allowed us to set up old Jethro (Mike P.’s pop-up tent trailer) in his driveway. Chris’s wife made us tasty ribs, which we chowed down, and then headed straight to the Riverside Railyard. This ginormous concrete set of waves was also featured in the TH Secret Skatepark Tour video series. Apparently there was a big football game going on right down the street, so we thought we might luck out and have the place to ourselves. Not even close! I have never seen so many kids at a skatepark. Seriously, doesn’t anyone like football anymore? We had a good time hanging out watching the local kids find their favorite line, but ultimately decided on a “Wake Up and Skate Sesh” for Saturday morning. These kids would surely be sleeping in and watching cartoons. Time to head back to Chris’s, sit around the bonfire and tell old skate stories.
Sure enough, there wasn’t a soul at the Railyard Saturday morning – at least not for the first hour. This park had so much skate terrain it was ridiculous. We ended up having our best session of the trip in Great Falls. With Jakson about to turn 10 the next day, he blew me away with his style points in the monstrous bowls. Typically we just skate our backyard mini ramps, so the boys both took to the concrete like naturals. Chris’s 14-year-old son Josh traded boards with me for a few runs. Crazy, I had no idea it would feel so good riding a setup with worn-down, maybe 54mm street wheels that were barely bigger than the bearings. It was a blast! Josh was pretty stoked on my 9” Lib Tech with 64mm Bowl Bombers as well. He and his friend Briar took some doubles runs around the transition, making it obvious that the Riverside Railyard is their hometown park.
Our goal after leaving Great Falls was to hit four more parks on the trip. We left late that Saturday morning, and we had a nearly four-hour drive to our next destination in Kalispell. We intended to drive through Glacier National Park, but we got a flat on Jethro right outside the entrance. This sucked up about three hours of our time, and we were starting to wear down. We ended up getting to the Kalispell skatepark to visit with some of the locals in the late afternoon and then stopped by Spirit Skate Shop. Kalispell had another rad park, cool kids and well respected local skate shop – par for the course.
We were not able to make it to the Whitefish, Polson and St. Ignatius skateparks, but we had an absolutely phenomenal trip. (I also read there is a new 30,000 square-foot skatepark in the works for Bozeman!) How could you beat the quality time we had traveling to world-class skateparks with our sons, camping out and seeing old friends, with spot-on weather as forecasted the whole time? Believe me, going back to work was a reality check the following Monday. We have plans to make this an annual tradition with our sons. Each of us has another younger son coming up. Who knows, we may hit the other parks in the Big Skate State next year, or maybe Vancouver, Oregon or Western Washington. Other than our home town, there seems to be no shortage of public skateparks just waiting to be skated. We are working on that! Until next time, peace and skate.