Skaters claim their niche
Now that summer's here and there are no classes or homework to fill the days, skateboarders, bikers and rollerbladers are out in full force.
They're often spotted making their way across Main Street or hanging out in the parking lots of downtown businesses or rolling across campus.
Their purposes are varied.
Some are just hanging out. Some are trying to burn calories. Others are just moving from one point to another.
But there are also those who just need a place to get some air -- and not the breathing kind.
At some point, those are the ones who usually end up spending even just a little time at the River Falls Skate Park. The park, nestled between the ice arenas and the softball field at Hoffman Park, features a small collection of ramps and bars for these thrill seekers to ride on and jump off.
They vary in age, from 7- and 8-year-olds to college students and even the occasional adult who never "grew up."
Why do they skate?
"I don't know," Caullin Simonson, 16, said. "I ask myself the same question sometimes. It's just so fun. It gets addicting to do."
Though a common complaint among the "skaters" is that the park needs to be repaired or re-built, they still go to practice their tricks or just hang out.
"I don't skate," Dane Holstein, 17, said. "I just like the environment. It's good peoples."
Holstein said the park is "more of a hangout than an actual skate park," but he still stops by at least a few times per week.
He said he was surprised by how many people he met by going to the park. He got to know a lot of people he had seen around town but had never talked to.
Lindsey Hoffman, 15, also enjoys the social side of skating.
"I like to watch people," she said. "It's entertaining."
Sometimes she tries to ride a board, she said, but usually not often.
The dedication many of the skaters and bikers have might surprise people unfamiliar with the skate park scene.
A common sight is to see kids practice the same trick repeatedly until they get it right.
"It could take a whole day. It could take about a month," Simonson said of the time needed to perform a trick successfully. "For me it could be a day or two."
Simonson has only been skateboarding for about a year, but he can already perform a lot of the tricks. He also said that he always slows down if he gets hurt, but that he's never been seriously injured because of skating.
"Unless you do something stupid, you usually don't get hurt," he said.
Cindi Danke, River Falls Parks and Recreation Department director, figures an average of 30 kids visit the park daily though that number varies.
The park is not regulated by the city. There's a sign posted at the park entrance recommending anyone using the ramps wear a helmet and protective gear.
"I think it has worked well by not monitoring it," Danke said.
She explained that since there is no supervision, parents are more likely to go along with their kids to make sure they don't get hurt or bothered by some of the older skaters.
Whatever their age or skill level, a common thread among the skaters is the desire for a new park. Though, as Holstein put it, "there's nowhere else to go in River Falls," they said the condition of the park leaves much to be desired.
Complaints ranged from the rough concrete to the loose ramp panels, unstable support structures and more.
"It drastically needs improvement," Holstein said. "It needs to be completely redone."
Simonson said he doesn't skate at the park very often just because of its condition, and that he usually rides "street" instead.
"It would be nice to add more elements," Danke said.
She also said that even if more pieces were added to the park, kids would still be riding on the streets to some degree.
What's getting in the way of adding or fixing the park is the lack of money.
Danke said the city does have some money set aside, but when the Youth Advisory Council requested the park in 1999, an agreement was made that the youth would have to raise 50% of the funds themselves for any future projects. Danke said the city agreed to match the funds collected by the youth.
One of the concerns surrounding a skateboard park is the amount of vandalism and unjustified damage the equipment sustains. Danke said the River Falls Skate Park does experience a degree of crime, such as vandalism and substance abuse.
"But that could happen at any of the parks," she said. "It's the nature of a park in general."
Simonson addressed some stereotypes that surround skateboarders.
"They think that (skateboarders) do drugs and wreck everything they skate on," he said. "And that all skaters aren't nice, when actually some are."
Simonson used River Falls as an example of a city with friendly skaters.
He also said he thought an improved park might help reduce the drug problem because more people would be using the ramps rather than just gathering around them.
Look for more photos and a video of skating and biking tricks online at www.riverfallsjournal.com.