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7/22/2004

Daily Grind

By Eric Bontrager
The Daily Times-Call

Okinawa, Japan. Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Osan, South Korea.

These are just some of the wide-ranging places that Mountain Ramp Inc. has gone to build skate parks.

The company, which was founded in 1997 and moved to Longmont from Boulder in 2001, has established itself as one of the premier skate park developers in the world. Not bad for a former engineer who didn’t start skating until he was 30.

Rick Fason, Mountain Ramp’s owner, president and designer, started building ramps for himself to indulge his interest in in-line skating.

“I was just looking for a new sport,” he said.

Ten years later, Fason’s 11,000-square-foot facility at 1235 Boston Ave. builds almost all of the components for its skate parks in-house.

Fason said his skate parks, made of metal and wood, are not unlike Legos. Features like grind boxes and half pipes are built as individual modules with standardized connections that allow a community to personalize a park to the exact specifications it wants.

The modules are built in Longmont and an assembly team accompanies them to the location.

The prospect of going to far away places like Korea and Guam is one of the perks for the company’s eight employees.

“We have a lottery for those sites,” said Fason.

Not all the sights are as glamorous though.

“For places like Wyoming, we draw straws,” Fason said.

But how does a skate park go from a dream to reality?

“Sometimes kids just storm the mayor’s office,” he said.

That’s not always the case, but often enough it is just that. Usually, a group of residents, often the parents of skating children, will organize an initiative for a skate park to be built.

“(We) just let people shout out what they want,” Fason said of the town meetings the company hosts to discuss a proposed skate park.

From there, Fason designs a park that both fits within the desires of the community and the restraints of its budget.

Sun Lee, director of the Parks and Recreation Committee in Baggs, Wyo., said her experience with Mountain Ramp was nothing but positive when the company built a park there last year.

“They were so helpful. They just came out and worked with the kids and really figured out what they wanted and how they could build it,” she said.

Aside from the church and the school, there are no paved areas in the rural town for skaters to perfect their craft.

“After (the church and school) banned the kids from skating, they had nowhere else to go,” said Lee.

In fact, Fason said a lack of skating venues is one of the biggest problems facing skaters today.

“I can see where a lot of teenage angst comes from, when kids are ticketed (for skating) but have nowhere else to go,” he said.

There are two “clicks” in the skating world, according to Fason. The first started in the ’80s, using empty pools as “bowls” to skate in. The modern concrete skate park descended from this concept. But concrete parks are expensive, and subsequently, rare.

The second click evolved in the streets, utilizing that old plywood in dad’s garage to build ramps, grind boxes and other devices meant to test the skill of skaters.

Fason comes from the latter, and his skate parks reflect his background.

Instead of several hundred thousand dollars for a concrete skate park, an above ground park made of wood and metal can be built for as little as $13,000, he said.

The town of Baggs’ $40,000 skate park was funded almost entirely through grants, said office manager Kelly Bodnar.

“There are a lot of grants out there for parks,” said Bodnar.

The Tony Hawk Foundation, for example, awards $400,000 a year in grants for public skate parks in low-income areas.

With skate parks becoming cheaper and cheaper to make, Fason said, the only resistance skaters really face is the stereotypes that stigmatize their sport.

Beliefs that skaters are all “troublemakers” and “punks” are unfounded, said Fason.

“You can find the same thing in baseball players,” he said.

Fason noted that Bodnar’s daughter, Amber, is an honor student who doesn’t get into any sort of trouble and loves to skate whenever possible.

“This is just the sport of today” Fason said.