Playground Or Training Ground?

Street skating’s increasing exile is making the job of the sponsored skater, both professional and amateur, more difficult every day.

Imagine going to work on an average Monday morning and someone has welded an ugly hunk of iron over your keyboard? Or if you’re staying late trying to get some reports filed, and the building’s security guard kicks you out? The harder you work, the more people you have yelling at you to stop. Cops take away your briefcase and write you a citation.

Okay, granted-on the average workday, you probably aren’t trespassing or “destroying public property,” but in the world of professional skateboarders, it’s an inevitability, a conundrum they must deal with every day. And it’s gotten so bad that nowadays, the future of actual street skating is looking rather bleak.

Skaters everywhere are getting kicked out of their spots and resorting to parks as a means to a hassle-free ends. But the parks are not without their own set of problems: paying money to skate; wearing bulky, uncomfortable pads; and dangerously overcrowded parks are reason enough to shy away. So what’s a skater to do? One solution has surfaced in the past few years, in the form of the “TF.”A TF, or training facility, is a personal skatepark-someplace you can skate without fear of harassment, at any time. A personal skatepark at your disposal can be a haven for today’s spot-starved street skater.

Companies have been providing skaters with places to skate for a long time, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that TFs started to become a Southern California phenomenon. Much of the popularity of today’s TFs can be directly attributed to DC pro Rob Dyrdek, who not only coined the term, but was also the first professional skateboarder to have his own private park. Rob was frustrated with getting kicked out of skate spots every day, so he met with his sponsors, and they agreed to finance a small, private skatepark. Rob says, “(It was) for the sheer fact of having a place to skate whenever I wanted to without getting kicked out.”

A builder of a facility that will encompass the needs of a professional skateboarder must have an intricate knowledge of both what they want and how to tailor it to suit a skateboarder’s needs. As far as Southern California’s concerned, Media teamrider Brent Kronmueller is the man for the job.Over the years, Kronmueller has earned the unofficial title of ramp-technician extraordinaire and evolved into the premier independent contractor for building training facilities all over Southern California.

So how does one become the go-to man for all these personal skateparks? Accidentally, of course. It started about two years ago, when Dyrdek asked him to rebuild his park: “It didn’t really get built right until Brent (Kronmueller) came in,” says Dyrdek. “He skates, so he’s got a really good idea of what we’re going for as a whole. It’s much better to have someone who skates full time, because they really understand what you’re going for.”

Kronmueller admits that the “task” fell into his lap. He was motivated by the idea of building something that he could skate, too. “I rebuilt this park for him (Dyrdek), and he was super stoked. That’s where everything started. I got other offers from there-Jamie Thomas skated that park and liked it. So they called and asked me to put their (Zero’s) training facility in.”

Word-of-mouth got the ball rolling, and soon Kronmueller was building TFs all over Southern California, for Steve Berra, DC, RDS, and more. The recent demand for these facilities creates job after job for Kronmueller, keeping him busy.He may seem like a one-man construction crew, but Kronmueller is quick to admit that he can’t do it alone. “With (Pat) Channita’s (TF), I’m making an adjustable rail, and re-sheeting his mini ramp and street course. I work with Jeff King as far as rails go. He does a lot of the metal work for me.”

So thanks to Dyrdek’s brainstorm and Kronmueller’s knack, Southern California is exploding with private training facilities. Scores of companies have them, including Volcom, Zero, Giant, Black Label, DC, and Birdhouse, all providing places for their riders to skate. And that’s just a Southern Californian handful. Add to that Savier’s training ground in Portland, Oregon and the DC/Alien Workshop joint-TF venture in Philadelphia-created exclusively for Stevie Williams, Josh Kalis, and Kerry Getz. The list goes on and on.Kronmueller puts a lot of work into each park’s design, customizing each TF to the specifications of the owner. Making sure that no two places offer the same ramps and obstacles is a priority for him. “I’ve built something new, something different in each park so that each place is totally custom,” explains Kronmueller.

The most elaborate TF that Kronmueller has worked on to date is Steve Berra’s. “It’s a big park,” he says. “Steve’s was more expensive because it was big, and I had to tear down the old park first and then put a new park in.”Although the TF phenomena started in Southern California, the trend is quickly growing beyond this small, saturated region. “There have been a few other ones (TFs) over time, but he (Dyrdek) was the first one to have his own park-I’d say he’s where it started,” says Kronmueller. “I think it’s blowing up everywhere. With Kalis getting one in Philly, I’m pretty sure there’s going to be more of them popping up everywhere.”

Volcom established its Costa Mesa training facility in 2000. Assistant Team Manager Kevin Braden explains that nowadays, having something for your team to skate is a must: “The skate department had planned on building a TF when we moved here in the middle of 1999.” The Volcom TF now houses a twelve-foot vert ramp, a six-foot mini ramp, and a full street course.

Roger Harrell of Giant Distribution agrees that providing your team with something to ride is mandatory. “As soon as we moved into the building last July,” says Harrell, “we knew we were building a skatepark here.”So what would compel a company to create such an insurance hazard? Simple-it’s good for business. If you build a hassle-free spot for your riders to skate, rest assured they will skate. An added bonus to having an in-house skatepark is the exposure it generates. Volcom’s Braden explains how their TF has given them added publicity: “Photo shoots for teamriders, getting editorial coverage-having it written about and popping up in magazines in general. Other people shoot their ads here, too.” This isn’t a new concept, either. In the mid 90s, World Industries’ street course and Blockhead’s mini ramp were both prominently featured in videos and magazines.

On a more personal level, being able to skate anytime, uninterrupted, can have a tremendous impact on your skating. And although most skaters would cringe at the term “train,” that’s essentially what’s going on. Whether it’s working on a contest run or getting comfortable trying a new trick, a TF is a controlled environment that you can practice in, without hassle.For the most part, skateboarding contests tend to have the same basic obstacles each time. The “street” course will have the requisite pyramid with a box and a flatbar, quarterpipes, bank ramps, and maybe a Euro-gap or monster rail. All of these obstacles are easily replicated in a decent-sized TF. When asked how owning a TF has affected his contest runs, Dyrdek responds, “I went through two years of placing top ten in almost every contest I skated.” But he insists that it’s not necessarily the obstacles in the park that are helping, it’s the fact that he has a place to skate without interruption. “Consistency builds when you can skate somewhere for five hours straight, consistency doesn’t build when you drive around all day every single day, getting kicked out (of spots).”

The consistency gained in a TF translates to real street skating, as well. It’s a place to work on the basics, and learn new tricks. It’s also helpful for Dyrdek, as a professional skater in a time when street skating is nearly impossible, to figure out tricks in a TF before taking them to the
streets. “Berra’s park has helped me in filming for the DC video already. I’ll go in there, where I’m comfortable, and work out a trick on a skatepark handrail, and then take that same feeling to the street.”

As perfect as they may seem, though, even private skateparks come with their own set of problems. If it’s kept in your warehouse along with your merchandise, then keeping it safe and secure could become an issue. Even in its short life, the Giant park has already dealt with its share of difficulties. Harrell explains: “All of our teamriders have keys, and sometimes they get lent out. That’s part of our security issue.”

The only issues or challenges that Kronmueller has been confronted with in building these training facilities are landlord issues. “Making sure it’s all right with them (property landlords) that you’re putting in a training facility is important,” he says. “If you’re building on someone else’s property without consent, they can easily shut you down.”

Dyrdek insists that, despite the freedom a TF provides, no matter how well it’s designed, a skatepark can never take the place of actual street skating. “There’s no disadvantage to being able to skate whenever you want, but it’s just a remedy. I’d rather be working it out on the real street every single day.” He explains that, despite the best efforts to replicate genuine street obstacles, the fact remains that it’s a controlled environment, inherently lacking the raw essence that is the appeal of street skating. “TFs are cool, but they are still fabricated-it’s a false environment.”

TFs are just temporary solutions to a very permanent problem, and only for a small percentage of the skateboarding population. It’s important to understand what these facilities represent-skateboarding has become so illegal that skaters have resorted to building private parks just to have somewhere to skate. What’s going to happen in the future?Dyrdek understands why street skating is illegal: “The reality of it (street skating) is that you are skating on other people’s property, regardless of your intentions.” One possible solution he poses is that street skaters form some sort of skatepark committee and provide detailed input for communities wanting to build a skatepark that is representative of actual street skating. And Dyrdek doesn’t necessarily envision monster gaps and double-kink rails at these parks, he just wants a place that offers the basic ingredients of a genuine street spot. “Just give me a nice, flat area with a couple of trees for shade and some ledges.” In the meantime, though, the personal TF remains the sponsored skater’s saving grace.