Summer Skate Camps

For as long as anyone remembers, there have always been summer camps. In the mountains, on the beaches, and at the lakes, they have been wonderful places for young people of all nationalities to temporarily get away from their parents. The activities offered are almost endless. Since there are camps for just about every conceivable sport or activity, it was inevitable that skateboarding would eventually have its own summer camp programs, too.

Many summer skateboarding camps have day programs so that the problems and logistics of providing both overnight accommodations and meals are limited. These day camps allow skateboarders to learn new tricks, skate with pros, and watch demonstrations without the high cost of overnight camps. Two outstanding examples located in California are the YMCA facility in Encinitas, and the newly constructed, sprawling facility at Mission Valley in San Diego.

These day camps provide instruction on various terrain, but also serve to break the monotony of a long summer break. The YMCA has been catering to these very needs for decades, and its current interest in skateboarding has resulted in various skateparks and skateboard summer camps.

Some ski areas have begun to host skateboard camps to accommodate the crossover interest from snowboarding. One such place is Snow Valley near Big Bear Lake, California–just outside of Los Angeles. Snow Valley has developed a top-notch skateboard facility with an ample street course, a clover bowl of varying depths, and a huge vert ramp.

Promotions Coordinator Lindsey Kelly states that Snow Valley’s mission is to provide each camper instruction with “emphasis on style, balance, and skills. Instruction is an one-on-one basis with the teachers.” Shouldered up against the steep craggy hills of the San Bernardino Forest, Snow Valley provides a breathtaking atmosphere–perfect for summer-camp enthusiasts.

Former skate camper Buster Halterman says that the first American skateboard camp he heard of was the Island Water Sports skateboard camp in St. Louis, Missouri. In 1988, Buster went there as a camper and recalls his two weeks as being a great learning experience. “While at camp, pro skater Steve Schneer saw me ride, and shortly afterward I was sponsored by Airbourne Skateboards,” he says. “There have been many pro skateboarders who began their careers as campers in skate camp when they were seen by visiting teams and pros.”

Just outside of State College, Pennsylvania, the Woodward Gymnastics Camp is tucked away within the meandering fold of a mountain and has been operating twelve weeks every summer since 1970. In 1988, the camp added a BMX and freestyle-bicycle program. At that time, am skateboarder Mike Speranzo was visiting from Florida. After seeing the freestyle bike ramps, Speranzo discussed starting a skateboard camp with owners Gary Ream and Ed Isabelle. His idea was attractive because the facility already had much of the infrastructure in place for the existing gymnastics and bike programs: transportation, a dining room, and cabins.

The new skateboard terrain included a bowl, a mini ramp, and a street course. Speranzo and company set and maintained the highest standards in all phases of the camp’s development. The initial enrollment of about a dozen campers rapidly grew so that many prospective attendees now have sweat out Woodward’s inevitable waiting list.

The Woodward Skateboard Camp has become incomparable to other camps because the owners continue to expand and upgrade the facility every year. Air conditioning has recently been installed in the cabins to diminish the stifling stench, which has been known to hang on you like a wool cloak. A slick go-cart track, a rock-climbing wall, photography classes, and horseback riding are some of the varied facilities and extracurricular activities now on the menu at Woodward. The goal of making every camper’s summer session an incredible experience is being met, year after year.

Woodward’s sister camp in Wisconsin also has a skateboard program, and though Lake Owen doesn’t match up to Woodward’s epic skateboard terrain, the camp’s recreational aspects definitely exceed most people’s idea of a great summer camp. The beautifully forrested lake, used for both wakeboarding and canoeing, surrounded by log cabins and the best skate obstacles in all of Wisconsin, gives the facility a very traditional camp-like atmosphere.

Every staff member evaluates the campers on predetermined criteria–skaters who can’t drop in on even the smallest ramps are put together so that a fifteen-year-old who kickflips the pyramid isn’t in the same instructional group as a fifteen-year-old who can barely push around the street course. Every morning, all campers meet in one of the street areas for stretching and daily assignments. Each instructor then moves his group about the facility on a preassigned rotation, scheduled so one group doesn’t interfere with another. Campers who turn out to be better than initially evaluated, or who learn quickly, are graduated to a more advanced group.

International skateboard camps are not a new concept. For those who need reminding, Mike McGill spun and landed the first 540 back in the early 1980s while at Eurocana skateboard camp in Sweden. Success has no geographical limits, and skate camps have proven to be great training facilities for pros, too. Chris Senn and Andy Macdonald both landed their first 540s at Woodward.

Every conceivable style of skateboarding practiced can be found at most skate camps. This makes for a really great time, and everyday campers see some of the most unreal tricks being landed. This atmosphere brings out the best in each skater, who push themselves to learn.

Woodward campers have an easier time learning because the camp’s specially constructed terrain offers graduated levels of difficulty. Campers dropping into ramps are less fearful because the skate camp starts them on a two-foot quarterpipe and slowly works them up from there. One of the most useful tools within the camp is the Battleship, which consists of a building-length continuous ramp that varies in height. This structure starts at three feet high on one end and steps upward in six-inch increments, eventually ending in a vertical quarterpipe, twelve feet high.

The Battleship allows skaters to learn to drop in and immediately work their way up. Woodward has even developed a harness that attaches to the ceiling, allowing skaters to drop in without the risk of injury.

The Visalia YMCA skateboard camp in Northern California is a fine example of what a skate camp should be. Operating now for nearly fourteen years, they can instruct over a hundred campers per week with visiting pros like Salman Agah, Mike Vallely, and Steve Caballero. The pro instructors at Visalia conduct clinics that show the campers fundamentals and approaches to learning.

Visalia YMCA Skate Director Dave Metty says, “The camp’s focus is not only on the skaters’ tricks and implementing techniques for instruction, but the skaters’ lives in general. We try to help them through all phases of their lives with positive role models and great skateboarding.” With a rigorous staff-selection process and a five-day orientation, it isn’t a wonder that Metty and crew run such a successful and popular skate camp.

Street pro Donny Barley moved to Rhode Island from California and situated himself as a regular in the new Skaters Island skateboard park just outside the city of Newport. He began a day camp at the park, challenging the campers to “ride everything.” With the help of two able assistants, Barley focuses on individual camper’s abilities and helps each skater come away with new tricks and more confidence.

Known for his street skills, but versatile on any terrain, Barley places great emphasis on showing campers how fun skateboarding can be. “Some of the kids came as jocks in Nikes and soccer jerseys, but left as skateboarders,” he says. “They can be both, but we try to show them how skateboarding can affect their life in a good way. It b
uilds their confidence and self-image.”

Whatever the outcome may be, skateboard camps have proven to be a wonderful catalyst for learning and overcoming the obstacles of fear and self-doubt. Young skaters are open to instruction; they love to learn, and with a little prompting can exceed their own self-imposed limitations. But in the end, it all depends on the individual, which is exactly as it should be.

Camp Guide

The following skateboard camps will operate in Summer 2000. Contact the camps at the numbers listed below for more information.

Donny Barley Skate Camp

1747 W. Main Rd., Middletown, Rhode Island 02842
Phone: (401) 848-8078
Season: First two weeks in August.
Sessions: Two one-week sessions. Day camp.
Price: 250 dollars for Skater Island Skatepark members, 300 dollars for nonmembers.

Lake Owen

HC 60 Box 60, Cable, Wisconsin 54821
Phone: (715) 798-3785
Season: June 4 to August 6 (last session begins).
Sessions: Ten one-week sessions, Sunday through Saturday.
Price: 625 dollars includes skating, food, and lodging.

Magdalena Ecke Family YMCA

200 Saxony Rd., Encinitas, California 92023-0907
Phone: (760) 942-9622
Season: June 19 to August 28 (last session begins).
Session: Eleven one-week sessions. Day camp.
Price: 120 dollars for Ecke YMCA members, 141 dollars for nonmembers.

Mission Valley YMCA

5505 Friars Rd., San Diego, California 92110
Phone: (619) 298-3576
Season: June 19 to September 4 (last session begins).
Session: Eleven one-week sessions. Day camp. Ages 6 to 11 only.
Price: 140 dollars for Mission Valley YMCA members, 175 dollars for nonmembers.

Snow Valley

Five miles east of Running Springs, California on Highway 18.
P.O. Box 2337, Running Springs, California 92382
Phone: (909) 867-2751
Season: June 25 to August 13 (last session begins).
Sessions: Eight one-week sessions, Sunday through Friday.
Price: 595 dollars includes skating, food, and lodging.

Visalia YMCA

Sequoia Lake, California
211 W. Tulare Ave., Visalia, California 93277
Phone: (559) 627-0700
Season: July 15 to August 19 (last session begins).
Session: One-week sessions, Saturday through Thursday.
Price: 465 dollars includes skating, food, and lodging.

Woodward Camp

Box 93, Route 45, Woodward, Pennsylvania 16882
Phone: (814) 349-5633
Season: May 28 to August 27 (last session begins).
Sessions: One-week sessions, Sunday through Saturday.
Price: 685 dollars includes skating, food, and lodging.

Young Life Skate Camp

Hope, B.C., Canada
Phone: (604) 807-3718
Season: Late August to mid September.
Session: Two one-week sessions, Sunday through Friday.
Price: 279 dollars (Canadian) includes skating, food, and lodging.