Skaters try new trick, propose Upcountry park

Without a skate park to call their own, Upcountry skaters often have to travel to Kahului or farther to find a safe place to skate, and many resort to practicing their tricks along public roadways which are neither safe nor legal, residents said.

But two King Kekaulike High School students are spearheading an effort to create a public skate park on county land, either in Pukalani or Makawao, as part of their senior projects this year. Greg Sherman and Michael Siver were among dozens of residents both young and old who testified recently before Mayor Alan Arakawa’s administration at a community budget hearing. The students formed a group called the Upcountry Skateboard Alliance, and they proposed that the county appropriate an initial $100,000 “seed money” for the design and conceptual process of a skate park in next year’s budget.

“Skating keeps me out of trouble, especially because there’s nothing to do Upcountry, there’s no beaches or anything,” Sherman, 16, said in a phone interview. “Skaters are everywhere. We’re not allowed to bring our boards to school so it might not look like it, but there’s so many (people who skate), it’s ridiculous.”

Growing up, his mom would drive him and friends to the skate park at Keopuolani Park in Kahului, which would take up to 30 minutes, Sherman said.

“Skate parks are a safe way to test your limit,” said Petar Kovacic, a teacher and senior project mentor at King Kekaulike High School.

The proposed skate park “is set up in an area in the community that is easily policed. It’s going to be like an epicenter of community building with competitions, picnic, community and family-friendly activities.”

Upcountry is the only community on Maui without a skate park, he added.

“How do you learn to skateboard? On a driveway or on the street, that’s what people have available to them right now,” Kovacic said. “Skating is illegal on county roadways or in a business district, and as a rural community, half of my driveway is dirt.”

Maui County officials have not rejected the idea of building another skate park, as long as the county can afford it, officials said.

“We love building new park facilities like skate parks for the community. They’re well used, but like anything else we’ve got to check the budget and see what is the reality,” county spokesman Rod Antone said.

Community advocacy efforts and hands-on labor “definitely helps” to get the process started, he said. That process happened with the Hana skate park, which opened in May 2012 at Paanimai Park.

“The Hana community put a lot of sweat equity into getting that park. They weren’t just waiting for the county to move,” Antone said. “They did a lot of physical labor themselves. That really helps us out, the community working to make the park a reality.”

The West Maui Skate Park opened in Lahaina last year and cost more than $1 million, but Kovacic and others have said that the proposed Upcountry skate park would likely cost much less because it would have fewer costly “bowls and halfpipes.” Instead, he said the students and young skaters now prefer “street” parks, which feature more stairs, handrails, curbs and other challenges that are more common in the streets than bowls and halfpipes that focus more on flips and spins.

There are at least 100 active Upcountry skateboarders who would benefit from the new facility, according to resident Joey Francisco, 28, who first learned to ride a skateboard in his Makawao driveway when he was 5 years old.

“Skateboarding was good for me because it kept me out of trouble when I was a kid waiting for soccer practice,” Francisco said. “It’s a place to hang out after school instead of having nothing to do.”

He added that skateboarding provides an athletic outlet for kids who may not excel at other sports like football, basketball or soccer.

“I used to hitchhike downtown every day to skate when I was 14 or 15. You don’t want kids hitchhiking,” Francisco said. “It would be easier if they could walk after school from King Kekaulike or Kalama (Intermediate School).”

About a decade ago, there was a skate park in Makawao behind Kalama Intermediate School where the redemption center is now, Francisco said, but the old, wooden ramps became dilapidated and unsafe for use after only a couple of years. Paia Youth & Cultural Center funds a StoneWave Skate Park, but skaters must pay $5 per day, $15 per month or $150 per year.

Many young skaters who lack the funds to pay for a membership ride their boards where they can, including the parking lot of the new Maui Lani Safeway.

“The most popular place to skate now is the new Safeway. All the kids are going there,” Francisco said. “It’s horrible because it gives skateboarders a bad name. We have skate parks but not ones with the street features kids are going for.”

Grindline Skate Parks Inc., a Seattle-based company that designed and partially constructed the West Maui Skate Park, will be visiting Maui in the spring to finish the second phase of the Hana skate park, Kovacic said.

He said he hopes the county will appropriate the funding before then so that Grindline could begin work on an Upcountry park when company officials visit.

“It’s a tremendous process, and it will require a lot of work,” Kovacic said. “But this is the most exciting project I’ve ever been involved with in my time as a mentor (the past three years). We went from a simple project to watching these kids testifying at their very first public meeting ever. They were becoming activists, talking to the mayor with the microphone. . . . Other teachers and students are inspired by what these kids are doing.”

* Eileen Chao can be reached at