When I first heard that Derby Skatepark was getting 're-surfaced' I, like anyone else was extremely skeptical. The park is a West Coast icon and altering the park in any way could easily be disaterous. Imagine my suprise, reading an article, to see Mike Greenwald's name mentioned. Personally at that moment all worries were eliminated and I knew the park was in good hands. Why? I've known Mike for a good 12 years now and I know what kind of person he is. Check it out in his own words below and see why the new Derby came out even better than anyone could have dreamed.
Can you give a little history of your skatepark building career?
I started building ramps just after I started skating in around the 6th-7th grade… Quarterpipes, hald pipes , launch ramps. I was a camper at the Visalia YMCA Skatecamp in 89’-90- and met Dave and Kevin Bergthold who did Blockhead skateboards. They were moving to Bonsall which is about 15 minutes from where I lived. I helped them work on the Blockhead ramp. During that time, Dave Bergthold was the guy who built the streetcourse for the Skatecamp. He asked me to come help him build the following Summer and I did. This began my ramp building tenure at the skatecamp. I worked with Dave, then for Tim Payne for a number of years and then with Rob-O. In 1997 I took over the job of building the course each Summer. I’ve done it every year since then except one. I got really good with wood and tried to do some park work elsewhere. I rebuilt the “Ground Zero” park in Madera several times with my buddy Shane Evans. We also did a few other projects here and there, but wood parks were dying out.
In 2001 I was living in Visalia, CA and heard there was a concrete park being built in Fresno. Shane and I went up there and met the contractor George and he hired us to build forms. All of a sudden we were making prevailing wages and also learning how to do concrete. We travelled and built a number of parks with George. I got tired of the travel and decided to move back to Santa Cruz, where I had gone to school. I focused on my Skateboard Locker product and started doing a lot of carpentry work at the University. Once in awhile I’d work on a park and each Summer I’d build the camp.
About two years ago, the work around Santa Cruz started drying up and my wife and I were about to have a baby. I got back in touch with George and worked on a few parks for him. I was working on every aspect of these parks: coping fabrication, layout, dirtwork, forming and finishing. We completed two parks, which came out great. I decided that if I was going to continue to do this type of work that I needed to be the boss.
How and when did you hear that The City of Santa Cruz wanted to resurface Derby?
I had been checking in with Zach Wormhoudt from time to time to see if there were any new projects coming up. He had mentioned to me that the City wanted to do something about how beat up Derby had become and was considering pouring concrete over the original park. This was last Fall. I went and rode it and looked it over and decided I didn’t want to be any part of it. The park was just too historical and beloved. I kind of thought they should just let it be. Then in March, Zach told me that the City was definitely going to move forward with the plan and that it would be going out to bid soon. I talked about it with Jason Strubing (owner of SkateWorks and long time SC local) and we agreed that if it was going to be done, then it better get done right and it would be a good opportunity to make Derby even better. He talked to a handful of the locals about it and they all seemed to agree. I decided I would go after the job. If I got it, I intended to maintain the personality of Derby but also add some features.
What was the process of becoming the general contractor in charge of the job?
I submitted a bid. It wound up being just myself and Cal Skate that submitted bids. My bid was lowest.
Do you have a crew you work with or is it just you?
There are a couple people that I have done a lot of work with. They came out and helped.
For most people, the first time they heard about this was the post on the Thrasher Site 'Code Red' where The Illusion was saying Derby was being destroyed and everyone should get down there Occupy Derby. You must have been involved with this project way before that though. Did you see that backlash coming?
I knew that it was going to be a sensitive job and expected mixed emotions from people, but I didn’t forsee the drama that actually took place.
Why do you think the backlash happened? It seems like it a lack of communication?
Well, the City didn’t do any sort of public outreach about the project. I don’t think they realized how important Derby is to so many people. So when the fences went up out there, not many people knew what was happening and what to expect. And then rumors quickly got amplified and out of hand on the internet.
Derby is unquestionably a living historical artifact. How does this fact affect this job compared to other jobs where you are building a brand new park?
I doubt there has ever been a skate park job that has rivaled the emotion and drama that came with this one.
In your opinion did Derby even need to be resurfaced?
Derby was cracked, there were pretty big chunks of concrete that had fallen out and it was rough as hell… But these were all parts of the character of the park and people loved it for that. From the City’s perspective, it was a big liability, which was also true. If I think about it from the City’s perspective, yes something had to be done. They had made repairs out there in the past, which really didn’t last too long and I think they wanted a solution that would take care of the problems for a long time. From my own personal perspective, the decision to crete over the whole thing was debatable.
What was the day after the Thrasher post like? Did a lot of people show up at the park?
It was pretty hellish. The first group of people that we dealt with were the handful of local dudes that actually skate there on a regular basis. Once we had time to talk to them, they realized the park was in good hands and that this was a great opportunity to make a fun park funner. As the day went on, more people came and most of them were pretty upset. I’m not sure how many people came by but it must have been 100-200.
What was your initial reaction to this?
It was way stressfull. I wanted to be able to talk to everyone and explain that it was gonna be OK, but I also need to work and move forward. I hadn’t expected that amount of drama and I felt bad about dragging my friends and co-workers into it.
How did you handle the backlash to the re-design? Whatever you did it seems like it worked because from what I have read the local skaters are now backing the plan.
They quickly realized that I wanted to keep the feel and make it better. I was totally open to their input. After the first day and the media attention that followed, the City quickly realized that they had made a mistake in not making the project more public. Thankfully, they wanted to try and make to skaters happy and agreed to the changes in design that were being requested.
Have the local skaters been helping out with build and design process?
Yes. The suggestions never stopped. I hired a few of the locals that had building experience. They helped a lot.
What was the plan before you started the job and what is the plan now? Specifically, did you have blueprints that you had to follow and have they changed?
There was only a simple print detail that showed 4” of concrete being added to all surfaces. My plan all along was to add the 4” but also add some other features that would make the park better.
What is your favorite new feature of the park?
Hard to choose. They all add up to make it feel like a new park but it still feels like Derby. It is really fast now. Being able to grind a lot of places that you couldn’t before is great.
Is the gap at the end of the park going to be integrated into the new design?
It’s about the same.
How long is the remodel going to take?
It took less than three weeks. We worked our asses off. There wasn’t a day we worked less than 10 hours and usually it was more like 12-14 hours. The work was intense but the drama and emotion surrounding it amplified it even more. I am stoked it is done. I think just about everyone that has ridden it is really happy. Of course there are a few things that I wish had been done a bit differently, but hey, it’s weird park… It’s Derby.
Thanks to Wormhoudt for the images