Craving a venue, skaters head to Billings

Youth skateboarding scene on the rise in Hardin
Thursday, November 8, 2018

Pursuit Skateshop founder Caleb Sauffer loves skateboarding for several reasons.

“There is so much creativity in skateboarding,” he says. “I just read an article the other weekend that was about entrepreneurs, and how some of the best entrepreneurs are skateboarders because they don’t know how to stop. And so building a skatepark for them to do that, I think it does things for the community that people don’t realize now, but for the future.”

Stauffer is particularly fond of the creative aspect of skating, saying, “I see a skatepark like an art studio, for the simple reason of a skater by the name of Torey Pudwill. Red Bull did a documentary on him. How it starts out is there’s a scene and a bus stop. A lady comes and sits on the bench and the bus comes. And then Pudwill comes, and this simple bus stop becomes such a creative spot. He does like 10 different tricks on this bench. And in my mind, the creativity that it brings out in somebody – because you can do so much – is ridiculous. I get fired up about it, because I see so many different opportunities to have a community progress by having skateboarding.”

Stauffer, who has been skateboarding since the age of 10, came to Montana in 2015 to attend the Montana Wilderness School of the Bible in Augusta, which is where he met his wife, Hannah. Later, after graduating and working in the family business of roofing, where he remains employed, he and Hannah decided to branch off with their own entrepreneurial venture.

“We founded [Pursuit] in January. We kind of just started slowly, amassing T-shirts, and then we got some boards, and some of this and some of that. We just merged into it. Right now we’re word-of-mouth and social media. We’re just trying to finish the details on our website.”

In addition to loving the sport and selling skateboarding equipment to other up-and-coming skaters, Stauffer and his wife helped organize a recent skate competition at the Billings Skatepark. The 2018 Fall Skate Fest took place on Oct. 20, sponsored by Pursuit, MoAV Coffee House and Discontent Skateshop. The event was well publicized, and since the skate scene is pretty well connected via social media, several Hardin locals made the drive in order to compete.

Kaden Wegner, who has been skateboarding since he was eight years old, was one of those Hardin locals. Wegner already has competed in several events, in addition to traveling to the Burnside Skatepark in Oregon, one of the most famous skateparks in America. While living with his mother in Washington, Wegner visited another skatepark in the city of Blaine, and there he met professional Canadian skater Chris Haslam, who gifted Wegner one of his skate decks. (That’s the part you stand on, for all of you pedestrians out there.)

Like Stauffer, Wegner is fond of crediting other pro skaters whose styles he admires.
“I like Aaron ‘Jaws,’” Wegner says. “He’s crazy.”

Aaron “Jaws” Homoki is both creative and brave. In 2014, he attempted a 25-stair ollie. That’s the equivalent of jumping a school bus that’s pointed downward like an inclined plane. After his first attempt, he tore his MCL completely, and had to rehabilitate for about nine months. In October of the following year, he went to revisit the site of his famous attempt. To him, the challenge looked smaller, which just goes to show what a year of time will do to the mind of a skater. Eventually, after two-dozen attempts, Homoki completed the jump with an emotional finish similar to winning the lottery.

Wegner estimates there are about 25 or so other Hardin residents with ability and interest similar to his own. However, the difficulty for skaters in Hardin is the lack of a skatepark.

“I think it would be better,” Wegner says, “because we have no place to skate, and so we have to skate on other property and people kind of get mad at that. And [a skatepark] would kind of help out.”

Wegner is improving quickly, and he lists a number of tricks that he used during the competitions. “The first one was a box grind. And I lost to that one. But the kid that won the box grind, he did a pretty good trick on it. All that I did was a 50-50 nollie front shove out, and a 50-50 back 180 out, and a 5-0.”

Those are complicated tricks that involve jumping and spinning in the air with the board, then landing on a surface and sliding, and then jumping off. Wegner’s arsenal of tricks involves even more complicated moves where the board flips while he’s in the air, thereby adding further levels of technicality.

“I’m starting to get used to tre flips,” he says. “And nollie kickflips. And nollie heelflips.”

In terms of local venues, Wegner has used the skatepark in Crow Agency in the past, including during the annual Crow Fair, but he finds the surface of the park to be difficult.

“I mean, it’s kind of bad because a bunch of kids go there and mess it up. And the gravel, it’s not even concrete. It’s just like really hard asphalt. It’s bumpy. It was pretty good like a few years back, but I think that it’s just all over the place now.”

Skateparks can be a potential draw for a community, in addition to providing a venue for mentoring and self-improvement, as well as creativity. In terms of using a skatepark to attract visitors to Hardin, there is plenty of skate culture between Billings and Crow Agency. Longtime Hardin resident and skater Isaiah Howe echoed the sentiment of both Stauffer and Wegner by saying, “Hardin definitely needs a skatepark.”
Stauffer seconded the idea, adding, “If there was a good park in Hardin, I would go.”

In a recent push to build more skateparks in rural Montana, Pearl Jam bassist Jeff Ament of Big Sandy, has helped fund and build 23 skateparks over the past two decades. According to a statement on the band’s website, Ament has a personal appreciation for skateboarding and what it can do for the culture. “Growing up in a small town, two things helped form my young identity: music and skateboarding. I want to give young people a place to call their own where they can get outside with their friends and ride.”

Caleb Stauffer even has first-hand experience with Ament’s project, which is affiliated with both the Montana Skatepark Association and with Pearl Jam’s Vitalogy Foundation. “I used to live in Big Sandy,” Stauffer explains, “which is a town of under 1,000 people, and they just got a gnarly skatepark. It’s well known.”

According to Stauffer, a skatepark has the same liability that a playground has, along with a similar level of maintenance, if not less. They usually have garbage cans, bathrooms and a water fountain. Skateparks are also typically prone to graffiti, which in this case is a staple of the culture. “You can paint over it,” Stauffer explains, “but they’re just going to graffiti it some more.”

Young skaters like Kaden Wegner, however, have the most at stake regarding the need for a skatepark in Hardin, and his feelings on the matter are clear and concise.

“I think that it’s kind of better than being inside,” he said, “playing video games or doing something that’s not good for you. And if you get better, you’re going to like it more.”

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