Meet Allison Waters. She’s a local skateboarder who has spent the last year designing, planning, and getting funding for the perfect indoor skatepark. She’s smack dab in the middle of one of her bigger hurdles – securing a location. We met a couple months ago and she told me all about why she does what she does.
In sixth grade, I was watching the XGames. Watching them skate on the vert ramp – Tony Hawk & Bucky Lasek – way back in’96, ’97. I thought “That is awesome. I want to do that.” And around the same time, my grandmother passed away which meant my cousin came up from southern Illinois. I lived in Chicago suburbs at the time. I almost never saw him. He came up and brought his skateboard and was skateboarding the whole time. That was it. I decided I had to get a board. I asked my mom and she took me to the mall and we went and bought a skateboard. There was this hippie store that had a skate shop in it. It was like, Tie-Dye & skateboards.
I spent everyday before & after school in the garage trying to learn how to ollie, and begging my mom to take me to skateparks.
I’ve tried BMX, skateboarding, snowboarding, & very briefly I played with my sisters inline skates – but skateboarding is the only one that stuck. It’s the most fun. Part of it was the culture that went around it. Where I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, we had some small local parks being built and then eventually we had an indoor park. Once we had that, that was it. I had a place to go ALL the time. I skated there every single day that I could for eight years.
A big part of skateboarding for me was that it was an outlet where I could do whatever I wanted. There were no rules or constraints. In skateboarding there is no one way to do it. You don’t have to learn how to ollie first, you don’t have to learn how to drop in first, you can do whatever you want, whenever you want, however you want. I really needed that as a young person, because there were some big hardships I struggled with as a kid and never really found a good way to deal with them. My mom would send me to therapy and I’d refuse to talk and things like that. Skateboarding gave me a healthy outlet where I could go and put my emotions into something and come out feeling better on the other side.
I went to this big event in Seattle called “Wheels of Fortune” about two years ago. It’s put on by Skate Like A Girl. I’ve worked with the Portland chapter since I moved to Portland several years ago. I came here, went to a skatepark, met this awesome girl Jamie who I’m still friends with and still skate with. She was like “You’re pretty good at skating, you should help us coach at Skate Like A Girl. We need coaches.” So I got hooked up with Skate Like A Girl and been coaching with them for about three years.
Skate like A Girl is currently based out of Seattle and every year they put on this big women’s contest in May. I went up to that in 2015 and it just blew my mind. It was one of the best experiences of my life. For one of the first times ever, I got to skate with women skaters from all over the world. They come to this event and we just have a whole weekend of skating. I got to skate with pros that I look up to, and I got to meet people from all over. That was amazing and inspiring. So many people kept asking our little Portland crew, “When are we going to do something like this in Portland? When are we going to do it?” And we were thinking “We don’t have anywhere that could do this. We don’t have a lot here in Portland.
I started thinking and dreaming and I was like “I think I could do it. I’m going to look seriously at it.” I did a bunch of numbers, estimated how many people would come, what rents are in the area, asked my friends that own businesses what are paying in utilities, taxes, fees and all that stuff. I came up with a really rough number. I saw that this isn’t going to make a million dollars. But it can be profitable enough to pay my salary and pay about three employees, totally. And if we’re able to scale it to serve more people, we can pay more employees.
So from there I decided to make a serious business plan and that took a really long time to put that together. Once I finished that, I started looking for money. I have some I can put into it myself, but not enough. I realized I’d need at least $100,000, preferably $200,000, to be able to start this and know that we’re going to be good for at least six months. I was able to talk to a lot of people and found someone who could do a loan to start the business. It’s still a little tight – I’d like to find another investor or co-owner, but it’s enough.
When I was in school I didn’t have a ton of friends, I was kind of nerdy and my only friends were the other nerdy kids. Which was great – I’m glad I had them. Outside of school I didn’t have a ton of friends, and as I got older my cousins were in my life less. As a little kid my cousins were around all the time and they were like built in friends. As we got older that stopped being a thing and going to the skatepark allowed me to meet so many people of different ages. Especially at the indoor park I was able to make such a great community of friends, we all just had a good time together and didn’t expect anything of each other. We were just there, doing our thing together. I feel like there are a lot of people who could use that kind of community in Portland now. There are a lot of kids and teens who don’t fit in at school or don’t do well at team sports, or whatever their parents are expecting them to do. Doing something that’s more individual, but doing it in a community, is really good. More than anything I’m hoping to build a community for those kids and teenagers who just don’t have it anywhere else.
We need a place for everyone – for beginners, and kids, and any adult who skates…there’s just not enough opportunities. It’s forcing people to quit for the winter and that’s sad. I don’t want to do that. There are kids who wanna skate and they come out to parks like this in the summer and then they don’t get to skate the rest of the year. There have been plenty of kids that I’ve met through Skate Like a Girl that have come through our summer camps, they skate all summer and then it starts to get rainy and they just quit for the whole winter. Then they have to start relearning again. I’ve talked to a lot of parents in Portland who say, “If there was a safe, clean, indoor park within driving distance of my house? Yeah, I would take my kids there, yeah I would pay $10 a session. That’s not a big deal.” People are also looking for camps, and afterschool programs, and there just aren’t very many of those. Commonwealth’s camps all fill up. Portland Parks and Rec does outside Skate Camps in the summer and those mostly fill up. So there’s a demand for it that’s not really being met. Specifically there’s a demand for beginner indoor spaces.
It’ll be fun for everyone. This park (Happy Valley Skate Park) is a good example because all the ramps are on the smaller side, but it’s still super fun for the guys who have been skating for 20 years. That’s the design we’re going for. We won’t have any ramps that are over 5 feet tall.
You can follow the development of Stronger SkatePark at their website.