In Durango, it is hard to go a day without seeing a skater riding down the street. Whether it be to commute across the Fort Lewis College campus or to try new tricks at the Schneider Skatepark, Durango is home to a wide community of people who like to skateboard.
The Schneider Skatepark lies adjacent to the Animas River Trail and is tucked to the side of Roosa Avenue.
The skatepark has an array of concrete elements to practice tricks, and a community of people who are there to work on their skills and socialize with fellow skaters who are there to do the same.
First-year student, Jones Belgonie, said the skate community in Durango is very accepting, whether a person is really good or brand new. If they're trying, they will be welcomed. Belgonie said he moved to Durango recently but has found the community of skaters at the Schneider Skatepark.
“I think the skatepark is a really good place to make friends and to meet people,” Belgonie said. “You’re all in the same boat, and everyone is pretty chill and relaxed, so it’s not hard to start a conversation. You already have the conversation starter with what you’re doing.”
A fellow skater, Jeff Hamner, a Fort Lewis Alumni, said he has been a part of the Durango skate community for 10 years and now plays a vital role in inspiring the emerging youth skaters at the skatepark.
Hamner said that he is the cofounder of a non profit called, “The Hive,” a company that works with the kids of Durango to teach them how to skateboard, play music, practice art, and get introduced to more activities in the community.
“The skate community is fully supportive,” Hamner said. “The high schoolers are hanging with college kids, the middle schoolers are slapping high fives with the high schoolers and the parents of smaller kids are getting to know the college and high school kids better.”
Hamner had on a pair of Van classics, jeans, and a loose fitting tee shirt. He wore a helmet on top of a flat brim hat and beneath it all, was a head of long, untamed hair that moved with him through the park.
Jeff Hamner is a hard person to miss, his voice and laugh cuts through the constant sound of skateboards grinding on metal and wheels moving across concrete.
According to Aleks Gajdecza, a rollerskating mother with two children in the skate program, Hamner sets a positive tone for the skatepark by teaching kids about the inevitable failure that comes in the skating process.
“When a student falls in his class, everyone claps, and similarly, when a student stays on the board, everyone claps,” Gajdecza said. “Hamner is teaching the kids to celebrate the failures and the successes of skating, because within the sport there is a decent amount of both.”
During the skate class, small children would line up next to the two foot bowl and take turns dropping in. There was a mix of girls and boys who all spoke among themselves, watched their peers progress and learned more about the etiquette of skating.
The skating community has a shared culture of experiencing failure and pain and learning how to work through it together. When a skater falls, they get back up because it’s part of overcoming the physical and mental challenges that come with the sport, Belgonie explains.
Jeff Hamner agrees.
“Skateboarding leads to injuries but it’s also so fun that you don’t want to stop skating,” Hamner began. “You start to skate differently depending on your sore spots, and you fall differently, and tap into this instinct that changes the way you would naturally do things.”
Belgonie was more struck by the mental challenges of skating than the physical.
“The mental challenge is something that is really beautiful in my opinion, and is super applicable to all walks of life,” Belgonie said. “It’s dealing with constant failure and having to recognize that you’re getting closer to your goal. It’s being able to look into the long term and think ‘ I will eventually get this.’”
The campus of Fort Lewis College also holds a community of skaters who use skateboarding as their main mode of transportation.
“Whenever I have time between classes, I’ll skate,” Belgonie said. “There’s a lot of people at Fort Lewis who skate, too. It's often that people will come up and ask to play a game of skate if they see me doing tricks. It’s a great way to make connections and meet new people.”
Lleyton Hull, a skateboarding freshman at Fort Lewis, and other members of the community have decided to establish a club for anyone with an interest in extreme concrete sports which include skateboarding, BMX biking, roller skating and scootering.
“We want to grow the extreme concrete sports community here at The Fort in a positive way,” Hull said. “It is one of the most welcoming communities and we want to show people that side of the sport and create a group for everyone to feel comfortable in. We also want to teach students new skills and hopefully get extreme concrete sport equipment for people to rent out.”
There is a large number of skaters at Fort Lewis College but they are not all truly connected as one big group. Hull's intentions are to create a large ECS community where everyone knows everyone and can have an opportunity for people to meet new friends and try things that they haven’t done before, he said.
For anyone who is interested, the club has an instagram, FLCECS, and is on Skyhub.
Local skaters want newcomers to not feel intimidated to come out and try.
“Don’t be afraid to look silly,” Hamner said. “Don’t be afraid to pad up, find the places in which you feel comfortable to begin, find a crew, don’t be afraid to ask questions, if you have the courage to introduce yourself to one loud fast skateboarder, they will introduce you to the other loud fast skateboarders and soon, you’ll be a loud, fast skateboarder too. Face your fears.”