Interview by: Kamrin Baker
Photos by: Justin Fennert
December 5, 2018
Kevin Wilkins founded The Skateboard Mag, a publication built to strengthen the community, and is driven to use skateboarding as a means to equality and inclusivity. This is what it means for our city.
Issue 1 : It is the heart that drives us, beating away to forge and mold each of us as our own magnificent people. This issue is about that.
When did you realize you had a passion for skating?
It’s hard to remember—it was a long time ago. When I was six or seven, I went over to a friend’s house to slide down a grass hill on these cardboard boxes they had. His brother had a skateboard. He had just gotten one. It was a new thing, probably about 1973. It was just magic, it was so crazy. We rode it on our butts down the hill. A few years later, for my birthday, I got my own skateboard. I kind of always had one, loved doing it. In high school, I found access to a big ramp. There were no skateparks; there was no industry. There were no shops. I had seen skateboards in magazines, but that was it. Probably in ’82, at the lowest of its low point, a bunch of people from skateboard industry—a dude who had a truck company—started Thrasher magazine. They wanted to spread the word and grow this industry that he had believed in.
This guy brought all the pros to Lincoln, and had a contest in my friend’s backyard. Before then, I rode a board and had a board, but I probably wouldn’t have considered myself a skateboarder. I just didn’t know anyone else. After that, I was hooked. That was probably when I was 16. Since then, it’s just been how much I can be involved, how much I can contribute back to people, how I can work to skateboard, build, facilitate, and consult with people who want to be a part of it. That’s kind of the quick and dirty story of it.
Why are skateparks important for the community?
I had no access to that stuff as a kid, but when I got access to that, it opened my whole world. I never would have come across things if not for skateparks. There was a creative outlet where there wasn’t one before. I also self-describe as someone who doesn’t necessarily fit into the mold. Whether that’s school, or traditional sports, or social circles, or whatever… skateboarding attracts that kind of person. There’s a community there—whether you want to call it family, friends, or culture—skateboarding provides that for people who might not have it. The groups that can benefit from skateboarding—gender, socioeconomic status, however you identify—those things don’t matter. Skateboarding can attract the weirdos across the strata. In all those sub-sects of our society, even in the weirdest or most normal sub-sects, skateboarding can target individuals who need it. They’re the artists, they’re the weirdos, they’re the people who struggle, the people who are misfits or outcast and skateboarding gives them a place for community.
It instantly serves a population that’s not served. If you have access to it, you get something you wouldn’t have anywhere else, even with a place that has lots of programs and access to things like community centers or after school programs are great—but this is still providing something for a group that normally wouldn’t have it.
For a disenfranchised demographic, skateboarding provides that to them in a way that they will never get from anything else.
What is your involvement in this development?
I’m kind of on the outskirts of it. I’ve helped build and consult on a lot of skate park stuff in Nebraska—but my background is in skateboard media. I worked on skateboard magazines and websites, and whatever it has become today, since the late 80s. So, having been able to do that, I’ve traveled all over the world and seen thousands of skateparks, I’ve seen successful ones and failures. By being a participant in this thing as much as I can—I have a perspective on it as a user. It’s more of a thumbs up-thumbs down thing until the project really gets rolling. And they’re pretty far from it rolling. This designer? Thumbs up or thumbs down. This location? Thumbs up or thumbs down; it’s things like that. To be honest, we’ve seen this thing get wound up and then fall by the wayside dozens of times in Omaha and Lincoln over the last two decades. We’re not trying to jump in and do heavy lifting quite yet, but until it gets started, that’s where we all are.
What can the average Omahan do to help or get involved with the skate park—or even get on board with it?
I mean, it’s hard if you’re not connected to it. It’s hard to understand. If someone is having a hard time understanding the project, I would encourage them to look for similarities in the things they enjoy, and know that those are there in spades in skateboarding, for underserved groups. If they enjoy, let’s say, playing music, and can understand the benefits of that on their life and their quality of living, they should know that skateboarding could provide that for people who don’t get that from music. If someone is well-off, and they enjoy the benefits of privilege, they can understand that skateboarding can provide the benefits of privilege for people who don’t have it. At its most basic level, it’s fun and it’s physical, and it’s creative problem solving, which you should be able to get from any number of things, but there’s something about the way skateboarding gives itself to its user.
For a disenfranchised demographic, skateboarding provides that to them in a way that they will never get from anything else. We are providing a service, and kind of a little maintenance service for a group of people to understand the community they live in. If you can problem solve and be creative through skateboarding, you can problem solve and be creative for your wider community. We’re just community building, and trying to have a good time doing it.
How would Omaha be changed by a skatepark downtown?
I mean, we travel as a group (my friends, and my contemporaries) around the country, just as little skate trips and vacations we take. At a fully basic, monetary level, as a group of 10-20 people, when we go to Colorado or Minnesota or Oregon, we have to buy food, pay for lodging, gas, etc. And we’re not alone—this travel is happening around the country and internationally. Skate tourism is a thing, even though it’s a subculture. It still brings money to a place. Everyone can kind of understand that. You look at the College World Series, what Nebraska football does for Lincoln. It brings people in.
It can do that for Omaha, but does it in a very street level, in a very underground way. Once it’s established, it never goes away. You can see things wax and wane on these massive levels (like, oh, sure the CWS goes down 3% this year in millions of dollars), but once a skate scene is established in a town or medium-sized city, its foundation can never be broken down. It’ll bring that money or that support for an under-served population forever. Like I said before, it’s really low maintenance. Once you build something correctly out of concrete, it doesn’t need to be resurfaced and fixed all the time. It becomes part of the fabric of that community in a hands-off way. A metaphor that’s used a lot, but, to an outsider, it looks like a “Lord of the Flies” thing, like you’ve given this island over to the kids and its anarchy, but when you’re in the middle of it, it does a lot of good. It teaches, it gives people identity, it provides a space for creativity and problem solving that people wouldn’t normally get. Those people aren’t going anywhere, they’re going to stay in Omaha and be members of the community.
A big part of the success or failure of these things is the skatepark being well-done. I’ve seen dozens of dozens of these things where a city raises or allocates money, and they don’t hire the right people or select the right planners, or get input from the user, and it goes unused because it’s unusable. It might look like a skatepark, but it’s not. Hopefully, getting this group of consultants involved ahead of time, we can avoid that.
I’ve heard the saying, like, ‘it’s better than nothing,’ but the effort needs to be there for it to work.
What is one action from someone else that changed your life and led you to this point?
This guy, his name was Fausto Vitello, (with Thrasher), he died maybe ten years ago. He was the gentleman who organized and funded that group of pros coming to my hometown that I mentioned earlier. He put his words into action. He wanted this business and this industry he was involved in to succeed and grow. He figured out a way to do it from a very humble, grassroots level. He built, almost a series of contests around the country, on infrastructure that was already there. Things in backyards, things make specifically by the user. He planted the seeds of this skateboard thing, where it had previously died, and he made skateboarding come back from the grave. He made it a success. If he hadn’t done that, my life and the lives of tens of thousands of people would have been completely different.
I never really knew or met him; I shook his hand once or twice and said thank you. His goals could have been strictly business or not super high-minded, but the way he went about it, he affected the lives of a huge amount of people that was beyond business.
What is the heart of this project?
It’s funny because we throw that out there once in a while, that term, “the underprivileged youth” or we’ll talk about it in terms of transportation, and these are all kind of things that go without saying in our subculture. Of course those things are there, of course this provides a filler for someone who has a gap in their life, but really, it provides a way for a huge population to understand their place in the world. And so many people don’t, in this age. I think there’s been a few ways to understand your place in the world for hundreds of years, and ever since we became sort of a consumer-driven society, people who were sold to and made to buy, those parameters became narrower and narrower. So, male or female, old or young, rich or poor: this is where you fit into this society we built. A lot of people have just been left in the wake of that. Skateboarding provides a lot of things for people who don’t necessarily fit—so much so, as it’s become more mainstream, people who do fit have found that it provides things for them, too. Skateboarding, in the last 20 years, it became something that the cool kids who made fun of it, now want to be a part of. It can show you a path through the forest that you didn’t even know was there. You discover things about yourself that you didn’t know—and there are not many other ways to learn those things.
Not to sound too mystical or weird about it, but it does speak to a population in a way that they aren’t usually spoken to. It helps people understand their place in a very ‘normal’ world, once they realize this very ‘normal’ world is all made up of a bunch of weirdos.
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