In 2006, I received a call from Cary Skinner in New Braunfels, TX apparently her husband and two children were avid skaters, but they were really unhappy with the local skatepark. I was very familiar with this park because it was a modular park installed a few years ago and it had already shown signs of wear and tear. Cary felt that the modular park did not meet the needs of the community. She and her family had been to California and had visited many of their skateparks. By comparison, California’s skateparks seemed so much more successful than the park back home. She and her family had seen first-hand the benefits of a quality skatepark.
A few weeks later I met the Skinner family and found out Jim Skinner, Cary’s husband, was a devoted surfer and skateboarder in the ‘70s. Their sons, Jamie and Will, are both skaters as well. For the past five years they had been building ramps at their house and skating nearby parks in San Antonio and Austin. With their experiences from other parks, Jim knew exactly what he wanted in New Braunfels. He wanted to name the skatepark after ‘JAWS’, a famous surf break on the island of Maui. The idea was to give the park a tropical and flowing theme. They formed a non-profit group to raise money for the skatepark named JAWS with the goal of creating a destination skatepark that the whole community would be proud of.
In the beginning, things started off small. The plan was to remove the prefabricated ramps and replace them with some longer lasting concrete structures. The Skinners began to hold fundraisers at the park; selling t-shirts, holding raffles and inviting vendors to set up booths if they agreed to give proceeds of their sales to the cause. This fundraising activity raised awareness and garnered support outside of the skateboarding community. The t-shirts they sold read “Skate the Wave” to give tribute to the surf theme behind the park.
A few months later, Cary Skinner saw a perfect opportunity to get funding from the Tony Hawk Foundation (THF). THF gives grants to qualified communities interested in building skateparks. With community support and fundraising momentum, a THF grant was applied for. After months of hard work collecting data for their application, the Skinner family was successful in winning a $25,000 grant from THF…the highest available amount.
Although $25,000 may not seem like much, when the goal is to build a world-class skatepark, a THF grant can do wonders for giving credibility to an organization or project. After the New Braunfels project received the THF grant, more donations started rolling in. People who didn’t know about skateparks, knew Tony Hawk.
The city began to gain interest in what the Skinners were up to, and in 2007 they sent out a Request for Qualifications in their search for a skatepark designer. Long-time skatepark designer and builder Wally Hollyday was hired, and the Skinners came a step closer towards their dreams of a world-class facility.
Hollyday examined the site and felt the confines of the existing concrete slab were too constraining. As a result, the city agreed to choose an area next to the slab for the new skatepark, the existing prefab ramps would be removed, and the slab turned into a basketball court. After a round of public meetings and design feedback from the local skaters, Hollyday began drafting a design to meet everyone’s needs. The Skinners felt two features would help characterize the theme of the new facility. One was the concrete over-vertical “clam shell” structure in one of the bowls. The second feature was a unique, (and uncommon in today’s skateparks), winding snake run. This feature was included to paid homage to the nearby Guadalupe and Comal Rivers.
Soon enough, Wally had completed the design the Skinners and the local skateboarding community gave input on. Unfortunately, the design was 8,000 square feet over budget. The Skinners went back into fundraising mode. Two agencies came to the rescue. The Wurstfest, promoters of local economic development, saw the skatepark as a great opportunity to attract tourism. New Braunfels is known as a tourist town with the rivers and theme parks, and a world class skatepark made the perfect fit. The Downtown Rotary donated 25,000 dollars for the cause, and were the park’s second savior. The Rotarians work world wide in solving issues of children at risk, hunger, the environment and poverty and saw the skatepark as fitting with that mission.
In October of 2008, the Skinners held one of their final fundraisers at the modular park. Local skaters built ramps and brought extra equipment to make this a special event. The skating lasted all day and at its finale the Wurstfest presented a $30,000 check to the skatepark project fund. On top of that, the city put $175,000 more towards the project. The skatepark was very close to becoming a reality.
In early 2009 New Braunfels broke ground on the 17,800 square-foot facility. SPA Skateparks out of Austin, Texas was hired to do the construction, which took about six months to complete. After hundreds of yards of concrete, countless feet of steel tubing, and landscaping the park was ready to open.
On Grand Opening day, the slab which once held prefab ramps was now a brand new basketball court, and next to that sat a newly completed world-class skatepark. Not only was this the biggest skatepark in South Central Texas, but the first park in the area with two bowls, a street area and a snake run. Hundreds of onlookers gathered around the skatepark while the skaters explored the two bowls, large stair sets, and the snake run. By the end of the day, it was estimated that approximately 3000 people had attended the grand opening.
Since its opening, the park has attracted visitors from all over the state. The park is conveniently close to Interstate 35. New Braunfels has set a new high-water mark for skateparks in South Central Texas.
The park is used by skaters of all ages every day. 45-year-old skater and San Antonio tattoo artist Dan Barnett visits the park two to three times a week. “We skate from 9:30am to 11am, then drive ten minutes into town and hit the river.” Having the river as a cooling off spot on 100+ degree days has made the park even more attractive to the skating community.
The New Braunfels skatepark is a great model for what a destination skatepark should be. Not only are the locals having a great time using the park, so are numerous tourists traveling up and down the I-35 corridor. These tourists help the local economy by staying at hotels, buying gas, eating out at restaurants and checking out local entertainment options.
The Skinner family is a shining example for every skater trying to get a park built in his or her community. They started with nothing but a flat slab of concrete and some aging prefab ramps. Through numerous fundraisers, years of grant-writing, and tireless attempts to rope in local businesses, the Skinners pulled it off.
Since the skatepark opened in 2009 it has hosted numerous contest venues including the Rukus Rumble, the Live2Sk8 Festival, the Elemental Awareness Competition and the RATS (Regional Amateur Tour) Competition. On top of that, the skatepark has attracted numerous professional skate tours such as Baker, Think, DVS and World Industries.
As of today, the Skinner family is in the process of raising more money for the park. Their next goal is to raise enough money to install lighting for night time skating. Everyday a steady stream of skaters flock the park and the park remains a destination point for skaters around the state. If you would like to learn more about the JAWS Skatepark you can visit the city’s webpage.