Jeff Ament's tribal skatepark
Skateboarding has always had high friends in low places but as it grows larger than our wildest childhood dreams we find ourselves with some very good friends in very high places. We're seeing architects and city planners that skate working angle iron and slant banks into designs clearly meant for skaters. We're seeing our President Obama skateboarding into rooms to meet foreign dignitaries after being inspired by Tony Hawk skating through the White House. And we're seeing rock stars like Pearl Jam's bassist, Jeff Ament, doing everything he possibly can to better the lives of skateboarders in his area of America by building park after concrete park.
Recently, Vans' Off The Wall video site's original program, Pass The Bucket (which documents the altruistic endeavors of the good people of our community), documented Jeff's efforts to open a Grindline park in the impoverished Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. We caught up with Jeff to talk about skateboarding yesterday, today and tomorrow.
ESPN.com: What year did you start skating?
Ament: 1976. A trip to NorCal to visit our relatives when my cousin Gary had a homemade oak deck with Cal Slaloms and RR4s that he shared with me, along with a Skateboarder Magazine which he gave me. I ordered my own Cal Slaloms and RR4s when I got home to Big Sandy, MT and my dad helped me build a Warptail replica, and many ramps after that.
What role has music played in your skateboardingand what role would you say skateboarding has played on your music, if any?
It's all the same deal. I had a portable 8-track player under all my ramps, cranking one of my four 8-tracks -- Cars/Candy-O, Ramones/Road To Ruin, Cheap Trick/ Heaven Tonight and the first Devo record. I don't remember skating without music. When I got into hardcore music, I was inspired by Steve Olson and TA [Tony Alva] who were also in bands... and later on, Neil Blender, who was also an artist. Punk rock and skateboarding took the "school" out of living your life and I related to learning as I went, doing a lot of different things that I liked, when I liked. Consequently, I'm mediocre at all of the above, but still stoked on being a lifetime student of music, skating, painting, writing, etc.
How many parks have you helped open, where are they located, why did you choose those locations and which was the easiest/hardest to get done?
We were involved early on, as a band, re-sheeting Ranquet's ramp in '92. Contributing to all the Seattle Center parks. I got involved with getting the Missoula skatepark built, by going to dozens of city council and parks department meetings and donating and helping fundraise with the Montana Skatepark guys, Ross and Chris. I also helped out with Great Falls, St. Ignatius and Polson... We built Big Sandy two summers ago, Pine Ridge last summer and hoping to get a bunch of small town parks built in Montana in the next couple years. The Missoula park and dealing with the Seattle Center were the toughest to build -- tons of politics and red tape. Big Sandy, we just sent the Grindline guys in with a pencil drawing of the shape and a truck load of pool block. I think if you asked any park builders who they'd rather build parks for, they would say the smaller the town, the better.
How did the Vans Pass The Bucket video come about?
I'm not sure. Jim Murphy and I had a meeting with Steve Van Doren two years ago, asking to match funds when we put out the Pearl Jam shoe, so we could build the park in Pine Ridge. I think it's one of the best things they've ever been involved with... I know that's how I feel.
After having some time to reflect, can you describe your experience with the Oglala Lakota?
One the best collaborations ever. Hubbard and the Grindline guys really defined the spirit of the whole project: sleeping in tents to save money for more concrete, getting locals involved, teaching them how to build and take care of the their park. Definitely one of best $100K skateparks, if not the best, on the planet.
During the opening ceremony you were given a tribal blanket? What's the story/significance to the blankets?
It's hard to explain, but, to a person, it was the most loving, beautiful exchange I've ever had with a community of strangers. Needless to say, we're family now.
...trying to convince city government that building a park... would be a positive for the overall health of the community. It was sometimes easier to drop Warren Miller and Tony Hawk's names than it was to use me to push things through.
I've witnessed the saving and healing power of skateboarding in my own life and the lives of so many of my friends. Discuss some of the positive effects you feel skateboarding offers, especially in impoverished communities and why should municipalities of all income levels take a more serious look at building skateparks with their Rec. Department dollars.
That was the challenge ten years ago, when we had our first meeting in Missoula to get that park going: trying to convince city government that building a park in the center of the river front park would be a positive for the overall health of the community. It was sometimes easier to drop Warren Miller and Tony Hawk's names than it was to use me to push things through. I guess I must invoke some sort of stigma of the evils of rock music of which I've never been much a part of. All you have to do is drive by the empty tennis courts and basketball courts and compare them to the skateparks... c'mon people, get with the program, the future is now!
Why should municipalities avoid cheap, unchallenging snap together parks?
I think they're afraid of the permanence of rebar and concrete, as if skateboarding is still a fad... I think Joe Jackson represented this fallacy best "skateboards, I almost made them respectable." Man, was he wrong.
What do you have to skate at your house and what's the secret to being allowed to skate it?
Top secret concrete compound... ha! You must join our brotherhood, the Montana Pool Service, which involves a combination of freemason ritual and a farmer's work ethic.
When touring does the opportunity ever arise to break off from the band and hit some parks? What are some of your favorite parks you've hit?
Touring is a great reason to hit some parks... I never would have hit half of the parks I have if I didn't tour... Marseilles, Bondi, Louisville, Malmo, Brixlegg, Aproador in Rio, the old school park in Porto Alegre, so many. I take a couple of trips every year, hook up with Strople, Wally, Pineapple... hit up some So. Cal. 'crete with Buddy and Rick, maybe Olson... hell, this 13 year kid is stoked! The best parks are still in the NW I think: Klamath Falls, Lincoln City, Orcas, Port Townsend, Walla Walla, Duvall, Aumsville -- thanks to Grindline and Dreamland being in our backyard. I think since Lance [Mountain] joined up with CA Skateparks, they're catching up... and Team Pain is building ridiculous stuff in Colorado.
What can readers do to support the efforts you're making with skateparks?
Support your local skate scene! Team up with the locals and call Hubbard at Grindline to make sure you're doing it right.
Lastly, can Eddie Vedder skate?
He's a surf dog, so he's got skills. I try to make sure he's got fresh urethane for the flat days.
"But can he do a handstand?"