TransWorld Business is taking a long-overdue in-depth look at a wide cross-section of skate park builders in the United States and internationally as part of a weekly series exploring how each got their start, how the business has grown and evolved over the years, and where the future of skatepark building is headed.
Fairly new on the scene, Evergreen Skateparks launched last year. Owner Billy Coulon, however, has been a part of the skate park building industry for the past seven years, getting his start working for Airspeed’s Geth Noble in Portland, Oregon. Coulon and his wife Catherine were living in Hawaii when they came across a film documenting skatepark builders in the Northwest, and suddenly a light-bulb went off.
“I hadn't figured out what I wanted to do and I was floundering a little bit,” says Coulon. “When I saw that video I was really inspired and I knew I needed to go to Oregon and find those guys.”
Airspeed’s Noble agreed to let Coulon help on the Toledo, Oregon skatepark ,and then a year later was signed back on the team to help out with a park in Dublin, Ireland. He followed that up with a four year stint with Oregon’s Dreamland skateparks, but in 2009 realized that he may need to take things into his own hands to continue doing what he loved.
“There was no way I could rely on anyone else to provide me with enough work to pay my bills so I approached Tim Windell, owner of Windells Camp, about working on skatepark construction full time,” says Coulon. “I knew there was an incredible amount of potential there so I told him that if he could pay me enough to pay my bills, he would have my one hundred percent dedication towards making the best skatepark possible. I always wanted my own skatepark building company and I was moving in that direction.”
Shortly after that, Coulon started Evergreen, and in a short period of time the company has accomplished an amazing amount of work, building Portland’s indoor Commonwealth Skatepark, a private bowl in California, a "street" phase at Windells, and the second phase of the Carbondale, Colorado skatepark. We caught up with Coulon to learn more about what it takes to launch your own skatepark company these days and how he has seen the business of building evolve.
How would you describe skate park construction as a business?
The Skatepark construction business is a very difficult business for me at times. The skateboarder in me takes over which doesn't always leave much room for profit. If there is an opportunity to grow the park or make it better, I will do that rather than take home extra cash.
How has average costs of parks changed?
The cost of parks has been going up because of all the middlemen and red tape that is often required to get public facilities built. Having to purchase a design from a design firm is not only unnecessary, but adds to the cost. We are often able to build parks for much less than other companies because we see the design as part of the process and not something that we charge for separately.
On what level are you involved with retailers, brands, and the skate community as a whole? What opportunities do you believe exist for partnerships?
Our primary focus is on building skateparks so our involvement with retail and brands is minimal. We try to support American made products and materials as much as we can. We are also very active in our local skate scene and skatepark scene in our hometown of Portland, Oregon. We are helping fundraise right now to get the Powell Street Skate Spot built in Portland, a project we will be building at cost once the funds are there. As far as partnership goes we value our independence so we can stay true to our goals, but we would not be opposed to building a training facility for someone.
What is the most challenging aspect of skate park construction and what strategies does your company have in place to help combat these?
Because we are a newer company, right now our biggest challenge is communicating to cities our true value. We are a small company; only my wife and I work in our office and I am also on site for the entirety of our projects. We work as hard as we can, but it is hard to compete with the larger corporate companies that have 40 people in their office and smoke and mirrors presentations promising these cities the world. Anyone who has skated any of our parks knows that the difference is quality, but it's hard to get that message across to people on the other side of the country. Right now we are just trying to do as much outreach as possible and get in touch with as many cities and advocacy groups as we can to offer our services. Skateparks take years to get built so it is important that we make an impression early in the development phases. We know the more skateparks we put in the ground, the more people will like them and the more our business and reputation will grow. Right now it's just a matter of getting that opportunity. We have something to prove so anyone who hires us will be getting a lot for their money.
What do you think are the greatest opportunities within the skate market as a whole? How can skate park builder's work together with brands and retailers to help grow the industry as a whole?
If skate brands want to be involved in the skatepark building industry, it would be nice to see them support only companies that are staffed and owned by actual skaters who care about their craft and making sure quality parks are built.
What types of features and construction types are most popular now?
Skateparks now a days are often just a collaboration of a bunch of ideas. It seems like currently parks are kind of like a mix tape. The parks are a series of easily nameable obstacles designed based on the requests of a lot of people. Mix tapes are good, you get a lot of variety, but what I would like to do when I design parks is make them like a whole album that can be played through, if that makes any sense. As far as construction types, some of the larger companies are moving towards pre-fabricated concrete obstacles. Essentially they are making skate obstacles in a factory and then dropping them off but this technique is not optimal and greatly diminishes quality and creativity—it’s a huge digression in skatepark construction. Poured in place concrete skateparks designed and built by skaters who are also craftsmen is the only way to go.
What role do major events like the X Games play in park progression?
In a perfect world the X games could provide an excellent opportunity for cities that do not have the funding for a skatepark to have a park built. It's a shame that they build these large courses and then tear them down. The money that goes into the X games is enough to build some really quality permanent parks.
Where do you think the future of skate parks is headed? What types of strategies has your company been working on to keep up with what's happening in the skate market?
I hope it’s headed toward more skaters building parks, instead of less skaters building parks. In my opinion, anyone who doesn't skate has zero license to build skateparks. It seems as if more and more design only companies are popping up which is really wack. If you can't actually build your designs, then leave it to the people who can. More and more jobs are requiring a separate design from the build, which is a terrible thing for the quality of skateparks and in no circumstance, is it better. Our main strategy is to build the best skateparks possible through honesty and hard work.