The Great Indoors: Joe Lehm Wants You To Build, Teach and Inspire

Joe Lehm was our Day Job feature for Skate[Slate] Magazine Issue 32 with Zak Maytum bombing the Baldy Spillway on the cover. Joe has been a legend in our scene for a long time now and continues to lead Skate School in Santa Fe New Mexico, but he is bring us the 11th annual Ditch SLAP coming up this May adding to an epic list of community events he has put on.


Joe is a passionate guy and one thing he believes is that building parks, schools and programs to reach skaters of all ages and help them progress is the best way to foster the future of skateboarding for skaters. Teaching the history of skateboarding along with the language and rituals of our culture as part of the curriculum of fun and skill building is all in a days work for Joe and he thinks more people should get on board in their own community. Want help? Read up and contact Joe for more info!

Photos thanks to Kevin Carlton. Check his@skatography instagram here.

What to build is not the question. That part is easy, you build what you want to skate. The real question is Why?

Before skateparks, before skateboards, there were roller rinks. They were privately owned and charged a fee. You had to obey the rules or you would be asked to leave. Skateboards were not allowed in the rinks and hence skating took quite naturally to the streets. Many years later entrepreneurs designed and built the first concrete skateboard parks and charged a fee. Roller skates and bikes were allowed. Most of these parks were very elaborate and expensive to build and eventually closed down leading skateboarding back into the streets. And into peoples back yards. Not just to skate empty pools but also to build giant Vert ramps where you had to know someone or be invited to skate. You had to obey the rules or you would be asked to leave.

Joe Lehm. Photo Kevin Carlton.

Flash forward a couple of decades: Cities and towns around the world have built public skateparks where anyone can join in the session for free and never be asked to leave. What a blessing for this generation of skaters! There is however a certain appeal to having a private park where you can control who can and can’t skate. Call it elitist or call it core, either way it’s smart to have your own skate park. It’s even smarter to put it indoors where you can beat the weather be it rain, snow, wind or heat.

There are several ways to approach running your own indoor park, and if you’ve been kicking the idea around for a while here are some things you’ll need to consider BEFORE you put a single screw to wood.

*How social or private do you picture your parks’ sessions will be?
* Will there be a charge to skate? Will there be an age limit?
*Will there be a skate shop? Snack bar or refrigerator?
*Will you have sessions for bikes, blades and scooters?
*Key Clubs are probably the most private way to help pay the rent. Key holders pay a monthly or yearly membership and have unlimited access so they can come in whenever they want and skate as long as they like.
*Membership parks can accommodate all ages and skill levels by scheduling designated sessions each week like Beginners Only, Old Guy’s sessions, Ladies Night, Lock Ins, Parties and Monthly events.
*After School Programs? A Community Center approach? Providing things like a homework / computer station, art / music room with instruments, foosball tables etc. can make it a popular place to hang out and skate. You have to like teenagers, and their parents will just LOVE you!
*A Skate School can offer private and group lessons with certified instructors, Summer Camps, Holiday events, Lock Ins and organized field trips. Everyone can benefit from a lesson, Moms and Dads too!
*Who will run it? You? Are you a skater for life? If not this will either make you one or burn you right out!
Regardless of how you answered ANY of these questions, there is one unpleasant element that you will always have to deal with year after year. KOOKS. The older they are the kookier they get, so either be willing to be called a kook for having a private park and limiting who can skate it, and / or be prepared to accommodate kooks because they WILL show up.

Skate School. Photo Kevin Carlton.

If you are thinking that you would like to have your own private park at your house, on your property or live upstairs in a tucked away loft or studio…think again. We all need some modicum of privacy now and then and a skate park is not that place, even if it’s a private park. There will always be that person, parent, homeless skater, road tripping Team, industry rep, photographer or magazine writer wanting your time. Posting hours of operation is nearly useless, large guard dogs work.

There’s a lot of empty, affordable commercial space available in most cities. Warehouses are not the only option, they are often in areas that are out of the way or at the edge of town. If you are targeting families for after school that might not work. Look at empty super markets, auto body shops, strip malls, anything that is basically already empty with no walls. Look near schools. Don’t limit what you look at by having a preconceived size in mind. Big parks in huge warehouses make ends meet by always having a bunch of paying riders out there. Small parks have less overhead and can pay the rent by having fewer riders that are paying for an added value service like lessons, afterschool programs or limiting the sessions to just key holders and rippers.

If you are ambitious you may want to have a space that is big enough for both a street area and a big ramp or bowl, or you may already know that you just want one or the other. Some parks have big areas that can be easily reconfigured with a variety of street obstacles into different kinds of ‘set ups’ and then taken apart and pushed back against the walls. You can get away with a fairly low ceiling for a street park. If you have high ceilings consider building some observation platforms, put couches on them for filming or just chilling.

Photo Kevin Carlton.

Now that you have decided why you are building a private park, who will get to skate it and where it will be, next comes the fun part! Measure the dimensions of the space, look at utilizing every square inch for skating including knocking out walls if there are any. You can also make through ways, over passes or removable sections (think Animal Chin!) to be able to skate into the next room. Do lot’s of drawings, have your friends do drawings and make cardboard mock ups. Move them around to get a feel for how it might flow better or if some elements need to be permanent.

Figure that you’ll need at least $5000 in wood to build Phase 1 of your park. After you have decided what to build, approach a local lumber yard to be your wood sponsor and offer to make them a big banner which will be permanently displayed in the park. Include their name and logo on all of your promotional material and have a grand opening party and invite them. Offer them a couple of one year memberships and a new board for their kids. It could be a win / win situation.

Hire experienced carpenters and provide them with clear plans on what is to be built. This might seem obvious but there are plenty of skaters with tools that will come out of the woodwork to help, but their level of craftsmanship will vary a lot. You want your new park to be as perfect as possible and to be finished in a reasonable time frame. Dividing the project into a Phase 1 and Phase 2 is a good way to get the doors open sooner and the sound of wheels rolling on ramps will generate it’s own buzz throughout the skate community.

Photo Kevin Carlton.

Now that your park is open you’ll want to have a Grand Opening Event which can be as big or small as you want. Invite the local shops to showcase their flow team, or arrange to have some bigger names come in to do a demo. Do a press release for the local papers and radio stations to help get the word out, and maybe do a give away for a membership, some free sessions or a new board. Run a promotion for the first month or two, things like a Sibling special (sign up one kid and get the second one free) or buy a complete board and get 3 free sessions. A few months after the initial opening then the next obvious event would be to hold a contest that has categories for kids, teens, boys, girls and geezers. Don’t have it be a “Game of Skate”, this takes too long and is boring for everyone that has to wait their turn or is eliminated. Instead get creative by holding a best trick, hippy jump or longest grind and remember that the most important thing is that everyone leaves telling all of their friends how much fun they had!

Photo Kevin Carlton.

Now that your park / shop is open you will be bombarded with locals that want to work there. Don’t hire them. Bring in a sponsored rider that knows the industry, Teams and their current riders and who can skate Everything. Make sure that they rip way harder than any of the locals, this will save you from having to explain why they were hired.

Finally, remember that YOU get to make the rules and can always ask someone to leave…and at some point you’ll probably have to. That’s the beauty of the Great Indoors!

Please check out the coming 11th annual Ditch SLAP details here on Skate[Slate] and connect with us for the event or more info about Skate School here.