Blaze Anderson says skate park culture changed his life. Changed it so radically, so passionately, that he made skate park culture his very occupation. And in the process, he’s helped out a whole generation of Northshore Maui kids.“I grew up in the valley in LA,” says Anderson. “There were these skate parks there that we would go to, by seventh grade one of my buddies was already going pro. Growing up in the dogtown area, we all skated since we were, like, seven years old. There was a skate park called Aloha Skate Park and the concrete was all pink and it was all themed with the whale bowl, the grand canyon bowl. We just lived there. Our parents would drop us off with a bunch of hot dog and slushie money and we stayed for hours.”
Last week, after a period of deterioration, the Stonewave Skate Park reopened, cleaner and better than ever. Today, we can say with easy that the skate park is an integral part of the positive social and physical development of youth and culture in Paia, but it wasn’t always thought of that way. The skate park and the Paia Youth and Cultural Center (PYCC) enjoy a symbiotic relationship, though Susun White, the center’s executive director, admits that at first she didn’t see the need for a skate park.
“Blaze Anderson was here, he worked for the youth center for 12 and half years,” says White. “He wanted the skate park. I didn’t want the skate park. He came to me one day and said we should build a skate park here and my exact words were ‘Not on my watch.’ Back then, all I could see was broken arms and kids hitting concrete. But it has ended up being one of the best things for the youth center because it brought in families. We have a rule that if you are younger than nine years old you can skate, but your parent has to stay with you. It was an amazing thing: we got families involved, seeing what this is all about. We have so many kids celebrating their ninth birthdays here.”
Kids have to be nine before they can join the Paia Youth and Cultural Center. For lots of the youth who skate at the park or have learned to skate at the park, it’s become a rite of passage. And they can’t wait to get in.
“Well, you know in the beginning kids literally lived here,” says White. “I would never have met their parents or only when they come to sign their membership paperwork. We would have open house and nobody would come. It’s hard to get parental involvement–parents are busy. But now with the skate park, that’s changed. Family involvement makes it more of a community center. It also makes people realize more that we are a private nonprofit and we have to literally raise anywhere from $125,000 to $150,000 a year from the community. So we have had more community support, too.”
White credits Anderson with spearheading a lot of the skate culture on the island in the 1990s. He saw the value of bringing it to the youth center. As for Anderson, he gives credit to some surprising individuals.
“Believe it or not, a big reason there are skate parks in Maui is because of Charmaine Tavares, Kimo Apana and Martha Ferris,” says Anderson. “And from back in the day, Darrell and Michelle Ota were the ones that help build all of the wooden skate ramps–the very first skate parks that got me into the Maui scene.”
Anderson’s dream of getting the skate park built was never easy. He had to sell the benefits, and get the funding.
“It was a 1996,” he says. “Martha Ferris was Charmaine Tavares’ right-hand lady when she was the head of Park and Recreation back then. Ferris was also the president of the Maui Skateboard Association. She came to me and said they needed help getting a park going for this area, and wanted help with the association. I said the best place for it would be right here at the youth center because we could watch the kids. I ended up taking over the presidency of the association as well. At the time, the Wailuku skate park was closing and was getting dismantled. So we got help from prison workers and took the old ramps and set them up here while we were working on this design. We also started working on the Kahului skate park.”
His big challenge back then was finding insurance.
“In 1997, we did a 12-hour skate-a-thon to raise funds for the skate park here in Paia,” says Anderson. “Then we moved all the ramps up behind Eddie Tam to do a Makawao skate park. I was running all those, and we had to chase our own insurance. There was no county insurance at the time. I had to charge kids to to five bucks to skate–any way we could collect it. I ran that for a while, and then Mike Morris came into the YMCA and he wanted to get into the skate parks. So I created the Skate Park Action Maui (SPAM) organization, and he paid me as a director to have them go over to the county parks and cover the insurance under their YMCA umbrella. I managed and directed that for a few years.”
Eventually, they got the funding to do the Stonewave Skate Park. In 2004, it finally opened.
“The skate park has a huge effect on this place with the economics,” says White. “We have the poorest of the poor–kids living on the beach–and the wealthiest of kids on the planet, all in this one space. They don’t know that about each other. I don’t think there is any other place in the world that has that kind of dynamic going on. We have a huge diversity of culture and race. It’s been great to see that. In the beginning we had a lot of racial clashing and fights. It’s all gone away. It happened organically. They realize they are all the same.”
The Paia Youth and Cultural Center boasts a membership of 450 to 500 kids a year. They have their own commercial kitchen and cooking and meal program called the Paia Bay Cafe, as well as computer labs, a radio station (radiOpio 88.9FM). They also offer a youth video and photography program called the Hekili Multimedia Arts, and the Stonewave Skate Park to run. Lots of little kids learn to skate here because it’s the only adult-monitored skate park on Maui.
Recently, PYCC officials discovered that Stonewave’s coping and corners were badly deteriorating. For a while, they spray-painted areas the kids couldn’t use. But after a while, that became a safety hazard. Anderson decided to talk to RCMC, the company that originally built the park. Repairs weren’t going to be cheap.
“I started talking to RCMC about the repairs and got the numbers,” says Anderson. “We needed $50,000. Believe it or not, the county has a skate park repair budget. But the way that it works is you had to file it by a certain time for the fiscal year. They told us in late April or May that they had $25,000 for us, but we couldn’t get everything processed by the right time before the end of the fiscal year. So then those funds got recycled back into the budget. And this year’s budget didn’t have that line item. So then some funds came from the unplanned county maintenance fund, and they gave us a quarter of what they originally funded.”
As it worked out, the county’s Department of Parks and Recreation paid for 95 percent of the supplies and materials. White and Anderson put together a Gofundme project and the community poured in support. Michael Baskin of Paia Inn donated the lodging for RCMC workers. Nuestro Futuro donated $10,000. The kids at Paia Youth and Cultural Center got permission to sell hats and solicit donations at a table next to Milagros, which raised $3,752.25. Other donations came in from Flatbread, Cafe Mambo, The Wine Corner, Hana Ranch Provisions and Maui Roller Girls.
Last week, Stonewave Skate Park officially reopened, with new coping and a fresh paint job, all courtesy of the same youth center kids who’ll be skating there. Which was exactly Anderson’s point all along.
“For me, I have always known how much of a saving grace it was having the social environment where we could be independent,” says Anderson. “We didn’t have to be like a football player with the whole team to rely on. We just got to be ourselves and express ourselves. There is so much expression with how you dress, what skateboard you rode and how you rode. It was all about the music and the fun and I really wanted to create that here. And we did. [Though] I couldn’t have done it without my wife Kelly Anderson. She sacrificed a lot. But now I have a 16-year-old son that skates here. It’s incredible.”