San Diego skate parks rule Tokyo

The original story was published in the print edition of the San Diego Reader on August 3, 2021.

By Mike Madriaga

North County athletes are sendin’ it from the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games — including Bryce Wettstein, Jordyn Barratt, Cory Juneau, and Heimana Reynolds.

Per their Olympic Games’ profiles, Bryce Wettstein, who is 17, was born and still resides in Encinitas; Barratt is 22 and dwells in Oceanside; Juneau, 22, was born in San Diego; Reynolds, 23, lives in Carlsbad. The four of 12 skateboarders — sporting the red, white, and blue uniforms — will skate in the park-discipline preliminaries at the Ariake Urban Sports Park on August 4-5.

The other Olympic skateboard discipline is referred to as “street,” which is performed adjacent to the park course, resembling much of what you’d see in downtown San Diego: curbs, handrails, stairs, walls, benches, and slopes.

The aforementioned North County skaters will propel their plywood decks mounted on four polyurethane wheels through a hollowed-out predominantly cement course with a sequence of gnarly curves and bowls in the park event. The judges assess the skateboarders’ series of tricks, much done in mid-air, on height, velocity, difficulty, and “landing bolts.”

CA Training Facility in Vista, about nine miles west of where the I-15/78 freeway intersect, is a super-significant component of the inaugural skateboarding events at the 2020 Olympics. “They make the best skate parks hands down that I’ve skated,” Olympic-skateboarding coach Will Cortez said in an August 1 interview with me. “That’s why they’re designing and making the Olympic courses.” On the Olympic Games’ website, the schematics of the two ‘massive’ skateboard courses in Tokyo are attributed to California Skateparks. “The same owners run them,” Cortez explained. “It’s incredible to see it from ground zero and then once it’s done. Especially working on them and knowing the work that goes into it.”

Cortez says he was initially hired by the training facility in 2018, right around the same time he competed in the Vans Pool Party skateboard contest. “So I started that the day after the contest …. and I started working construction, building skate parks.” Then after a year or so after, Cortez coached groms and Olympic skateboarders from Russia and China that’d practice at the training center.

Now 24, Cortez is part of the Mexican Olympic skateboard team, which couldn’t garner enough points in the trials to compete in Tokyo. “So there’s a lot more street skaters in Mexico, but park-skating-wise, there’s not as many. It’s kind of hard to go and practice [skateboarding on vert ramps and bowls in Mexico]. So it’s just going to be a process for them to get more skate parks in the country, like all over, for it to grow.” Sometimes, Cortez, a dual-Mexican-American citizen, parks his Hyundai by the San Ysidro Port of Entry and walks across the border with a skateboard in hand, hits the Tijuana streets, grabs a bite to eat, then heads back to his day job in Vista.

“That’s kind of why I’m here in San Diego training and not Mexico. For the U.S., if you were to say where vert skateboarding is, I think you’d say it’s North County because that’s like where all the ramps are. We have Tony Hawk’s ramp (behind his house). There’s a ramp in Oceanside, which I don’t know if [the owner] wants it to be disclosed, there’s Elliot Sloan’s ramp in Vista, there’s Bob Burnquist’s ramp in Vista, there used to be one at the YMCA in Encinitas. Bryce Wettstein has a smaller ramp in Encinitas. Like, per capita, the most, for ramps in the world, are probably in San Diego County.

Then there are the ramps at the training facility where the skaters of all levels refer to Cortez as “Coach Will.” Vert and park skating disciplines are “essentially the same thing,” Cortez continued. “They are both ramps, and the deep end of the park usually has a vert (vertical plane), so there isn’t too much of a learning curve; that’s why we vert skaters are pretty good at park.”

About four miles north of the training facility are the offices of Tony Hawk Inc., where the 12-time world skateboard champ is said to have additional vert ramps. Hawk, 53, was one of the first to try out the park course at the Ariake Urban Sports Park before the street competition kicked off on July 24-25.

“As a kid that was mostly lambasted for my interest in skateboarding, I never imagined it would be part of the Olympic Games,” Hawk posted on his social media July 21. “It’s surreal to now be in Tokyo bearing witness to this milestone.”