man with the plan: Robert Garcelon.
Bob We trust
By David King
photos by teri currie
skateboarding fanatic tries to turn his passion into something
Staples, 17, and Josh Fry, 15, stand surveying the remnants
of what was the skate park in Ravena’s Mosher Park. Two broken,
splintered ramps sit several feet apart. They are riddled
with holes that are circled and marked with notes like, “This
is not a garbage can!” and “This will be fixed,” mixed in
with other graffiti. All the notes are signed “Bob.”
A road cone rests tipped over on a cement block between the
ramps. Beyond the fence that separates the park from the train
tracks, a bright yellow CSX train rumbles by. Over the din
of the locomotive’s chug and the sound of metal scraping on
metal, Staples announces, matter of factly, “It’s been like
this for six years,” while he twiddles his iPod Shuffle with
one hand and rests the other on his ragged black skateboard.
“It’s gonna be sick, though, if they get it done,” responds
his younger friend.
give each other a cynical warning stare as if to remind each
other to stay skater cool, and then turn to examine a set
of plywood ramp skeletons that sit propped against the yellow
metal fence. “Bob’s got like three or four guys with him,
helping,” says Staples. Fry adds, “He should be here any minute.
He said 5:40,” sounding as though he’s trying to convince
himself. They both jump on their boards and cautiously start
doing skate drills, going slowly up the creaky ramps and trying
to clear the makeshift jump between them. A father on a mountain
bike, wearing a helmet, leads his son on a bike with training
wheels through what is clearly the skating area. Fry and Staples
slow down even more, trying to avoid the oblivious father
and son. The sound of the cheering crowd at a nearby Little
League game overwhelms the faint sounds of their cautious
For six years, kids have skated the ramshackle Mosher Skate
Park. It’s not that they aren’t grateful that it is
there, it’s just that they’ve had someone telling them they
should expect more, that there will be more. And that person
has been Robert Garcelon, who has spent those eight years,
beginning when he was 16, trying to construct a fully functioning
skate park in the town of Ravena. “Three generations of kids
have come through this town while Bob’s been working on this,”
says Jeff, a Ravena resident and friend of Garcelon. “I left
here six years ago. I came back and couldn’t believe that
Rob was still at it.”
Garcelon in a crowd of nonskaters is fairly easy. He’s the
one with the mussy, dirty-blond hair and the scruffy, porcupine-bristle
beard, dressed in baggy tan pants and a long hippie shirt.
That’s what makes it so odd that he has had such a smooth
time convincing Ravena officials to support his skate park.
“He just sort of walks in there, like Bob does, with his head
sort of down,” says Tom Dolan, a Ravena resident. “They scold
him a little bit: ‘Bob, there’s gravel all over there! You
need to keep it clean,’ they tell him, and he mumbles back
like Bob does: ‘Yeah, man, but you know we’re really trying
to get this done here.’ And then they reply sternly, ‘All
right, Robert, we’re going to have to pave that for you.’
And Bob just leaves smiling.”
also is easy to spot in a crowd of skaters. He’s the one deep
in a mass of kids who are almost always asking questions,
pulling at his shirt. He’s the one on his knees fixing something,
picking up trash, checking a ramp, announcing, “OK, everyone!
We’ve got a fresh new hole in the ramp, so everyone skate
careful!” He is the 24-year-old skater surrounded by kids
10 years younger, but he’s the one who looks like he is having
the most fun.
Bob Garcelon’s extreme love for skate- boarding first manifested
when he was 6. It was then that he was given his first Kmart
skateboard. Around the same time, he got involved in skateboarding
video games, and by age 9, the time he was spending on video
games far outweighed the time he spent skating. “I was 175
pounds at age 9,” he recalls. “That’s when I really started
getting interested in skating. I bought my first professional
board and started getting in shape. I lost, like, 25 pounds.”
he was 11, his interest in skating took another turn. He and
his friends who had nowhere else to skate began creating their
own skate wax so they could grind on street corners. Bob’s
wax was so popular he started selling it to AAA Boards in
Albany. “I was making it so people could afford it,” says
Garcelon. “It felt good to do something that wasn’t just the
physical act of skating but also a way to give back to other
skaters.” When he was 16, he left public school to be homeschooled.
During this time he and his friend Tony Cataldo opened Upstate
Skate, a skate shop on Madison Avenue in Albany.
Although the skate shop didn’t last longer than six months,
Garcelon and Cataldo’s commitment to skateboarding did. In
1997, Bob approached the Ravena Village board about getting
land for a skate park. “There was nothing to do,” Garcelon
says. “We get kicked out of every place we try to skate. We
get tickets and fines. It was a mutual thing. They knew what
we were coming for and they agreed it was worthwhile.”
However, while the town agreed with his concerns and granted
him a piece of Mosher Park to construct the park, it had no
money to help purchase ramps and other equipment. That’s when
Garcelon started organizing benefit concerts in nearby Joralemen
Park to raise money for ramps.
and Catskill had parks, but they didn’t last. They all fell
apart because they did them out of wood,” he explains. For
six years, Gaarcelon raised money through benefit shows and
used the proceeds to build and repair the wooden ramps. But
each year he found himself trying to rebuild nearly from scratch.
“The place started out full,” he says. “We had grind rails,
launch ramps, all sorts of stuff, but weather and people kept
ruining ’em. We had some guy drive his car up one of our ramps.”
He spends a good portion of his weekends fixing ramps.
was around 2001 that Garcelon realized the cycle of repair
and replacement wasn’t getting him anywhere. So he formed
the nonprofit Public SkatePark Development Organization, and
with longtime friend Cataldo as his vice president, started
applying for grants. In 2001, the PSDO applied for the Tony
Hawk Skate Park Grant. Although the organization did not get
the full amount it applied for, it was granted $1,000. The
Village of Ravena matched the grant and the PSDO used the
money to buy a professional (i.e., concrete) skate-park design
advantages of having a cement park are quite clear,” says
Mike Vulckovich, executive director of the Tony Hawk Foundation.
“Other parks have maintenance issues, and wood deteriorates.
Towns just don’t realize what an asset a good skate park can
be.” The Tony Hawk Foundation gives grants of up to $25,000
dollars to skate parks every year. “We look to see if the
skaters in the community are behind the park and to see that
they have a plan before we give any grant.”
While Garcelon was grateful for the Hawk Foundation’s $1,000,
he hopes this year it will give them a larger sum now that
the park has a design and more support. “Tony Hawk’s priority
is to go back to places, to people who already got money,
to keep their projects going,” he says. “This time we hope
to get the 25K.” Garcelon’s current focus is to raise matching
funds for a $150,000 grant through the State Office of Parks,
Recreation and Historical Preservation that the Village of
Ravena has applied for. The PSDO also hopes to reapply to
corporations that have already turned them down, such as Wal-Mart,
Ben & Jerry’s, and Nike. They are also currently in talks
with Lafarge—one of the world’s largest cement manufacturers,
which is located in Ravena—about providing building materials
for the park.
hopes to get enough money to begin construction of the park
in May 2006, and figures it will take 10 weeks to get it built.
When it opens, the park will be free to all. “The project’s
been going for so long,” he says, “new kids come in who have
been riding for six months or a year and they want to know
when it’s gonna get done. They don’t understand that this
is a hard thing that you can’t do overnight at all.”
The kids may not fully understand the compass of Garcelon’s
undertaking, but they remain guardedly optimistic. They have
some reason to be optimistic: Skateboarding is booming. Tony
Hawk’s Boom Boom Huck Jam will be at the Pepsi Arena this
July. The event, which features celebrities from different
extreme sports competing, clearly is aimed at the youth skate
Interestingly, though, tickets to the event are priced out
of reach for most in the age group: “Tickets to the Huck Jam
cost fucking 85 bucks!” exclaims Aaron Shein, a Ravena skater.
More and more young skaters have to rely on their parents
to supply them access to a sport a lot of them got into because
of its independent, punk spirit. Whether it’s driving them
to a for-pay skate park, buying the latest skate paraphernalia
or shelling out the cash to see their skating heroes, parents
have become way more involved in the life of the young skater.
“Skating is something that is associated with things like
nose rings,” says skate dad and Guilderland resident Greg
McGee, “but more and more it’s becoming mainstream, and you
see more and more soccer moms and dads getting involved.”
Skateboarding currently is being considered for inclusion
as an official sport in the 2008 Olympics.
So far, though, the skating boom has in significant ways passed
by upstate New York. For kids in Ravena, there are three legal
alternatives to skating their town park, and they are all
located far out of town. The first is the Shelter in Albany,
an independent business. The second is the TSX Skate Park
in Kingston, another for-profit skating rink associated with
a Hot Topic-like mall store. The third is the Saratoga Springs
Skate Park, which is run by the town but is also a pay park.
All three parks are at least half an hour away from Ravena,
and for kids who don’t have licenses, getting there is quite
an undertaking. Sk8parklist.com has this to say about skateboarding
in the region: “If you ever want to torture yourself, cruise
around northeastern New York and TRY to find a decent skate
park—as of the summer of 2001 THERE WEREN’T ANY!!! It sucked.
Saratoga Springs was our best find, and it’s . . . well, not
lot of towns see their parks fail,” says Tony Caltaldo. “You
need someone who’s going to be with it all the way, who’s
gonna make sure things get done. You need someone like Bob,
and most of the time you aren’t gonna find one.” When you
ask someone who knows Garcelon why he has been so committed
to getting the park constructed, none of them can give a very
firm answer. “He didn’t have much growing up.” “He wants to
make sure kids have someplace to skate.” In some way it seems
very likely that they don’t know his motivation, because Garcelon
doesn’t go around telling people what makes him tick. Even
when he is at the center of it all, he has a very sly way
of making sure the attention isn’t on him.
Garcelon drives an aqua-blue Berretta GT with stickers applied
liberally around the back and sides. The stickers say things
like “Skate and Destroy,” “Thrasher,” “All that yonder are
not lost.” He pulls his Berretta into Mosher Park behind a
large grey pickup truck attached to a gargantuan trailer with
unfinished ramps on it. The skaters all kick their boards
up and hustle over to see Bob and his assistants. The skaters
meet Garcelon like a returning conqueror, like an aid worker
bringing food into an impoverished, remote village. He is
their skate messiah. Within seconds, masses of kids make their
way from the Little League game, from down the street, to
see what the commotion is about.
is so fucking cool,” says a shirtless teen to a girl dressed
all in black by his side.
keep hearing about this Bob dude. But who the fuck is he?”
he’s, like, the dude that like owns this place or something,”
her companion replies.
Garcelon digs into his back seat and starts passing out flyers
for the weekend’s benefit demo. These flyers won’t be the
last he hands out, as the Satori demo weekend is only the
tip of the iceberg. He’s got lots of plans, like the one involving
Trey Anastasio, of whom he speaks casually and familiarly,
and the prospect of bringing him down to have a fund-raiser
at the Palace Theater. Later, Garcelon doesn’t seem dejected
that the event raised only $200 for the park; according to
him, that’s not what it was about.
was to give everyone a taste of what things will be like when
everything is finally together,” he says. “It was a magical
thing to give those kids pride in their surroundings.” Some
kids nag at him about the upcoming demo. Others ask impatiently
what they can do to help. Some kids jump off their bikes and
bug the skaters to let them try their boards on the existing
ramps. Suddenly, skateboarding is the hottest thing going,
and Garcelon is surrounded by about 30 children of all races,
sexes and ages. Girls pull the boards loose from under boys’
arms, bikes are discarded like cumbersome baggage, and the
skate park comes alive. The commotion at the skate park now
overwhelms the sounds of a passing train and the now-faint
cheers at the Little League game.