- Sun Clips
Photos: Ian Flanigan
Words: Dirk Vogel
Skatelab is where the past, present, and future of skateboarding collide head-on, every single day. Entering the 20,000 square foot warehouse in a non-descript commercial section of the urban cluster known as Simi Valley, California, the noise is deafening. The clatter of wheels, grinding of trucks, and thunderclap landing of aerials on masonite wood are battling it out against Metallica’s “Damage, Inc.” roaring over the PA speakers. Over in the deep end of the wooden bowl, local wunderkind Tom Schaar – the world’s first skateboarder to land a 1080 aerial, at age 12 – is floating ceiling-smacking backside airs. In the low-impact grommet’s section, newbies are bumbling through their first kickflip attempts. And upstairs, the world’s largest museum of skateboard history shows the evolution from 1960’s “sidewalk surfing” into a global phenomenon with over 5,000 vintage skateboards and memorabilia. It’s all happening right here, right now at Skatelab. Behind the pro shop counter, thumbing away on his smartphone is proprietor and co-founder Todd Huber, who started the park in 1997 with major-league baseball player and punk rock singer Scott Radinsky of Ten Foot Pole fame. “Almost half a million people have come to this place over the years. And we’re still here,” Huber beams. He’s busy posting an Instagram video of a 4-year-old girl learning to drop-in on the beginner section’s quarter pipe. Within minutes, the video will churn up several hundred “likes”, as an army of park kids, the Lab Rats, descends on the new content marked by Skatelab’s own hashtag #notlikeotherskateparks. The hashtag says it all. Because really, what other skate park can count some of today’s premium A-list professionals—who all cut their teeth here as Lab Rats—or host concerts by the likes of hardcore punk band Trash Talk, with skaters launching 8-foot airs straight into the mosh pit. Not to mention, throngs of paparazzi camped out on the sidewalk when celebrities like David and Victoria Beckham, Gwen Stefani, Britney Spears, and Will Smith bring their kids for a casual skate sesh. Or when Justin Bieber posts a video “shredding” the Lab’s street course to his 22 million followers. It’s really #notlikeotherskateparks out here. “But we’re not saying that because we think we’re better than other parks,” Huber insists. “We’re just completely unique compared to anyone else. In better and worse ways. We charge people money to skate while other parks are free, but then again, we also have employees, most of whom have worked here for 15 years or more.”
The roots run deep. Over in the beginner’s section, where one of Skatelab’s instructors is teaching a class, a handful of today’s top-earning pros have worked their way up from the flat bottom. We’ve become sort of a catalyst for their development. We tried to provide them with a really cool place to go skate, where no one yelled at them, there was camaraderie, and just a place for them to spread their wings,” says Huber. Big-ticket Skatelab alumni include Paul “P-Rod” Rodriguez, Mikey Taylor, Mike Mo Capaldi, and also Torey Pudwill, who recently released a Skatelab pro model deck on the elite Plan B Skateboards label. “When we opened the park, Torey and his big brother Jesse were the first kids in line at the door. Now Jesse’s the manager of the skate park and Torey is a major pro,” Huber says with a smile. Torey still likes to get a few runs in at Skatelab when he’s in town, stoking out a few grommets with free T-shirts from his own company, Grizzly Griptape, while he’s at it. Started from the flat bottom, he’s still here. Not like other skate parks.
The Lab has served as the backdrop for the MTV series Jackass and several music videos. Skatelab’s official Skateboarding Hall of Fame counts among its inductees skateboard trailblazers such as Tony Alva, Natas Kaupas, and Danny Way, together with cultural icons like Glen E. Friedman and Black Flag. “We’ve made a lot of friends along the way, including some of my own idols from back when I was a kid, like Tony Alva. That’s been a major upside to this whole strange trip,” says Todd Huber. Celebrities also trust the park as a place to leave their kids for the day. “That’s also where we’re different. You wouldn’t leave your nine-year-old alone at the Venice Beach skate park while you go shopping on the boardwalk. No fucking way. Here, it’s no problem. You leave them, they’ll have a blast and you can go do whatever you want. There’s a comfortable vibe here and I think that our patrons also appreciate that,” says Huber. Every day adds new stories to Skatelab’s legacy. When a kid had his iPhone stolen from a locker the other day, Huber posted surveillance footage of the incident on Instagram, crowd-sourcing the case to the Lab Rats. Come next day, the thief was identified and the phone returned. Hashtag Busted! “We handled it ourselves, and now people know not to steal from us. We’re watching you! I guess that’s another reason why we’re not like other skate parks…”
Check outSkatelab over at 4226 Valley Fair Street, Simi Valley, CA 93063