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The man with the plan: Robert Garcelon.

In Bob We trust
By David King
photos by teri currie

Local skateboarding fanatic tries to turn his passion into something more concrete

James 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.

They 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 skating.

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.”

Spotting 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.”

Garcelon 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.”

When 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.

“Coxsackie 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.

It 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 from Grindline.

“The 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.

Garcelon 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 crowd.

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 great.”

“A 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.

“Bob is so fucking cool,” says a shirtless teen to a girl dressed all in black by his side.

“I keep hearing about this Bob dude. But who the fuck is he?” she replies.

“Dude, 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.

“It 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.

dking@metroland.net


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