Getting on Board

After the Lauridsen Skatepark opened a year ago, local kids from across Greater Des Moines started skating together on Sunday mornings. Subsect Kids Skate Crew members include, back row from left: Luca Neil (white T-shirt), Azra Brock, Dallas Britt, Dakota Britt, Bowie Geigley, Rogan Brookhart (striped shirt), Jude Neil (beanie), Cash Wells (black shirt). Second row from left: Nash Brookhart (boy standing with baseball hat), Anna Nycz (bench), Ryder Bunn (bench), Madelyn Nycz (bench), Hayden McGuire (standing), Mila Bagon (white Vans shirt). Front row on ground from left: Emma Nycz, Willamina Ferguson, Aria Snell, Isla Bowers, Reese Bunn. 

Writer: Beth Eslinger
Photographer: Joe Crimmings

With world-class Lauridsen Skatepark as a classroom and peers as their teachers, a group of local kids is learning not only tricks but also lessons in acceptance, self-confidence and teamwork. The Subsect Kids Skate Crew, named for a longtime skate shop in the East Village, grew organically after the downtown park opened a year ago as kids and parents started connecting there. Expect to see the club’s members, ranging in age from 6 to 13, cheering on the pros at the Dew Tour this summer. Some will compete in the Des Moines Streetstyle Open in September.

Sunday Morning at the Park

Standing on the ledge of a steep-sided bowl can be intimidating, even if your center of gravity is only 2 feet off the ground. Conquering fear is just one life skill skaters develop at the 88,000-square-foot Lauridsen Skatepark, the nation’s largest. 

“It’s an emotional journey to go to one of the meetups,” says Alyssa Bowers, a parent who helped coordinate the Subsect Kids Skate Crew last summer as more and more kids and their grownups congregated at the downtown destination. 

“You’ve got strangers cheering you on and giving you support. … They learn these life experiences like don’t give up,” she says. “Things can be scary and hard, but you can do it.” 

Bowers’ 8-year-old daughter Isla (pronounced I-la) is just one new-on-the-scene youth skater helping to shape the inclusive atmosphere during the club’s Sunday morning sessions. After the city’s first Dew Tour and subsequent park opening, elementary-age kids—some with no prior experience—started carving the corners and running up ramps while making friends with peers from throughout the city. “At the beginning the kids taught each other,” Bowers says. 

Today, up to 25 members will show up any given Sunday morning. Older teen and young adult mentors coach their younger counterparts and show it’s OK for different generations to connect, laugh and provide support. 

A majority of the Sunday morning participants are girls. “It’s been fun to watch the girls take over the skatepark,” Bowers says. 

Nevaeh Brewster hops up the rideable Wow sculpture sans board to apply stickers during a Sunday morning meetup. For the club members, “it’s cool to wear helmets and pads,” says Norm Sterzenbach, president of SkateDSM. “The kids reinforce a culture of safety.” 

Aria Snell (age 11) drops into the Flow Bowl at the center of the park. It’s where kids and other new skaters learn fundamental bowl tricks. “You’re going to run into all different types of people at the park. And all are welcome,” says Kevin Jones, owner of Subsect Skateshop. 

Isla Bowers started skating last summer. “Isla went from not being able to stand on a board to dropping into the bowl within seven to eight months,” says her mom, Alyssa Bowers. 

Growing the Skate Scene 

The nonprofit group SkateDSM has been a huge advocate for the park, Subsect Kids Skate Crew and the growth of skating throughout the community, says Norm Sterzenbach, SkateDSM president. 

To inspire even more engagement, last year SkateDSM began offering clinics to riders from age 3 to 56—the majority being under age 10. 

And its new Get on Board project with partner Subsect Skateshop is donating over 500 skateboards and helmets to area youths who apply and are accepted. SkateDSM has also worked in elementary schools and is partnering with CampFire this summer on themed camps. 

“The large focus is on the younger kids because it can be so intimidating to get started in skateboarding,” says Sterzenbach, who picked up the sport in the 1980s after getting inspired by the skateboard chase scene in “Back to the Future.” 

One focus of SkateDSM is to build up skate tourism. As far as a welcoming committee, the Sunday morning kids are helping create the right mix. 

“The younger skaters are changing the perception of skating here,” Sterzenbach says of the kids mixing in with their older counterparts. “They’ve built a culture” that everyone belongs.

Older mentors (some teach clinics and private lessons) show off on stunts such as leaping over stacked boards. The kids try new tricks like balancing on flat surfaces. The streetstyle course features ramps, rails and other fun obstacles. 

Nine-year-old Mila Bagon of Waukee has a half-pipe in her basement and wants to compete in the Olympics—she currently trains up to three hours a day.

One-of-a-Kind Street Style

“All the kids have their own styles and all are so different,” says Alyssa Bowers, who used to own Vitae Design Collective in the East Village. 

For her daughter Isla, fashion was a major motivator in engaging with the activity. “She’s a creative little artist. She loves Risk art—with things like fingerless gloves like Madonna would wear,” Bowers says of those ’80s gloves that resemble the protective wrist guards many of the kids wear (see her look above). 

Branded shirts from Vans, Thrasher and Subsect (nearly all the kids have Subsect hoodies) are essentials. And on the bottom, it’s baggies. Reece Bunn (sporting the Carhartt hoodie, left) thrifts adult denim, cuffing the legs and rolling the waistband. And for the head: It’s a beanie on the way to and from the park and a stickered helmet once on the board. 

Then there’s the skateboard as the ultimate fashion accessory. In its East Village shop, Subsect showcases four stacks of boards with retro designs and colors, vibrant graphics and illustrated scenes that complement the latest footwear looks from Vans and Converse.

Rogan Brookhart 

Dakota Britt 

Anna Nycz 

Reese Bunn 

Luca Neil

Mila Bagon 

Hayden McGuire

Nash Brookhardt

Emma Nycz

Bowie Geigley

Madelyn Nycz

Azra Brock

Where Roots Run Deep

While today’s local kids look to Olympians skating here during the Dew Tour for inspiration, the city’s first generation of skaters had much more of an underground start. When he was 9 or 10, Kevin Jones of Subsect Skateshop picked up his brother’s board and learned to ride and perform tricks in the streets and backyard ramps of friends’ or other skaters’ homes. 

In the days pre-social media, Jones says friends would meet at Nollen Plaza (now Cowles Commons) and skate around the East Village and elsewhere downtown. “That’s how you connected with kids from the west side or east side. You’d end up being there all night long,” he says.

Skateparks started popping up in the 1990s, as did the area’s first shop run by and for skaters, Subsect. The shop has seen its share of the city as well, with homes over the past 25 years in the Drake University area, Valley Junction and finally the East Village. Today it’s owned by Jones, who continues to skate mornings at Lauridsen before the shop opens at 11 a.m. 

While a downtown park had been bandied about for decades, planning became a reality with the formation of SkateDSM and efforts by Polk County Supervisor Angela Connolly and Christine Hensley, former Des Moines city councilwoman. 

“We wanted it to be for everyone,” Jones says.

“I got drawn to skateboarding because it was almost at that time anti-sport,” says Kevin Jones, owner of Subsect Skateshop. “Eventually what got me better is I found my crew—people who learned from each other.”

Des Moines’ Scene in the Spotlight

“It’s nice to be home to the cool stuff,” Subsect Skateshop owner Kevin Jones says of the Lauridsen Skatepark, which celebrates its one-year anniversary May 7 before hosting Dew Tour again this year. (As of press time, the tour’s date hadn’t been set.) 

Skaters from all over the country and world have visited since the park’s opening, and it’s common to see license plates from multiple states on a weekend even when there’s not a competition. 

This year’s Dew Tour features both park and streetstyle events. Expect to see Olympic athletes and up-and-comers hoping to reach the Paris 2024 Summer Games. Bring a picnic blanket or chair and hang out at the grassy bank fronting the mural wall. You’ll likely see kids and parents from the Subsect Kids Skate Club. 

Also this year, Des Moines Streetstyle Open is celebrating its second year Sept. 22-24. Kids from the club will likely participate again this year; one won bronze in her competition last year.

10 Terms to Know Before You Go

Here are a few good-to-know terms before you hit the park for the Dew Tour and Streetscape competitions this summer. For a deeper dive, check out boarding legend Tony Hawk’s Master Class Youtube video. 

Bowl: A 360-degree concrete recessed pool that’s used for carving and ledge tricks. At Lauridsen the Flow Bowl is where beginner and intermediate skaters learn. The Amoeba Pool is the big fish featured in the Dew Tour’s park event. 

Carving: Big, fast turns made in corners. 

Crew: People you skate with. It’s a super social sport with lots of chatter, even among people who don’t know one another. 

Deck: The surface of the board on which you stand. It’s made with layered wood and topped with grip tape. The pattern runs on the bottom. 

Dropping In: Moving from a flat horizontal surface into a steep transition such as a bowl, half-pipe or quarter-pipe. 

Nose: The front of the skateboard. 

Ollie: The first trick most skateboarders learn—it’s a key element in streetstyle. The skater snaps the tail of the board and kicks it up in the air. Numerous other tricks can be combined with the Ollie. 

Park skating: New in the 2020 Olympics and a signature event on the Dew Tour, the style uses a bowl such as the Amoeba. Skaters perform high-flying ledge tricks as part of the timed event.

Streetstyle: A competition type in which obstacles like stairs, rails, planter boxes and more are used to perform tricks, which usually involve an Ollie. Skaters race between obstacles on the course. Both the Dew Tour and the Streetsyle Open competitions run the Lauridsen course. 

Spots: Areas where skaters ride such as parks and city streets. They have obstacles such as half-pipes, quarter-pipes and rails. Find parks throughout Greater Des Moines including West Des Moines Valley Junction, Ankeny Prairie Trail, Urbandale Walker-Johnson, Altoona and more.

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