The Hiawatha: Secret skatepark of local board legends

Old Timers Club unites select group of skaters over 30

By 1985, Kevitt and Gilbertson were already skate partners in Bloomington, honing the basics on wood rigs bought from Target—tick-tacking wherever there was smooth tar. They competed against one another, and anyone who survived the cataclysm of '70s fad skating, anywhere there was a sloped curb or a ramp. It was a time when skaters hitched rides to far-flung suburbs on rumors of 10-foot ramps. The adversity forged an ironclad kinship.

"It was the culture of the skate session," says Gilbertson. "You learned about each other, about each other's personal limitations. I knew Brian's bag of tricks. And he knew mine."

In 1987, on Lake Street and 12th Avenue, the city's first indoor space opened. It was called Skate Oasis, and suddenly, small cliques of skaters statewide had a locus. Within a few months, a unified community arose, and Kevitt and Gilbertson found themselves elbow-to-elbow with skaters from Hopkins and Osseo, New Prague and Milwaukee.

"I get goose bumps when I talk about it," says Kevitt. "We'd get home from school and go to the skate park every day. We'd be there from 3 to 10 o'clock at night, and suddenly we'd be seeing what everyone else was doing. It was amazing."

Sponsors began to take note of the upper Midwest, a swath of the nation previously regarded by the skate community as a barren chasm between New York and Los Angeles. Skaters were ditching school to get rides to the Oasis and staying until the doors closed.

One regular at the Oasis stood out to everyone. He was of rough-hewn bulk, a cocky 17-year-old who skated with such precision that there was no doubt what awaited him. He was a power skater who landed on the ramps so hard they'd flex and tremble under his weight, a prodigy who was catching eight-foot airs and turning immaculate inverts with ease.

His name was Justin Lynch, and by 1988, he was Minnesota's first pro.

   

THERE ARE A LOT of hot buttons for Justin Lynch. He doesn't like the term "old school." He doesn't much care for the term "old" at all. At 37, "old" is something he's not ready to cop to. He's wary of the press, wary of gossip, wary of his past. And after 20 years of skating, his body creaks like an old carburetor. He has dislodged vertebrae, snapped sinews, and blown a knee. He complains that sometimes it's a struggle to get out of bed, and he regards his two-year pro career as if viewing it through the wrong end of a telescope—something far away, rendered indistinct by pain and loss.

But on a stormy August evening, he's padded up and bearing through the turns of the Tri-City Park, skying five feet. When he turns an invert, the onlookers clap their boards against the coping.

In the O.T.C. and beyond, his name is always on the tips of local skaters' tongues, for he was their first. Lynch was the kid who dropped out of high school to skate. Who relocated to Nebraska to practice on competition-level ramps, to shore up his talent, and make his name. He was the kid who arrived at a pro competition in Del Mar, nervously shaking hands and introducing himself to the skating elite, whom he recognized from issues of Thrasher. When Lynch shook Tony Hawk's hand, the Birdman simply said "Hey, Justin." No introduction, no nothing—Lynch was one of the boys.

"It was always a big gamble for me," Lynch says. "But my parents didn't get along. My grades were crap. I didn't have anything else on my mind. I thought, 'This is my chance to do this now. If I don't do this now, it's gonna slip away.'"

In 1990, he went top 10, keeping company with Steve Caballero and Bucky Lasek. His future was blinding.

But two years into a promising career, Lynch collided with another skater on a vert ramp and his body scorpioned, his legs flying over his head, the ligaments tearing out a chunk of his spine.

Laid up for 10 months, he saw his career prospects wither. The entire industry was shrinking. Sponsors dropped him. In a fit of fury and resentment, Lynch walked.

"I lost my love for it," Lynch says. "I lost my passion. I had a pure heart for it, and it got squashed. If I hadn't hurt my back, I would have made it. I had the X Games in me. I was headed there. I didn't think I was ever going to skate again."

But he dreamt of it. For a decade, he endured troubling nightmares: trying to drop in, and being unable to take the plunge. Going for air and being pulled earthward, as if weighed down by sandbags.

In 2003, strange emails started to arrive. They were from an old friend from his skating days, a tall vet of the local scene named Olaf Gilbertson. Each week the emails from Gilbertson arrived like clockwork, and they all said the same thing. "Skatin' or hatin'?"

Week after week, every Wednesday, the same question, point blank.

It was spring of '09 when Lynch finally capitulated. He showed up at the Edina park, where Kevitt and Gilbertson had been skating biweekly for years. For the second time in his life, the switch was flipped.

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