The Hiawatha: Secret skatepark of local board legends

Old Timers Club unites select group of skaters over 30

"It was like walking into a lake and having all of your bad feelings wash away," he says. "I didn't have to prove anything. I'd done my proving. I was just skating with my friends."

Since spring, Lynch has skated every week. He's gone to Woodward, a skate camp in the desert plains of California, a place to which he swore he'd never return. He pushes himself, finds himself scared shitless, soaring once more above the coping through familiar air. When he relearns a trick, he gets the rush of a 16-year-old.

On this night, Lynch goes for a backside ollie, and somewhere midair, the trick goes wrong. He is in freefall, unable to turn into a knee slide, and when he collides with the basin of the bowl, a muted, troubling thud echoes against the concrete walls. He's slow to rise, and in minutes, he's stripped of his pads, clutching a bag of ice to his knee.

But he's grinning, mugging with Jon Baugh, another old-schooler, musing about the bail. Somehow, even the pain is a joy.

"It's overcoming demons and fears," Lynch says. "I know I'm never gonna be in the X Games. I know I'm never gonna be top 10 again. But to come back to square one and remember why you did it in the first place...." There is a long pause before he returns. "I've had the summer of my life."

   

BESIDE THE EDINA YMCA is a serpentine pit of sculpted concrete embraced by a chain-link fence. By anyone's measure, the park is impressive—a park, as Gilbertson says, to make a man of you. The deep end is empty, save for Gilbertson and Kevitt, who are skating hard, getting big air.

By the shallow end, where the banks are more gently graded, a handful of kids in pads and helmets carve through the turns, their wheels hissing like gas from a pilot light. Perched on the bleachers, a middle-aged man in olive cargo pants gazes out at the park, adjusting his spectacles, his elbows resting on his knees.

They call him "Woody." He says more people know him by that name than by his birth name, Eric Froland.

The bleachers are the closest Woody has come to riding a vert ramp in a decade. His feet haven't touched grip tape in as many years. But at 44 years old, Woody is a man still hailed as a master.

He was a New Prague kid who crawled out of skateboarding's most primordial age in 1975 and cut his teeth on driveway competitions. He spent summers raiding construction yards of lumber scraps and building half-pipes in suburban cul-de-sacs.

And tonight, he's at the Edina skate park, just to see it. To bullshit with Kevitt and Gilbertson. Just to be near the action.

"Back then, skateboarding was different," he says, squinting into the sun. "It was backyards. It was before sponsors. You knew you were risking life and limb, and that you could get hurt. But the excitement...." He trails off, shakes his head, and massages his knee with a knuckle. "It was like a drug."

There was a time when Woody was the best skater anyone knew. No one skated harder or higher. In 1988, two years before Lynch went pro, Woody became the first Minnesotan to net sponsorship, to get floated Gullwing trucks and Vision shoes by the boatload, who, with his massive air and effortless style, never had to pay to skate.

"I was living my dream," he says. "It would have been nice to go to school and stuff. But I was flying to contests. I had packages coming every month with shoes and boards. It opened up a lot of opportunities."

But every skater has an expiration date. It's the grim prospect that haunts each member of the O.T.C.—the spectral threat of the big injury. Woody's expiration date was the summer of 1992. That winter, he'd blown out his knee snowboarding and undergone three surgeries. But it couldn't keep him off his skateboard. He was at a vert ramp in Winona, simply finding his legs. His speed was still there, and he could still catch air. Going into a knee slide, he felt a pop. The doctor's diagnosis chilled him: "Everything that happened to your left knee just happened to your right knee."

Recalling the moment he realized his career was over, Woody smiles ruefully. "That was it," he says, opening his hands as if releasing a bird.

Only it wasn't. By the late '90s, skating was in boom times. Board sales were skyrocketing. A celebrity culture was fostered by the X Games and ESPN. And Woody found new life designing skate parks.

He'd spent two decades building what he skated—if there was a ramp somewhere in the city, chances are Woody's fingerprints were on it. And suddenly, seemingly every city wanted a skate park.

"My whole life, my parents were asking when I would put down the board and get a real job," he says. "All of a sudden, I'm building parks. Cities are calling. People from all over are asking me to go build."

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