I sat down with Lance Spiker, a veteran in the skatepark building industry - he's built more parks than I think even he can count - to talk his experience in the scene, Haiti and work-family balance. Check it out (and don't mind Ali's stink eye up there).
Interview by Nicole McNulty - February 23, 2018
Nicole: Hi Lance. So, how did you first get into building skateparks?
Lance: I got laid off my restaurant job and had some time off, so I was at Lollapalooza in '98 and saw Omar and James and Matt there. And they were building in Florida. Lollapalooza was in Orlando, Florida - it was a travel-around thing back then. I saw them and I had just enough concrete experience in the past- I had done some concrete floating docks and some sidewalks during and after high school, so I knew about concrete. I'd built enough [wood] ramps to know how to cut a tranny. So, a few days later they needed help and I started building in September of 1998.
N: Nice. What was the most memorable band from that year at Lollapalooza?
L: Getting the job building skateparks was the most memorable factor to me, but I think Jane's Addiction was the headline band.
N: What were some of the first parks you worked on?
L: One of the first was Satellite Beach, Florida, and then Breckenridge, Colorado, Salida, Colorado and then Nashua, New Hampshire, and then Silverthorne, Colorado. So, that was the first year.
N: Wow, busy year.
ABOVE: Jean shirt, slick hair and a secret boat pool in Sarasota, Florida, 2003
L: Yeah, and then I also helped build a vert ramp in Louisville, Kentucky for the X Trials in '99.
N: Wooden ramp?
L: Yeah, a wood vert ramp.
N: Rad. How would you say the skatepark building and construction process was different then compared to now and what kind of evolution have you seen?
L: Evolution in tools and more of a refinement in concrete mix design are probably the two major ones. It's trial and error that's gotten us to this point.
N: Nice. Now, your least favorite question: what are some of your favorite skateparks you've worked on?
L: There's been so many, it's hard to pick just one. Colorado Springs probably sticks out in my mind first. That's where I live now. The backyard jobs have been fun. Building for friends has a different feel and reward. Like Tuck's and James' pool. The skate park of Tampa was pretty cool - to finally build something for Brian Schaefer after all the years of hounding him to do so. Recently we built Lewistown, Montana - a mirrored design of Jeff Ament's Treasure Bowl that he helped fund. Plus he came out and set pool coping with us. That was a blast. But all the projects have been fun.
ABOVE: Jeff Ament & Lance set pool block on the replica of of Jeffs private bowl that we built in Lewistown, Montana.
ABOVE: Lance ripping at Memorial Skatepark in Colorado Springs
N: What are some of your least favorite skateparks?
L: Ohh, the least favorite was definitely Deltona, Florida, because that city tore down our vert ramp and then insisted we build a street plaza. So, that's my least favorite. But I guess for a street plaza it's pretty good. But just the fact that we showed the community that we wanted a vert ramp in town and then we had to build a street course instead made it a big bummer. It would have been nice to at least build a bowl and a street course, so that's my least favorite.
N: What's your favorite place to skate?
L: I grew up skating Kona and Stone Edge. So bowls are probably my favorite thing to skate.
N: Where are those?
L: Kona is in Jacksonville, Florida and Stone Edge is in Daytona, Florida. They built Stone Edge in '88, the same year I graduated high school.
N: Is that where you're from?
L: I'm from St. Augustine, Florida, which is about 45 minutes from both parks. That's where I really got into skating and building. I built a small ramp in the woods near my house with friends. Plus other ramps around town. We had a contest in the parking lot of the Surf Station for several years in a row. Then I moved to Daytona after high school. Then in '02 we built our own bowl on a friend's property in Daytona and that's where we moved the vert ramp to. It was our DIY spot.
N: Like high-level crafstmanship DIY.
L: Ha yeah, it was pretty memorable. It took a lot of people to build it.
ABOVE: Lance rockin' at the Nude Bowl outside of Palm Springs, California, 1996. He STILL has that elbow pad - he literally just showed it to me at work.
N: So, what other countries have you built parks in and what was it like working abroad compared to the U.S.?
L: Belgium and Haiti. Went to Belgium twice, so the second time was a little better because we knew the local guys there, we knew where to go, we knew a little bit of the language - just enough to get us in trouble. We had some full pipes going also. Skated them every Sunday. It was awesome. Haiti was fun, too. It was just a private backyard job. It's always great to be able to see other cutlures and experience it for longer than just a few days.
N: What years were you in those places, respectively?
L: Belgium was '05 and '08...? Haiti was... 2014?
N: So, after the earthquake.
L: Yeah, so I saw a lot of the devastation being rebuilt.
N: That must've been crazy, building while..
L: It was a little while afterwards, so there was some stuff rebuilt. It was in Port-au-Prince there, in the capitol.
N: Who was the bowl for?
L: It was for these two brothers - Russell and Akim. They went to college in the US and they grew up in Haiti surfing, skateboarding and dirt biking. They wanted a vert ramp. But then went with concrete because it would last longer. Haiti is beautiful but the city is dirty because it's so crowded. It was a fun trip. It's just not set up as a tourist destination, so not many people travel there.
ABOVE: Bowl in Port-au-Prince Haiti by Lance and Team Pain, 2014
N: That's badass. Alright, what do you find the most challenging about building skateparks?
L: Hmmm, it's hard to describe. I guess I can say it's gotten a little easier after the progression of things to build it. But just collaborating on design and bringing it all together, I guess, is probably the hardest part. Everyone wants something different. Putting it all together and making it user-friendly, I think, is the biggest challenge. At this point we know how to build just about anything, so making it all work together is the biggest challenge. But, that's what's so fun about it also.
N: As in collaboration within the team or collaboration between the company, the city and the community?
L: Actually a little bit of it all, for sure. But in the end it comes out really good. 99% of the time. For us any way.
N: That's a good margin of error. What do you find to be the most rewarding thing about building skateparks?
L: The obvious one: to be able to ride what you build. Definitely the most rewarding. It's also very satisfying to help provide a skatepark to communities that need and want them. The art of sculpting the concrete and pride in craftsmanship is rewarding as well.
ABOVE: Lance & Team Pain building the full pipe in Antwerp, Belgium, 2007
ABOVE: Lance skating a full pipe in Antwerp, Belgium, 2007
N: How do you juggle having a family and being on the road building skateparks?
L: I try to bring my family with me when I can. I take time off to spend time with them. It's actually given my family a unique opportunity to see a lot of things that they wouldn't have otherwise. We actually moved to Colorado from Florida because my family went to Colorado so many times. My wife Bonnie fell in love with it, so now we reside there. My family came to Lewistown, Montana - their first time in Montana. We went to Glacier National Park and watched fireworks in Lewistown. It was a dream trip for us. Another time we camped on Rabbit Ears Pass outside of Steamboat Springs, Colorado. It was 4th of July weekend and we made a snowman. My son Van just loved it. It was such a unique opportunity for us.
ABOVE: The Spiker family (left to right): Lance, Bonnie, Van, Alayna, Reggie (bear-dog) in their new home in Colorado Springs
N: Hard not to fall in love with Colorado.
N: What do you see as the future or progression of the skatepark industry and its construction?
L: More skateparks. They're proven time and time again to be a popular addition to recreation departments. I think the positive attitude of skateboarding is helping the industry. Skateboarding also just keeps growing. Because there are so many skateparks being built, I think the repair industry is going to be there soon, too. Weathered parks will need repairs and adding new features to them as well. There were a lot of small parks built because cities didn't have the budget for a large park. Here we are ten years later and some of the cities are adding to them. So, I think those are the three things that standout in my mind first and foremost.
N: Definitely makes sense. Being a veteran in the industry, what do you think is the key to longevity for the crafstmen?
L: Be patient and never stop learning. I'm still working on both.
N: I think that sums it up. You have experience working with several of the best skatepark companies. What do you find is different and unique about working with each company?
L: Each company has their own style of design and application.
ABOVE: Lance knows a thing or two about lip slides, can you tell? Vert in Virginia Beach
N: Do you notice large differences between each or are they more similar?
L: Skaters probably know the difference. The regular person probably won't notice this difference. But definitely the skate community knows the difference, for sure, and each company definitely has their own flavor, like each restaurant has their own flavor. Depending on your taste that day, that's what you're going to do. So, that's the beauty of it.
N: Definitely. And what do you like about working with Evergreen?
L: Because they're a positive, progressive company that embodies 'never stop learning,' and they have a good program that's efficient and progressive. They're investing in themselves and in their employees and making it happen in their own, unique way. They give communities really high-quality, fun skateparks of all different levels. That's good for everybody. They're just good hard-working people dedicated to skateboarding.
N: Awesome, well thanks for talking with me. Do you have any last comments or thoughts you'd like to add?
L: I'd like to thank Evergreen Skateparks for wanting and believing in me and for everything they do for my family and I. I'd like to say thank you to everyone - past and present - that I've met, worked with and / or working for. I wouldn't be who I am today without you.
N: Well, thanks again Lance. Bye Internet.