An Interview with Park Builder Alex Vazquez

Alex Vazquez

Photo by Ryan Smith. Auburn, IN Skatepark Site 2020

Where are you from? Tell us about your family. I’m from Tulsa, Oklahoma the 918. My Mom was the youngest of 6 and all of her siblings live in Tulsa so I have a great big extended family. My life partner (gotta say something other than “girlfriend” at 33 years old) is Shalena of the Forest. She has 2 boys, good kids. Shalena has been a rock in my world for some time now.

When did you start riding BMX? Where did you ride? What were your favorite spots? I guess I’ve been riding bikes for most of my life. It really all started at Riverside Trails in Tulsa though (R.I.P. trails). We had about 15 dirt jumps in the Best Place ever. Build a  fire, drink a beer, build stuff kind of place. Sadly the city chose to bulldoze them when they created The Gathering Place. Trails will forever be my favorite place to ride.

When/Where did you start building skateparks? Somewhere around the age of 21, I got a phone call from my bro PSYCHO (Davin, Dravin, Devlynn). He told me a park was being built in Owasso, said they needed laborers, and that if I showed up I could get a job. So I showed up. Best move I ever made. That job was where I met Bart, and where my journey with concrete started.

How many parks have you built? What is your favorite part of the build?  Ummmm *scratches head, counts fingers… I think the tally is close to 11 or 12 at the moment, all spread out in Oklahoma and Indiana. I enjoy the act of creating all by itself, so my favorite part of the build is hard to put a finger on. Maybe the dirt work. Nerding out inside a bowl and making the subgrade super clean is really satisfying. Makes me feel like I’m at the trails.

Alex Vazquez Dirt Work.jpg

What was your favorite build with Hunger? That would probably be a split between Columbus/New Albany (both in Indiana). Both of these parks are super rad, and relatively close to each other for any of you all taking road trips. (P.S. My favorite Hunger build is still Tahlequah, OK even though I didn’t work on it personally.)

Do you get a chance to offer design suggestions for BMXers during the build? What are the biggest differences between skate and BMX? This is a really fun question. I think on a lot of levels we see eye to eye, because we all shred, but there are some obvious design differences between bikes and skateboards even if the differences fade as you get better. The two biggest things are the length of the wheel base, 14″ or 15″ for a board, more like 36” on a bike, and the fact that on a bike you have something to hold on to, and on a skateboard you don’t. The former translates to tighter and shorter transitions being more fun on a skateboard, while larger and slightly more mellow or elliptical transitions are more fun on a bike. The latter translates to bikers being a little more jumpy as beginners, where being a jumpist is really more advanced for a skater.

What is it like to be the only BMX rider in a sea of skaters? HAHA. It’s Rad! I’m not always the most pumped to build a bank to curb that’s shorter than my pegs, and to this day I don’t grind pool coping to keep the peace, but being around a bunch of skate heads opens up my eyes daily. Skaters look at spots differently, and a lot of spots that a biker would pass by skaters stop and session. If you wanna get pumped go watch how many different ways a skater can jump on a rail.

Why do you think BMXers are not as involved in skatepark advocacy and building? Do you have any advice for BMX riders wanting to build parks? I guess I haven’t seen the business side of park building enough to know if BMXers are less involved or not. What I do know is that its disheartening when a new park gets built, and the shiny new sign out front says “NO BIKES”.  If I had any advice for anyone, biker or skater, GET INVOLVED, HELP BUILD, Get off your social media and enjoy life before its over. Make a positive difference.

Last Question: My Question. I’ve noticed that when we are building, generally skaters are pretty respectful and tend to offer help or at least listen and say thanks. I’ve been really upset with groups of BMX riders who approach the job site and are aggressively yelling at us, feel entitled to ride whenever, and recently in New Albany yelling sexist and homophobic statements. One girl BMX even called the cops on our crew for not letting her ride. Why do you think its more common in BMX? I’M SO FRUSTRATED! Or that they blatantly wont take pegs off or use plastic pegs, even though they’ve been asked countless times?** Weezer, I’m not going to lie to you, question 9 sent my brain into a loop. I can literally see the emotion dripping from your words, and I feel for you. However, I don’t want to turn this conversation into a “us” vs. “them” convo. (Christy probably has pictures of the idiocy that happened in New Albany, if someone came and fucked with your work, you’d be pissed too.) The fact that they (these pea brained cro-magnon) were on BMX bikes doesn’t help, but if you wanted to trade stories about people being stupid, I could trade you one for one for days. In short, I think there is heavy irony in how skaters started building spots cause they wanted someplace sick to chill and shred, it now has gotten to a place where parks are a business, only to keep BMXers out. It’s the same action, just passed on to a different group of humans also trying to find a place to chill and shred. Maybe BMXers are a little angry, cause they never know if their awesome new skatepark being built is gonna ticket you for riding your bike there.

So to answer your question, I don’t think kids in BMX are better or worse. I think they’re kids, and growing up is the crazy part. Shame on them for being shitheads, but they’re kids. I know my first 30 years were full of mistakes and stupidity, and if I didn’t have a level headed community around me it may have been different.

Thanks for letting me share my thoughts Weezer, let’s go build some more awesome shit!

P.S. I felt this last question needed a longer a more drawn out answer, if you’re into that and have 10 more minutes to spare you can read it below. It’s half history lesson and is pertinent today.

Longer Answer

Sometimes it’s extremely hard to say the right thing, at the right time, to get someone to understand exactly what you are trying to say, and the current protesting climate has been heavy on my mind. So here goes.

I wanna start by saying how awful the George Floyd tape was, and how sorry I am for his family, who had to see that tape of a cop kneeling on a family members neck until he died, being thrown all over the internet.

The worst part of it is that its not a new problem. Tulsa, where I’m from, has had a particularly violent past. 99 years ago it was the home to one of the largest and most violent race riots in the history of the U.S.. During this event nearly 10,000 people were left homeless, and 35 square blocks of establishments and houses were razed to the ground. Tulsa Race Riot. Greenwood Massacre. Black Wallstreet Massacre. It’s the only time in American history where our civilians were bombed by plane.

This is where I’m from. As a result I have seen racism in every form imaginable. When I was born in the late eighties if you had a grandparent or great grandparent that was 70 or older, they remembered it. So these same grandparents, on both sides of the color wheel were probably racist.

The kids get it though. Most are tired of their families speaking as if the other side are lesser. They are kids that have friends of all colors. Blind to it. Blind to racism. Blind to the US & THEM mentality.

All of the very brief history lesson was just to come to this point. I felt it important to make this incident more common knowledge, because it is not taught about in public schools, and to gain some sort of knowledge from it.

The little piece of knowledge I want to carry forward is that the US & THEM mentality has to go, as it serves no purpose.

I feel almost silly speaking about biking and skating after the first paragraph, but here I am starting it. I feel this US & THEM mentality in skateparks sometimes. Like I shouldn’t be there because I’m on a bike. I’m blind to it most days, and most days are cool. Every once in awhile you just run into a random asshole, who is mad about being pissed off about being angry. Someone yelling stupid things or fighting because they feel slighted somehow.

So the point I wanted to get across exactly to you the reader is, I can’t change the whole world, but I can take little bites at things in my little corner of life, in hope that it will cause other people to do the same. I won’t ever be a part of US vs. THEM debates because they aren’t valid, we are all human.

Just the act of entering a conversation with an US vs. THEM stance is discriminant. Respect is earned though and it is a street that runs both directions. If you’re a ripper, and you can get up to the pool coping without fucking it up Gopher it. If you just started shredding and you can’t make it to the pool coping without chipping it out, practice somewhere else!

Have good park etiquette and be inclusive. Build awesome stuff like skateparks and gathering places. Don’t build walls, build bridges. Thanks Christy for allowing a space for me to stretch my brain, and thank you @HungerSkateparks for building awesome stuff to shred all over.

-Alex

**When I wrote these questions, it was days after experiencing a few terrible encounters that shook me pretty hard. I was definitely holding onto my anger, and Alex was right that you could hear it in my writing.  Also, my questions generalizing BMX and skateboarder advocates were incorrect according to my own personal experiences being a main community/project organizer at Hunger. We have had many parks designed and built with major input and fundraising support from bikers. 

Alex is the best dude out there, and is a positive player in our lives at Hunger. He runs around the site literally skipping to retrieve tools. He is full of love. Alex hasn’t always had the best experience in skatepark building, but he never took it personally and amazingly let it slide off his back without puncturing his spirit. So yeah,  I laid my small little trauma/annoyance at the feet of one of the good guys. It’s been an interesting time lately for self realization. A time to question our own motives, biases, instincts, and how it effects others and creates further divisions.

But I love that it gave him an opportunity to dive in, connect the dots, and for us to understand how his history and background effected and effects his life and personal philosophies. Thanks Alex for sharing your experiences, we appreciate you.   ~ Christy Weezer

12

Update 6/10: Alex’s childhood friend Ryan Knight, father of five, was protesting at a BLM march in Tulsa and followed fellow protestors onto the I-244 highway overpass. A truck pulling a horse trailer sped through the crowd of protestors and Ryan fell 20 feet off of the I-244  bridge. “He (the driver) put his gun on the dashboard….and told everyone, ‘You get out of my way,” said Rev. Eric Gill. 

 Ryan is paralyzed from the waist down and has ‘a long road ahead’ according to his family. There is a Go Fund Me page to help him and his family during the recovery. Please Help. 

Alex’s partner, Shalena of the Forest, was also at the protest and avoided but witnessed the incident. 

Fundraiser by Bryan Delgadillo Valdivia Ryan's Recovery Relief Fund

Ryan and Family