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Zen and the art of skateboard park maintenance

Sonomans may soon be doing their ollieing on a brand-new half-pipe. That is, if Nicholas Koerner has anything to do about it.

Koerner is a skateboarder with a mission. As the director of the nonprofit Valley of the Moon Park Riders Union, he’s hoping to advocate for greater skateboarding awareness and pave the way for a state-of-the-art skateboard park in Sonoma Valley.

Koerner, 34, said he’s always been socially justice minded and, after majoring in community studies at U.C. Santa Cruz, he returned to Sonoma a few years ago seeking to reacclimate himself to the nonprofit world.

And if he can do that toting a Santa Cruz longboard, all the better.

But first and foremost he just wants today’s Sonoma Valley youth to discover what he discovered as a kid: skating can be a stress-relieving kind of Zen activity like few others.

“Not every kid is going to be into your standard team sports and skating provides a bit of an alternative outlet,” said Koerner. “As a youngster I was enthralled, it was all I wanted to do. I try to rekindle that in myself (as an adult) because, in simpler times, I could just do that every day.”

The Sonoma Valley High School graduate said skating today provides him with a meditative space, “one of those things I find it’s easy to get lost in.”

Skating can “alleviate the stresses of the regular world,” he said.

But before everyone glides into the stress-free sunset, Koerner wants to provide them with the proper space to complete their aerials and bonks and other skateboarding moves. Koerner and the Valley of the Moon Park Riders Union are working with Sonoma County Regional Parks and project planner Scott Wilkinson on a design for the new skateboard park that’s been penciled in as part of the planned $10 million revitalization of the 85-acre Maxwell Farms Regional Park.

The revamping of the current Macdougald Skateboard Park, said Koerner, includes not only the addition of a BMX pump track, but he hopes the skatepark will become part of a larger "action sports" area positioned on the east side of Maxwell.

The Macdougald skatepark was established at Maxwell in the late 1990s but, today, Koerner describes it as being in a state of “crumbling concrete infrastructure.” He also wishes it had a nearby water fountain and some form of shade.

Koerner is working with a “small design committee” and local skate advocates from such businesses as Sonoma Originals skate shop. Once a design has been solidified, project planners will seek bids from a few licensed skatepark developers they’ve got their eye on.

Until they reach that stage, however, they’ve got their wheels spinning in an entirely different mode: fundraising.

The county parks departments has pledged the funds for the Maxwell renovation – dollars which will come from a combination of Measure M’s one-eighth-cent sales tax, grants and local fundraising efforts. And Koerner wants to bump the level for the action-sports area of the park in any way he can. That includes everything from seeking out grant opportunities to hosting volunteer clean-up days such as the one held at Macdougald July 10.

On that Saturday, John Ryan, volunteer coordinator for Sonoma Valley Regional Parks, provided Koerner’s cleanup team with materials for picking up litter and weeding — and the group also gave the grounds some fresh coats of paint.

“Over the day we had about 40 or 50 people come through” for a raffle and drinks, said Koerner. He estimates they raised a few hundred dollars. They’re planning another such cleanup for August, and at future events he hopes to add live entertainment in an effort to bring in “more significant funds.”

Ryan said he’s been impressed by Koerner’s dedication to the project. “He’s very passionate and has connections in the community,” Ryan said, adding that he’s looking forward to helping with more of the skatepark volunteer days.

Ryan counts himself as fan of youth skateboarding. “I used to skateboard as a kid,” said Ryan, recalling his old Powell Peralta board from the 1980s, “which I used to get everywhere for a couple of years.”

Ryan said that one difference between his youth and now, is that today kids have skateboard parks to hone their skills and enjoy the camaraderie among fellow skaters.

“It’s an awesome sport for kids,” said Ryan. “It’s got a level of excitement, maybe some danger, but it’s overall safe and it’s a place for the kids to go and hang out and be with one another.

“My experience is it’s a really supportive environment.”

Koerner describes a skateboard as “merely a wooden toy,” but after 22 years of skating, he still finds parallels to everyday life.

“It teaches perseverance and unveils the rewards of determination,” said Koerner. “In skateboarding we often fall many times before finally performing a maneuver, but the elation of rolling away increases with every slam.”

And for those who think skateboarding is only for the extreme-sport adrenaline junkies, said Koerner, think again.

“It’s about trying to be calm and collected in a sort of chaotic situation,” he said.

Parallels to everyday life, indeed.

For more information visit the Valley of the Moon Park Riders Union on Facebook: @VOMPRU.

Email Jason at Jason.walsh@sonomanews.com.

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