Gary Bowman doesn't look like the director of a skateboard league. In fact, he looks, and sounds, like a Minnesotan farm boy and computer support tech--because he is. But two years ago, everything changed when, according to Bowman, "Skateboarding entered my house. My son said, 'I want to get a skateboard,' and I said, 'No way, you'll kill yourself on one of those.' Now I run the league. Imagine that."
The path from naysayer to executive was short and not all that complicated. Suffice it to say, Bowman supports the recreational lives of his two sons with a passion that most fathers save for their home theater systems. When, in 2003, the Meridian-based Northwest Amateur Skateboard League ended its well-received but short-lived run, Bowman and his wife Tamara took it upon themselves to sweep up the league's ashes and remold them into the new Idaho Amateur Skateboard League (IDASL). Now four events into its inaugural seven-event season, the IDASL has progressed far beyond even the hopes of the Bowmans.
"When we started," Bowman recalls, "we thought if we could just get 40 people to enter a competition it would be great. Now we have 42 members that go to every event, and we usually pick up at least 20 to 25 more from around the area. [The success] is overwhelming." The IDASL has held competitions at Tully Skate Park in Meridian, Boise's Rhodes and Fort Boise Parks and Kuna Skate Park, offering everything from new decks (boards), trucks (axles) and other sponsor-derived gear as prizes. Bowman shows his parental side by his description of the Kuna park--"big, deep and scary"--but according to IDASL regular Andrew Wilkinson, the tightness of the skating community helps to overcome any challenges posed by venues.
"We all push each other to bigger and better tricks," the 13-year-old Boise boarder explains. "Everyone is very supportive, and there are only a couple of kids who get really competitive and try to bring you down. The thing is, if you're in IDASL, you know everyone, and they're all good people."
Bowman takes pride in the league's ability to help skaters network across community and class lines, likening the events to classes at a student-run school. Competitors help and encourage one another even in the midst of events, slap boards against concrete in praise of all landed tricks, and the judges--usually older skaters--applaud with little regard to scores. Hence, according to Kenny Beckwith, a 14-year-old skater who has competed in both the NASL and the IDASL, "The people running the events are my favorite thing [about the league]. No matter what score you get everybody cheers, and you always get a prize bag. It's very fun and friendly."
Skaters lauding compliments on adults and administrators--it's not exactly the mythical picture of the sport perhaps, but combating popular images of skaters as hostile would-be vandals is a crucial part of the IDASL vision. "We're trying to make these into fun events, so that when you or your parents show up at a skate park later on you will know all the kids," Bowman says. "These are all really good kids, and if you simply respect them, they'll respect you."
Good intentions one and all, but what really sets the IDASL from other amateur leagues of any sport is the Bowmans' commitment to community, especially through their "Support our Skaters" program. "When we started, we noticed that a lot of kids would show up at events and want to participate, but they couldn't afford to pay the insurance and fees to get in ($25 per event)," he recalls. "We figured, we've set up this nonprofit business, we should really be the ones to help out these kids." Thus, whenever a skater of any skill level is unable to meet minimum household income requirements, IDASL helps bear the load--be it by way of reduced fees or insurance costs, or even through a complete set up of board, helmet, pads. The only requirement is that the skater participates in at least four events including the state finals, set to take place on August 28 at Fort Boise Skate Park.
"There really wasn't any previous model for us to follow," Bowman admits of the S.O.S. program, which has helped 26 skaters this year. "I'm really hopeful that similar programs show up when other states' leagues see the same need, because most of the time they already have the equipment. We just hope that we'll have more sponsors in the future, so we can distribute more stuff to the skaters."
Aside from further development of the S.O.S. program, Bowman's list of goals for the IDASL is long and ambitious--but appropriate, given the rate at which skateboarding is spreading in Idaho. First and foremost, he plans to broaden its scope beyond minors, as he explains, "If we're really the Idaho amateur league, we've got to reach out to everyone, not just kids. For our first year, we had to limit it, but next year we'll have an 18 and over category as well."
Consistent with his sense of community obligation, Bowman also promises that the league will soon reach skating communities in small Idaho towns like Burley, Buhl and many others that have sprouted world-class skateparks. "We envision having a bunch of competitions in eastern Idaho, a bunch over here, and a big championship competition in the middle," he reports. "As all the little towns get their own parks, it just gets easier and easier to find a new place to hold events."
Outside of Idaho, Bowman keeps in contact with the long-lived California Amateur and Pacific Northwest Amateur Skateboard leagues, and says, "In time, I'd really like to talk to them about doing a grand tournament: our best against theirs." Even without such an event, though, Bowman plans on increasing the educational connection between the disparate skate leagues through the Vans Skateboard Camp program. "The big dream," he explains, "is to talk [Vans] into sponsoring an event at their Mt. Hood location, where we'll bring in the Idaho guys, Pacific will bring theirs and California will bring theirs. Kind of a huge pow-wow."
Big ideas for a very young system perhaps, but Bowman maintains, "we need to be unique in this league, because skateboarding is much newer to this area than it is to the West Coast." New as it may be, skateboarding is currently experiencing an unprecedented amount of civic support statewide. With half-pipes sprouting like wildflowers, the inclusive IDASL shows promise to propel Idaho's skaters into their first golden age.
The next IDASL competition takes place on Saturday, July 31, at Burley Skate Park in Burley. For directions and more information about the competition, go to www.idasl.org.