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Skate Church

Christopher Smith

Our holy shred zone of the east side

LDS churches are architectural bemusements in our Las Vegas jumblescape of insistent suburban banality. Among the strip-malled swaths spilling through the valley that express or aspire to little beyond consumer convenience, LDS churches bring a little curious tension, a little variety, to the jigsaw puzzle of our urban grid. These bricky redoubts of solemn posture are tonically prim and somewhat jarring, like hospital corners on an air mattress. Except for this one at 4040 E. Wyoming Ave. that is special to me.

It is 1988, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has unwittingly produced one of the best skate parks on the east side. It is a refuge, a carnival of concrete in a world where our deck stickers proclaim, “Skateboarding is not a crime!” — which means, of course, that skateboarding is a crime. With reliable irregularity, we get chased away by every stripe of miserable asshole rent-a-cop from shredding at strip malls, schools, office parks, and industrial backlots. The LDS church on Wyoming is a blessed safe zone.

And a blessed skate zone. The church has winged concrete accessibility ramps for launching fat airs, expansive sidewalks for wheelie manuals, and luxurious runs of rich, oily asphalt for exhilarating slides. The bushy parking lot medians demand to be ollied, there are stair drops for smacking bonelesses, and a low red curb at the top of a smooth grade for the most viscerally satisfying slappy grinds I’ve ever experienced. Skate bros and skate legends rolled through here: Danny B., ponytail flying, launching melon-grab airs over the accessibility ramps. Shockhaired Kevin S. unveiling ho-hos in the west lot — that’s a board-balancing circus handstand that took skateboarding into the realm of acrobatic street theater. Stephen P. aka Step-Hop, with his trademark mouthful of baby aspirin for achy teeth he couldn’t afford to fix, pulling off brutal wallies on the sharp-edged brick dumpster enclosure. Boyde W. nose-manualing damn near the entire perimeter of the church. Sundays were off-limits, obviously, the grounds and parking lot hopelessly throttled with worshippers. Otherwise, though, the church seemed to quietly percolate with vague administrative burblings from a handful of figures sporadically coming and going in sensible cars. Arguably, we spent more time there than any member of the Mormon faith; frequency and familiarity bred a sense of ownership. In a very particular dimension, the church became ours.

Sponsor Message

Sure, skateboarding is not a crime, but you’re deluding yourself if you don’t think it’s a vital gateway to creative mischief and (mostly) innocent skullduggery. That’s kind of the cosmic purpose of skateboarding: Before it was a billion-dollar sport, it was a personal growth course in seeing what anarchic fun you could improvise amid the bullshit fiats of gravity, authority, insensate suburbanity. Skateboarding’s punk-adjacent ethos and lessons in physical courage emboldened us, and soon we were scaling the church roof for 15-foot acid drops and ollies, or taking dares to slip through an occasional unlocked door to sneak through the halls and frolic pointlessly but exuberantly in the echoey gymnasium. In our enthused heathen disregard, we embraced the physicality of the church, made our incursions, took over, converted it. It will always be Skate Church to me. Φ

As a longtime journalist in Southern Nevada, native Las Vegan Andrew Kiraly has served as a reporter covering topics as diverse as health, sports, politics, the gaming industry and conservation. He joined Desert Companion in 2010, where he has helped steward the magazine to become a vibrant monthly publication that has won numerous honors for its journalism, photography and design, including several Maggie Awards.